Replenishing the Well


Art before breakfast by Danny Gregory
Art before breakfast by Danny Gregory

It happens often to me. I get so involved with an activity that I love that I don’t see the danger signs of burnout.
Burnout is a term that we throw around to describe when we have done more than we could and our body and mind feel it. It’s seems to have a badge of honor hidden in it though. If you say you burned out it’s because you worked really hard so you are some sort of hero.

The first online class I took as I started drawing was Sketchbook Skool ( yes, they write it like that). I must have been in the second batch of students that took Beginning. Recently the founder, Danny Gregory wrote a beautiful and honest post about of how “doing what you love” can backfire, aptly titled Why I started to suck and how I plan to stop

“Welcome to Capitalism®. If you take money, you must have a bank account. To open a business bank account, you need to be a corporation. To be a corporation, you need a lawyer and accountants. To operate globally in a non-traditional business, you need more lawyers and accountants. Soon, instead of spending all our time making videos with our friends, we were doing a lot of administrative work that was not in our DNA.”

Danny Gregory

Of course, this is the story of every Startup. Some have the DNA but never achieve success and so they suffer for it. Others who don’t have the DNA hit the jackpot and their life turns upside down. And what is supposed to be waiting at the end? Happiness, they say.

But what hit me the most is how he described his relationship to his blog and his writing. For the past year his blog had become a promotional tool only, like so many blogs today.
He posted about his book launches, his interviews, his public appearances, and rarely about creativity. One of my favorite videos on Vimeo is his Art Before Breakfast movie. That video inspired me so much, but the videos after that became purely promotional.

I identify with this blog-writing thing. I’ve blogged on and off since 1998 and it’s always been the place where I “explored my brain”. I wrote and organized my ideas, made plans, flushed out feelings, etc.

Blogging brought me focus.

This blog, art and Danny’s post

I haven’t really looked back at my archives in this blog. This is the metamorphosis it has suffered:

  • It started as a way to learn how to build a blog on Jekyll (if you’re not in the web development world, it’s just a static platform for blogging.)
  • Once I had it up and running, I thought I’d write about creativity, talent and art.
  • I kept fiddling with code and at the same time I started to listen to “entrepreneurship” podcasts.
  • I started to write strange self-help type of posts.
  • Tried to build a mailing list without knowing what I wanted to share. (Now I do!)

Two weeks ago I started testing promotional tools, like Pay with a tweet. I started to use Buffer, I loaded up on Instagram hashtags to promote my clip art. But I felt weird doing that. This blog, before I took any classes, was about exploring creativity.

“I also decided that I would have to deeply examine and reconsider everything else I had on my plate. Blogging helps me further that goal. It is the seed-bed out of which grow all my ideas, projects and connections. I pledged to get back to writing new (non-self-promoting essays) several times a week, starting today.”
– Danny Gregory

This morning I went to a client’s office like I do every Tuesday. In the morning I had been painting in my sketchbook. It was so hard to pull away and go outside into this manic-depressive weather in Montreal. And as I walked to the Metro, I got increasingly sad. I realized, yet again, that my motivation for drawing is driven by “the entrepreneurship dream” instead of creating.

Why is this?

The money I’ve spent in the past year has been quite a lot. Between brushes, paints, paper and classes, I don’t even want to look at my bank statement. And I can’t stop. I’m even embarassed to say that I am visiting my local art store once a week. I don’t need any more brushes.

A friend tells me: but you don’t drink, smoke or buy superficial stuff… actually I don’t even buy what I need, like shoes. If I have to buy shoes, I calculate in terms of how much paint I won’t be able to buy. Sort of when I calculated how many CD’s I wouldn’t be able to buy if I ate when I was in college.

Second, I became a freelance web developer in January. Which means if I don’t work, I have no income. So I started thinking about creating a second business selling digital products that can tide me over if there is no work coming in.

But creating any business, as tiny as you imagine it takes a lot of work. To get it off the ground requirse a lot of unpaid hours and this can translate into…you guessed it.. burnout.

I look around my office / studio. It’s been a dream of mine to have a studio for the longest time. But in the past couple of weeks, I have grown tired of the mess, of the unfinished paintings, of the pile of supplies and notebooks and sketchbooks I’ve purchased compulsively. I berate myself for endleslly scrolling and looking at other people’s artwork not to appreciate it but to envy it sometimes. And I also berate myself for not working actively on new clip art sets or not getting my butt off my chair and make some prints already… and stock that etsy shop and promote it like mad, and…

One thing I hate is to feel I’m doing what everybody else is doing. I’ve always hated it. My favorite illustration says it all, and yet, here I am, endlessly following because I don’t have much of a choice if I’m learning. I have to see what and how other people create. I can’t reinvent the wheel.

So as Danny says, blogging or journalling in general, is always good for regaining direction.
In my case, if I manage to write either here on in my paper journal I might achieve a sense of balance. I might be once again, objective about what I want to do.

So far, I have narrowed down to the fact I love writing intriguing portraits and I want so badly to master watercolor to bring them to life… but nothing will happen overnight and this fact requires constant reminding.

There is beautiful stuff being crated every day online and offline I need to stop looking for a little while.

Letters from the path to art.