Earlier this week I emailed our Timbuktoons CloudTeam Members, previous interns, and other artists who have worked at Timbuktoons at one time or another. They are creatives of all different stripes including: musicians, animators, graphic designers, creative team leaders, motion graphics producers, illustrators, visual development artists, voice actors, video producers, and sound designers.

As I’m developing strategies to help creatives thrive, I want to make sure I’m addressing real felt needs so I asked them this question:

“What is your biggest pain point or struggle as a creative, creative leader, or creative influencer?”

Today I’m answering a question that was posed by a few artists. Here’s the basic question they had.

“How do you continually grow as an artist and prevent stagnation?”

Great question. I’m sure there is much more that could be added to this discussion but for me, 3 key areas of development come to mind. Discipline, exposure, and expansion.

Like a pianist who practices measures every day, or a character designer, animator, or visual development artist who sketches every day, one of the keys to growing as an artist is discipline and repetition.

My kids all play soccer and every practice begins with 20 minutes of juggling. These kids touch the ball with their feet, knees, and heads so regularly that it becomes intuitive on the soccer feild when it counts.

Our daily disciplines are not always easy, fun, or desireable, but they slowly and methodically make us better at our craft. It’s like investing. We put little deposits in regularly over time and down the road the investment pays off.

There’s no escaping the need for discipline in growing as an artist. You put in the hard work now, then later when it’s time to perform, or concept the book cover illustration, or design a brand mark, you have what it takes and you get to ENJOY the creative process.

There’s nothing like putting yourself in environments where you are exposed to new art. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been stagnant or had a hard time getting going on a drawing project, then pulled some reference material or looked at another artists work to get inspired.

In every case, there’s one particular piece of art that inspires me and makes me want to draw. Researching other artists online is great. Going to conferences and events where you can meet other artists and see their work first hand is even better. For example, I love going to CTNx where you can talk to industry veterans and see such a broad range of art and artists. Find a conference in your creative industry and go! I guarantee it will be time and money well spent.

When I was in art school, I had 2 amazing classes that I didn’t appreciate as much as I should have at the time, but see now how important they were. One was an art history class where we would go to a different museum or art studio in Washington, D.C. every week. The other class was a media class and each week we worked in a completely different medium.

Seeing new styles and mediums of art, and working in new mediums really helped me grow as an artist. I didn’t get better immediately, but it opened my eyes to new possibilities and new approaches.

Years ago I wanted to build on my illustration skills to become a visual development artist. First I researched other vis dev artists to see what mediums they worked in and what processes they used, then I did the same.

I wasn’t getting paid for it yet, but I developed concepts with characters, went on location to do sketch studies of various things related to the concepts and characters, then worked in mediums I hadn’t used before. Pen and ink, markers, clay maquettes, charcoal, water color, pastels, etc.

Not only did I build up my portfolio and ability to talk about using those mediums, but I grew as an artist. If you are a musician, try playing an instrument you haven’t played before. If you are a graphic designer, put away the mac for a day and design with a hands on medium like collage, or cut paper.

Take on projects that stretch you. Bite off more than you can chew. It will force you to grow and learn new things. Challenges bring passion and determination. It’s an overused analogy, but butterflies coming out of their cocoons can only fly if they have to struggle their way out of the cocoon. The struggle pushes vital fluids into their wings which are necessary to fly.

A good friend of mine who is a video producer recently landed a large project with a national company. He had several on location shoots this winter…and every time he was caught in a winter storm.

He had to spend his night in his car during an ice storm in Atlanta, then a month later was caught in a blizzard in New Hampshire. Both were stressful and frightening situations, but his knowledge and experience as a producer have grown tremendously from those experiences.

So, plan your career and artistic development by putting yourself in situations where you will grow. Growth comes from an inward determination that puts you in situations where your outward environment also feeds the growth. Then it becomes a cycle of growth and inspiration, not to mention a nice way to gain clarity on your creative calling.

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