Steven Pressfield’s book “The War of Art” is a psychological Rosetta Stone for the unmotivated artist. It reveals to you why, how — and most importantly — that you are not alone in the struggle. Far from it. In fact, “your” struggle is so common, the first insight you get from the book is that you can stop identifying with that struggle immediately because it isn’t unique to you in the slightest.
Pressfield personifies this struggle with the monolithic, capitalized name: Resistance. “The War of Art” offers deeply useful tools for battling Resistance (your key insight is that the battle will never go away, so better to be good at stepping up to the challenge each day than to expect an eventual truce or victory over Resistance). But I wanted to go deeper. I wanted to follow Resistance back to it’s lair. And I ended up encountering Bigfoot on this quest.
After further research on the roots of Resistance, I was eventually on the trail: procrastination. I had always assumed procrastination was just a common struggle everyone dealt with. My initial research was merely for some “quick tips” to help me overcome this particular form of resistance. Procrastination, it seems, is not a cause but a result. It’s a defense mechanism. A way to deflect potential criticism and preserve the ego. The procrastinator waits until the last minute, or starts but then never finishes. That way there is always an excuse built-in, in case of any results that are shy of perfection (read: all results).
I then learned of the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. The fixed mindset seems to tie in to this fear-based procrastination. We crave procrastination because we fear being judged. The fixed mindset also fears being judged, because we have erroneously come to believe that our talent (and by extension the self-worth which we have welded to that talent) is of a fixed quantity. We were born with it. We have a finite amount. We need to be careful not to expose the limitations because “this is all we’ve got”.
This of course is all wrong. But knowing it is wrong and being able to overcome that in our mind and actions is a different beast.
I wasn’t sure exactly where to start in my goal of dismantling Resistance (and the underlying procrastination and perfectionism), but I knew I had to get started immediately. I decided to once again follow Pressfield’s advice and just sit down every day and Do The Work (conveniently, another great book of his). I needed to draw every day. Every single day. And share the drawings. All of them. Yes, even those that I wasn’t happy with. And so began my Daily Sketch practice.
The perfectionist in me cowered before the implications of this. I had recently become aware of a curious aspect of the artwork I created: (some of) it took me a long time to create. In fact, the time often became an excuse not to create art when I wasn’t being paid for it. “It takes too long” was the defeatist excuse. But there were artists out there with not only far more complex creations, but an abundance of them. In fact, I noticed that often the more talented the artist, the more detailed and complex the art, the more it seemed they were also the most productive. How was this so? How could the artists with the most complex, detailed and time-consuming artwork also be the most prodigious?
Then it hit me: this comes easy for them. They are not working to portray a style, they are just doing the work and the style is the result of constant, regular work.
I realized something I’d not really been paying attention to at all over the years, and that was that I was always in the struggle to create art that was “just out of my reach”. It was an intentionally-pursued style, as opposed to one that grew organically out of my own persistent process. The astute reader at this point sees how this is an insidious form of procrastination, and therefore one of the many masks of Resistance.
I knew then what I had to do. My motto became “Draw so much, and so often, that you don’t have time to not work in your own style.” The timeframe should be so short you will be forced to create at your natural level. Of course, this will change over time (and hopefully improve) but one needs to become at ease with how they create — without crutches like time, tools and tricks.
On top of this, I needed to share the art as well. I needed to be comfortable with not only creating this art, but also with identifying myself with it — publicly.
This went very well. Much to the surprise of that never-satisfied Inner Critic.
I was posting a lot of art, and a lot of art that in the past I would have never shared with anyone. Not only was it “not finished”, it never would have ever been finished. I started getting feedback on some drawings that I was very unhappy with, only to find these were some of the more popular sketches I have posted. Go figure.
I learned that what I think is my “best” art may not be what others think my best art is. I’ve also created more artwork in the past 6 months than I have in the past 6 years. It’s quite rewarding (as well as confidence- and esteem-building) to look back over all this art and see how productive I have been and continue to be.
I am also creating more naturally, exploring new topics, themes and subjects or mediums that in the past intimidated me.
And then one day, I drew Bigfoot.
It struck me that I had never really drawn a lot of the things that as a kid I was fascinated with — Bigfoot, ancient civilizations, and other fringe subjects. I was working from this narrow perspective up until now, trying to second-guess my “audience” (if there even was one), and also far too over-obsessed with my artwork all fitting in tightly to my cartoon logo business.
I started drawing topics that I got a kick out of, regardless of how obscure or “out there” they were. These daily sketches were mine, and I could create whatever I wanted to. I drew the Sphinx and the Great Pyramid of Egypt. I drew portraits of my favorite subversive philosophers. Eventually, I drew Bigfoot. And then another Bigfoot. And another. I kept exploring this idea of variation on this single theme (most likely because my client work tends to be a one-shot development process, and this was a welcome contrast).
At one point, the thought occurred to me that Bigfoot was the “ultimate camper”, since he left no trace. Somehow this train of thought led me to wonder what it would look like if the National Park Service had an actual Bigfoot unit to track and spot Bigfoot? The National Parks and National Forests seemed likely candidates for Sasquatch habitat.
At any rate, I sketched this design for an imaginary embroidered patch for an imaginary “Bigfoot Patrol” unit of the National Parks System. And after I posted it online, I got a lot of positive response from it. I liked it too, before I even got any feedback. I ended up doing a series of “Bigfoot-type creatures from around the world”, each with their own patch design. They were a hit, and people were spontaneously emailing me to “make real patches” and “make t-shirts!”.
Prior to having read “The War of Art”, most likely I would have stopped right then and there. I would have taken the ego boost and not pushed my luck.
But not this time. This time I was observing myself procrastinate. I was watching it as a process, with repeatable, definable steps. I was seeing myself go through them. And then I realized I could stop it. Not this time.
From there I decided that not only was I going to pursue this to completion, I was going to bundle it together with another idea that I had let slide one too many times while wallowing in procrastination: this project was to be my Kickstarter test project.
I had zero experience with Kickstarter, but I was determined to see this though and experience the process first-hand. One of the big takeaways from implementing the growth mindset is to fail often. While I had known that for some time, I could never drag myself to actually do so. But armed with the understanding from my procrastination research that I was holding back on failing because I perceived failure as a judgment on my self-worth, and therefore wanted to delay that experience for as long as I could (which in this case, due to a lack of external pressures, could be indefinitely).
As of the writing of this post, I have a little less than a week to go with the “Bigfoot Patrol” Kickstarter campaign. I’ve raised 35% of the funding. But to be honest, the experience has already been a success. By reaching out to friends, family and fellow artists, I’ve been humbled and flattered by the generosity and support. I’ve learned a ton about how Kickstarter works, and even gained some insights into the logistics of running a business with all the prep work for the campaign.
But the deeper benefits didn’t really hit me until a week or so into the campaign when I realized that I had beaten Resistance. I had overcome procrastination. I battled perfectionism, and won. Sure, these foes will be back tomorrow (they never go away). But I will enter the next battle energized with the knowledge that I stepped up to the challenge and was victorious. In fact, stepping up to the challenge is the victory.
Sure, I want to see the Kickstarter campaign reach 100% of it’s funding and take this project to the next level. But in my mind, I’ve already exceeded 100%. And I could’t have done it without Bigfoot.