When I posted this question on our Facebook page I didn’t quite expect the dialogue that ensued. I was curious: do you complete one project at a time or have multiple works in progress at the same time?
The response was unanimous: you all have multiple projects you work on. That wasn’t the problem. What appears to be a problem is how you perceive those multiple works as a sign of success… or failure. Some of you said things like:
“yes!! : too many interests, [sad face] too much going on and not enough time. “
“my perfectionist personality struggles with the “unfinished” work but I know that I’m unlikely to make the necessary changes, so the easy going personality lives with it and my creative personality just produces something else to replace it. “
It’s as if having multiple works in progress in not a sign of a successful, thriving artist but instead represents a creative who can’t manage their time, is lazy, or easily distracted/bored. But what if that’s not the case? What if multiple works in progress and in fact, some unfinished artwork, is instead a normal, regular part of creative process?
I’m a multi-passionate person with multiple interests. It means I have not only multiple works in progress, but they are usually long term projects in multiple media. For example: comic and illustration work (3 ideas in progress), my acrylic women strong series, and my recent obsession with embroidered mandalas. Well, how can I possibly finish it all? And even worse: what if I don’t?!
Here’s how I do it:
Chunk your time
Time can be your ally or your enemy. What about trying to focus on one project or medium for a 2, 4 or 6 week time span? This is a new experiment for me. I am not limited to one artwork or project, I can still work on other things, but I’m deciding to prioritize my embroidery right now for 6 weeks over other projects. Next? Probably my comic work. It allows me variety to keep me captivated but I predict I’ll have more results than my previously laissez-faire ways.
Trust your gut
Sometimes you want to work on something, sometimes you don’t. Have faith: there is a reason (read this) and accept that may mean putting something else on pause. Pause means there is always a chance to resume the work! But maybe it’s time for a break.
Honor the process
There are times where you can pause on a project for months, return to it super excited and complete it! Other times you would rather just paint over it. And why not? Perhaps that work taught you about color, or composition and those lessons will inform your next work. In fact, you could never be where you are right now without the work that came before… so celebrate and honor it’s influence: give yourself permission to keep moving forward. Because that’s what you are doing: growing, learning and making more art.
Our notions of good art, cultural expectations of perfectionism, and our own self-critical nature can all get in the way of our art. Shaming ourselves about our unfinished art is a symptom of this scarcity mindset. Remember: you can make the art you do today because of all the art (“finished” and “unfinished”) behind you. And guess what? The art you really believe in? You’ll finish.
The next time you hear that inner dialogue telling you what’s wrong with your pile of unfinished works catch yourself. Stop. Take a deep cleansing breath. And THANK ALL of your artwork (yes all of it, even the stuff you hate) for letting you create the art you are capable of creating today.
I am thankful for my mandala drawings because they led not only to my coloring book but to a wonderful new textile series of mandalas. I’m thankful for my lantern paintings, finished and incomplete, for celebrating color, light, and my life in the Middle East for nearly 10 years. I’m thankful for all of my portraits and self-portraits for leading me to my work like Frida Strong. And all of this, has led me to here and now, with you.
Be Creatively Courageous: Now it’s your turn. Tell me: what can you be grateful for because of your past creations?