My online portfolio is resurfacing

full-creative-freedomI haven’t kept an online portfolio since 2008. It’s now 2015….

It wasn’t necessary, I had a full-time job from mid-2008 until a couple months ago. I wasn’t actively searching. Now I find myself in a peculiar crossroad. Many of the jobs I’m interested in want to see a great portfolio – online. Most of the work I performed since 2008 was focused on areas other than visual design, though I did continue it, and applied that same level of creativity to the other work I was doing.

Show as much great work as possible – my mantra of the moment. It isn’t easy considering I don’t have access to much of the work I produced, designed or written, since 2008. It’s a slow exhausting process that I pushing through nonetheless.

Work I produced long ago has been added to my new portfolio section of this site, some dating back to 1996. I’m far from finished. I figure image retouching is still image retouching, regardless of the year I performed it. In fact, the available tools and processes back then are ancient if not obsolete compared to today’s capabilities, but the creative process remains unchanged. That’s what matters. Revisiting that old work is like reviewing a photo album of my childhood, only I recall the thoughts and reasoning that went into each creative decision I made as I if it was a few hours ago. Crazy how that works.

If there is anything for readers to learn from this scenario, it’s this: maintain copies of everything you produce no matter how big or small. Be prepared.

 

 

Advertisements

Creatives using Adderall and other performance enhancers – what’s the deal?

Hey writers and other creatives – are any of you aware of this new trend of taking Adderall to be better at your disciplines? Take a look at this article, In search of perfection, young adults turn to Adderall at work” published December 3, 2013 on Al Jazeera America.

Besides the insane idea of using a drug dependency to maintain a leading edge on the competition, what got me was that the interviewed writer claims her work is better as a result of taking Adderall to stay awake all night writing her article. It seems to help her connect to her work. What is her writing baseline otherwise – mediocre work? How does she truly know the work is even better with the drug than without it? Fooling herself with this mythology is more than likely. What gets me, why does she even have a high pressure job writing for the NY Times?

This story, or this epidemic rather, makes me crazy. When I need to perform at a high level, whether in writing, designing, website creation, or whatever else I do, I just put myself in that mindset and do it. Sure, extra caffeine helps stave off the eventual weariness, but I don’t look to performance enhancers to do better at what I already do best.

For the sake of my argument, maybe a bit self-centered on my part, not to intentionally show off, yet it would seem I am, I have been knocking out some end of semester grueling grad school writing while heavily medicated. I had cervical spinal surgery almost two weeks ago, complete with a  disc replacement and decompression of my alarmingly compressed spinal cord. The condition was maybe a month or two shy of becoming an emergency situation. I was very lucky to have this situation discovered while checking for another unrelated neurological condition condition just a month ago. Ah, the fun of growing older and degenerative conditions like osteoarthritis setting in to my vertebrae. My point is, I am still performing at my top level, albeit at a slower than normal pace as I fight through the overwhelming need to sleep while I heal, the fuzziness of my thought process throughout most of the day, and the horrendous effects it all has on my typing abilities. But I work through it. And I own it, every bit of it. No excuses.

I know, I’m on a soap box here, and stepping off it now. But I wonder, I am in some way different than others not finding a need to depend on Adderall or other performance enhancers to do my job well, even under conditions of my current ailment?

I’d love get all of your takes on this. I know a lot of you who visit this blog are creatives in varying fashions – several of you are my friends, so I’m on to you 😉  – and have probably encountered in some shape or form people using Adderall or whatever else to get through heavy loads of college work or big job related projects. I’m interested in learning more about this apparent epidemic from first-hand accounts. Don’t leave me hanging, that would be cruel.

On that note, happy holidays as I nod off now. 

Article referenced: “In search of perfection, young adults turn to Adderall at work,” Al Jazeera America, December 3, 2013.

The dreaded “full creative freedom”

full-creative-freedom“Do whatever you want, you have full creative freedom!

I cringe when I hear those dreaded words. You should too. No creative ever wants full creative freedom. We need parameters, deadlines, timeline, budgets, brand identity guidelines, licensing guidelines, whatever. You might as well be clearing snow from the tarmac at Liberty International with only a toy beach shovel knowing a 747 could come barreling in from any direction at any moment with no notice. Yes, the idea is really that stress inducing.

So why do I bring this up? Because I’ve heard this probably a billion times now and I bet you have too. It’s not out of malice mind you, it’s not like your manager or the VP way up the line intended to cause you turmoil, they think it’s what you desire. To the outside world, the one thing all of us creatives desire more than anything else – more than a pay raise, recognition for our hard work or a long overdue promotion – is full creative freedom. They can’t be more off the mark.

It’s a simple fact for those not in the know: full creative freedom paralyzes us with fear and anxiety. And that leads to less than desirable execution of the job at hand. And an even less than desirable job performance flag on our annual reviews.

For everyone else in the know trying to curb this problem from damaging your ego and corrupting your portfolio, I offer you these recommendations derived from my many years of trials and tribulations:

1. Ask for parameters, i.e. deadlines, intended goals, all that stuff you need and want to know.

Demand it, set a timeframe for reviews. Confirm the intent of the creative work at hand. When they say, “whatever works for you” tell them tagging your street name on each of the south-facing cubicle walls probably won’t accomplish the goal. Fun, yes!

2. Be polite and respectful, but don’t be a doormat.

It’s easy to feel compelled to say yes to everything the boss tells you. The reality is, saying yes to everything creates two problems: 1. you take on more work than you can or should handle for the timeframe; and 2. you become the go-to-guy for doing all the garbage work because no one expects you to say no. Bottom line: learn to say no, respectfully, and for valid reasons. Most importantly, don’t be pompous about it.

3. Be honest.

Tell the boss that full creative freedom is much too broad and therefore vague. She or he should appreciate this perspective, most likely having to endure a similar matter in their own job history. Honesty goes a long way in the professional world, and is often appreciated and admired.

4. Don’t bitch and complain to your co-workers about the burden you allowed yourself to take on.

First, if you allowed it to happen, you have no one to blame but yourself. Suck it up, deal with it. Don’t complain. Secondly, if you do complain to your peers, guess what? Rumors spread, faster than that blood rush to your head during that dare to hang from the hotel balcony by your feet at Spring Break. No, I never did that, I just had to create a far-fetched scenario to make sure you’re paying attention. Point is: follow the first three steps and this fourth will not need to apply. You’re  a smart person, do the right thing.

Whether you follow my advice is your ultimate decision. I share it based on a career’s worth of successes and mistakes made in the creative field. And my goal is to help you, the reader, learn from my experiences. All I ask is that you accept or decline what I have to offer with respect and dignity. I wish you all success in your creative endeavors, and to pay it forward.

Good luck.

The creative process: work ethic vs. inspiration

“I don’t want to write, it’s too hard,” says practically every American child sitting at the kitchen table with homework spread out past bedtime.

That was the first thought I had when considering the value of a hard work ethic versus inspiration in the life of the creative for this blog. I know, I just used creative as a noun, that’s what us creative people in the professional world are typically called. If we were creating art for art’s sake we would be known as artists. Regardless, creativity requires a lot of hard work no matter the medium, discipline, and audience; it all comes from the same place. Some days it flows, everything is happy and the end result is clearly in sight. Other days you’re punching holes into the walls, dropping your head in your hands and, on occasion, throwing your whole body through walls. A book I recently read by Blaine Hogan, Untitled: Thoughts on the Creative Process, captures this struggle:

This is the creative process. For the most part it’s just plain old, unsexy work. It is slogging in front of the computer, canvas, or blank piece of paper, hammering out words and images in hopes of better days. And then, all of a sudden, a flash of brilliance. A phrase comes to mind and your heart is full. (Hogan, Locations 878-880)

We all hope it’s a flash of brilliance that strikes, and I don’t mean that to sound pessimistic. The simple fact is that it’s a subjective thought that I’m spending my words on right now. If you haven’t picked up on it yet, I’m procrastinating as I think this topic through and type it. I had a vision to tackle the polarizing topic that’s eating everyone’s brains and I’m falling flat on execution. I know, hyperbole and superfluous. Pushing myself back on topic now.

Vision is easy. Ideas are even easier. It’s execution that separates the amateurs from the pros. (Hogan, Location 111)

Okay, okay, I’m not an amateur. Pulling myself together now.

So creativity is hard work and I’m all over the place tonight in conveying this. If you know a creative person, maybe you are one, you are no doubt aware of stories about a great project that looked like it would fly by because the energy and excitement was all there. Only it didn’t. It dragged on, ten times longer than planned, sometimes one hundred times longer. The project was over budget, understaffed, late to press, drives crashed, feelings hurt, frustrations vented, enemies made, supplies snapped in half and thrown out the studio windows … yes this happens to all of us. This is what hard work looks like to a creative, driven by passion and fueled by caffeine. A volatile condition, yet effective, usually.

“But what about inspiration?” you ask.

Inspiration is fleeting. It appears, it disappears. Some of it sticks, some of it slithers down your back and drops to the floor never to be heard from again. That is its nature. Accept it and move forward. When it strikes, be ready to record it with the understanding that its execution is never going to occur quickly and without pain.

Pain is the essence of hard work, ask your grandparents if you don’t believe me. Back breaking hard work was once a thing, it still is for some, and in the creative world, it’s more psychological than physical. It’s a daytime nightmare you cannot wake from. It’s also a daydream you can lose yourself in. Inspiration will do that to you, though, take you to another world. Which is great, because we all need great ideas, but we need grounding too – a hard work ethic.

Artists by nature are never satisfied. I heard that once while in art school and took it as gospel, so I continue to tell everyone that without citing studies. Not quite. It does, however, describe myself and every other creative I know. That level of dissatisfaction translates to self-editing, scrapping work and starting over, and other laborious steps backwards amidst a slow motion tumble forward. Hours, if not days or weeks, are lost to this tragic phase called revision. All of that lost time equates to lost creative labor that may never see the light outside of a garbage can. The creative, or artist, drags boulders up icy mountainsides to achieve the goal, spraining ankles and breaking bones along the way. And when he or she reaches the peak, spirit-breaking mental exhaustion gives way to bigger and better things.

And then inspiration kicks you in the face and you are so wired you can’t sit still. You type or paint or sculpt or whatever frenetically, making mistakes along the way without caring. Editing/revising/modifying doesn’t matter, love your first draft, the only draft, it’s perfect in every way! You keep going and going and going till you burn out. You crash harder than a thousand foot free fall on the ocean surface. But you have it, your first draft, your only draft, your gift of the gods enlightening the world through your voice. Don’t dare alter it, it is perfect in every way, that first draft. Except it’s not.

Hard work returns quickly with ferocity. The revision or whatever you do is critical if you are serious about creating not just good, but great art. It’s a vicious cycle, eventually finding a conclusion due to external forces like client deadlines or collecting a paycheck before your bills are due.

It’s chaos, it’s struggle, it’s enlightenment through mental anguish. When it’s all done and you gaze at your work, it will have separated itself from you. Unrecognizable, it’s an extension of who you were during those moments of creation and what you do. But it’s not you, it is its own holistic being. Your creation. You immediately forget the pain and embrace it. And then you deal with client revisions and approvals and finally collect a check sixty days later.

Creative work is rewarding on a level separate from anything monetary, but it’s not for the thinned-skin. As you might have determined by now after reading this offbeat meditation, there is no winner. Inspiration and  work ethic compliment each other, they improve each other’s capabilities and well-being. To be successful, you need both.