Artistic commitment issues?

  • Hey SVS community,
    My question is - does anyone else struggle with commitment issues as an artist. I have a plethora of ideas for books and projects I want to do, as well as having started on some of them, but inevitably I lose steam and seem to get distracted by a new shiny idea. It's not that I wasn't excited about the first idea - I'm still excited about all of them, I just get more excited about newer ideas. How do other illustrators (who aren't being paid and aren't being held accountable to someone - I'm talking personal projects) see a project from beginning to end?
    I've thought about making myself a schedule and timeline and due date, but this whole concept seems beyond my executive function and I don't even know where to start so I tend to dive in impulsively which may be contributing to the problem.
    Any advice or thoughts would be appreciated.

  • @juliekitzes

    I also struggle with this problem as well. For many years actually.

    What I find is that I might become completely infatuated and obsessed with an idea, and commit some to a lot of energy to that story, only to realize that after some time has past, I am no longer invested in what I was creating.

    What I am coming to realize, maybe, it's okay to go with the flow, you know? Maybe you were invested with this one particular story idea at the time, but now you aren't because of many things, like:

    1. Time and Financial Management makes it difficult for you to fully commit to an idea.
    2. Maybe you were compelled to this idea because of a certain element, which has lost its charm like a fad.
    3. Maybe you realize the idea you made is not really great, and you need to update it in a way to make it a more compelling story.

    Among many other things... What I am doing with my stories that I have never finished, I am currently "shelving" or "valuting" until I think I have found the appropriate time to reapproach them, reevaluate what I made, and decide whether this personal piece is worth continuing as is or needs to be restructured slightly to even significantly to make it work in a way that I can feel completely committed to it.

    I have 2 stories I have written in the past, 1 unfinished, the other a finished draft, both have problems but I think with care and time I can improve in the future. I have put aside these stories for another story I am currently invested in, and I am making sure that I put in the effort to make it the best story it can be, through research and care.

  • I completely have this same problem! I'm working on it, but I haven't totally figured it out yet, so hopefully someone else chimes in haha.

    The one thing that helps me is making myself accountable to someone else, or to someone else's due date. For example, when I was working on improving my portfolio, I needed to have it done to submit it to the SCBWI showcase, so that gave me a deadline. And then I would do the monthly contests to create portfolio pieces (another deadline) - with a specific prompt.

    I also will set myself targets like, I have to post to instagram every Thursday, so that means I have to make a new piece each day.

    For longer projects - like a book. I am finding it a lot harder. But I think the way I'm going to do it is by posting my progress and sharing the process on social media, so that I feel accountable to someone. I have to get some progress each week to share it.

    I find it also helps to just write everything down that I'm interested in doing and then prioritize them so that I see which thing I should do first (I often get overwhelmed by the options and thus do nothing ugh!)

  • Pro

    @juliekitzes I used to struggle with this, and to me it was due to pursuing motivation. Motivation is awesome, it's like a great big wave that carries you, excites you, and allows you to get so much stuff done. But eventually it always recedes, and then we must find a way to still keep going without it pushing us. Getting distracted by new shiny things means that instead of figuring out how to continue, we are attracted by the next big wave of motivation that's going to carry us through. But using only waves of motivation doesn't actually carry us to shore - that is to say, to a project being actually completed. We must address the root issue, which is how to finish stuff when motivation is waning, and not get distracted.

    For me 2 things help:

    1. Remembering my goals. I have a freaking vision board with what I want out of my life and how each project helps me get there. When motivation wanes, I look at it. I remember why it's important to me that I finish this, even if it's a little more difficult to keep going right now.

    2. When I get shiny new ideas, and I'm starting to obsess about one and think about the details constantly, then I write everything down. I open OneNote and I jot down the whole outline, all details about it that are coming to me that I can think of. Once it's out, I feel better that it's preserved and I can go back to it later if I decide it fits into my long-term goals. It gives me the indulgence of half a day to think obsess about, dissect and flesh out this idea, then with everything safely written down, I'm able to calm down and stop obsessing about it, and return to what I was working on before.

  • @juliekitzes I think most artists struggle with this, at some point in their journeys or throughout their lives!

    @carlianne has great advice: make yourself accountable in some way, either by personally giving yourself a project or finding an accountability buddy. Whether that's one person or a critique group, that may help you keep motivated to finish that project.

    @NessIllustration also has great advice: address the underlying issue. If you're only working on a project when you feel inspired -- while we need to be motivated as artists, working only when we feel inspired is a good way to have a pile of unfinished projects. Now, I think all of us have pieces that we never finished and that will never get finished -- that's being an artist! But if your goal is to become a full-time, working artist, inspiration can't be the driving force behind getting projects done.

    For me, when I'm working on a book and this is my 20th time illustrating this character, it's not an exciting part of the story (all books have quiet moments), and it's a character that's not really my favorite thing to draw (most books have those characters too) -- in that situation, I just have to buckle down and do the work. There might be some wiggle room in a project where you can take a day off if you're really not feeling it and the work will suffer if you push through -- but that's the exception to the rule. For me, having that schedule and accountability (and knowing I won't get paid until the work gets done) is a great motivation! And while this is speaking professionally, it has trickled down into my personal work too -- now I plan out personal projects before jumping in and try to find ways to hold myself accountable. For example, in my personal work, I'm currently working on a picture book dummy and have decided to work in small steps, one thumbnail sketch a night. It helps to think in terms of increments instead of the entire project, which can be overwhelming, especially if I already have a lot on my plate.

    Of course, this is just my perspective on the art project commitment issue. Hope you find a strategy that works for you, and please let us know how it works out!

  • I am currently working through a personal project, which I kept doubting myself if I am able to do it. I was very excited when I started - I wrote a picture book story. But the story requires me to draw complex scenes with many characters (story called for it, and my usual illustration have 1-2 characters in a big environment. Maybe a typical newbie writer thing - I have a story I like, but the story elements are beyond what I am comfortable of drawing). I just spent a week trying to figure out the composition for a spread with a bunch of characters. In the end, I had to scrap everything, and go back to thumbnail stage. It is just not working. I think I would have put the story to the shelf and told myself "well, this was too difficult for me right now, and I will come back to it when I am levelled up in skill", If it was not for having some external accountability.

    Here are a list of things that might be helpful:

    1. Have a perspective: things take time. Especially, with things I have never done before, it will take more time than I think. My tendency is telling myself - maybe this is just too hard, time to give up, if I was not prepared. So I would need prep-talk myself into believing this is going to take a lot of time before I jump into the project.

    2. Have a group that will check in with me. I had my first dummy by meeting a couple of illustrators on Zoom every second week. I would share my progress with them. I did not know any of them prior to the meeting. The fact someone is going to check in with me helps, even just a group of strangers.

    3. Focus on learning, not external recognition. It is helpful to identify things I could learn from completing the project, get excited about that, rather than thinking about if anyone is going to publish my book, or if I will have a big readership, followers, etc. This is a hard one, especially that almost everything we drew is measured by "likes" on social media these days.

    4. Focus on showing up to do the work, not how much work I get done. I used to make a schedule such as "finish spread x " by a certain date. Now, I tell myself to work everyday for at least 1 hour for example, and see how it goes. This is probably the hardest one for me. We are all very used to the culture of measuring productivity, rather than effect. To change this mindset takes a lot of practice. I am still working on this one myself - to not get disappointed on myself that sometimes, I could not get anything working after putting in hours of hours of time.

  • Do you have an agent? I think my agent somehow helped me stay focus by suggesting which projects are of higher priority. She knows the market well and knows all my due dates after all.

  • I agree that almost all artists probably suffer from this from time to time. I personally have a huge comic project that I 100% intend to finish some day but I started it in 2014 and dove in so hard that I burnt out really fast because I wanted it to be professional and I had never made a comic before. I studied how to make comics and went to panels at comicon that were about making comics and I learned a ton. I even leveled up my art so fast that I scrapped the original art and started over. But the hardest lesson learned was making a comic by yourself is so much work. I recently started working on it again. Having my long term and short term goals written down helps. And honestly once I force myself to work on it for a bit I start getting excited about it again. I also re-watch Jake Parker's videos from time to time because they get me pumped to start again.

  • Hi Julie-- yeah that is a common problem I think. I am about to be done with school and I have found that I tend to prioritize my schoolwork (or anything that I am making for anyone else) over stuff I want to make for myself. After thinking about it for a while (because it is something I need to change also) I think that fear can keep us always in the idea phase because we are worried subconsciously that we will never make the idea as good as it was in our head. another thing is not knowing where to go or what steps to take after we get to the end of the idea phase. Another factor they talked about in the Draftsmen podcast in their S2E16 "the war of art" episode Is that when you have a new idea you are so excited that you set unrealistic goals and then burn out quickly because there is no way that you can reach your goals and you get discouraged (14:50).

    Right now I am working on a portfolio to get work illustrating magazines, and what my plan is to make it seem to myself that it is as real as possible.

    I made this little proposal form for myself to outline the journey for myself as much as i can before i get to work, to I have a mostly complete plan and I don't get lost in the middle too much. here's a link to the template if you're interested.( )

    I set up my files for the first project in their own little folder even though I don't have everything for all of them (make this simple- I have one folder for thumbnails, another for developing the thumbnails I decide on, and one that I will duplicate later for the execution of the actual pieces, take 30 min max)

    finally I have a dedicated time during the day to work on the projects and a little set of project rules (the most important one being don't skip steps in the process and don't work on more than 2 projects at a time) and how I want my 'work day' schedule to be (most importantly have a to do list or goal for the day so you know what you are doing)

    I'm only a week in, but I already feel like I have more control over my personal projects and because I am picturing them start to finish there isn't that pit of dread in the middle between the idea and the finished masterpiece.

    best of luck!

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