Writing books and blog posts brings up many of the same challenges as creating paintings.
The tendency is to try and say everything in this book, this post, this painting. But everything is simply too much.
A painting with too much in it is like a garage full of junk. It’s all in there but you can’t find anything. Ask me how I know this.
There’s a parallel between not getting too attached to a particular piece of art to not trying to say everything in one book or blog post.
Simplicity, Constraint & The Big Idea
This book was hard to write until we realized that, like a painting, it didn’t have to have absolutely everything in it.
Working with the concepts of simplicity and constraint, gave us the big idea for the book- The Adjacent Possible– a principled way of exploring the unknown and generating relatable surprise.
This is surprise that is close enough to your existing world view that it can be incorporated- it is adjacent, not distant. It’s a healthy stretch, not a futile lunge.
And, since the process of surprising one’s self with creativity is an open-ended experience, it is up to you to decide when to finish and leave other elements for your next creation.
Creating Art Is A Long Game
Early in one’s life cycle as an artist there’s a tendency to fret over every single painting. Each painting is fraught, each one precious. Making matters worse, you may have only a few paintings under your belt since you may be painting sporadically at best.
The problem with this approach is that it places enormous pressure on each creation. Each painting becomes a life or death psychological battle.
And when you finally create a painting you love, you’re terrified that the next one will be disappointing. You fear you won’t ever be able to consistently create paintings you love.
If you can let go of this fear by having enough other possibilities that one particular disappointment won’t stop you in your tracks. You can keep your momentum even as you face setbacks.
A big part of the problem is you’re simply not painting enough. This places enormous pressure on the few paintings you create.
Compounding this problem is the tendency to approach each artwork with the notion that it has to be a masterpiece. This sets you up for frustration and disappointment.
The antidote to this predicament is to cultivate an attitude of exploration and experimentation in your painting practice.
Many Starts, Miles Of Canvas
A powerful studio practice is to apply the concept of creating many painting “starts”.
Creating painting starts moves you out of perfectionism and overthinking and into a process and attitude of “not knowing”, of allowing yourself to step into the unknown territory, the terra incognita, and see what emerges in your art.
Artists continually evolve their art.
By creating many starts you activate your creativity and unleash unfettered self-expression. In this process, new and surprising images emerge. You step into uncharted territory, out on that ledge, not knowing what’s going to happen next.
Raw, immediate images emerge. Some of these images scare you, some repel you and others you don’t recognize.
It’s all part of the process of experimentation in your art.
If I could recommend only one studio practice for an artist, it would be to exhort them to continually experiment in their art. The easiest way I’ve found of activating experimentation is by creating many starts.
If this lesson is compelling to you, I think you’d love my new bestselling book: The Adjacent Possible: Evolve Your Art. From Blank Canvas to Prolific Artist.
The Adjacent Possible book has a free companion video series you can access with the purchase of your book.
The print book will be available soon on Amazon.
Thank you for your support and encouragement of the book project. To tackle the problem of food insecurity, we will donate 100% of the first 30 day of proceeds to Community Fridges and Feeding America. We’re dedicated to solving food insecurity one book, one action at a time.
Our Community Fridge: Before
Our Community Fridge: After
Our neighbor built this lovely enclosure for our community fridge. After that, food donations materialized.
With gratitude from my studio to yours,
P.S. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you create many “starts” in your studio practice?
P.S.S. If you’d like to nab a copy of my bestselling book you can get it here: