Shop Talk

Open Discussion: How Do You Stay Interested in Long Term Projects?

When you’re embarking on new creative projects, do you have a plan in place to stay interested until you’re done? Increasingly I see artists around me tackling bigger and bolder projects, which often means a longer time-scale and sustained creative effort is required.

When you’re creating new works of art and simultaneously growing as an artist, it’s a good sign if the timeframe of your projects get longer as you get better. It shows that you can take on more, see projects through, and achieve bigger results. But how do you as an artist stay interested? How do you sustain the same enthusiasm and energy you have on day 1 on day 31, or day 98, or day 276?

A good friend of mine is a film maker, and while she loves the process of making films, by the time she is working with an editor to make a third, fourth, or fifth cut, her enthusiasm has hit a brick wall, and she just wants to get the project done. I know many writers like this too, that often find themselves getting sick of staring at their own work. So how do you sustain passion for projects which in their beginnings were undertaken willingly, with purpose and energy, that have in some ways become a chore?

Redbubble artist Freeminds mentioned something about this is her recent Featured Artist interview:

“I’m not very patient, so I tend to work quick, before I get bored with the drawing. That’s why most of my drawings are simple.”

"Almost a lumberjack pattern" Studio Pouch by Jacques Maes

As an artist myself I’ve been conditioned to never complain about the chance to make artwork, and view it always as a positive undertaking. Artists are often met with messages of positivity about making art that imply that any creative work is a privilege – which while it is, also negates any chance we have to discuss that sometimes finishing off creative projects is just as exhausting or mundane and straight forward as doing your taxes.

To suggest that there aren’t tiring or boring parts in the art making process is also a dangerous idea: it can perpetrate the myth that artistic work is somehow different from other creative work, and as we’ve recently discussed in this chat about commerce vs. creativity, isolating art making as a mythical, “special” pursuit can be used as a way to undervalue creative work and make it illegitimate.

In the past I’ve combatted long-term creative fatigue by introducing some forethought and predicting that six months into making an artwork I’m going to get tired, or sick, or bored of staring at the same stuff. Here are some other ways to stick with it:

  • Try collaborating with other artists as much as you can. This tip is even better if you can collaborate with people from who you want to learn a new skill, or are very funny people. Once, the only thing that got me through a three month long writing program was a good friend and fellow writer who spent a large portion of the program just trying to crack me up and make me smile.
  • Decide to marry the project. This tip came to me from a fellow artist who was making sculptures out of polystyrene (which is incredibly messy to work with). If you start using phrases like “till death do us part” when talking about your art, you might sound pretty intense and incredibly dedicated. Deciding to be more stubborn than the thing you hate the most about the work you have to finish will get you results.
  • “There’s no glory in the process” is a mantra lots of artists I know use to get themselves across artistic finish lines. The mantra says that there’s nothing great or glorious in the process – and if you want to enjoy the reward of having finished a work, you need to tell yourself “there’s no glory in the process” until it’s, you know, actually done.

So what do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments.