This time around on Muddy Colors I thought I’d relate a particular situation that happens to me quite often. I know I can’t be the only one to have this idiom integrated into their process, but it doesn’t get much air time and I think it’s important… at least for me it is.

There are times, and this happens quite frequently, that I’m engaged in some type of contract work, be it illustration, cover work or concept art. In the midst of this, so consistently that I can plan on it now, I start inexplicably brainstorming pieces for myself, my personal work. I think it must be a bit of a reaction to the discipline of working and collaborating with others.

I start having all these ideas that seem to be designed to distract me from the work at hand. At least that’s how it felt in the beginning. I’d be working along and suddenly I’m grabbing another sketchbook and off on a tangent or total non sequitur. At first I would resist the urge to drop the contract work and I would marshal my discipline and refocus. Well… to be honest that only worked sometimes. At other times I would find myself halfway through a new personal work and in danger of encroaching on the deadline of the contract work. Then I’d have to scramble to get caught up.

But after a while I began to realize that these personal pieces that kept insisting to be paid attention to were more often than not, better than the pieces that I would try very hard to manufacture.

So I began to change the way that I thought of them. Instead of being a facet of resistance (to the contract work) what if they were sort of… a reward in a way.

My disciplined mind was very engaged in communicating and collaborating with the client so my (what to call it… free ranged mind?) was throwing all of these new ideas at me that were most times outgrowths and evolution’s of the contract work. 

They say that you must be able to rely on your work discipline even when inspiration isn’t present. What no one ever talks about is what to do when you’re in the midst of your discipline and suddenly you’re inspired.

After having dealt with this for a few years it was, at times, very frustrating. An idea that jumps in front of the work you need to do and starts herding your cats in a different direction… So what to do? I didn’t want to lose the ideas that were coming to me… that would be more frustrating to me than losing the contract. But I also wanted to be professional and losing contracts and blowing deadlines is frowned upon (by many and not just Vicki).

So I made a compromise.

I had become fully conscious of this part of my process and knowing that it was likely going to happen going into a project I made a deal with myself.

I would take time before and after the daily “work” to continue my own explorations and if need be I would let myself make small sketches… I would shorthand the idea, just enough to remember what it was about, to be able to reference it later.

So now, when I’m working on contract work, I’ll usually wake up and start with sketches of my own to get moving and then after I’ve progressed with the work of the day I do the same thing at the end of the night.

It all eventually solidified into a fairly concise philosophical statement that I tell anyone who asks:

Learn to rely on your discipline but never ignore inspiration.

Oh yeah, and:  Sometimes work is hard. Hah