Back in May (a lifetime ago and yet here were are in Pumpkin Spice Season), I was asked to write a letter of encouragement to a senior in high school dealing with… well 2020. She was headed for art school and really struggling with her senior year being put on pause.

With school back(ish) in session, I thought it might be helpful to share some of that email for students and even us working adults that need some inspiration. Also, you’ll see that Ira Glass and Anne Lamott, write most of this letter for me.

 


 

Dear Leayah,

I’m so sorry your senior year is wrapped up in this pandemic.

I can’t imagine the stuckness you must feel as you sit, ready to launch into a world that has come to a stop.

While I learned so much from going to school for graphic design, one of the things I learned is that nothing limits my art but me. And… nothing creates my art but me. Even art school isn’t a necessity. (I know that’s not what I’m supposed to say, but it’s true.)

Don’t get me wrong, I learned a lot in school about art and design, but what I learned was more about history, community and collaboration than really anything specific. There’s really no difference between someone who’s work you admire and yours, other than just doing the work.

What I’m trying to say, Ira Glass says better:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

Find artists and work that you love. Make up projects or challenges for yourself. If you want to create a sculpture but don’t have the supplies, limit yourself to cardboard or something you have a ton of around the house. Limits and parameters foster creativity. Set boundaries up for yourself or use the boundaries you have to think creatively with them. Without limits, I find the vastness of what I could do/make crippling.

Experiment and don’t worry about messing up. Some of the most interesting work I’ve created has come from a shift after a mistake.

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”

― Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

I was just talking to a coworker in creative the other day, and we both commiserated on the fact that there always seems to be a point in the process of making something that you feel like it sucks/you suck. But then things start to come together or sometimes they don’t but you learn from it.

“If something inside of you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act—truth is always subversive.”

― Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

I had a drawing teacher that would read “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott aloud to us while we drew. I would totally recommend this. Get an audiobook since you don’t have, Rick Pope (my amazing teacher). If you don’t have a live drawing class, setup a still life or sit in front of a mirror.

See… you’ve basically recreated what I learned my freshman year of college.

Feel free to reach out if you have any questions or would just like to chat. Also, let me know who inspires you. I may be full of advice, but I’m lacking time and inspiration lately and would love to learn more about you.

Here are just a few of my favorite artists/designers to follow on instagram:

Yours in turning 2020 into more than a shitty draft,

—Jess

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