My Guiding Principles Process

Ten years in and I’m thinking about what has kept me making art. Some thoughts on my Guiding Principles process.

Next year, 2023, is my ten year anniversary of Make Something Every Day. In 2013 I was in love with the idea of being an artist. I couldn’t say I was an artist because I didn’t have any work that was less than fifteen years old.

I started making for twenty minutes a day and posting it to the internet as a way to be accountable to myself. My old blog where I started this project is gone but I don’t have to see those early pictures to remember the sense of possibility I felt in those days.

I wasn’t trying to become a working artist. I just wanted to make things. And I wanted to be free to explore ideas and techniques without boundaries. I wanted to play with supplies and figure out what worked for me. I knew I loved paper. So that was an easy place to start. Notebooks and scrapbook paper and art papers in big sheets. (Collecting supplies is it’s own hobby and while that’s always an ongoing interest of mine.) I mainly wanted to figure out what my style was and have a body of work to point to to say, “This is where I spend my time. I am an artist.”

My Guiding Principles

So how did I get from twenty minutes a day to here? In the beginning it was all of these baby steps that I kept making, sometimes in the dark, never sure if I was staying on the path. Things really started gelling for me though when I developed my guiding principles. I think they were there unverbalized for a very long time. Writing them down charted my course in a way that seems kinda magic when I look at it now.

My two basic principles guiding what I do are:

  1. Make Art
  2. Have people see my art
mind map 2020
My 2020 mind map with my Guiding Principles circled in black

Every year, I sit down and make a mind map with those two principles in the middle of a giant page and I brainstorm what forms they might take. After I write as many things down as I can think of, I pick a few things from that brain dump to pursue over the course of the next year. Some years my goals are focused on things I already have in the works, like this year I knew I would be working on the class for Wanderlust 2022. Some years I work on more skill development like taking classes or the mentorship I did at the beginning of this year. I started including my list in my yearly goals posts a few years ago. Here’s 2020, 2021, and 2022.

If I get presented with an opportunity unexpectedly, I use my guiding principles to assess the advantages or disadvantages of taking the project/job. “Is the project/opportunity about making art specifically or is the time away from making art a good use of my time because it puts my art in front of people?” is the question I ask myself over and over again. It allows me to say no gracefully but also lets me have room to say yes when I want to pursue a new idea.

Every day I’m making

So after this yearly process, I spend my time making. Planning for art making. Assessing the art I’ve made. Reading about the theory and practice of creativity. Researching other art and artists to figure out what I like, what works for me, what I want to pursue and practice. These things are all part of art making for me. This is what I do for as many hours a day as I can scavenge. This year has been less of those hours than I’d have liked to be honest and I’ve had to make peace with that. I remind myself that this is a pleasure cruise not a military scouting vessel. If there isn’t joy in the making then I’m in the weeds before I even start.

This requires patience. My younger self had no idea of what this practice would require. I was not equipped with this patience in my 20s. And it only really started developing as my kids got older in my late 30s. Sometimes I wonder if I had known what this required would I have embarked on this journey. I always come back to “Why am I doing this? Would I still do this if no one ever saw it?” The answer is I love to make. So yes, I would do it if I only had a stick to scratch in the dirt.

What follows is piles of work. Maybe it’s good work. Or maybe it’s bad work. Maybe it gets recycled into other things. I might give it away. Maybe I clutch it to my chest and have a hard time releasing it. But what comes when I make these decisions over and over again is that I make stuff. I am making stuff. I have made stuff. Painted canvases, bound books, essays, meals, drawings, dioramas, tiny shrines, shawls, sweaters, postcards, and art pieces.

July 2020 journal stack
Journals from July 2022

Ten years in

Using my guiding principles to stay on task has been a huge part of my creative journey. It’s what I credit with getting me this far. I look around and realize that in almost ten years I have a rather huge body of work.

What activities or processes keep you on your making path? How do you stay committed? Let me know in the comments below or send me an email. I’m interested in your experiences.