I’m starting 2021 fresh. A clean slate.
I’m done blaming 2020 as an ominous entity, or the virus, or any other thing outside of my control. It’s popular to say “screw you 2020!” but it’s pointless.
And honestly it’s hard enough to be a full time artist without constantly feeling like there’s some sort of “force” out there trying to crush you.
Positive thinking IS important – don’t get me wrong! But there’s a difference between thinking and doing. You have to take some sort of step. So that’s what I’m doing.
The chaos of 2020 confirmed something for me. That I am very much a loner. Not in a depressing, anti-social way. But in a way that means I thrive when I have extensive amounts of alone time to work in silence, 100% focused on my tasks, being able to get lost in the process and flow without being yanked out by obligatory social interactions.
But despite feeling happy when I’m alone, I’m human.
I still enjoy being with other humans. I enjoy social gatherings focused around creativity. I love painting next to other creative souls. I love talking to passionate people.
So that’s what I’m chasing this year. That intangible thing…when you see it in other people you just know.
Let’s call it zeal.
Zeal / Zealousness
Passionate devotion to or interest in a cause or subject, for example: ardor, enthusiasm, fervor, fire, passion, zeal.
I want to connect to other people who are bursting with life, hope, and excitement to pursue their dreams. Thankfully, the internet makes that possible.
I will continue to put myself out there, sharing the journey – both ups and downs – in hopes that my tribe will find me.
It’s not even “my” tribe. It’s our tribe. And we are finding each other.
In 2021, I’m looking forward to focusing on a more considered approach to my work. I will begin the year with increasing the amount of daily sketching and value studies. I feel like this is so easy to overlook when you have the excitement of COLOR at your fingertips.
Making a daily habit of sketching has always led to profound growth – slow at first, and then suddenly one day it’s glaringly apparent.
Value studies are especially important. The more I do this painting thing, the more I realize that no amount of color can save a painting if the values aren’t right. If there’s no story. If there’s no focus.
Going back to the fundamentals doesn’t mean regressing. It means growth.
With my Patreons, I will be exploring a loose lesson plan that we will use to grow our skills. It will not be concrete – it will be fluid, adaptable, and catered towards our growing needs.
I mentioned this to my Patreons, but it’s worth saying here.
I am very much enjoying the process of making videos. It’s a really fun medium for storytelling. It allows for a lot of creativity, and since it still feels quite new, I am constantly learning something (which I love!). I’m addicted to learning.
I’m not sure why, but I spent the better half of 2020 feeling like making weekly videos was a hobby, when in fact it had become a core part of my entire workflow and business. I can now confidently say I LOVE making videos and I LOVE the creativity of editing. I finally found ways to reduce my wrist/hand pain, so that I can continue down this path.
My YouTube channel has been a surprisingly fun platform – not the trolly cesspool of negativity some people warn about. Of course I do get negative comments now and then, but the majority of people have been so warm, friendly, encouraging, and lovely to talk to. Some of you might have even found me through YouTube! Since I started reducing my Twitch streams a year ago, I feared that the majority of my following would leave, but instead, the core group of twitch watchers still hang out, and there are soooooooooooo many new amazingly fun and creative people joining our community from YT.
So, if that’s you, WELCOME, and I am very honored you decided to join my journey.
I truly look forward to seeing where this path takes me, and I’m enjoying the journey along the way.
Despite some success in 2020, I felt very stretched thin, very chaotic. Which is funny because I teach others how to schedule their lives, plan and reach their goals, and that should make me an authority, right?
I’ve identified a big hope of mine, which is to reduce my chaos. Embrace the calm.
So what steps can help me get there?
I tried a LOT of things in 2020, just to see what would stick. To see what things brought success and what I could live without. But I tend to go all in – so even if I’m just “trying” something, I’ll put 100% of my effort in. The problem with that comes when you are putting 100% of yourself into 100 different things. It just doesn’t add up.
After that realization, I sat down to think about what is truly important to me and my business. I narrowed it down to two things.
- Creation (art, photography, videos)
Creation…well that’s obvious. But the second one kind of surprised me in a way. I’m addicted to learning. The pursuit of knowledge and discovery fuels me every day. But so does seeing that spark in others. In 2020 I started making Skillshare classes and identifying more as a teacher than ever before. Something surfaced in me that was untouched. Taking on the roll of Teacher felt natural, but also a bit scary. I was never trained as a teacher. So in a way I felt like a fraud, like I was tricking people into learning.
But that’s such BS. I learn things every day from “unqualified teachers.” On youtube. At the shop. My husband. My cat. On TV. Life itself as a teacher. So screw it, I’m going full steam ahead and embracing the label of Student and Teacher simultaneously.
Ways to simplify your life / schedule
I admit that I am easily distracted. Even though I know the value of concentration, of working on one thing at a time (multitasking is a lie), I still constantly catch myself reaching for distraction. It feels good. Videos about building cabins in the woods. Instagram stories. Petting my cat.
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport has become to bible of focus for many professionals, and with good reason. The concept is SO SIMPLE.
You can read yourself, but basically it comes down to this: Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task.
How I reduce distraction
I start by scheduling my day in chunks.
A chunk can be moved, but overall having chunky days helps because it allows a little flexibility, as long as I stick to one rule.
Within a chunk, I stick to the chunk.
I can leave open chunks, because things always come up sort of last minute (new commissions, life events, etc). Each Sunday I sit down and assess my upcoming week – trying to make it as efficient as possible.
Ideally, I have an even balance of content creation and admin work. But some weeks, the admin tasks take priority, for instance, in November I spent 2 whole weeks framing, finishing paintings, packing, and shipping to the gallery. You can see why it’s important to have flexibility.
Final thoughts on this – try to be self aware, to understand when you are most creative during the day. For me, it’s morning and very late at night. So I try to keep those time slots for my personal work. But if you’re a full time artist, you can’t just wait for inspiration to strike. You have to stick to your schedule so you don’t fall behind. Being disciplined takes practice. You have to show up, day after day. Keep going!
If you are looking for more help in scheduling and reaching your goals, consider joining my Patreon family where I share tons of insights on this topic or check out my mentorship program (scroll down).
The Big Dream
Perhaps most importantly is to never lose sight of the BIG DREAM. When I worked at an architecture firm, we called the BHAG, or Big Huge Ass Goal. It sounds ridiculous because it was meant to be something so crazy you could only achieve it in your wildest dreams.
And then, after you finish tiling the altar on which this goal is worshiped, you get to work to figure out what steps will lead you there. Because whether you believe it or not, you CAN.
My BHAG is to own a big beautiful studio space, separate from my house, where I can teach art to zealous people, to host visiting artists so they can do the same, and offer a creative hub to the locals – young and old.
An everything-goes type space, setup to encourage interaction, growth, and exploration.
There you have it.
I have been taking steps to get there for 5 years. It’s one of the reasons I chose “Sarah Burns Studio” as my business name when I first started.
And as far away as it seems now, I will get there some day. One year at a time. But for now, I’m reminding myself to find joy every day.
Now if you excuse me, I’m going to go pet my cat.
Happy New Year everyone!