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How do you stay motivated after art school?

Deepti Menon, Filmmaker & Animator

Deepti Menon

Filmmaker & Animator

Clara Lieu, RISD Adjunct Professor

Clara Lieu

Art Prof & Partner

Casey Roonan, Comics Artist & Cartoonist

Casey Roonan

Cartoonist & Comics Artist

Partial Video Transcript

Deepti: “I’ve been out of art school for only like six months, so it’s definitely still a learning process, and it’s really easy to get frustrated, I feel like, because you don’t have deadlines anymore, you don’t have teachers constantly telling you that you have to turn something in, but I found personally that surrounding myself with creative people is really stimulating. For example, I live with a musician and a comedian, and even though it’s not the type of art that I’m doing, it’s still really exciting to watch someone create anything, and it generates ideas no matter like what you’re kind of focusing on. So I think surrounding myself with creative people and being like ‘oh my gosh they’ve done something, I need to do something’ is really…”

Prof Lieu: “Peer pressure, right?”

Deepti: “Exactly, peer pressure. It’s really good for me.”

Casey: “Yeah, I mean it’s just having people around that are excited about making stuff is so great. I mean I definitely think that’s like what you lose in a big way when you leave art school, is that suddenly you’re not surrounded by that type of people necessarily. I mean it depends on where you’re living, but I mean it could be hard to foster a kind of environment.

Prof Lieu: “I know I have a bunch of little tricks that I play on myself to get myself to keep going, and some of them seem a little bit kind of ridiculous, but I’m amazed that a lot of them really work really well. Like for example, I remember for the longest time, back when we used paper calendars, I used to have a paper calendar, and I had this dot system.

So every day that I did artwork, I earned a red dot. And I remember I’d look at my calendar, and some days I’d look at I’d go like ‘shoot there’s like three red dots here for the whole month,’ and then I’d get this like total guilt trip, and other days I’d look at my calendar and go ‘wow there’s so many red dots, I feel so accomplished.’ And so I feel like those red dots, it was like a way of recording what I had done, and it was a way to hold myself accountable, so I think sometimes that visuals are so helpful.”

Casey: “I think that kind of system where you’re keeping track of things is so good, just for even just building your self-esteem, which I think is a big…”

Prof Lieu: “You wouldn’t think red dots would build up your self-esteem, but it works!”

Casey: “But if you can see it, like you see something like ‘oh yeah I did do that.’”

Prof Lieu: “I had a professor in college who told me that the way he got motivated was that he lived in Manhattan, but his studio was in Brooklyn. So he said to go to his studio, he had to drive through really bad Manhattan traffic, and he said he’d get really angry and pissed off so he’d be like ‘grr’ in the car, and so by the time he got to the studio, he was like so mad with energy that he was just like pumped and ready to go. I’m like, ‘that’s brilliant,’ I’m like, I kinda feel like my attitude about motivating yourself, it’s like, whatever works. No matter how stupid it is, no matter how minuscule it is, as long as it gets you to work, that’s the important thing.”

Deepti: “I found that I had a really hard time finding time to make art even, because of all of life’s responsibilities post-grad, but I found that like simple things like waiting for my coffee to be made in the morning, or like water to boil my pasta, was really great opportunities to just sketch, because if I wasn’t doing that, I was on my phone.”

Casey: “And that’s sort of like, you’re waiting for the oven like to preheat, that kind of time is so great, because that’s what I do a lot of my sort of warm-up sketches. It’s just when I’m waiting for something to cook, and like that is such a great experience because it sort of distracts you from the work you’re doing in a way, and it lets you be a little bit more free with it and a little less self-conscious, like ‘oh this is bad’ you know, which is kind of counterintuitive.”

Prof Lieu: “I think a lot of people don’t realize too that let’s say your pasta takes, what, eight minutes to boil, okay, let’s say you eat pasta three times a week, okay, and so you’re sketching for eight minutes each time. That’s 24 minutes a week that you’re sketching, and then you times that by four. That’s actually a lot of time when you think about it. And then by the end of the month, you flip through your sketchbook, you’re like ‘wow, I have a lot of sketches here’ and so I think what a lot of people don’t realize is even if you’re just doing three hours a week even, that that adds up, that eventually you do end up with something.”

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6 responses on "Staying Motivated"

  1. This is such a relevant conversation, and as a rising senior in college it has been brought up in several of our classes as well. One thing that I go back to again is, one of our professors mentioned, how after college, outside the setting of an institution, no one is going to tell you or push you to create work. That responsibility lies completely with oneself, to creating that space of work and prioritising hours to just creating work, good or bad. And this video brings forward so many great points to do the same.

    I really relate to the point of just starting, as I sometimes have struggled with it, with having my ideas all swarming in my head. I agree, putting them down on paper, even if its just in writing helps me to get started too. In summers especially, I create a list of ideas that I encountered during the semester but didn’t have time to pursue or because I couldn’t always make them part of a class assignment. Summer becomes a good time to really work on them, and as I am already excited about them, it becomes a little easier to get going. It really helps to keep reminding oneself to keeping a ‘just do it’ attitude and not overthink!

  2. This is so great to hear! Especially right now because just like Britt, I’m also dealing with how to stay motivated during summer. I agree that the most important thing to do is to just start, it’s so important and I’ve heard it so many times already. There are a couple phrases from my family that always nag at me too when i’m slowing down and it’s “trying isn’t doing” and “It’s you versus you”. Whenever that happens I just sit down and make a list of ideas that I can make into actual work. In fact, I should go do that right now.

  3. What great advice! Being the middle of summer right now, I’ve found that its really hard for me to stay motivated with my work, or even find time. But Prof Lieu made some really great points about even the smallest amounts of time add up to something larger in the long run. Also, I actually really liked the “red dot” idea, I think its really rewarding to see the progress you’ve made, even if it is with little circles on a calendar!

  4. I definitely agree! I find too that sometimes working on many things simultaneously can influence how you approach your ideas across projects. Finding things, objects, and places that inspire you is also a wonderful way to stay motivated. I am a big fan of taking walks to try and get back in the groove. Giving your mind space to think can be exactly what is necessary to stay motivated!

  5. Great advice! One of my best friends is a writer, and we talk all the time about how you stay motivated. For both of us we have to just start in the morning, or it never happens. We also found out that we worked better when we were busy, because we were afraid of not making work! When I have a few days off, I don’t make as much work as when I have to balance my art with another job. You have to “get the fear” as an old friend would say!

    • This is so true that being busy actually makes you much more productive! You would think it would be the opposite, that the fewer tasks that you have to do the more productive you would be, but I’ve actually found that it’s the total opposite. When I have the pressure of so many things going on, it’s like you don’t have the time to question or think too much about what you’re doing, which is a good thing! Sometimes when I have “too much” time to think about a project I end up wasting a lot of time just agonizing over aspects of the project that really don’t deserve that level of attention.

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