Thursday, August 1, 2013

Creatives Are Scatterbrained

There, I said it. Creative types, regardless of your style or delivered medium, tend to be a little bit "off" in the organization and memory departments. While this is a generalization, I do tend to find that it fits most of the creative's I've met, unless they've already got a person or a team of people managing their time and attention.

This is something that I've had to try to manage myself for a long time, in fact, I'm so scatterbrained that my blog post about being scatterbrained almost didn't get written in a timely manner because I was also juggling other tasks and entertaining some new ideas while I was writing it, and I got taken off course for... say... hours. I'm not proud of it, but it is what it is, and it certainly drives the point that this needed to be written and expressed.

I think the main problem is that creative professionals (or hobbyists) are always consumed with moving forward and creating something. We're never happy with ourselves, and so we're always trying to "1-up" our previous work, or the work of another artist that recently inspired us to feel like garbage about what we've done so far. We are constantly brainstorming ideas and the reason you never hear about or see a lot of them is simple: We also constantly second guess our judgement and the possibility of making our ideas real, so we're never happy with 90% of what we come up with, and set it aside as a "bad idea" or we resign ourselves to the think "It was probably a stupid concept anyway, nobody would have liked it and I would have wasted time and resources"

Aside from constantly trying to do better, we also struggle with the ability to organize our thoughts and set aside time to actually work them out and create from them. I know for me, I get tons of photo ideas on a daily basis and most are simply fleeting thoughts that never get sketched or written down, or even remembered later. When I do actually manage to put pencil to paper, it ends up in a pile of other quick sketches that I'll almost never get to, unless the idea comes up again somehow and I remember that I'd already prepared for such a concept. Again, even as I write this, I am reminded that I should have written an outline because my brain is skipping paragraphs ahead and I'm losing my train of thought on the sub-topic I'm writing about at the moment. Anyway, there are also the ideas that are so clear, so vivid, that I can imagine not just the basic shapes that I want to capture, but the entire process. When ideas like that come to you, it's almost like you're compelled by some unseen force to get up off your butt and make it happen immediately. I'll see colors, lighting angles, special effects, all the tiniest details, possibly even the camera settings that I'd need, so again, I sketch it out, but those stay at the top of the pile. Then I go into a sort of panic mode, trying to make it happen because I'm suddenly SO driven that this MUST be the big thing that's gonna put me on the map. I start trying to figure out who will be the subject and if it's a person I start looking through my cell phone for people I know, if I need a location I start thinking of places I see on a daily basis that might work, I start thinking of all the gear I'd need to pack, build, or buy, and I begin putting this enormous jigsaw puzzle together in my mind. The problem is that once you lose momentum, the whole thing is shot.

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For instance, I recently had a great idea for a photo that I could sell as stock and add to my portfolio. The problem is that it would require a person with a very specific look as well as some effects equipment that I'd have to build. Well, the person wasn't a huge problem. I reached out to a friend and he was down for the idea, the only set-back for him was that he was busy that weekend, which was my only free time, so there's roadblock #1. Then, the special effect needed to be built (I'm purposely being vague, by the way). I would have to hit up a hardware store and buy lots of little items, and I'd probably spend a decent chunk on something that wasn't going to guarantee any kind of return on investment in the foreseeable near future. I'm typically OK with that as long as the investment isn't too large. After all, personal projects never get you money directly, but they do help you hone new skills and expand your creative vision. However, since I'm in the middle of a studio renovation, every penny needs to be carefully managed. That was roadblock #2 as well as the nail in the coffin for that project, at least for now. The kicker is that this happened months ago, at the beginning of Summer/late Spring, and here it is August 1 and I'm only just remembering anything about this now as I come up with material for this post. Yet again, I'm a walking, talking, breathing example of being scatterbrained. I had this amazing (I thought) idea that was going to be so cool and could turn out to be very impressive if my vision came together how I wanted it to. There was such an incredible sense of urgency to do it, and then 2 measly roadblocks all but erase it from my mind for months. Erased, I'm sure, because then new ideas, which are constantly popping up, took its place. It's like this all the time, and forget about when I get real assignments that require creativity... those things nearly wipe me out.

I recently heard about a music video contest, and if you follow me on Facebook then you already know what I'm talking about (if you don't, that's the subject of an upcoming blog, so don't feel too left out). In less than a week I came up with a concept, assembled the people and gear I needed, shot, and edited a professional looking music video for a contest with no guarantee that it would have been worth anything in the end. It was the excitement that gave me the drive to put this together. In the time it took to eat dinner the night I found out about the contest, I had already gotten my loose concept together. Over the course of the next few days I tweaked it until I had something really substantial and less cliche than my initial offering. I then shot and edited, including special effects and post-production, in a matter of 21 hours, with props that I kept to under $20. Not bad, if I may say so myself. Here are the notes on that video, and you can clearly see by all the scratch marks and scattered ideas, and the handwriting that it was all kinds of rushed and crazy. On the flip side, this is one occasion where I was able to get pretty organized, because I knew without good shot lists, right down to the song timing, I would have had nothing to go by when I got around to editing.

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Aside from all of this, there is also a case of paranoia in a lot of us. Not the typical stuff that you'd expect like "What if people hate my work?" or "What if I never make this my full-time gig?" That stuff is obvious, and we're all so used to those thoughts by now that they almost don't count for us. Actually, we worry about far stranger stuff, and mostly for reasons related to the above information. Take for instance, my prop rack (photo below). Now, this thing is finally organized with plastic storage bins and separated by category. Prior to a mere few months ago, though, it was mayhem. Most of that stuff, even if it already had a box to go in, was just strewn about. You couldn't pick something up without something else falling over. Now, if I'm not a dedicated still life shooter, and most of my work revolves around the music industry or pet portraits, or whatever I'm working on the most at any given time, then you're probably wondering why I need so much crap. The answer is simple: I never know when I'll need something in a hurry, to accomplish one of those aforementioned panic-mode creative projects, when supplies are hard to get.

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Now, this may all sound a bit crazy, and it is, but hear me out on this. Let's say I get a ridiculous idea for a horror themed image. The kinda thing that could be cover art for a Slayer album. That's not the kind of idea that you want to sit on. Not because Slayer will find out about it and send me millions of dollars, but because when you feel that strongly about a piece, it takes on a life of it's own and demands to be done. So, I get all my stuff ready, my notes and what-not and I head to the studio to make it happen. Let's imagine for a minute that this is not something I thought of on a Wednesday in August at noon. Let's instead assume that this idea came to me on a Sunday night/Monday morning around 3AM, in the middle of a blizzard, during a holiday weekend and there are no stores open and no way to get to them in order to pick up some red food coloring to make the blood (which I make myself, most of the time, FYI). That's a pretty bad situation to be in when your Muse decides to hit you over the head with something that you can't ignore or put off. Somewhere in this rack, in one of those plastic boxes, is a set of food coloring. I know this not only because I need to be prepared, but also because I recently had to bust out the yellow food coloring from the same package in order to dye some spackle for wall touch-ups. So in addition to being scatterbrained, disorganized, and having bad memory, we tend to be pack rats as well.

I hope you enjoyed this entertaining and depressing look into the mind of a creative, and I really hope you think no less of me because of it. ;)

More soon,

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