Friday, May 10, 2013

Neil Gaiman: Make Good Art

Despite all our talk about buckling down to business, there is such a thing as taking yourself too seriously and losing track of what truly matters in the creative life. In honor of all the young enthusiastic artists about to be released from their universities this weekend, here's a commencement speech really worth paying attention to:

This entire speech is so amazing, I'd like to print the entire transcript out and read it before going to bed at night, and then again when I wake up in the morning -- but just for you, dear reader, I've paraphrased his ten main points.
  1. When you start out on a career in the arts, you have no idea what you're doing. This is great.

  2. If you have an idea of what you want to make, what you were put here to do, then just go and do that.

  3. Do the work that excites you. If you do work you're proud of, then you have the work, even if you don't get the money.

  4. If you make mistakes, it means you're out there doing something.

  5. Having the ability to make art is a lifesaver.

  6. Make the art that only you can make. Expose your true self. Take risks. After all, where would be the fun in doing something that you knew was going to work?

  7. People get hired because, somehow, they get hired. But people keep working because the work is good, they're easy to get along with, and they deliver the work on time. And you don't even need all three.

  8. Enjoy your success. Stop worrying. Let go, and enjoy the ride.

  9. The harder you work, and the more wisely you work, the more lucky you will get - but there is luck and it helps. We are in a transitional world, and the traditional avenues for distribution are changing. The old rules are crumbling, and nobody knows what the new rules are - so make up your own.
But most importantly,


Congratulations Graduates, and congratulations to the rest of us too -- today is a fresh new chance for us to launch out into the world, and make it better resemble the kind of place in which we want to live.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Quotable: Alyea Pierce

Today's Take 5 artist Alyea Pierce provides plenty of food for thought about where creative drive comes from. My favorite takeaway moment? This:

What about yours?

Take 5 with Alyea Pierce

I first discovered Alyea Pierce through her Ignite speech, which I've embedded below. She makes a compelling and inspiring case for allowing your dreams to be the thing that drives your profession in life, and writes some pretty excellent poetry while she's at it. The interview portion of this post is excerpted from, and is definitely worth reading all the way through. Enjoy! 

Alyea Pierce

Creative Specialties: Motivational speaker and poet
Current Location:
New Brunswick, NJ

Mini Bio:
Alyea Pierce is a Junior at Rutgers University New Brunswick, majoring in Communications with a double minor in English and Linguistics. She was a Top 12 finalist in the 2012 NY Knicks Poetry Slam (Premiering on the MSG website and channel), Top 20 finalist in the 2011 and 2012 NYC Teen Poetry Slams and one of seven students in Rutgers University chosen to perform at the RU Mark Conference. Some of the venues Alyea has performed at are the Apollo Theater, Broadway’s New Amsterdam Theater, Columbia University, Kean University, the Nuyorican Poets CafĂ© and over 75 events at Rutgers University. She is a Hopeful Romantic, Poetry Mentor for the NAACP ACT-So Program, and a Public Speaking Coach and Judge currently working on her first book entitled “Every Stranger Deserves a Poem”. She was a member of the first Rutgers Slam team in 2012 which placed 11th in the nation at the College Unions Poetry Invitational in California and Team Leader of the 2013 RU slam Team competing in New York. Alyea strives to be a world traveled motivational poet, teaching children the beauty of art and voice through poetry.

(Interview excerpted from
1) When did you first start reciting spoken word/poetry and what was your inspiration behind starting?
Since I was a little girl I was always enticed by the arts, but would only perform for myself. My first writing experience was actually forced by my seventh grade English teacher, and I hated it. After being forced to free write for 15 minutes every day, poetry began to fly out of my pen and from there poetry slams started coming into my eye all the time. My inspiration was the fact that I could never speak my true feelings. I always held a lot in as a child, and never knew how to voice my words… so my motivation was that I must speak for those who can’t.

2) Do you find it hard to accept criticism? What was the most rewarding comment someone has given you?
When I was younger I used to be very protective of my words. When you are giving yourself to a page and someone critiques it and tells that person that they could fix this and that. It hurts…Poems are like your baby. They are a part of you. They are you. However, as I got older, I now understand that criticism is necessary for evolution and growth. When I show a person my piece for the first time I normally have a disclaimer, “This piece will never be perfection, but I appreciate your opinion. Please tell me where you become confused, and please tell me where you feel the most.” The most rewarding comment someone has given me was from a first time poet. She said “Thank you. You are my inspiration. If it wasn’t for you, I would not have touched that stage.” 

3) When do yourself having the greatest spurts of creativity? Do you always write down your lyrics or do you often find yourself keeping them in your head?
Literally, poetry can be written out of anything. That’s why I love it, there are no amazing bursts of creativity (sitting on the Rutgers bus on a Friday night is inspiration.) However, I will say that sitting in a silent room by yourself, is great for creativity if I must give an answer because you can only face yourself. All you have in a room by yourself, is yourself. You have your regret, your love, your anger, your tears, your thoughts. So, that is a great way to truly write an honest piece of work.

4) Judging from your live performances, I would say that emotions from past/present relationships and love have created a great amount of your poetry. Is this true?
(Laughing) “My pain is another person’s therapy session”…What poet doesn’t use past relationships as motivation for a masterpiece. There are many topics that I love to touch on and challenge myself with, but love…everyone can relate to. We all strive for love, at all ages, at all moments in time, in some shape or form. Love is our drive for living and that is why I take from past relationships, and fairy tales. It brings all of this figurative language, and years of attempting to master poetics back to its origin. It reminds me that I am a truth teller. I am human.

5) Would you like to make poetry/spoken word your main career?
YES! I am an entrepreneur. I am a business woman who does what she loves for a living. Poets can’t sit in cubicles. I have known that this is what I wanted to do for a living since I was 14…I can’t stop now. I am built for the stage and the page. I am a motivational poet and spoken word artist, a public speaking and poetry coach/mentor and I would not change a thing.

To see what Alyea is up to these days, check her out on Facebook.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

25 DIY Business Card Ideas Just For You

It's Wednesday, so by now you've probably had enough time to get completely overwhelmed by work stuff and entirely forget about the challenge for this week.  (Or at least had enough time to come up with a creative excuse as to why you don't need to participate)  Or maybe that's just me…

I have been putting off making business cards for The Art Abyss for weeks now.  I know I need to, I keep kicking myself every time I talk to someone and don't have one to give them, but I still haven't done it yet.  Then the challenge went up this Monday and I thought "Oh right, I should totally do that." and then I thought "I'll go eat a sandwich."  So here I sit, sandwich in hand, but with no business cards.

Sound familiar?

I decided what I needed to kick start my butt into gear was some good old fashion inspiration.  (ahem… inspiration for the cash challenged but crafty entrepreneur that is…)

On that note, here is my round up of some of the best DIY business cards I saw during my search.  Most of these only take a bit of paper, maybe a printer, and some imagination.  Stay creative my friends.

(For more info on how all these awesome cards are actually created, check out the links to the blogs underneath each image)
Colored Paper + Mailing Label Stickers + A Stamp + Kick Ass Paperclip

(RANDOM SIDE NOTE: You can pick up a custom stamp kit at most office/craft supply stores)
Small Brown Paper Envelopes + Stamp + Ink Pad + Twine + Confetti
Old Black & White Photos + A Stamp
Plain Jane Business Cards + Colored Spray Paint
Paper + Printer + Sewing Machine
Old Beer Coaster + Ink Pen + Hand Drawn Doodles
Old Paper Grocery Bags + Printer
Stamp + Black Ink
Old Poster + Stamp
Shipping Tags + Stamp
Brown Paper + Stamp + Scraps of Lace + Mini Clothes Pins

Scraps Of Paper + Rubber Stamp
Old Film + White Paint Pen
Card Stock + Brush + Ink
Hand Painted Paper + Printer
Scraps Of Paper + Glue + Printer
Printed Business Card + Dictionary Page + Glue
Cardboard + Thread + Clear Printed Stickers
Plain Jane Card + Tape + Paint
Plain Jane Card + Bottle Of Wine + Wine Glass
Paper + Patterned Tape + String
Pen + Ink + Paper + (A lot of time on your hands)
Plane Jane Card + Iron-on Adhesive + Fabric
Shiny Paper + Hole Punch + Printed Paper + Clear Plastic Bags + Fun Tape
Old Record Album Covers + A Stamp + A Sharpie Marker

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Who's Laughing Now?

You are not a joke.
What I'm pretty sure most non-creative
people think of when they hear
I'm an artist. © Mitch O'Connell

Let me just say that one more time, YOU are not a joke.

One of the biggest challenges that I face as an artist (and that I think plagues most creative people) is this constant feeling of our profession being somehow silly and having to justify the importance of what we do all the time.  We sometimes get it from our family, when they constantly ask us when we're going to grow up and get a "real job."  Sometimes we get it from our friends, or our community, when we're asked, "So what do you do for a living?" We respond, and then are met with, "Oh… do you actually make money doing that?" But a lot of times, I think it simply comes from us.

It comes from us because we are scared.  As a society we have this idea that anyone who is creative and successful has somehow "beaten the odds."  Which sets up a very interesting idea that successful creative lives are not something readily attainable to the average person and can only be achieved by a handful of magically blessed individuals.  This is not true.

Creative professions are just like any other job, they take hard work and dedication but most of all, you have to take yourself seriously.  In most other professions, there are people who do a company's marketing, PR, accounting, market forecasting, selling, buying, social networking, negotiating, developing, production… etc.  You only have you.

You have to learn how to wear and juggle all those roles, or hire people to help you with them.

Most creative people fail because they think they can sit around in their studio all day making art and that if they were really good they would simply be "discovered."  When they are not magically "discovered" they give up, thinking their work was crap and that they were a joke.  However, they weren't a joke at all and they might have been very talented, they simply forgot to show up for all the other job titles they held.  Can you imagine the chaos that would ensue at a major company if only the creative department showed up for work everyday and the CEO and accountants and PR guys and marketing dudes all just disappeared?  Yet that is how most creative people treat their lives, and when they fail, they think they simply weren't talented enough, not that it had anything to do with the fact they were missing their support team.

There is an old saying that is more true in the creative fields than anywhere else I think:  the fastest way to get a job doing what you love is acting like you already have a job doing that thing; eventually all your pretending will turn into reality.  This is ridiculously true.

What you do is not a joke.  Yes, it may seem at times like, "Who is ever going to want to pay money for this thing that I made?  I mean, I'm nobody…" These are just our insecurities talking.  What we do has value, what we do is important, and what we do is not, and never will be a joke.  Which means we need to give it the honor and respect that it deserves.  We need to get serious about ourselves, we need to get serious about our creative well being, and, most importantly, we need to get serious about our work.  Because when we start taking ourselves and our own work seriously, people take notice.  Stop living your creative life apologizing for what you do and start taking pride in it instead.

On that note, I will leave you with this video from Jackie Battenfield, author of "The Artists Guide: How To Make A Living Doing What You Love."  If you are really looking for a place to get started in understanding how to get serious about your creative career, I HIGHLY suggest picking up a copy of Jackie's book.  It is down to earth, easy to read and full of fantastic information for creative individuals.  Enjoy, be inspired, and remember, You are not a joke.  :)

Monday, May 6, 2013

Challenge #5: Take Yourself Seriously

Okay people -- we've had our playtime, we've exchanged encouragement, now it's time to buckle down and take yourself seriously. Not just as an artist, but as a business person. You'd like to get paid for your work, right?

If that's the case, you're probably going to need business cards.

Here's a handy-dandy .PSD template to get you started. If you don't have access to Photoshop or would rather create your own template to work from, the standard dimensions for business cards are 3.5" x 2".

Now, I know how easy it is to say, "Oh yeah, I'll do that one day, right now I just need to focus on my actual work. Marketing can come later." Here are five reasons you might want to rethink that.

5) Business cards make it a lot less awkward to give people a way to get in touch with you.
  • Think about it: you're chatting, you mention what you do, they mention that they're looking for someone who does just that, and then --- you awkwardly attempt to give them your contact information on the back of a grocery receipt. Soooooo classy.
4) Business cards give you a lot of bang for your buck.
  • There are some great sites out there for printing affordable business cards -- we particularly love and -- but you can also print your own as you need them. Once you have your card design, get some cardstock and ink, and go crazy -- or, if you're like me, go print them over at a copy shop where they have the giant paper cutter (it saves SO MUCH time). VoilĂ  -- not only do you now look super professional, you also have a tiny paper army of mini advertisements working to get your name out there.
3) Business cards give you superpowers.
  • Remember that tiny paper army I was talking about? You might not be able to be everywhere at once, but they can. All you have to do is carry them along in your pocket and leave a few at businesses and public spaces where you feel your future customers might frequent. Be sure to ask permission before you set them down -- most places will have a spot where they display related businesses' materials. And be sure to keep up a relationship with the places you've left your cards - the cards might be able to talk for you, but it's the people working at these establishments that are going to be referencing your cards when customers ask.
2) Business cards are another chance for you to make art.
1) Business cards not only help others take you seriously, they help you take yourself seriously.
  • Since quitting my 9 to 5 and going full time freelancer, I've dealt with my share of friends making jokes about my "job" and "working" from home. While these statements may have been intended purely as jokes, they still brought up a deeply-rooted fear I have about freelancing; that I'm just spinning my wheels, not actually growing a business. Taking direct business-related action, like creating and distributing business cards, not only helps me develop my company, but it gives me tangible things to point to anytime I or other people question my progress. No, it's not the cure-all, but it is a productive way to combat those fears.

Convinced? You should be. Even if you're not, how about you make some business cards and pass them around this week anyway? There worst thing that happens is a couple more people hear about about what you do. That can't be too bad, can it?