The Seven Road-Tested Habits of Effective Artists

Fif­teen years ago, a young con­struc­tion work­er named Andrew Price went in search of free 3d soft­ware to help him achieve his goal of ren­der­ing a 3D car.

He stum­bled onto Blender, a just-the-tick­et open source soft­ware that helps users with every aspect of 3D creation—modeling, rig­ging, ani­ma­tion, sim­u­la­tion, ren­der­ing, com­posit­ing, and motion track­ing.

Price describes his ear­ly learn­ing style as “play­ing it by ear,” sam­pling tuto­ri­als, some of which he couldn’t be both­ered to com­plete.

Desire for free­lance gigs led him to forge a new iden­ti­ty, that of a Blender Guru, whose tuto­ri­als, pod­casts, and arti­cles would help oth­er new users get the hang of the soft­ware.

But it wasn’t declar­ing him­self an expert that ulti­mate­ly improved his artis­tic skills. It was hold­ing his own feet over the fire by plac­ing a bet with his younger cousin, who stood to gain $1000 if Price failed to rack up 1,000 “likes” by post­ing 2D draw­ings to Art­Sta­tion with­in a 6‑month peri­od.

(If he succeeded—which he did, 3 days before his self-imposed deadline—his cousin owed him noth­ing. Loss aver­sion proved to be a more pow­er­ful moti­va­tor than any car­rot on a stick…)

In order to snag the req­ui­site likes, Price found that he need­ed to revise some habits and com­mit to a more robust dai­ly prac­tice, a jour­ney he detailed in a pre­sen­ta­tion at the 2016 Blender Con­fer­ence.

Price con­fess­es that the chal­lenge taught him much about draw­ing and paint­ing, but even more about hav­ing an effec­tive artis­tic prac­tice. His sev­en rules apply to any num­ber of cre­ative forms:


Andrew Price’s Rules for an Effec­tive Artist Prac­tice:

  1. Prac­tice Dai­ly

A num­ber of pro­lif­ic artists have sub­scribed to this belief over the years, includ­ing nov­el­ist (and moth­er!) JK Rowl­ing, come­di­an Jer­ry Sein­feld, auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal per­former Mike Bir­bli­gia, and mem­oirist David Sedaris.

If you feel too fried to uphold your end of the bar­gain, pre­tend to go easy on your­self with a lit­tle trick Price picked up from music pro­duc­er Rick Rubin: Do the absolute min­i­mum. You’ll like­ly find that per­form­ing the min­i­mum posi­tions you to do much more than that. Your resis­tance is not so much to the doing as it is to the embark­ing.

  1. Quan­ti­ty over Per­fec­tion­ism Mas­querad­ing as Qual­i­ty

This harkens back to Rule Num­ber One. Who are we to say which of our works will be judged wor­thy. Just keep putting it out there—remember it’s all prac­tice, and law of aver­ages favors those whose out­put is, like Picasso’s, prodi­gious. Don’t stand in the way of progress by split­ting a sin­gle work’s end­less hairs.

  1. Steal With­out Rip­ping Off

Immerse your­self in the cre­ative bril­liance of those you admire. Then prof­it off your own improved efforts, a prac­tice advo­cat­ed by the likes of musi­cian David Bowie, com­put­er vision­ary Steve Jobs, and artist/social com­men­ta­tor Banksy.

  1. Edu­cate Your­self

As a stand-alone, that old chest­nut about prac­tice mak­ing per­fect is not suf­fi­cient to the task. Whether you seek out online tuto­ri­als, as Price did, enroll in a class, or des­ig­nate a men­tor, a con­sci­en­tious com­mit­ment to study your craft will help you to bet­ter mas­ter it.

  1. Give your­self a break

Bang­ing your head against the wall is not good for your brain. Price cel­e­brates author Stephen King’s prac­tice of giv­ing the first draft of a new nov­el six weeks to mar­i­nate. Your break may be short­er. Three days may be ample to juice you up cre­ative­ly. Just make sure it’s in your cal­en­dar to get back to it.

  1. Seek Feed­back

Film­mak­er Tai­ka Wait­i­tirap­per Kanye Westand the big goril­las at Pixar are not threat­ened by oth­ers’ opin­ions. Seek them out. You may learn some­thing.

  1. Cre­ate What You Want To

Pas­sion projects are the key to cre­ative longevi­ty and plea­sur­able process. Don’t cater to a fick­le pub­lic, or the shift­ing sands of fash­ion. Pur­sue the sorts of things that inter­est you.

Implic­it in Price’s sev­en com­mand­ments is the notion that some­thing may have to budge—your night­ly cock­tails, the num­ber of hours spent on social media, that extra half hour in bed after the alarm goes off… Don’t neglect your famil­ial or civic oblig­a­tions, but nei­ther should you short­change your art. Life’s too short.

Read the tran­script of Andrew Price’s Blender Con­fer­ence pre­sen­ta­tion here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Dai­ly Habits of Famous Writ­ers: Franz Kaf­ka, Haru­ki Muraka­mi, Stephen King & More

The Dai­ly Habits of High­ly Pro­duc­tive Philoso­phers: Niet­zsche, Marx & Immanuel Kant

How to Read Many More Books in a Year: Watch a Short Doc­u­men­tary Fea­tur­ing Some of the World’s Most Beau­ti­ful Book­stores

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Mon­day, Decem­ber 9 when her month­ly book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain cel­e­brates Dennison’s Christ­mas Book (1921). Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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