Ben Crowder

The power of next actions

I have a habit of not finishing illustrations I’ve started. Right now, for example, my art tracker spreadsheet tells me that eleven of the forty-one illustrations I’ve started in 2011 so far are unfinished.

Ordinarily, if I still haven’t finished an illo and it’s been a week or two since I last worked on it, it’s basically dead in the water. I forget about it. It languishes. And then it makes my list of abandoned projects for the year.

Sometimes that’s a good thing. If the idea behind the piece can’t support its own weight, it’s better to let it go. But more often than not, the idea was just fine.

So, what I’ve started doing (and should have started doing a long time ago) is making a list of my unfinished pieces and then deciding what my next action needs to be for each one. For one piece, it’s to draw the characters more clearly and clean up the linework. For another, it’s to try a new perspective to make the object in the distance loom larger. For another, it’s to rework the idea so it’s more interesting, because right now it’s kind of static. And so on.

It’s working.

Take my “Return from Exile” piece the other day. It began as a loosening exercise in Photoshop that looked kind of like the inside of a cave. I then forgot about it and kind of stopped caring. It was definitely in danger of being abandoned forever. But when I made my list and figured out that my next action was to smooth out the rough strokes, bam, I got back into the illustration and I was able to finish it.

Sometimes I forget that the project management techniques I’ve learned from coding and design and my other projects can just as easily be applied to art. Art isn’t voodoo.

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