Thought: Parallel Practice

I was recently asked to give a lecture to a small class of both BFA and MFA students at CU Boulder. The topic was on parallel practices and how it influences my career and personal life. Below is the lecture in written form that I would  like to share with you. Please let me know what you think and if you have a parallel practice of your own.

I have suffered from ADD my entire life. I have a difficult time focusing and have struggled throughout both my personal and professional life. I have had to learn how to harness my energy and direct it. This is no simple task with someone with ADD and it has taken an enormous amount of time and focus, yet has become an invaluable step in advancing my career and my life.

When I was younger, I thought ADD was a hindrance as described by my teachers. However, when I became older, I started to embrace the chaos that is inherent in ADD and now believe that true artists are fueled creatively by the very symptoms of the “disorder.” For example, we are curious, spontaneous, energetic, creative, hyper-focused, persistent and sensitive.

Balance is key here. If I were to let the inspired mind or the ADD mind take total control, I would have ideas that would never see the light of day. Inspiration is only a small percentage of a project. Dedication, focus and organization is the other half if not more. It is a dance between two strategies that require each other for success.

Having a Parallel Practice is all about balance. Just like balancing the creative mind with the rational one is fundamental in maintaining harmony in your life and career, having two practices is essential in expanding your abilities as an artist and person.

For example, a runner is always stronger after a rest day. The rest day includes counter training but not running, yet he/she returns feeling faster. The same is true for the artist or designer. Imagine working on a painting or a sculpture or in my case design and you are experiencing creative block. We artists and designers are problem solvers and sometimes the solution is right under our noses. It is not until we take a step back that it is revealed. Switching focus from one practice to another, is the same as taking a step back. You give rest from one project while you focus on the other. This allows the mind time to reflect and tackle the creative block.

This has been a long journey for me to be able to achieve balance. I have many projects and it is absolutely critical that I recognize the patterns of procrastination or distraction brought on by ADD. This hyper awareness helps me navigate and direct my attention where it needs to be. I have mantras and post it notes that assist in bringing my mind back to reality. If not I would be lost in the clouds. Some of my mantras or reminders are: Check your calendar, Is what I’m doing right now helping me accomplish the task?, Focus Focus Focus.

One practice informs the other and vice versa. We all have learned this in our liberal art studies have we not? In one class, we are working with a tangible medium and in another we are examining the conceptual side of art and learning to articulate its meaning with the written word. Art and art history inform one another. Without this relationship, art loses its context.

By incorporating a parallel practice in your life, you create a relationship between the two no matter how different they are. Sometimes the most intriguing part is in the differences not the similarities. I started Stitch & Hammer out of the desire to work with my hands. I was exhausted from design and unsure of the direction I wanted to take my design career. I launched the handmade accessories company in 2011 and have worked as both a designer and maker since. I am more confident in my work now as a designer than I ever have been. Craft informs my design and vice versa.

I balance three disciplines including, design, craft, and photography with four outlets being Stitch & Hammer, Colorado Makers, Workshop Boulder and Tremper Design and Photography. I don’t recommend this to everyone. Two practices is enough for most people. If you are like me though, my cravings to create content and work is insatiable. This is the ADD in me. However, my drive to succeed helps me push the limits of my comfort zone like organization and self discipline, both which are imperative to improving as an artist, designer or your chosen field of study.

What I have learned so far that helps me grow as a designer, artist and person:

HARNESS YOUR ENERGY or in some cases provoke energy. We all have suffered from procrastination. One is from not having enough energy and the other comes from having too much. Both will stall your creativity. You must learn to control your mind and will your muse. I don’t believe in waiting around for her.

ORGANIZATION A quote by Gustave Flaubert explains it best. “Be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work.” Spend a few minutes every morning cleaning and organizing your home and work space. Don’t let the physical and digital clutter take over your life and keep you from your work.

FOCUS Power Hours are helpful. I shut down my browsers, email, social media, etc. so that I can give my full attention to the  task at hand  for one hour or more. Your undivided attention even for short bursts of time will help you maintain quality and intention in your work.

DISCIPLINE is indispensable in anyone’s career if they want to be successful. When we are in school, discipline comes in the form of a syllabus and you have a guiding hand via classmates and teachers to keep you on track. Once you are on your own, you take full control over managing your time.

STRATEGY is helpful in maintaining self-discipline and focus. By making lists every day and prioritizing each task by its importance level for the day, week, month and even year, you improve the projects chance of being completed. By setting intentions and writing them down you hold yourself accountable to complete the project.

SACRIFICE To do great things takes great sacrifice. The good stuff, the meaty, juicy parts in your life and in your art lies within the outer edges of your comfort zone. I am always surprised by how much farther my limits actually  are when I push myself. I don’t always want to do the task at hand, but when I persevere and work through the struggle I am rewarded. Always take the high road.

All of this is important for anyone pursuing a career in art or design and is crucial when balancing a parallel practice.