10 STEPS - How To Make
by Fish McGill
PREFACE: I met PS McKay in 1992 on the first day of 5th grade at a middle school where I knew none of the kids. I liked him from the start, we became fast friends, dedicated students, and creative kindred spirits. Our one academic showdown came in a spelling bee where I somehow bested him by correctly spelling the word “proceed”.
Our lives are on separate coasts now, but I get to hang out when I listen to entwined. He asked for a guest post and I am here to share some insights into my creative process. I am a professor of design at MassArt, I’ve worked on video games like Rock Band, Guitar Hero, and Dance Central, I’ve done design and drawing projects for some awesome companies and organizations. Here are the ten steps I follow with all of my creative projects.
1) I listen closely to my distractions.
My distractions tell me a lot about what I am actually interested in working on. Lots of future projects come from paying attention to what gets my attention. I keep track of it by observing it and making a note to revisit. I can move on and use it for future work.
2) I eliminate time, materials, & options.
At some point I stopped drawing in pencil and just went straight in with pen (black waterproof Uniball). Then I found another great secret; when you have less time you make better work. I think of it like this: how boring the circus would be if acrobats were wearing harnesses? You have to jump in and just do it already
3) I sketch out a pile of terrible ideas, without thinking too critically.
Nothing gets a project going better or faster than thinking of the worst possible solutions that would never be picked. First of all it gets you started, second/best of all it is fun AF to think of ideas that go against the project you are up against. This one always leads to something useful.
4) I work with and around other people whether it’s in a studio, library, cafe, conference room, listening to podcasts, etc.
I often expand my idea of what it means to be around people. I think of podcasters like Jalen Rose, Michael Rapport, PS McKay, Terri Gross, and more as people I hang out with on the regular while I am working. Being around other people while I am making work gives me energy. I have guests at my studio all the time or just work around my students on campus. One caveat; I have worked in a few different open offices and I am so over that phenomenon.
5) I take short breaks, I get fresh air, I take the stairs, I drink tea.
Breaks are the best. Great ideas come from unexpected places, not from looking at other people’s work on the internet. Exercise keeps my brain sharp and my moods up. Tea is the fuel that keeps me humming, although now that I am a dad of 3 under 4 coffee is a must have to start the day. Kurtis Blow was right, “Break it up, break it up, break it up!”
6) I write thank you notes. I am grateful in the mail, in person, and in life.
I have this theory about gratitude; I think it’s the most dominant emotion any person can feel when they actually sit down and do it. When I feel grateful and I share my gratitude I feel a rush of creativity and momentum. Who knows where I would be if I didn’t have so many great family members, dear friends, awesome colleagues, talented students, and inspiring creative people in the world? I start my day thinking about a few things I am grateful for.
7) I like to show my work to people as it comes together.
I find it inspiring to see other people do creative work. The process is non-linear for nearly everybody who makes for a living and good ideas can come from anyone, anywhere, any time. Showing the work before it is complete always leads to a better result than I could have done on my own.
8) I do my best to document along the way, I often have help from my talented wife.
It is a challenge to stop and photograph/video a project as I work. This is where breaks come in handy, not to mention my awesome wife Sheryl Pace. She is a supremely talented photographer, skilled teacher, and a super-fine Baberham Lincoln.
9) I make time to do nothing, actively and with intent.
My main man Calvin of “Calvin & Hobbes” knows what I am talking about here. He once wisely said, “There is never enough time for all the nothing I want to do”. Time to reset is essential. This means a break from the phone, email, work. Pull a book off the shelf, zone out, wander. This keeps the creative batteries charged.
10) I enjoy working on multiple projects at once, if I get stuck I can switch to another, or just write a list.
More than one project is not just ideal, it is also a great strategy when you get stuck. Switch to another project and make some progress, make it happen however you can. If you are still stuck, stop everything and write a list of ten steps covering how you get stuff done like I just did.