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Deadlines help me stay focused

At the beginning of this year, I had nothing much going on except working on my picture book illustrations. I kept applying for artist calls like I did after getting my fine art certificate. I chose projects that I was interested in and they gave me a time frame to work on something. Even if I didn’t get selected, I could always learn something from the process and add more artworks to my portfolio. That’s how I build up my experience and portfolio.

For smaller projects, I tend to wait until the last minute to begin. The benefit of waiting is that I am forced to put all my energy into it before the deadline. It’s like a laser focus and I would do the whole thing in one go. This could get stressful and sometimes it didn’t work out so well. Afterwards, I might regret not starting earlier. For example, this year, I applied to 2 juried exhibitions. For the first one, I worked on my painting over a two months period, I changed the colour scheme midway and it was selected to be in the exhibition. For the second exhibition, I worked on two paintings simultaneously and finished them in several days but none were selected.

For larger project, I know I have to divide and conquer. For example, I kept a record of how many days it takes me to work on one illustration and that’s my base number (it took me one week to finish the first illustration but I got faster once I figured out the style I was going to use). Then I would calculate how many days I have and divide this by the total number of illustrations (32 pages for a picture book) to figure out how many days I can spend on each illustration. I re-calculated the number throughout the project to make sure I was still on track because sometimes I finished faster and sometimes it took longer than expected. I found breaking down large project into smaller deadlines were helpful too. Like how the timeline for my picture book Emet’s Box were divided into smaller milestones:

  • DRAFT interior illustrations — due March 1st
  • FINAL interior illustrations — due June 1st
  • Cover illustration — due July 1st
  • All final illustrations — due August 1st

I watched a TED Talk The surprising habits of original thinkers by Adam Grant  that “moderate” procrastination has its benefit.  

Even though I haven’t started working on the project, my brain is already thinking about it and working on it. So now, I make sure I read what the project entails, let it marinate over time and finally sit down to do my laser focused work on it.

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