Artists, Don’t Feed The Lions! How To Be a Better Artist?

Let me tell you a story.

An artist starts dying when he/she stops engaging in conversations. That’s a fact.

I told you where to find those conversations in my previous article. On top of that, some artists, are crazy enough to let conversations running in their heads all the time. The kind you don’t want to hear. It gives you a clue on why Van Gogh lost his own ear.

That being said, I talked to a man on LinkedIn lately -I will not say his name for obvious reasons-. After thanking him for his kind words about my work, he told me this:

“Well…it’s true. I love how you write. Yes, you are very fortunate to have your job. Mine is kind of ok. I would prefer to get paid for working with creatives and get some commissions or contracts for my sketches: but I don’t think I am good enough. What is your best tip for overcoming procrastination, please Lionel? I am not an Interior Designer. I am scratching its surface. I have found out I am ENTP I start things and don’t finish them because I’ve got so many ideas for something new.”

“I’m trying to complete my course. I have been blessed with scores like 100% seven times and 90% twice. And I still think I’m no good. Hard to believe in me. I spend all day in church, with Christian friends and masticating roast dinner! I get 5 hours to myself on Sunday and 9 hours on a Saturday. But I am hopeless at plans.”

This sums up all the struggles artists are facing today. It went on for centuries, but I think all the technology surrounding us today has accentuated that problem. I want to break it down for you.

You are very fortunate to have your job. Mine is kind of ok.

My friend, I don’t have a job. I know this feeling. I went through multiple jobs in the past, taking orders from people who had absolutely no clue of what they were doing but only motivated by bullying and running total anarchy in the workplace. I just quit so many times -I can’t remember- to finally chase my dreams. Eleven years in the industry and I still love every part of it. Feeling “kind of okay” is not an option, nor is feeling “ok”. Feel SPECTACULAR! I have a friend working in IT and who is running a photography business just for his own pleasure, it’s a side business from which he doesn’t make money from. I don’t think he’s feeling kind of okay when he changes hats every day. Photography is his fuel to overcome the boredom and repetitiveness of the IT industry.

What is your best tip for overcoming procrastination

We are all procrastinators. If you want to know the epitome of procrastination, please pay a visit to a creative agency. I read “Hey Whipple Squeeze This” from Luke Sullivan, he said: “As an employee in an agency creative department, you will spend most of your time with your feet up on a desk, contemplating your partner’s feet, also up, across the desk. To overcome procrastination I force myself to produce something of value and share it everyday. Something I know my audience will like. Writing, painting, drawing, making music is part of that process. But sometimes when creativity is not kicking in you have to ignite the fire. Take a walk or… go to bed.

I don’t think I am good enough, and I still think I’m no good. Hard to believe in me. I am not an interior designer.

When I read this, it hurts me deeply. Because I truly love my fellow artists, but they are constantly shooting themselves in the feet before even learning how to walk, run and fly. It’s normal to not be good enough. Embrace it, it’s the road to humility and greatness. For example, a few days ago I shared this drawing to a professional with a stellar reputation in the fashion industry. I’m not a fashion designer but God knows I’m fascinated by women. I love women, their eyes, elegance, and accessories. My work is a pure reflection of that. So when I clicked on “send” I told to myself: “it’s not good, it must be way more detailed, what are you thinking! She will not like it, it’s not even finished.”

Her reply: “I think it’s finished. When you start they want to see a quick sketch style, this is perfect Your style is promising, you have “illustrative” and you have “art” in it!”

I laughed nervously. I was stunned. Like the moment when I saw a video on Youtube about a man in the middle of a safari, stepping off his car, holding his camera clearly determined to have a close shot of a gang of lions. It’s a very sad story.

I get 5 hours to myself on Sunday and 9 hours on a Saturday. But I am hopeless at plans.

Okay, Google! How many Saturdays and Sundays there are in a year? Can you multiply that number by 5/9 hours? That’s a lot of practice time. I don’t’ believe in that 10.000 hours rules, it was made for commercial purposes. I believe in practice and consistency. 1 Hour every day delivers more value than 14 hours every two weeks depending on your mood.

In conclusion: humble artists doubt, arrogant ones fade away. I learn and approach the craft as an ignorant student. I engage in conversations, ask questions, cease opportunities, get the knowledge from total strangers, turn them into friends. It’s okay to paint half naked women or raw meat, just don’t put you in trouble by showing it to your Christian/veggie friends. Know your audience before stepping out of the car in the middle of the jungle.

Damn, what was he thinking! [Shaking my head.]

Drop me a comment in the section below. I’m Lionel Thomas, I make beautiful music for the eyes and I’m curious to know more about you. Tell me your story! Follow my blog, like my Facebook page. I’m also on Instagram and Twitter.

Hard Work Or Talent, Which Comes First?

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The 10.000 hours hands bleeding formula?

”…Life after college sucks. It really does. I mean, I don’t know, at least it did for me, but that’s the only thing I know. You just get a bit derailed. But soon something starts to happen, trust me. A rhythm sets in. Just like it did after your first few days here. Just try not to wait until, like me, you’re 29 until you find it. And if you are that’s fine too, some of us never find it…” – Peter Dinklage / Actor

Check those actors and artists out, what do you see? The fame, flashing lights and glory. Before that glorious day happens, did you know they were once kicked out in the streets without a dime or crashing in someone else’s couch for months…years? The vast majority of their peers that are still in the dark. The industry -Hollywood- is cruel. Many people, especially young graduates or artists, for obvious reasons, are craving for success. Very few end up successful, this is sad. How did they lost their groove? Many questions need to be asked and that’s what I’m going to talk about in this article.

What do you want to achieve?
Being clear about what you want to do is the key to your success. But be careful, money is everywhere and is clearly not what drives people to accomplish amazing things. What’s the money to an NBA athlete, multiple time MVP, without any rings? What’s the money to a terminally-ill oscar winning filmmaker? What’s the money to a football manager who won every championships except in one country? The list goes on. Please tell us: what is your clear vision of success?

Do you really have to count? 
Before getting to the Oscars, the championship trophies or rings, you’ll be hearing that there are no gains without pains. Huh, sorry, it doesn’t have to be painful! Today, you will play guitar (for example) until your finger hurt. Or you’ll beat those drums like crazy and bleed like Andrew in ‘Whiplash’ movie. Tomorrow it’s going to be another story. Another example, you’ll kill your eyes on the computer screen because you have to finish a design project. You forget that you have to be healthy. Do that thing you love everyday first, but don’t go insane losing your life balance. There’s no glory in getting no sleep or no social life, your craft needs those ingredients too, badly. Build a strong work ethic increments by increments. The 10.000 hours rules is a cliché, when you practice until it becomes second nature, you definitely lose the count.

Do you have it in you?
I have to confess, I jumped into the “Yes You Can Code!” bandwagon…I’ve downloaded 12 gigabytes of Android Development Course. As soon as I started, the only thing that captivates me was the UI/UX part. Coding? Pfff, I wanted to skip that part! I like to see things: the Desiiiiiign! It didn’t took me hours of video tutorial to figure this out. Just say no. When you dont’ feel like it, don’t waste your time.

Do you know the rules?
To play the blues you have to know your scales and guitar fretboard, there’s no way around. To gain speed you have to go slow and there are hands exercise for that. Drawing? Photography? They are all about actually learning to see the shapes or the light! Once you know the rules you’ll start break them and your own style will pop.

Do you bend your craft’s perception ?
Photographers don’t click buttons they see the different facets of light and serve them to you in a canvas; graphic designers are not copying and pasting things around, they are visual problem solvers; actors are amazing liars who embody the right doses of romance, drama or action that will make your heart move, no matter what. You know what they say about Miles Davis? That he could actually paint the music with his instrument. Wow!

Are you in constant state of awe?
If your not in the right mood, you’ll miss the shot. Before you do your daily practice, find inspiration and observe the masters at their craft. It can be a book, a video, a song, a concert. Masters will make you very uncomfortable, asking yourself “how does he/she do it?” until you get it right. 

Are you in the right environment?
There are countries where you’ll find that your industry is in very bad shape: no cinemas, very few creative agencies/music labels, no clear artists rights. To be ‘in the moment’ you’d need to go where amazing things are happening. Surrounding yourself with talents will tremendously improve your craft, the easiest way. Before that moment happens, you can use social media to link up, LinkedIN is a big house where the next amazing talent is one click or call away. I see no strangers here, just opportunities.

Where is/are your mentor(s)?
Mentor, it’s a rare species. They are the type of person you leave voicemails to. I once requested a mentorship and was asked to pay for it. Let’s be persistent and follow the people we admire to learn from them. They HAVE TO tell us how they got there and we should make our duty to relentlessly ask them.  A leader is nothing without the tribe.

Do you know that you suck?
Knowing something and doing something is two very different things. It’s in the awareness that you need to apply where change really happen. When you make music in your basement, design or draw a piece without actually sharing them: you are in airplane mode and not aware. Are you afraid, you have all the rights to be. It’s not a big deal, the door to improvement got the words “You suck!” written on it.

Is your failing mode on?
Go fail and fail hard. There are multiple ways of failing, your work can be rejected, your blog article can go down the drain -tell me about it Lionel! :)- you can get a gig get hired, do the job very well, your client then will ask you some free design work, you say no and that’s it! You’ll get your money -or not totally- and will never see the client again. That’s a type of failure. Like I told you, it’s never about the money but strong relationships. Will you have the courage to change your blueprint when facing failure?

Will you force your destiny?
I read that amazing story about Ridley Scott, the filmmaker. He met his success at 40 years old and, before that, it was a rollercoaster of little success and big failure. He stalked some ad agency executives in the elevator with only his portfolio in his hand, and pitched them all the way up. That’s how he got the job, the rest is history.

For decades the formula to success has been hard work. I guess it’s still the case. As far as i’m concerned, getting the right habits is the most difficult part of it. Please let me us know, in the comment section below, the challenges you face on your path to success and your insights. We could learn something from you that will help us find our groove again!

Where To Find Endless Stories And How To Build A Great Place For Storytelling?

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I used to sell computers back in the days, for a famous french retail store. The direction put pressure on the sales team and I was always looking for the very best techniques and tricks to sell faster and more. God was I wrong! My clients didn’t come back and didn’t call me either. My follow up Emails went to their trash cans. Maybe because they realized that I tried to sell them expensive warranties instead of computers.

I started hitting books about selling, but they were full of dull sales tactics and tricks. One caught my attention and It was “The Little Red Book of Selling: 12.5 Principles of Sales Greatness” by Jeffrey Gitomer. Jeffrey is a very cool guy and it shows in his writing. I stumbled upon a sentence that would later resonate with me: If you want to sell without looking and sounding like a jerk, join a Toastmasters Club.

So, I went to a TM’s club session in Paris and I was so thrilled to meet enchanting, warm people curious to know everything about me and applauding me as I took the stage to speak non sense words while my legs were uncontrollably shaking. The applause closed my speech and made me eager to come back for more.

Same ambiance in Brussels: laughs, applause, friendship, Open-mindedness .

Once you start to realize there’s no TM club in your town – I was living in Lille (France)- back then, you want to bring the whole experience in. Here’s a fact: building a public speaking club is hard. Public speaking is human. Let’s have a look about the challenges we are facing when we are dealing with people:

1- They don’t have time
That’s the number ONE objection you’ll get. You’ll learn that time based objections are hiding the most important concerns. Let’s put it this way: it doesn’t take too much time to hang out with friends on a Friday night, have a drink and spending some quality times. It makes you forget about the hard work week you had. Why then, going to a Toastmasters meeting would be that much time consuming?

2- They are shy (and scared)
We are all shy! It’s hard to perform in front of strangers. I never thought Elvis and Michael were scared to death at the single idea of performing. I once witnessed a start-up founder fall off the stage before his speech, painful experience but not something you can’t get over with. Shy people are the greatest speakers. Believe it!

3- They forget about things
If it’s not important to them, they’ll forget about it. How Important is Toastmasters? What’s on the table for the individuals who want to join it?

4- It’s hard to catch their interests
Do they like movies, money, fame, music? What goals are they pursuing? What’s the first thing they do when they wake up in the morning? What keeps them up at night?

5- They lack of self confidence
Some people think they don’t need to practice their speaking skills, because they think they were naturally born with it. Some don’t think they are “capable” of speaking. How to make people believe in themselves?

Now, according to me, here are the tricks a TM club builder should use to get his project on track:

1- Say Hi and smile!
Ah! The daunting art of approaching strangers without sounding like a sales rep. What’s your name? -Open your arms, apologize- state exactly what you doing, and grab their attention with questions. Remember to keep smiling! Nobody talks to grumpy people.

1- Explain Toastmasters in your own words.
What Toastmasters is all about? What we do? Where we do it? How we do it? What we learn from it? Use your own words in a simple talk.

2- Get your business cards ready
Put your name on it and every professional links -websites, social media, etc.- where you and your club can be found. Design a nice but simple business card and always give your interlocutors two or three of them each time

3- Design your communication materials
You should get your website and your printing visuals ready. The writing content doesn’t have to be complicated but it SHOULD look nice. The best designs are talking to human emotions and emotions sell. Craft illustrations, use images, make bold statements and call to actions. Ask for the help of a designer among your friends or business connections.

4- Engage on social media venues
Why social media? To build a community near you. A community of listeners. People wake up in the morning with Facebook  app opened in their smartphones or tablets without even having their feet touch the ground.

5- Spread the word
Newsletter, invitations, interviews, podcasts. I mean, you have everything at your disposal to make noise and get noticed. Go to groups or forums and tell them about your challenges, any issues you may have in building your project up. You’ll always find great insights coming your way.

6- Call for action
Put your number and Facebook page address in front, middle and bottom of your club’s webpage. Ask your visitors to subscribe to your newsletter, join your events; openly ask for memberships. If you don’t ASK you’ll not get anything. Don’t be afraid to ask.

I’ve participated -with two friends- in starting and launching the first Toastmasters club in Lille, our biggest challenge was to find the proper venue for our meetings, and to persuade others that it’d not take that much of their time to come and have fun with us. Today this club counts 25 members and got its certification. Now that I’m in Cameroon (Africa) , I can feel that the lack of culture: no libraries, no theaters, no music venues, no Toastmasters. How to change it?

Either you are a TM member or builder, you are seeking for changes.

I think we are all craving for a change but are fighting so hard against it at the same time. The experience of building a club is the same as founding and marketing your own business. It’s full of failures and discouragement. A Toastmasters club near you is the place to find great stories, have fun and meet new friends. It’s a big family all around the world with open hands and hearts. I think It’s easy to go out and club all night. It’s not that easy to sit down, prepare a speech, rehearse it, stand up and talk to persuade others about the importance of your story. We are all laughing and crying for the same things: books, movies, illustrations, music, arts..
We are all listening to storytellers, because everyone likes a good story.