The Power Of Deadlines (For Artists)

No prizes for guessing which TV show I've been watching a lot recently...

No prizes for guessing which TV show I’ve been watching a lot recently…

A couple of months ago, I was watching an art video on Youtube by Mary Doodles, when she mentioned something that reminded me of an important part of my own creative work.

In about the last third of the video, she talked about the power of deadlines and about how setting a deadline can be extremely useful because it both stops you from becoming a perfectionist and it means that you will actually finish your paintings, drawings etc…

Although the Mary Doodles video discusses this subject in far more detail (and it’s certainly worth watching), I thought that I’d talk about how I’ve used deadlines in my own work, in case it’s useful and/or interesting to you.

My very first experience with making art to a deadline for an extended period of time was back in summer 2010 when I made an absolutely terrible (both in terms of plotting and art) daily webcomic for a couple of months.

Oh god, the memories!!!

Oh god, the memories!!!

Luckily, I’d made a fairly large “buffer” of comic pages before I started posting it online, but – for a couple of months at least – I posted a comic strip online almost every day.

This was something I’d wanted to do for a while (and I finally got the motivation to do it when I read a webcomic called Unicorn Jelly) and I chose a daily schedule because almost all of my favourite webcomics posted updates daily.

Fast forward to about two years later and I’ve pretty much lost interest in making art. It’s spring 2012 and I’ve made as much art over the past year as I’d probably make in a couple of weeks this year. Anyway, I was feeling kind of bored one day in April, so I made a small drawing which was about a quarter of an A4 page in size:

"The Important Question" By C. A. Brown [2012]

“The Important Question” By C. A. Brown [2012]

Suddenly, I remembered how much fun it was to make art. So, for some reason that I can’t quite remember, I decided to make one of these small drawings every day and post it on DeviantART. At first, it was fiendishly difficult and I felt like I was out of my depth. In fact, I felt like I’d probably last a couple of weeks before I gave up in frustration. But, I kept at it just out of sheer momentum and habit.

Within a month or two, I was producing several of these small drawings every day – and actually posting them online on the same day that I made them. I’d keep doing this until sometime either last year or the year before, when I finally started making a buffer of drawings in advance (at the time of writing this article, my buffer now contains about three months worth of art – and I still add to it daily).

By summer 2012, I finally took the leap to making A5-size drawings and it was an absolute revelation to me. Since I could easily churn out an A4 page filled with small drawings in a single day, making one or two larger drawings every day didn’t seem like so much of a leap – and this meant that I could do more stuff in my art, because I had more space to work with.

Plus, it was the first time that I started to draw in landscape rather than portrait. ------ ("Magic Coin" By C. A. Brown [25th August 2012] )

Plus, it was the first time that I started to draw in landscape rather than portrait.
(“Magic Coin” By C. A. Brown [25th August 2012] )

After that, I never really looked back, and most of my daily drawings or paintings have been at least half an A4 page in size. And, although I set myself the minumum requirement of producing one drawing per day, I’d often make more than one and post more than one online every day.

I’m not sure exactly when I went back to just posting one piece of art online every day, but it was probably due to working on both these articles and the other daily features I used to have on this blog (eg: my old “how to draw” guides etc…). Eventually, I felt so overloaded that I went back to making one painting per day and this kind of seems to work best for me.

Anyway, I’d have never got as good at making art as I am now if I wasn’t for using a regular, daily deadline. If I hadn’t incorporated making art into my daily routine, then I’d have never got the sheer repetitive practice that I needed in order to improve.

Yes, my art tends to improve fairly slowly – but it does improve – as you can see by these two paintings that I made about a year apart from each other:

"Chainmail and Chainsaws" By C. A. Brown [21st June 2014]

“Chainmail and Chainsaws” By C. A. Brown [21st June 2014]

"Chainmail and Chainsaws (II)" By C. A. Brown [ June 2015]

“Chainmail and Chainsaws (II)” By C. A. Brown [ June 2015]

The other thing that sticking to a deadline teaches you is perseverance and persistence. Part of sticking to a deadline means that you still have to make art on days when you are feeling “uninspired”.

Even though this means that you might make a rather crappy painting or something slightly unimaginative, it means that you will still actually have to make some art. And, well, this is a quality that is worth practicing and cultivating.

Plus, as Mary Doodles mentioned in her Youtube video, it also means that you will actually finish the art that you make – rather than spending ages tinkering and trying to make one of your pictures look “perfect”.

So, yes, it’s certainly worth setting yourself a deadline.


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

2 comments on “The Power Of Deadlines (For Artists)

  1. babbitman says:

    For the last four and a half we’ve been producing stage musicals with a youth theatre group (at least 3 every year) and this has been great at re-awakening my dormant artistic side (art for set & props, desktop publishing for logos and programmes, writing for scripts etc.). However, our last ever show is rapidly approaching (5th & 6th July) and I’m still doing the lighting plan, programme & have set to finish. I’ll be glad when it’s all over that I don’t have to stay up until the wee hours, but I think I will have to set some kind of deadline for me to produce something and not become a lazy arse. I will give this some thought (once I’ve recovered…)

    • pekoeblaze says:

      Good luck with the show 🙂 But, yeah, self-imposed deadlines can be great motivational tools although it’s usually a good idea to start with a fairly generous deadline (or lots of shorter deadlines, but with less stuff to do within each one), so that you’ll feel motivated, but won’t feel overloaded.

      The other advantage (and disasdvantage) of using a deadline is that it makes sure that you don’t worry about quality too much. On the one hand, this is a great motivational tool (since the emphasis is actually on writing or making art), and it helps to stop perfectionism. On the other hand, it also means that either only some of your work will be any good or that you’ll need to do a lot more editing later.

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