I started my business with a small amount of savings that had to be my actual pay (think coffee money) and cover all business costs until the business started providing for itself. My partner took on the heavy lifting of household finances and I was free to work on my business. That first year I needed every cent to pay for room hire, art materials, insurance, coaching and all the other bare basic start up costs for an art therapist.
At the start it felt like EVERYTHING cost money, money I didn’t have.
I wanted to start getting clients, but I didn’t have business cards or brochures, and I didn’t have fancy professional photos, or a logo or designer so how would I get started?
Bottom line – I just did.
A few hours with a graphics software and some photos I’d taken myself, a small black and white print I’d made a few months earlier and I had a logo and brochure designed. Less than $200 with a cheap online printer and a week later I had my first actual ‘collateral’* for my business.
(It wasn’t easy. Well tbh making it once I started was actually easy but GETTING STARTED was excruciating. I procrastinated like anything for months before I finally jumped right in.)
So then the brochures arrived.
I wish I could tell you I was highly systematic and confident in handing those bad boys out. But I wasn’t. I gave some to friends and asked if they could put them in their favourite cafes (because I was too shy). Within a few weeks had my first paying client (that was like magic – I couldn’t believe it actually worked! I almost fell off my chair when she called asking about an appointment).
“Winners take Imperfect Action while others are perfecting their plans.” – Kevin Nations
The moral of the story is that even if you are a cheapass, oh I mean frugal, oh I mean skint, first business owner or stepping out into a brand new creative project you need to START. NOW. With what you have. Without putting yourself into financial ruin.
You can work on the packaging as you go, you can rebrand later when you are making a profit. Sure your materials might not win any awards for prettiest graphics, but here is what I know for sure**: if you don’t put yourself out there and tell the world you are open for business you will not have a business.
Having 100 business cards out in the world, even if you think the graphics are less than superb, will build your business faster than a very good intention to one day have the perfect business card designed and made.
A business Facebook page that you use once a week and are still figuring out how to use has more chance of helping clients find you than the strongly held wish that someone else would come and save you from all things social media.
Five posters up in cafes will get more attention for your workshop than 100 in your bottom desk draw.
A simple web page even if it’s just ONE page with your name, one paragraph about what you do, photo and contact details is better than no online presence at all while you secretly hope you will one day wake up as a confident web designer and all your problems will be solved.
Now I’m not talking about skimping on the core stuff, the things that create your service and provide a reliable experience for customers. Your training. Your insurance. Your legals and professional memberships. Your supervision. Anything where there is a set quality expected by your customers or law. But there are certainly other areas of your business where ‘some’ is better than ‘none’. In my experience these include marketing, an online presence, getting the equipment you need to do your job, providing yourself with mentoring or coaching support, putting time aside for self care.
In these areas I encourage you to embrace the idea that it absolutely doesn’t have to be perfect, but you do need to get started.
*Fancy marketing terms for branded things you use with clients like business cards, brochures, posters, ebooks, stuff like that
** Don’t you love this phrase?! My friend Karen Gunton uses this all the time. When you’re stuck or confused she suggests you ask “What do I know for sure?” and list those things.
Does this resonate? Have you started something with imperfect perfect action? What is one thing you might get started on NOW even if it’s not perfect?
That’s what I remember from my first year of business.
So many decisions about software and so many process that I realised I didn’t have, and so many records to keep.
Imagine the most horrified emoji face you can muster. Yes, that’s how it felt.
After all, I just wanted complete freedom and flexibility and creative potential, regular income, great coffee and inspiring collaborators and no paperwork whatsoever. Is that so much to ask??
Apparently here in the real actual world, yes.
So what did I do?
To start with every time I found yet another system or process that I didn’t have that it seemed everyone else had I died a little bit on the inside. ‘Seriously?? More things to do??” I wailed in my inside waily place. Mostly I wrote them down somewhere and lost the list and found it again with pangs of guilt weeks later. I would have these moments of elevated hope, when talking with someone who actually had and uses these systems – hope that I would do the follow up work and that I would somehow become a new person who was excited about tidy completely efficient systems. But this would usually wear off within a few hours and I would return to my usual lumpish disinterest in such detailed admin things. Once I learnt about them I could see their benefit and how they would help me. Sometimes the concept of it all excited me. But hand on my heart the doing or setting up of them never ever excited me. Each time it would sink to the bottom of the to-do list like a marble in a fish tank.
I prefer to fly by the seat of my pants, random and messy.
Part of the avoidance came from not knowing. It’s super hard working in a vast wasteland of unknowns and risk. Not knowing the territory it can be tempting to to venture out. What? I have to get out of my comfortable chair and walk though the potential for confusion and regret?
But what I learnt over time is that it settles down. At first I honestly thought there were ONE MEEEELLION scheduling systems for me to choose from. Eventually it felt like just 3. Eventually I just chose one and when that one felt not quite right I chose another one.
Same as an invoicing and book keeping set up – I just ended up choosing one because my coach had worked with it. And it will do for now until I move onto the one that costs more but I plan to master soon.
So know this.
A) If you don’t super love this stuff you are not alone.
B) Overwhelm is a self-perpetuating panicky thing that really you could better do without. If you are learning something new and drowning in options try not to compound it by shrieking things at yourself like ‘Oh my gosh everyone else knows what they are doing! I must be a complete loser! When will I just make a decision! I have to make a decision! I can’t make a decision!’. Find some way to take the pressure. Unless the wheels are falling off today from not having it, give yourself permission to not think about it for 3 months. Maybe you have too much other stuff going on and not enough information to make a good decision just yet.
C) You don’t have to be using every cool app and all the best most efficient software to also be offering something of value to the world. I have worked with some AMAZING coaches and empathetic, generous, insightful healers who use less tech than me. Did I get any less from the session just because there was something old skool in their bookings system or they aren’t all over social media? Not at all.
D) So what if you’re messy. I am: I really really am. I often wish I wasn’t (because I dream of being somehow more slick and stylish and having vast tundra-like surfaces and spaces with lots of artful throw rugs) but plenty of time I barely even notice because I am just a happy little fish swimming in creative mess. YOU CAN STILL RUN A BUSINESS if you are messy. YOU CAN STILL OFFER VALUE if you are messy. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO have a bare desk, or shiny laundry, or straightened thighs or skinny hair or posh to-do-list like the woman you read about in the Sunday paper to make a go of things. You really don’t. Books have been written in tracksuit pants and policies drafted with baby food in hair. You can have chipped and shitty nail polish and still be strong and awesome. You can not know what the heck to do about X or Y this week and still know a lot about Z.
E) You’ll make a decision when you need to. When it becomes more of a pain in your butt to have no system, or the time you are spending doing something manually starts to do you head in – you will change!
F) Decisions don’t always happen how we think they should. Sure I know all about ‘proper’ decision making. I could bore you senseless with talk of cost-benefit analysis and multi-criteria analysis and deliberative valuation. I could! But I wont! because we’re friends and friends don’t let friends do MCA. Just joking. What I would say is this: we are not robots and we rarely make decisions the way we actually think we do. So it might be that after WEEKS of telling yourself you ‘should’ read all the fine print on three different online options for doing something very fancy and necessary in your business, and that you ‘should’ then find three different people who have used each one and interview them and make a table listing all the… whatevers… what you ACTUALLY do is wake up one morning and absent mindedly watch a you tube video about one of them while eating a piece of toast and then think ‘oh that doesn’t sound so bad’ and then download it while you sip your tea and watch a youtube video about a turtle that is friends with a kitten and then kind of sort of make an account and give your credit card details. AND THAT’S OK. If you start using it and it was better than before and it cuts all the anxiety and you can always stop and use another thing later – BLOODY BRILLIANT.
So that’s my wise words on overwhelm from tech choices. Basically just: ‘yes, you might have it, don’t worry I did too. It kind of goes away if you ignore to long enough. And maybe you kinda know the answer already.’
You might not see it, they might not speak it but they do.
Don’t be fooled by the white toothed images of advertising or the chirpy baby photos and cat videos of social media. Everyone struggled sometimes.
Everyone has days of blah, or ‘I’m not good enough, or ‘what am I here for, nothing makes sense’.
And sometimes those days remind us of forgotten parts of ourselves that cry out for recognition and are waiting to be given form.
Sometimes those those days tell us we have reached our limits (physically, emotionally, socially) and need some quiet time to regroup.
Sometimes those days remind us that we have forgotten to include joy in our days and we have oriented ourselves towards trudge and ‘must do’ and ‘should’ and to do lists and forgotten to laugh and sing and cry and dance as well.
Sometimes those days help us catch sight of our inner workings, like a reflection in a store window we are walking past, and we see that our inner messages on automatic loop have been quite harsh, hopeless or demorialising. We stop and gasp, and wonder quietlyif we can replace them.
So if you are struggling, just know that everyone struggles sometimes. It doesn’t make you a freak or a loser or somehow not good at life. We’ve been there. My clients have been there. I’ve been there too, and I will no doubt be there again.
So rather than say ‘what’s wrong with me?? Why can’t I get my shit together? I should be happy/ more efficient /more successful/ more organised/ more productive. Why does everything feel so hard right now?’ Feel free to say “I am struggling right now.”. I am struggling right now and I need my own love and kindness as I work my way through it.
And here’s to the kindness of the people in our lives: who encourage us, who ask after us with interest, who share ideas with us, who support us in practical ways, who mirror back our strengths when we can’t remember what they are. Here’s to our friends and support teams, our fellow group members, our therapists and coaches, our clients, our tribes and our mentors who make space for us to feel ALL our feelings, and accept us when we are angry, sad, lonely and confused just as much as when we are happy and productive.
It helps me to just stop in that moment and be grateful or aware that the sun is shining – Gretchen Miller
As an artist with my own daily creativity practice, and a coach who helps people overcome creative blocks and make change in their lives, I know the value of having a project or theme to help structure creative work. I like to speak with other people about their daily creativity practice or projects to create inspiring stories for my clients and readers. This interview is with US based art therapist Gretchen Miller about her ‘Illuminate’ project for 2016 – taking daily photos that celebrate light.
You’ve completed three 365 x daily art projects – one year for the past three years. Can you share what you’re working on as an art project for 2016?
Usually its not until the week before the year comes to an end that the idea for what I want to do next comes to me. This year I was thinking about light, around hope and inspiration and the concept that no matter where you are there is the same sun we are all under, same thing with the moon. No matter where we’re at or what we’re doing we’re all underneath this same bright being. This gave me comfort in some way. In 2012 I was taking photos related to light fairly regularly and I kind of wanted to get back into that. There’s a lot of things going on in the world, a lot of distress, theres a lot of really hard things – so the sense of light being like hope, a sense of comfort and inspiration through the images.
So I knew I wanted to do something about light but I really didn’t know specifically until the last week of December. I wanted to do something more digital, using apps and photos entirely. Which is a switch from making stuff by hand with collage – switching into using my fingers in a different way. So it’s ‘Illuminate 365’ – which doesn’t have to necessarily be about light, it can be about revealing, or clarity or inspiration, those concepts as well. I’m kind of interested to see where it will go.
So how are you finding it so far?
This morning as I was coming to work the sun through the door was just kind of like blinding me. And I mean it’s crazy cold here but at least its super sunny and I just got my camera out. And actually that felt weirder than bringing out my art materials, because I just stopped and took a real spontaneous photo. So just being more mindful. In taking the photos I become more aware of the surroundings and the light.
And it also balances out some of the downside of social media. Like I was just reading about the pros and cons of social media, what the benefits are and some of the challenges are. One of the criticisms is that people are too involved and engrossed in their phones and that they’re missing out on the here and now. Like they’re too busy trying to record the first steps of their child instead of really just witnessing that. In some ways I think this project helps me pay attention, pause, but in a different way to sitting down and doing the art using the gluestick and scissors. It helps me to just stop in that moment and be grateful or aware that the sun is shining because it’s crazy cold outside and I’m trying to get in to get warm but at the same time to be aware that ‘yeah the sun is shining still’ and capturing that moment and taking it in.
I don’t really try to get the perfect image, I try to get a decent one that I can do something with!
From the images I’ve seen two far of your Illumate project this year is that you are often taking they’re often photos of everyday objects and places that people wouldn’t necessarily see the beauty in.
Yeah I’ve been thinking about all the different ways that light presents itself, aside from like the sun. Like this week just looking up, at the fluorescent lights, which I mean I’m not normally a huge fan of floursencent lighting at work, but just taking a quick picture and then filtering that through some blue tones, I was like ‘oh I like that’. It was kind of energising, it kind of had a plaid sort of design to it, I just really liked it a lot, and I’m interested to see what that can connect to as the images start to accumulate together.
There’s different ways of seeing how ‘illuminate’ or ‘illumination’ can present itself.
Are you keeping this years collection?
Yes I need a little photo album to store them in, but I’m also posting them to Instagram. And I’ll be posting them quarterly in my blog, sharing them altogether, so it’ll be accessible to whoever.
What do you hope to change or influence with your work?
Hope is a big theme for me, inspiring that within myself and others. I guess what I most want to do is help bring that to light for people, and I think this process and social media can really help with that a lot.
If you are interested in daily creativity you might also like this interview with Gretchen on her Creative Deed 365 project, or this interview with Nancy Lautenbach about her 365 Body project.
My interview with Gretchen on her career in trauma informed art therapy is here.
Keep up with images from this project at Gretchen’s blog.
About the interviewee:
Gretchen Miller, MA, ATR-BC, ACTP is a Cleveland based Registered Board Certified Art Therapist, TLC Advanced Certified Trauma Practitioner, and Adjunct Faculty for Ursuline College’s Counseling and Art Therapy Program. Her clinical work includes working with at-risk children, adolescents, and adults. Gretchen enjoys finding inspiration, creating positive energy, and discovering transformation by working in mixed media, collage, altered art, art journaling, as well as organizing art exchanges and creative collaborations. Her online art making community, 6 Degrees of Creativity unites concepts of social networking, connecting, collaboration, and creativity into an engaged global community of artists spreading creative goodness. She also serves as Community Organizer for the Art Therapy Alliance, a network dedicated to promoting art therapy, the work of art therapists, and build community through social media. You can learn more about Gretchen’s art, projects, and creative interests on her blog Creativity in Motion.
About the author:
Jade Herriman, BSc, MSocSci, DipTAT is a Sydney-based transpersonal art therapist, Barbara Sher coach and facilitator. She works with clients to help bring more creativity into their lives, plan for their professional development, manage big life change and go after their dreams. She works with groups, individuals and online to deliver workshops and help support people work towards their dreams. She is pleased to be presenting a full program of art therapy, creativity and coaching workshops in 2016 including a series of Women’s Wellbeing groups and teaching art for self care at this year’s Art is You Mixed Media Road show in Sydney. She brings a playful, flexible and creative approach to serious issues, and draws on many years of experience working in organisations in project management, policy and research roles to bring practical solutions to her clients. To work together one on one or find out more about future workshops contact her HERE.
“I do it because something seems missing if I don’t” – Gretchen Miller
Gretchen Miller is an artist and art therapist based in Ohio, USA who I have known online for a few years now. Here I interview her about ‘Creative Deed 365’ daily art making project. She shares where the idea for the project came from, how she managed to juggle making art every single day whilst also traveling and working, and what inspires her with her daily creativity practice.
Hi Gretchen, great to have you here today, can you tell us a little bit about your daily art project, Creative Deed 365?
This project ran through 2015, and it combines daily art making with online connection and the idea of giving. Basically I made a small piece of art every day, often with inspiring words and quotes, and left it for people to find, or gifted it to people I knew. I also invited others to join me in the project, and set up a Facebook page for us to share what we were creating.
How did you get the idea?
I first embarked on an art making everyday in 2013, and then did it again in 2014. It was really great to see all that art accumulate over the time and I still have it in my creative space, and see it and get excited by it. But last year, 2015, when I decided I still wanted to do a 365 art making project I didn’t feel as draw to keep the art, instead I wanted to find a way to share it with others and give it away. Not only to get the benefits of doing the creative practice each day for myself, but getting to pass that on to others.
So that’s where the concept was born. And also inviting others to participate in it – both through a Facebook group that I set up and also by inviting people to send a mailing address if they wanted me to send them a creative deed randomly throughout the year. That was kind of fun they came from all over the world and I would just kind of slip something into the mail. And I sent you one…
You did! It was great!
Right, so you know it was really nice to be able to engage with others with the project. It was different to past years where I would share a lot of the work I was doing on social media and get feedback and interaction but this took it to another level, because people were creating their own creative deeds and sharing them in different ways. It was just inspiring to see what people were making and doing in their part of the world.
The creative deed theme was inspired by an online workshop I did for 6 Degrees of Creativity in 2014, that the whole concept of creative deed was doing something creative or art based that was good or kind for someone else. So just kind of tagged on the 365 because this was doing creative deeds every day.
I was thrilled and surprised to see in the Facebook group over the year that there were others that came along for the journey and also managed to make a piece every day (I was not one of those – I dipped in and out!)
I thought it was really great that people would come in and out, you know some people would confess like ‘oh I haven’t been able to..’ and that was totally OK. It was a safe space, for whatever that meant for that person. Sheila Lorenzo who is an art therapist in Florida, I think she did totally every day, 365, and shared it on social media, which was really inspiring to see. Like doing the same sort of concept together even though it was done differently in some ways, was really neat too. To see those images come through in a concentrated place, in that particular group. Everyone’s support for each other was really cool too.
Where there any unexpected delights in doing the project?
One absolute delight was finding out where they ended up. I created a label to put on the back of the cards explaining the project and saying that this was their to keep, and I included an email for the project and also a hashtag #creativedeed365.
I was really delighted when people who found the deeds would share the art online and I would discover that. It was always super exciting! I would search for the hashtag on Twitter or Instagram. There were also a handful of people who would email the gmail address.
It was just really cool to know that it was in somebody’s hands, knowing that it had found its way somewhere. That was always unexpected in a really good way.
What about challenges? Did you experience any difficulties in completing the project?
There’s always the challenge of time. September and October in particular were really busy and hectic, there was a lot going on. There’s never really been a time when I’m like ‘forget it, I’m not doing this today’. Even if I’ve been sick I do it because something seems missing if I don’t. But that particular period was so busy I was thinking ‘how am I going to fit this in’ but at that time, it was even more important to do it, even though it felt like there wasn’t a minute to spare. That’s a lot of why I do this – to take a moment to slow down, to take a moment to pause, to breathe and be focused on just that act of art making. So those two months in particular really stand out to me, that brought it back home to me about why it’s so important for me to do it.
Did you come up with any useful practical ways to squeeze art making into your day? Was it something you did while the kettle was boiling or in your car?
For all of these daily art making projects I carry around a mobile art making pouch with different materials in them. You sent me a whole bunch of different collage bits and pieces last year, I remember carrying around in the envelope, and some other things along with a sharpie and a gluestick, things I might commonly use, no matter where I’m at whether that’s during lunch when I’m at work or waiting for an appointment somewhere wherever that may be, it’s in my bag and I can pull it out and work on it. I think that that practical step has really helped me a lot to be consistent with the practice. In those months I tried to be really mindful of having quite a bit of stuff in the stash to choose from, and to take it with me most days.
I notice your work is collage based and you also use a lot of words. Can you tell us about that?
I use a lot of magazine photo collage images and things I’ve been gifted, different paper stashes that I have, which is great, because it might be things I might not normally choose or pick. I also like to use gel pens, sharpies, paint markers. If I’m more at home and not on the go I’ll use distressed ink pads, paint, regular stamping inks, especially if that stamp pad is not in great shape anymore for stamping you can really distress the surface. And adhesive, like stickers, letters, rub on transfers, I have a huge stack of those of different sizes I would use. And definitely a glue stick. I should count how many glue sticks I’ve gone through each year. I’d be like ‘oh my gosh, this one is done already? wow’! And also the labels that would go on the back, I would print out a new sheet each week.
Sometimes on social media I would also include a quote that I would choose, inspired by the image, and sometimes I would write it on the back, around the edge of the card. It was an inspiring part of the process for me, to look up a quote to summarise, not so much the image, but the intention of the card – like hope, or you being awesome.
Can you tell us a bit a bit the process of giving them away? Was that hard, were there any you wanted to keep?
I hung on to a few of them, but most of them I distributed someway as planned. I would leave some in public places, mailing them out to others, I gave some as random gifts to people I knew, either through the mail or leaving it somewhere.
Who knows what happens once you give them away. I was completely OK with that at the beginning – if the card didn’t end up in someone’s hands, but just kind of blew away, or ended up in the garbage, or was in the street disintegrated, I was Ok with that, because it was more like the intention to the world, and that sort of energy. Whether somebody received it or not. I mean it was great when that would happen but if it didn’t that was OK with me too.
I definitely have my favourites – I did a blog thing about my 10 favourites. But it was definitely lesson in letting go, and the purpose is what you are giving to others, whether that is something you know about or not, or happens or doesn’t, is OK.
Gretchen M. Miller, MA, ATR-BC, ACTP is a Cleveland based Registered Board Certified Art Therapist, TLC Advanced Certified Trauma Practitioner, and Adjunct Faculty for Ursuline College’s Counseling and Art Therapy Program. Her clinical work includes working with at-risk children, adolescents, and adults. Gretchen enjoys finding inspiration, creating positive energy, and discovering transformation by working in mixed media, collage, altered art, art journaling, as well as organizing art exchanges and creative collaborations. Her online art making community, 6 Degrees of Creativity unites concepts of social networking, connecting, collaboration, and creativity into an engaged global community of artists spreading creative goodness. She also serves as Community Organizer for the Art Therapy Alliance, a network dedicated to promoting art therapy, the work of art therapists, and build community through social media. You can learn more about Gretchen’s art, projects, and creative interests on her blog Creativity in Motion.
About the interviewer
Jade Herriman, BSc, MSocSci, DipTAT is a Sydney-based Barbara Sher coach, facilitator and transpersonal art therapist. She works with clients to help bring more creativity into their lives, plan for their professional development, manage big life change and go after their dreams. She works with groups, individuals and online to deliver workshops and help support people work towards their dreams. She is soon to host an online Idea Party which you can learn more about over here. She brings a playful, flexible and creative approach to serious issues, and draws on many years of experience working in organisations in project management, policy and research roles to bring practical solutions to her clients.
Jade is running a 6-week Women’s Wellbeing Group on Friday mornings in Sydney. The next face to face group is starting Friday the 19th January in Glebe, Sydney. To find out more or get your ticket see here HERE.