Saturday, August 24, 2019

What do you want to do?

Has there ever been an unusual class you have wanted to take? Or a drawing or writing challenge you wanted to participate in--or start? Enter a competition? Maybe learn a technique that is in a completely different style than how you work? Maybe travel? But then you hesitate and ask yourself, Why? You tell yourself that what you want to do has nothing to do with what you should do; that your time should be spent improving your portfolio or finish your story or revising the manuscript you have finished or sending out query letters so you can get something published; that these things are distractions and have nothing to help you further your goals and dreams.

GOALS. DREAMS. Those lofty ideals.

Here’s a thought: maybe that quirky woodworking class or script writing or #inktober, #fairytaleweek, #nanowrimo or any other #challenge is exactly what you DO need.

One of the pandas from my #100DayProject turned into a full picture book manuscript, Caring for Frank.

I have participated in #pleinairpril in 2017 and 2018. During this challenge, I’ve used pencil, pen and ink, and watercolor to draw one scene from life every day for a full month. These pieces are often stylistically different than my illustration portfolio. This challenge has pushed and trained my color mixing skills, allowed me to acknowledge my comfort and strength with linework, then pushed me beyond linework into abstraction of shape and blending forms together. I grew less timid in putting brush to paper, which is reflected when you compare a piece from my first year to a piece from my second year:


Many of these activities are parallel to your goals, if not a direct stepping-stone. These workshops, classes, and challenges can be seen as professional development--your way of continuing your education over the years. They often take you outside your comfort zone or push you in ways you may not push yourself on a daily basis. They open pathways in your thinking and can spark the excitement that gives you the energy to soldier on. They can help you relax and, you know, have FUN on your journey.

An unexpected benefit of PleinAirpril and some SketchCrawl events I have attended over the years has been the social aspect. I’ve been able to connect with other local plein air artists through Warrior Painters and have the opportunity to discover unexpected and quirky locations in my city that I would otherwise have known nothing about. I have been to a Krampus parade, a lotus festival, a Chinese New Years celebration, an OSTRICH FARM!!

How do you make it happen?

  1. Make your one-day list. Write down anything that you’re dreaming of participating in or attending. Categorize it and subcategorize it to your heart’s content. Colored pens for different types of activities might be helpful. Some categories may include: Workshops/Classes, #challenges, Conferences, Art/Writing Residencies, Applying for Grants/Entering Contests, Goals (like filling a sketchbook or journal) 
  2. Prioritize. It’s great to make the longest list ever, but you can’t do everything at once. What are the 1 or 2 activities that make you MOST excited? Start with these and set a goal: I’d like to attend THIS conference by THIS year. 
  3. Read the requirements. Some of the activities might be daily or weekly, or something you need to apply for in advance. Knowing this is important!
  4. Budget. And when I say budget, I mean both TIME and MONEY. We all have limitations and standing obligations in our lives. 
    • If you have a limited number of vacation days each year, figure out how much you would need to take off for the activity AND for some downtime between the activity and starting work again. Can you take one fewer day off during the holidays to give you the time for that summer workshop? Can you work a half day before a flight instead of taking a full day off? Can you barter with a friend to watch their kids during the week in exchange for them babysitting your children on the weekend of your event? Don’t forget to budget for that downtime! It gives you the rest you need as well as time to process the incredible experience you just had! 
    • Many of these events come with a significant cost. Determine how much you would need to set aside to cover the cost of registering for these activities, food, and lodging. If needed, get in touch with your inner child and start squirreling away money in a piggy bank or an envelope so that the money for your event is not lumped in with your monthly finances. Until you can save up, look for no- or low-cost activities that are similar to what you want to do, such as local meetups to draw, paint, or work on your craft. A little research can uncover a world of possibility! 
  5. Be Flexible! Life happens and things will arise that are outside of your control and will mess up your carefully laid plans. If the event or activity is recurring and you miss the deadline, adjust your schedule for the next time this event occurs. If you miss a speaker you really wanted to see or learn from, go online and see if they’ll be doing other events later in the year. Perhaps they are speaking at a smaller event that is less expensive but a bit further away. If your schedule is ALWAYS busy during your favorite #challenge, make your own and set it for your slow season!

For me, the one thing I’ve been wanting to do since reading Cory Godbey's blog post in 2015 is to attend the Light Gray Art Lab Iceland Artist Residency. This residency requires you to apply 1 year in advance of the workshop. I set my goal to apply in August 2018 for August 2019, but when 2018 rolled around, I realized that I had overbooked activities for 2019. Reluctantly, I knew that my timing was just not right so I held off on applying. When the application opened this year for 2020, I applied in the very first week, determined not to miss my opportunity again. I will know in about a month whether or not I’m accepted to the artist residency for next year. If I get in this year, I will be jumping for joy! IF I don’t, then I will find other events to fill my time in 2020 and I will apply again next year. WHEN I get there, I will fill up my sketchbook with drawings and memories of the trip and experience new flavors, smells, sights, and environments.

Travel sketchbook from India/Japan trip this year.

So ask yourself: What do YOU want to do?

Now go do it.

© Cole Montgomery 
Gail Buschman is a graphic designer and children's book creator who loves to travel and explore new places.

More about Gail at her websiteinstagramtwitter, and facebook.


  1. I enjoyed the article. It’s full of good and useful information. Thank you for sharing.