Advice for Art Majors: How I Would Do College Differently

June 24th, 2016

There is something of a debate over whether artists who pursue formal education should attend an art school or a liberal arts college with an art program.

I went to a liberal arts school and loved it.

I loved my 4 years at Harding. I would gotten a lot out of AI Atlanta or SCAD or RISD, but instead I went to Harding University, a Church of Christ-affiliated liberal arts college. And I’m glad I did.

I got to interact with a lot of different majors and types of people. I had friends who were theatre majors, English majors, math majors, and more. I got to know people from all walks of campus life. I know college students are their own demographic, but there are so many subgroups on campus.

Memories are made outside the classroom

I gotta say the best parts of my college experience were not so much what happened in the classroom but what happened out of the classroom. Getting to hang out with my fellow art majors just to get something eat or hang out in the dorm. Late night excursions to Taco Bell or the Bulldog in Bald Knob for a hamburger.

And how can I forget the hours I spent at Midnight Oil Coffeehouse?

From their opening week my freshman year until the time I graduated, I was a regular there. Remember Norm on Cheers? That was Midnight Oil for me.

I went there for Bible studies. I hung out with friends. I took dates there. I studied and read and sketched. I loved it so much that did a couple of paintings of the interior. Those beat-up walls. The cool art. Friends setting up to play acoustic sets. That ugly old sofa that everyone loved. This was before Starbucks was everywhere, so Midnight Oil had snarky signs explaining that this was “real” cappuccino, not the kind you find in gas stations.

There was a lot of stuff to do despite living in a small college town in the middle of nowhere.

The funniest off-campus experience I had was when about five of us graphic design majors decided to try the taekwondo studio that was giving free lessons.I attempted to deliver a kick. As I did so, I broke wind.

My eyes bugged out of my head, and we just about all collapsed in giggles.

It was a complete accident but it was hilarious.

There was a group of five-year-olds practicing their moves with their game faces on. They could probably take us all down without breaking a sweat, and we 20-year-olds were giggling because somebody (yours truly) farted.

What I wish I had done differently

My only regrets are that I did not stick around at least one or two more semesters to add some more studies to my repertoire. I wish I had earned a painting minor. Or maybe a second major. (I have a BFA in Graphic Design. I love graphic design, but I love painting even more.) Or a minor in marketing or business.But I was ready to graduate and be done with school. I was ready for the next phase. But I wasn’t prepared for it.

Advice for art majors

I encourage art majors to get a minor in business or marketing. Every artist or graphic designer will have to know how to brand and market herself. At some point you’re going to work for yourself, whether you want to or not! Knowing how to run a business is a must. At the very least, you’ll be running a side gig at some point. I’ve been laid off from two full-time graphic design jobs, and having that freelance design side hustle really paid off. So well, in fact, that when I got laid off a year ago, my side hustle very nearly became a full-time gig before someone offered me a great full-time job as a graphic designer.There is a lot you learn on the job but learning it in the classroom can get you there faster. And the connections you make have the potential to last a lifetime.

What’s In Your Library?

May 27th, 2014

Recently, I asked my newsletter readers: “What are you reading these days? What are you listening to?”

I think these things are important, because they make you who you are. The things you read, watch, and listen to have a huge impact on what you become, just like the friends you keep.

Make it a goal to surround yourself with good people both in person and in the media you consume, whether actively or passively. That morning-drive radio DJ’s dumb jokes will slowly influence your sense of humor just like intentionally listening to Beethoven will slowly increase your attention to a variety of things (though listening Mozart may or may not actually make you smarter).

“He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.” — Proverbs 13:20, King James Version (KJV)
What’s on your nightstand? Your iPod playlist? Your Netflix queue? Pay attention to it. Be careful who you’re surrounding yourself with.

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Library for the Faculty of Philology at the Free University Berlin, Germany: svenwerk via Compfight cc Colorful bookcase: missha via Compfight cc

The Secret to a More Creative Life: Choosing the Right Influences

May 20th, 2014

Living a creative life is one of those things that is easy and hard at the same time.

Being creative is relatively easy. We do it by default as children. Watch how children play. For a child, anything can be something fun. A straw can be a spaceship, a sword, or a magic wand.

That is our default mode. But it gets trained out of us as we grow up. This is what makes it hard. Because being creative makes us different. It’s scary. It’s outside of this “box” that we talk about, that we say we have to think outside of but we are terrified to do so. It’s outside our comfort zone. Our nature desires a certain level of safety and comfort, so being creative takes us outside that. It scares us. It’s classic Lizard Brain stuff.

Creativity is a Choice

I think what it really boils down to is intention. If you want to live a creative life, you have to be very intentional about it. You have to do it on purpose. A creative life doesn’t happen by accident. You might stumble into some things that are fun and stimulate your creativity, but to see real long-term results, you have to choose to embrace it. Seek out creative opportunities instead of just letting them fall into your lap. You’ll find more that way.

Part of this requires that you take a hard look at what is holding you back from living a creative life. What isn’t working? Don’t be afraid to eliminate what doesn’t really help you out.

Watch Who You Hang Out With

This is important but it’s scary. It makes you feel selfish and wrong. But at some point you have to decide to stop spending time with negative people who can’t or won’t support you. People who criticize or belittle you and/or your ambitions. People who are fearful of your creative efforts because it terrifies them. Unfortunately they have to find out for themselves just how stuck the Lizard Brain has gotten them.

It’s hard to let go of some “friends” because you want to be nice. Instead, you feel like a jerk, flat-out rejecting someone. You feel selfish. You’re not hanging around Joe Smith because he doesn’t think you should pursue ballet? The truth is, you can’t hold yourself back like that. Think of it this way: you’re getting rid of weeds to make room to plant something new.

Keep in mind that I’m not advocating that you only hang out with people with the same views as you. That leads to extremely insular, naive and narrow-minded thinking. Be open to a wide range of perspectives and attitudes, but don’t hang around jerks who drag you down.

Watch Your Inputs

What is your mental diet? The things you watch, read, and listen to. The things you put in your mind on a daily basis. What magazines do you have lying around the house? What podcasts do you listen to? What TV shows are on in the background while you work? What books do you read? Pay careful attention to these.

Balance the “snacks” with the solid stuff carefully. Constant snacking is bad for your appetite and your body. Mental snacking is just as bad. How often are you hitting refresh on Facebook? Maybe it’s time to #unplug. I’ll be honest, I’m talking to myself here. It’s easy to allow yourself to be distracted by useless things that don’t get you anywhere. Again, this is a Lizard Brain thing keeping you from what scares it the most. Avoid things that derail a positive mindset, such as constant negative news.

You can be sure this topic will come up again on this blog!

Does Any of This Sound Familiar?

At its core, this is not much different from other lifestyle changes. If you’ve successfully quit smoking or drinking, chances are you no longer hang around other smokers or drinkers. And if you got fit, you probably found a workout buddy or a friend who is already into fitness to inspire you. If you have learned to cope with depression, you probably quit listening to songs by Rage Against the Machine. Maybe you sought out a mentor. The bottom line is it requires intention and a commitment to living a certain way and being a certain way.

If you want to live a life of creativity and creative effort you have to really try, and have a dedicated dissatisfaction with the status quo. Meeting the status quo won’t get you where you want to go.

What are you doing to create a more creative life?

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Photo Credit: Sergiu Bacioiu via Compfight cc

Podcasts I Listen to When I Paint or Design

March 25th, 2014

One of the neat things about doing creative work is often you can listen to whatever you want while you are working. (I’ve never seen a design office where nearly everyone wasn’t listening to headphones.) While I generally listen to music without words when I’m writing, I listen to podcasts for pretty much everything else. Most of the time, at least.

In no particular order, here is what I listen to:

Beyond the To Do List – Erik J. Fisher interviews people about productivity. As a productivity nerd, this one is a lot of fun because it goes beyond the tired “what gadgets do you use?” format and gets into the why of productivity.

This Is Your Life with Michael Hyatt – I’ve followed Mike since I worked under him at Thomas Nelson Publishers and he blogged about gadgets and productivity. Now he talks about intentional leadership and platform-building. His weekly podcast is one of the best around. Recently, his wife was on for a series where they talked about what it is like to be married to an entrepreneur.


Podcast Answer Man – Cliff Ravenscraft is an expert on podcasting. While I don’t have any plans to start a podcast anytime soon, I appreciate his outlook regarding entrepreneurship and living an intentional life. His enthusiasm is contagious.

Smart Passive Income – Pat Flynn seems like a nice guy, and he is always excited to talk about some of the more practical implications of creating a passive income. I enjoy his quirky intros where he reveals some silly/embarassing fact about himself or sings a little song. He’s often hugely encouraging.

Back to Work – Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin take the big picture on productivity, communication, and just how to do life better.

The EntreLeadership Podcast – Dave Ramsey is famous for his personal finance advice. When he first grew his business, he developed a playbook for his employees, broadening it to apply to any other business. The result was a series of live events called EntreLeadership, emphasizing the intersection of entrepreneurship and leadership. While I think the podcast began as a vehicle to promote the book, it has taken on a life of its own. Recommended for anyone who is interested in entrepreneurship especially from a Christian angle.

Stuff You Should Know – This one is just fun. Fun facts from the guys at How Stuff Works. Geek out over all sorts of things, from technology to the space to the macabre. Listen to it enough and you’ll have all sorts of interesting things to share at parties.

This American Life – You probably already know about this one. Each week has a different theme, with Ira Glass presenting it in four acts. The stories are always compelling, and the background music just makes the show.

Artists Helping Artists – Leslie Saeta hosts “the #1 Art Show on Blogtalk radio” to discuss marketing and selling art online. The content is good, but since it has been running for so long I’m a little surprised the sound quality isn’t better.

Social Triggers Insider – Derek Halpern talks in-depth about the psychology behind selling and marketing.

Read to Lead Podcast – Jeff Brown is a radio veteran and it shows in his delivery and knack for asking the right questions, digging deep with authors about their books on entrepreneurship, leadership, career, personal development, and the like.

White Horse Inn – A podcast about protestant reformation theology. It sounds dry, and it sometimes is, but I enjoy the idea of sitting in a pub hearing a good religious debate.

The Incomparable – Some geeks talking about the geeky media they geek out about, “including movies, books, TV, comics, and more.” The host is Jason Snell from Macworld magazine.

Some new ones I recently picked up:

AskPat – Evidently the Smart Passive Income podcast wasn’t enough for Pat Flynn. This is a short, daily show. Since I like Pat’s energy, I think I’ll give this a listen for a while, see if it sticks with me.

The Lede from Copyblogger – I just now found out about this. Who knows, it might help me be a better writer and marketer.

Chris LoCurto – Chris worked with Dave Ramsey for 12 years and helped develop EntreLeadership. I have read his blog a few times, but haven’t gotten very far into it. I might give this a try.

Entrepreneur on Fire – I first heard about this one last year when I listened to Jeff Brown’s interview with John Lee Dumas on the Read to Lead Podcast. It’s a daily podcast, which is a format I haven’t listened to before.


You might find this interesting: The Surprising Science Behind What Music Does To Our Brains on Fast Company.

Do you listen to podcasts while you work? If so, what do you listen to?

Photo Credit: Bernhard Benke via Compfight cc