You Might Create An Avalanche

Why did you decide to do #CreativeSprint?

Snowballs don’t seem like much of anything, but if you start rolling them down a mountain you might create an avalanche. And the more of them you roll, the more likely that avalanche will happen. Giving yourself a daily creative challenge is like that. It’s an excuse to make a lot more stuff and in the process cause your own creative avalanches.

My real name is Noah Scalin, but a lot of people know me as “the skull guy”. That’s because in 2007 I created Skull-A-Day, an art project in which I created a skull out of anything and everything every day for an entire year. The project started out as something to motivate me personally, since I was stuck in a creative rut at the time. But it became a worldwide phenomenon that transformed my life and career. I gained so much from the experience that a large part of my work is now about helping other people to reignite their own creative flames.

Of course, I’m a big advocate of everyone taking on a 365-day challenge at some point, but I realize that can be hugely daunting. So when my company, Another Limited Rebellion, decided to launch #CreativeSprint, I couldn't just cheer everyone on from the sidelines. I had to participate, too.

Here are 5 things I learned from my 30-days of #CreativeSprint.

1. Embrace Imperfection

Posting things publicly that I made in about 20 minutes every day for a month guaranteed that I was consistently sharing work that was not my best. Many days, I cringed as I shared what I had made. But then something amazing happened: I got positive feedback regardless of what I shared, and I felt free to try new things.

2. Make a Fool of Yourself

During the 30-day challenge, I ended up drawing on the sidewalk in front of my house, playing with cocoa powder in a public dining area and decorating my laptop with licorice laces while on a train. In the last instance, the fellow in the seat next to me watched me work for nearly hour before finally asking what the heck I was doing. We ended up having a great conversation about the idea of creative practice. Even though I know that risk-taking is the key to coming up with the innovative ideas I need to keep developing my career, it’s still hard for me to intentionally make a fool out of myself. And that’s the great thing about making a public commitment to a daily practice. I felt obliged to do things that I normally would avoid. The process of taking lots of small risks helped me to see that it wasn't so scary. In fact, I actually had fun and engaged with the people around me.

3. Engage With Other People

On some days, the challenges required participants to connect with others. It was a great reminder that I make my best work when it's not just me alone in the studio. Working by yourself is an easy habit to fall into, but seeing how collaboration can create new opportunities and new relationships is a great shock to the system.

4. Practice, Practice, Practice

I decided that the theme of my month would be portraits. Being known as “the skull guy” has been great, but it also means that people don’t think of me as doing anything else. Recently, I’ve been focusing on my portraiture, and I figured this would be a good way to show people what else I’m capable of.

Of course, once I started making portraits daily, I was reminded how little I’ve actually practiced this skill. But that’s the point. You can’t be the best at something the first time you try it, but you can get better the more you practice. So this month was not about sharing great work, it was about creating a consistent thread around a practice that will help me get better at what I want to do. As a result of this challenge, I got back to painting, which is something I love but frequently neglect to do. I also got to experiment with contour drawing, which I haven’t done since I was a student. Both of these will be a regular part of my studio practice moving forward.

5. Keep Your Eyes Open

Many days, I had absolutely no idea how to merge the daily challenge with my chosen theme. It would have been easy enough to drop my theme or ignore the prompt or just give up, but the accountability of doing a project like this made me feel committed to making it work. 

And regardless of how little inspiration we all had at the beginning of the day, we always figured something out before the day was done. By defining clear parameters and desired outcomes, the daily project became an excuse to try things out. Thanks to #CreativeSprint, I’m already bubbling with new ideas and ways to carry that experience into my work and life in the months ahead.

Noah Scalin @noahscalin

Founding Partner, Another Limited Rebellion