108 – Closing the Creative Loop: Finishing What You Started
Closing the Creative Loop: Finishing What You Started

We talk a lot about just getting started. But what about finishing?

Do you have trouble finishing projects? Do you have a million half done or barely started projects lying around the studio?  

Today, Nikki and Laura dive deep into the world of unfinished projects, sharing their personal stories and advice to help you muster the inspiration and motivation to bring unfinished projects to a close (or release the ones that no longer serve you)!

 

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Nikki's 2024 Calendar!

This year’s calendar is full of trees, flowers, birds and insects from my 2023 public art commission at Barkley Regional Airport. The flora and fauna are all found in and around Paducah and the piece was titled after Angles, the Paducah estate of former Vice President Alben Barkley.

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Nikki

0:00
Laura, you and I talk a lot on here about just getting started. But what about finishing? Do you have trouble finishing projects? Do you have a million half done or barely started projects lying around the studio? I sure do.

Laura

0:14
Oh, we’ve all been there. That have finished painting, sketched motifs waiting to be made into patterns, or that sculpture that just needs a few final touches. Today, we’re diving deep into the world of unfinished projects and helping you muster the inspiration and motivation to bring them to a close.

Hi, this is Laura Lee Griffin.

Nikki

0:42
And this is Nikki May with the Startist Society, inspiring you to stop getting in your own way and start building an art biz and life that you love.

Laura

0:51
We are artists who believe strongly in the power of community, accountability, following your intuition, taking small actionable steps and breaking down the barriers of fear and procrastination that keep you stuck.

Nikki

1:04
Follow along with us on our creative business journey as we encourage you on yours.

Laura

1:11
So Nikki, why do you think artists leave projects unfinished?

Nikki

1:16
The same reason all humans often have trouble finishing what they start. I think there are a bunch of emotional and mental barriers to completing projects, even the ones that we’re really excited about.

Laura

1:29
I think you’re right, Nikki, there are so many things that get in our way. Kind of like we talked about with Elli Milan, one of the ones that I personally struggle with, is perfectionism. I can be my own harshest critic, for sure. And if I start working on a project, and it doesn’t reach that vision in my head after a good bit of time working on it, I might just feel like avoiding it, setting it aside for another day and then just conveniently forgetting about it altogether.

Nikki

1:58
Yeah, I can completely relate to the perfectionism or fear of judgment thing. I can agonize over such tiny little details that just aren’t perfect. But nobody on the planet, but me is ever going to notice it.

Laura

2:14
Isn’t that funny?

Nikki

2:15
No. It’s agonizing.

Laura

2:22
Yeah, I’ll say that I’m learning to get through that messy middle stage and just keep going. But I think that I’ve had a perfectionist streak since I was like three years old.

Nikki

2:32
You waited that long?

Laura

2:35
Well, it just doesn’t feel like it’s gonna go away anytime soon.

Nikki

2:39
Yeah, Laura, how much time do you spend editing sounds out of our podcasts that no other human can hear?

Laura

2:45
Hey, now, I have special ears. And it’s like nails on a chalkboard to me, but I’m sure that I’m not the only one who has special ears Nikki. So you know, I’m gonna keep doing it.

Nikki

2:57
Whatever you have to tell yourself to sleep at night.

Laura

3:03
Well, part of perfectionism can also be comparison. So if I scroll online, and I see projects that are like 10 times better than the one that I’ve started, it gets really disheartening if I don’t think I have that skill set to create something at that same level.

Nikki

3:21
I have that comparison problem more about the business and marketing side than the art side. But yeah, I totally get it. But Laura, I can say we both have those feelings, but neither one of us really lets it stop us from trying.

Laura

3:34
Yeah. So I think another form of perfectionism is decision fatigue, like when you work on art, and if you happen to have the ridiculous amount of art supplies in your studio, like me…

Nikki

3:47
Laura, only Blick has the amount of art supplies that you have.

Laura

3:51
Hey! Well, Jerry’s Artarama might come close. But seriously, making decisions can sometimes really tire you out. And that’s one of the reasons that I’ve been enjoying painting recently with a limited color palette and supplies, because it kind of automatically limits all those decisions that you have to make and limits that decision fatigue.

Nikki

4:15
Another way our brains can get in our way of finishing is feeling like we’ve lost our initial inspiration. And sometimes it’s just that we’ve let things go on so long or sit on the shelf for so long that our initial enthusiasm wanes. But I think if it’s something that’s important enough to us, we can come up with ways to recapture our initial excitement about a project.

Laura

4:36
Okay, I have to add one that has impacted us both this past year and that’s external factors. Sometimes life happens. You might move to a new city you might start a new job, you might find yourself living in a school bus.

Nikki

4:51
Have you found yourself living in a school bus lately, Laura?

Laura

4:54
No, but somebody has.

Nikki

4:56
Oh right. Yeah, yeah, for sure, life can absolutely get in the way. It’s hard to think about my planned project of drawing all the state birds, when I’m trying to get my water heater and electricity to work consistently.

Laura

5:09
Yeah, that could definitely put projects on hold.

Nikki

5:12
And lead to overwhelm and burnout.

Laura

5:14
And cold baths.

Nikki

5:17
Hey, I’m not taking cold baths. I’m showering at Planet Fitness and friends houses. I’m hitting you up soon, Laura.

Laura

5:24
Nice.

Nikki

5:26
So the ones we’ve mentioned are kind of things we all tend to think about a lot, in my opinion. But in researching this topic, I came across a phenomenon known as, and I’m, I’m sorry, to all of our Russian listeners, I’m going to butcher this name. It’s called the Zeigarnik Effect, which is the idea that people tend to remember uncompleted tasks more than completed ones.

Laura

5:49
Okay.

Nikki

5:50
I experienced this recently, when I was working, I’m working with an awesome business coach, who, when I describe myself as someone who doesn’t finish what they start, starts a lot of projects, never gets them to completion… She gave me a challenge to make a list of the things that I’ve actually completed versus what I hadn’t completed, or just a list of things that I’ve accomplished. And although when I think about it, in general, I feel like I’m someone who doesn’t finish what she starts. When I actually wrote down all the things I completed, I completely proved myself wrong.

Laura

6:24
So maybe you actually finish way more projects than you think you do.

Nikki

6:28
Yes. And that’s the Zeigarnik Effect, that we remember the things we don’t finish more than what we do. So the challenge, my awesome business coach – shout out to Mimi Gordon – gave me is a great exercise that I’d recommend to anyone who feels like I did.

Laura

6:45
Well, I personally think there is a lot of strength in our words, too, Nikki. So when you say something like I’m not somebody who finishes projects, your subconscious is listening to that. And you will find ways to confirm that statement.

Nikki

6:59
Definitely, like Elli said, in our last couple of episodes, try reframing those thoughts into the opposite more positive version and letting your subconscious hear that.

Laura

7:09
Exactly. Okay, so now that we’ve identified some of the reasons that we don’t finish projects that we start, how do we combat those barriers and get past them?

Nikki

7:21
Well, Laura, I think one of the first things we can do is rediscover our why. Go back to the origin of the project. Why were you excited about it? Why did you start it in the first place?

Laura

7:33
Yeah, and if you go back to that initial reason you started, you can reconnect with the inspiration. This could be through journaling, mood boards, or whatever inspiration you originally collected on your project.

Nikki

7:45
Yeah, I think we start a project because we’re excited about a concept or a technique or whatever it may be. But then as we get into it, it becomes a project or a series of tasks, and we forget why we were excited. So whatever we can do to revisit that initial jolt that got us going can be really helpful.

Laura

8:03
Okay, so once you have revisited that you have that excitement and back, what’s next? Well,

Nikki

8:10
Well, we have to make a plan for actually getting things done, not just dreaming about it, which requires something I’m not an expert on. Organizing and prioritizing. I think you are a much better planner than I am Laura.

Laura

8:24
Well, I love the dreaming phase Nikki, but ya know, I’m a planner.

Nikki

8:28
Oh, yeah. So how would you go about taking the dream from the clouds to our level where we can actually accomplish something?

Laura

8:37
I think it depends on the size of your project, and whether or not you decide it’s really worth finishing or not. But let’s say you’ve got fresh inspiration. I like breaking things down into really small steps. I’m all about written to-do lists. And I know for bigger projects, I like using something like AirTable, which is a project management online tool to break it down.

Nikki

8:59
So my project plan shouldn’t just say step one…

Laura

9:03
Drink bourbon?

Nikki

9:06
No, Laura, that’s step zero. That’s how every project begins and ends. But what I was gonna say is step one, complete the project.

Laura

9:15
Yeah, that’s not really going to help a gal like you, Nikki.

Nikki

9:18
Yeah, that might be why I have so many unfinished projects, and have a hard time prioritizing what to do next and have so many empty bourbon bottles.

Laura

9:29
Well, I think it’s worth evaluating the potential of your unfinished projects, especially from an entrepreneurial perspective. Let’s be real for a second. As entrepreneurs, the goal is to make money with our art. And if we have a project that involves spending 100 hours on something that might earn us $250 – that means you’re paying yourself a $2.50 cent hourly wage.

Nikki

9:52
Ouch.

Laura

9:53
Or actually less once you capture your cost of supplies, right?

Nikki

9:57
Yeah, for sure. We should absolutely take that financial side into consideration. But there’s also the passion projects that we know we just really need to do on a deep personal level, whether they’ll be financially lucrative or not, but we definitely have to find a balance between the two.

Laura

10:13
Okay, so back to organizing and prioritizing your unfinished projects.

Nikki

10:18
Oh, do we have to? Oh, wait, yes, we do. We have to.

Laura

10:24
One way to do this is to do a deep clean of your studio or your hard drive on your computer.

Nikki

10:31
That sounds like a great way to procrastinate work if you ask me.

Laura

10:35
Yeah, but it’s gonna bring to light any unfinished projects that are just sitting in a dusty corner. And I do think there’s something very therapeutic about that organization process in a studio, that gives you the feeling of a fresh start.

Nikki

10:50
Okay, so we’ve got a fresh start, how do we turn that into actually finishing projects?

Laura

10:56
Well, first of all, let’s start with just one project, Nikki, you don’t need to tackle all 10 unfinished projects at once.

Nikki

11:01
But I need to do all of everything right now!

Laura

11:05
Well pick the one that you’re most excited about and block some real time in your calendar to get back on track. Now I like to do what I call micro-movements. And don’t think you have to make significant progress all at once.

Nikki

11:18
All right, Laura. I know you’re crazy busy with work, and you’re working insane hours lately, but I also see that you’ve been taking time to do some painting lately. How are you fitting that in and making the time and space?

Laura

11:31
Well, some weeks I fail miserably at it.

Nikki

11:36
That sounds like the Zeigarnik Effect in action, Laura, because I’ve seen that you’ve taken you’ve been taking some painting classes and have completed some new cool paintings lately.

Laura

11:48
Yeah, I know. I’ve done more than I give myself credit for for sure. I think I completed maybe 14 or 15 paintings in the last few months. And I’ve been keeping the size of those paintings small, probably about eight by eight inches eight by 10 inches.

Nikki

12:04
Hello, that’s getting shit done.

Laura

12:06
I guess so. But in my head, I have a lot of original paintings that I want to complete. And I haven’t really started those yet.

Nikki

12:14
All right, so let’s talk about how to break it down and create an action plan to get them going, if not done.

Laura

12:21
Okay, so for me, it’s pulling together my inspiration photos that I’ll use for reference. It’s pulling out all the supplies, I plan to use, gessoing my cradled boards and making it easy to get started because the prep work will be done. And then I can do this just in small bits of time in the evenings when I have have a few minutes available.

Nikki

12:40
Okay, that’s great advice to get started. But this episode is about how to finish things that we’ve started, but have maybe abandoned or forgotten about. So, Laura, do you have a project that you can think of that’s in that middle stage that you’ve been avoiding finishing that you can use as an example?

Laura

12:56
Okay, so I actually have a painting sitting on my studio desk right now that has been there for two weeks.

Nikki

13:03
Okay.

Laura

13:04
And it has a value study. It has an underpainting. But I haven’t started adding any of the top layers yet.

Nikki

13:10
What’s stopping you?

Laura

13:11
Um, well, I’m worried I’m gonna mess it up. And that I don’t have time.

Nikki

13:18
Okay, so if you’re going to take the advice that we’re giving, what can you do to break it down to a plan you can start following to get the momentum back?

Laura

13:27
Well, one thing is to tell myself, it’s just paint. And it’s not even an expensive canvas that I’m using. I have five more in the closet where that one came from.

Nikki

13:36
Right, take the preciousness away from it.

Laura

13:38
Yeah, definitely take the preciousness away. And second, kind of like what Elli was talking about in her episode on perfectionism is just take away the expectation around what that finished painting should look like. Like, it’s okay, if it’s the ugliest thing that I’ve ever made.

Nikki

13:56
Right. You have to make a ton of bad paintings, but how are you going to address the lack of time?

Laura

14:02
I’m going to be honest, that’s a really tough one for me. But I’m I’ve been trying to draw some boundaries with my weekends and I should easily be able to dedicate at least one day per weekend to painting and creative activities, so I can honestly finish that painting next weekend.

Nikki

14:19
Awesome, so put that in your calendar right now.

Laura

14:22
I will. And I do think also, Nikki, it would help to reward myself with something at the end like maybe some really good chocolate.

Nikki

14:31
I need that really good chocolate to get me started.

Laura

14:35
Well, chocolate may be better than bourbon Nikki.

Nikki

14:38
Why are you being so limiting, Laura? Just to plan this episode, I just had bourbon with a coffee ice cube and have been bourbon dark chocolate because I’m planning a podcast episode on a Saturday night.

Laura

14:52
Well,if I liked bourbon I’d be jealous but…

Nikki

14:55
Laura, you drink Fireball so your opinion doesn’t count.

Laura

15:00
Liquor snob.

Nikki

15:01
I may be a liquor snob, but I shower at truckstops.

Laura

15:09
Well, maybe we should get back on track.

Nikki

15:11
Why start now?

Laura

15:15
So Nikki, why don’t you share more about a project that you haven’t finished, like your state birds? How are you planning on moving forward with that one?

Nikki

15:25
Oh, gosh, how much time do you have?

Laura

15:29
All the time in the world for you, Nikki.

Nikki

15:31
Awww, thanks. Alright, so after I finished my, what was supposed to be a one year project, but turned into three years of drawing all the state flowers and insects, which I love doing. It was a big hit. I got three calendars and two large public art commissions from it.

Laura

15:48
Wow.

Nikki

15:48
Yeah, I decided the next big project for myself was going to be drawing all the state birds. In fact, a couple of those birds ended up in my big airport commission, but I’ve drawn three birds. And then let’s see how many…

Laura

16:04
So only 47 left?

Nikki

16:07
I’m not even actually sure if all three of my birds are state birds. I know for sure one of them is.

Laura

16:12
So maybe your project has just a ton of pretty birds.

Nikki

16:14
If you consider three a ton. But seriously, the plan is still to do all 50 state birds.

Laura

16:21
Okay, I’m gonna be honest, that feels really overwhelming Nikki. 50 whole birds?

Nikki

16:28
Well, that’s the same thing I came up against with the flowers and insects. My initial plan was to just do, first it was the st flowers, not even the insects. And my plan was to do one a week and be done in a year. And that seemed very doable. One flower a week, right. But then I added the insects and they got more and more detailed as I went along. And it ended up taking me three years to do it. But it didn’t really feel overwhelming because it gave me something to focus on every time I sat down to draw. I knew what I was going to be working on, it was going to just be the next state’s flower and insect. And I didn’t have a set deadline, so it wasn’t a ton of pressure. Okay, but with the birds, life got in the way. Between client design work, other commitments and the challenges of bus life and living on the road, I haven’t really drawn anything new in quite a while.

Laura

17:22
Well, I do think it’s important to also not put a ton of pressure on yourself in the process. And to, to really inject play. I mean, we could all do with a little bit more of our seven year old selves who just love to create for creating sake.

Nikki

17:37
Yeah, I was I was seriously feeling that when Elli was talking about just purposely making like 10 bad paintings, and totally taking the pressure off to make them good. I haven’t allowed myself to do that in in quite a while. When I’m drawing on the iPad, it doesn’t feel like there’s permission to totally play, it feels like it feels like I’m doing something for a project. So I might actually intentionally pause my state bird project, not abandon it. But pause it on purpose and give myself some time to just really play on paper.

Laura

18:13
Yeah, well play with what? Don’t get naughty.

Nikki

18:17
I’ll try Laura, but no promises. Seriously, I haven’t done any art that wasn’t on my iPad or my computer in well over a year. And I miss getting my hands dirty with ink and wax and glue.

Laura

18:29
Well, I’ve actually done the opposite. I went from creating almost solely with my iPad, I was just like, really into Procreate for a couple of years there. And now I’ve gone analog this year, which to be honest, feels really refreshing to me, because I stare at screens all day long. And then I stare at a TV frequently at night. So I feel like I’m just overwhelmed by technology.

Nikki

18:51
Yeah, I think we can get some of that excitement back by changing things up, you know, it’s not always about finishing projects or abandoning them. Sometimes it’s about getting that excitement back about making things, which may be a tangent on this topic we’re trying to focus on but I think it’s worth exploring.

Laura

19:09
Us? Tangents? Never.

Nikki

19:12
Isn’t tangent our middle name?

Laura

19:13
Pretty much.

Nikki

19:15
All right, let’s get back to our regularly scheduled program and talk about motivation and discipline.

Laura

19:21
All right, well, we’ve talked a bit about staying motivated. And I’m going to be honest, when you’re a solopreneur and you’re giving yourself an internal deadline, that sucker can just change from day to day. You can just move it down the line.

Nikki

19:35
Oh, I am an expert and moving deadlines by the day – or week – or month – on my calendar.

Laura

19:44
Well, it’s kind of funny Nikki because I’m a stickler about meeting all the deadlines in my day job. But when it comes to my personal business, it’s almost it’s almost not real if I don’t say it out loud to someone else so I can let myself off the hook. So for me, it’s good to announced publicly on social media or to others the date that I will be meeting that project of mine, whatever it is.

Nikki

20:07
Yeah, we’ve actually announced some commitments on this very podcast that we’ve been moving down the line. I really need more accountability than that.

Laura

20:15
Okay, okay, true. But I think one example would be to say, I, let’s just say I was going to release a holiday collection of paintings, and I announced that I’m gonna do it on my website on X date on social media, then I have to work towards that, because I’ve kind of thrown my hat over the wall. And I’ve publicly committed to that deadline.

Nikki

20:35
Can we just move that wall?

Laura

20:37
Well, since you’re in a bus, and it’s on a road, and and it’s moving, I guess so.

Nikki

20:41
Yes, my walls move.

Laura

20:46
But we’ve talked a bit about internal versus external motivation. And to me, it’s kind of like working out at the gym, right? You can sleep in if you aren’t accountable to anyone else, and just not go. But if you’re meeting a friend there, you kind of gotta show up.

Nikki

21:01
Yeah, I’d love to be an internally motivated person, but I know that I’m not. So that’s why we’re doing this podcast together, Laura, because separately, we’d likely just still be dreaming of the idea of it.

Laura

21:13
Well, you’d be dreaming. And I’d be overthinking.

Nikki

21:17
Which is why we work so well together. So aside from external accountability, what else helps?

Laura

21:24
Well, I think having consistency and having routine is huge. Really, really, for any project. Sometimes we lack motivation. But showing up anyway to do the work and setting those micro deadlines for yourself can make a big difference. So just setting the timer to paint or write or create for 15 minutes at the same time every day or every other day, instead of just one distant deadline that you’re working on. You can set those shorter frequent ones and get into that routine.

Nikki

21:54
Yeah, it goes back to the James Clear Atomic Habits idea of creating habits rather than goals. If you can get that studio routine down, and just make it a habit to create regularly, you’ll actually get to those goals.

Laura

22:09
So when you achieve those goals, it’s really important to celebrate your small wins along the way.

Nikki

22:14
Yeah, recognizing and rewarding progress helps build confidence along the way and can really keep you motivated to keep going.

Laura

22:21
You can set up a reward system hello, chocolate, or hello new Dick Blick order.

Nikki

22:27
I’m best at rewarding myself without the accomplishment.

Laura

22:32
Well, that’s a skillset in itself, Nikki.

Nikki

22:34
I call it lack of impulse control.

Laura

22:39
So question, is there ever a time when an unfinished project should remain that way?

Nikki

22:44
Oh, yeah, for sure, I think so. First of all, you might just get to where you’re feeling like you should complete something just because you started it, when really the reason you began isn’t relevant, or the cost is more than the benefit. It’s definitely a hard thing to decide on, especially if you’re hanging on to that sunk cost fallacy.

Laura

23:04
Well, I have definitely thrown art projects in the trash before. Or I’ve donated projects to Goodwill.

Nikki

23:11
Does anyone want your projects, your unfinished art projects?

Laura

23:15
I don’t know, but then I don’t have to worry about it, they figure out what they’re gonna do with them. And you know, or you could just have a ceremonial burning of the canvas.

Nikki

23:24
Unless your canvas is $1,000 iPad. But if you’re hanging on to a project that no longer serves you, it can be really liberating to just let it go.

Laura

23:34
I think there’s a huge freedom in that. I actually experienced that a bit. Nikki, when I moved, I actually let go of about half of the art supplies that I had, believe it or not, and some unfinished projects as well.

Nikki

23:49
And really, instead of viewing abandoned projects as failures, you can think of them as learning experiences that can help you grow as an artist and as a person.

Laura

23:59
And that frees up your time and energy to move on to newer, more exciting projects that inspire you now.

Nikki

24:05
Absolutely. So, oh, we’ve covered a lot of ground here. So let’s try to sum it up a bit.

Laura

24:12
All right. Our key takeaways today are that you may have a lot of unfinished projects due to procrastination, perfectionism, life getting in the way and fear…

Nikki

24:22
Everything comes back to fear.

Laura

24:25
It really does. But remember, it’s okay to have unfinished projects. Sometimes the journey is more important than the end result. And it’s all okay to release those projects that no longer serve you where you’re currently at.

Nikki

24:39
But if after considering all the things we’ve discussed, you have projects you really want to finish, consider all the tips we’ve provided here and get back to what excited you about the project in the first place. Establish a new routine, create a plan and reward yourself for small wins along the way.

Laura

24:56
Now it’s your turn. Join us in the Startist Society Facebook group and share with us. Do you have any unfinished projects that you’ve been wanting to complete? Or are there any projects that you’re ready to let go of now? For links to all the resources we mentioned and to read today’s Startist Society show notes, go to startistsociety.com/finishing.

Nikki

25:20
If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, we’d love for you to leave us a five star rating and review. Reviews help us reach more Startists like you and keep us inspired to create new episodes. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next time.

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