Why do artists work in series? (and why it matters to you)

Conventional wisdom for artists is that they should work in a series. In part, this is to do with the more commercial aspect of an artist's work - developing  a body of work for which they are known. But really I think this undershadows some of the more important benefits that arise when you work in a series. Wherever you are in your creative journey there is merit to taking on board some of the ethos of working in a series.

In fact even if your creative project is your big beautiful life as opposed to a particular creative hobby there is merit to giving yourself some sort of 'series' to work on in order to reap these benefits.


The Learning Curve

When we first start doing something it is hard. New skills can be acquired and while I believe we can learn pretty much anything we set our minds too it would be naive to think that this can be done without a lot of hard work and probably a touch of frustration. From psychology to economics the idea that  the more we do something the better we get at it has been graphically depicted as a learning curve.

work in a series

Different labels are applied to the axes but essentially they all depict time or experience along the horizontal axis and some measure of learning, progress or production on the vertical axis. When you start out you have to acquire all the necessary skills to achieve competency. This is shown by the steep and painful looking incline at the beginning of the curve, before it flattens out. But fear not! Perhaps it is not all that bad...

Josh Kaufman is of the opinion that you can learn anything new in about 20 hours. The basic skills you  need to do pretty much anything can be tucked under your belt in 20 hours if you give it a bit of thought and set about it deliberately.

Doesn't that seem nice and manageable? Josh is very convincing about it. You can check out his TED talk on the matter over here.

So of course, the first time you draw a face will probably feel really difficult. It will be much harder than the 5th time you draw a face. If you abandon face drawing after that first attempt you will never get to experience that. Perhaps you jump to drawing animals instead. Guess what? The first time you draw an animal, it's really hard!  The way I look at it, if you don't work in a series of some sort then you are being rather cruel to yourself. You are effectively condemning yourself to a sort of purgatory at that steep end of the learning curve. Don't be mean to yourself.  Work in a series.

Stepping out of your comfort zone is all very well but certainly not a permanent state I am striving for. I think we deserve to give ourselves some breathing space at the level of competency before striding out beyond the comfort barrier once more.


One of the obstacles every creative person deals with is Resistance. And yes I do think it deserves a capital letter (I think Stephen Pressfield would agree.)  Resistance is essentially a defence mechanism. It is the voice that pipes up with all manner of suggestions to avoid committing to the creative act. It is our response to fears of failure, judgement and criticism. It is a sneaky beast that manifests in many ways. For me, it appeared with the question, but what would you draw? What indeed.  Predetermining the answer to this question by selecting a series theme in advance has helped me immeasurably here.

Resistance pipes up again. You are not very good at drawing those. One of the very good reasons for working in the series is to overcome this precise problem.  Sometimes the only way to silence the voice of Resistance is to go ahead and create.

work in a series

What do you really think?

It is my belief that the call to create is born of a need in the individual to discover something about themselves, their experiences and their environments. I don't think that this is immediately apparent to us all. Of course there are some that are driven to create art about their most passionate personal or political causes. But the rest of us are not all blessed with such clarity. Sometimes you don't really know what you think about something until to start to examine it. In fact, sometimes we do not even realise something is troubling us until we begin some kind of creative process like writing, painting or knitting and then, inevitably, out it will come.

work in a series
work in a series

Carl Jung used mandalas for this intentional process of self discovery.  Even unintentionally, I believe that making space for some sort of creative activity allows your inner wise self the space to purge whatever it sees fit. But it is not a quick fix. I think the magic happens when you offer your inner wise self this opportunity on a consistent basis. To me something like a regular sketchbook practice or journalling is in fact a series of its own.

I have been giving myself the challenge of a new series each month for more than a year already.

Want to see what I have been up to?

Head over here to have a look.