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The Wise 11-Year Old Artist

My nephew Phoenix turned 11-years old yesterday, though I've always secretly suspected him of being 41. 

I'm visiting to help him celebrate his 11 years and see what new things he can teach me. He didn't disappoint.

"I've learned how to knit!" Phoenix announced proudly as he showed me his beautiful handiwork. He creates hair accessories and gifted me with a pretty red bow fastened to a barrette. I'm wearing it now.

I always knew Phoenix was an artist. But imagine how proud I was to discover that he's a Working Artist!

He'd created an Etsy shop for his wares. And a Twitter account. He'd learned how to promote his work well.

Even more impressive, he'd researched what others with similar products were selling their work for and set his prices accordingly. He took into account time and materials. He found out what the shipping rates would be and figured out packaging. I was impressed.

Phoenix shared his business philosophy with me, "I believe in under-promising and over-delivering." To that end, he created a discount coupon for returning customers.

He's even cut a future deal with a classmate who makes soap, taking a commission on her sales in his shop.

I asked what would happen if his hair accessories became suddenly popular and sold out? 

"That's not a problem," Phoenix assured me gravely. "I'm committed to spending every Saturday in the studio creating new inventory and expanding my range."

I've worked with a lot of wonderful artists in my career, but I don't think I've ever been more proud.

 

Visit Phoenix's Hair Duds on Etsy. And keep on eye on this one, I think this could be just the beginning.

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The Artist Who Couldn't Be Tamed

Artist Luis Jimenez died tragically in an accident in June of 2006. At the studio where I worked, Luis was the first artist I knew to pass away. Artists Fritz Scholder and Keith Haring had also worked with us and gone before him, but Luis was on my watch and he was family.

Luis Jimenez was inspired, charming, egotistical, accomplished, and cantankerous.

In the early days, when Luis was first working at the press, he would sleep at the studio so that he could work on his lithography stones all night.

By the time I met him, he was older, blind in one eye, and had suffered a heart attack. He slept in a fine hotel.

But the focus, the drive, and the talent were still there. Though he was primarily known for his monumental sculpture, there was no greater draughtsman than Luis JImenez.

When he was just starting out, a local gallerist decided to take a gamble and give him a place in a two-person exhibition.

But even that big gallery couldn't contain his ego. Luis didn't want a two-person show. Luis wanted a one-man show.

The deadline for the delivery of work came and went. No work, no Luis.

The day of the show arrived. No work, no Luis. The poor gallerist was beside herself.

Doors opened, guests arrived. Everyone poured into the other artist's room and the party began.

That's when Luis stormed in, a roll of butcher paper under his arm.

He went into the empty room that was to be his. He tore a sheet of butcher paper off from the roll, sat on the floor and he drew. He signed the drawing and cast it aside. A curious by-stander snatched it up.

Luis ripped away another sheet.

Now everyone was interested in what this mad artist was doing. They began streaming in and surrounded him. Then they started fighting for the work. He couldn't draw fast enough. The gallerist clutched fistfuls of checks and credit cards.

The next day, all of Luis's sculptures and prints arrived. Sight unseen, his show had already sold out.

It was the start of an illustrious career.

The boy whose parents carried him from Mexico on their back to a new life in America, would become a highly honored superstar in the art world.

Artist James Turrell once told me that he'd privately nominated Luis for a MacArthur Genius Award. Luis would have loved that.

Shortly before his death, I'd asked Luis to send me an updated resume. Instead, he faxed a handwritten account of his life. It was surprising in many respects, but mostly because it was uncharacteristically sentimental.

A few days later, he called and asked me to forgive him for being behind on a project that we were doing together. I'd never heard Luis apologize to anyone. Ever.

The following week Luis was killed when one of his monumental sculptures fell, pinned him to the ground, and severed an artery. He'd worked years on that piece and more than once I'd heard him complain that this project would be the death of him. And then it was.

Luis had completed a print with us a few years earlier and asked me to put the entire edition in storage rather than release it to the market. It was an odd request, but Luis was going through a difficult personal period, so the prints were packed away as soon as the ink dried.

After his death, I pulled the prints out. Denver Mustang with Airplanewas a study for the sculpture of the same name that killed him. It was a beautiful print of a rearing horse, but each time I looked at it, I saw more.

I saw Luis' characteristic bold lines that continued right to the edge of the stone. I saw how wonderfully he captured the spirit of his own favorite horse. I saw a life dedicated to the fierce expression of talent.

I saw the end.

Luis Jimenez had a wild spirit that wouldn't be tamed. It shows in his powerful work and it spilled into his professional life.

I don't advocate that any artist handle his professional obligations as Luis did, because Luis' career paid a heavy price for it. He was a lone cowboy, a renegade who was willing to take those risks.

But I believe that all artists harbor a wild spirit, and by connecting with it, by passionately protecting your spirit while putting it forward into the world through your creative expression, by believing with your whole heart and soul, you will make art that is strong and true. This is the lesson that Luis left for us.

Claim your wild spirit.

 

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Are You Giving Your Power Away?

I guess it won't surprise you know that I've always believed in magic.

I look for those small moments of synchronicity that let me know I'm not alone. I don't know Who or What it is that walks beside me, but by dropping that penny in my path, I've felt that everything is going to be okay. By nudging me to catch the sight of a falling star, I've been given an opportunity to make a wish. And the funny thing is, the more I look for magic, the more I find.

But when I worked in the art business, I stopped believing in magic. I was busy. It was a high-pressure job and I was responsible for a studio full of employees, and their families. If I didn't sell art, my employees didn't eat. And man cannot live on four-leaf clovers alone. The art business is really, really hard. If you think it's difficult selling your work, try selling the work of 100 artists. Or maintaining relationships with thousands of clients. I couldn't afford to have lean times; I had to make quotas right through recessions, art market fluctuations, good times and bad. There was no room for magic.

I had to rely on myself; to grit my teeth, put my head down and keep going, drawing on will power and grim determination. But when you rely only on yourself, you sometimes start to give yourself away.

Piece by piece, little by little, you can't believe that anything good will happen unless you make it happen. You work into the night because everything hinges on you. You sacrifice your sleep, your relationships, and your health. You smile at the client who just chased you around the gallery trying to steal a cheeky kiss, because you need to close that sale. You hire an assistant to drive back and forth to the Starbucks 8-miles away when a visiting big shot artist demands a steady supply of fresh hot coffee from THAT Starbucks, even though there's one right next door. Back and forth, to and fro, your poor assistant drives past 15 other Starbucks all day long, for six weeks! But your job is to keep that artist happy.

You stay professional when some of those you deal with are outrageous, offensive and even cruel, because you've given everyone else your power, believing that their cooperation is more important that your feelings. You hide your light for the sake of others.

The work held meaning for me because I believed in the art we were creating in our studios. And by placing it in major institutions and collections, I knew that it would have a life beyond me and my discomfort. That felt important enough to make sacrifices for. But what I learned was that when you measure success by numbers, your success is in the hands of other people. And sometimes you have to give away pieces of yourself to those people.

It was when I returned to living the magical life, things got a lot easier. It's not just about fairy dust and angels, you know. It's about finding a new way to measure success. It's about meaning. It's about faith.

For example, when I quit the art business and moved to the middle of nowhere in France by myself, I found that two dear long-lost friends had also moved to the same tiny village at the same time. And suddenly, I wasn't alone any more. Coincidence? Yeah, right.

It was when I started to work with other artists, teaching The Working Artist and sharing my secrets for selling art that the magic really started to escalate.

When I ran a crowd-funding campaign to bring the program online, artists from around the world supported me -- even though we'd never met. Then I needed someone to film and edit The Working Artist. And just like that, an old friend who happened to be a filmmaker re-appeared in my life and offered to do it - for free. When I needed someone to put my program online and create a learning platform that would speak the way artists learn, voila! Someone from a small island in the middle of nowhere offered me a platform he'd created for specifically for creative learners. And it looked exactly like the one I had in my head.

Each time I jump, the universe catches me.

When I trudged through life working, trying to make a quota, I suffered endless physical maladies. The world is heavy when you carry it on your shoulders. But now that I dance with The Invisible again, my life is richer. My faith is stronger. And grace happens.

So go ahead and make a wish. The funny thing about wishes is, it's impossible to wish for something you don't truly desire. Making wishes insures that you always follow your heart. And when you follow your heart, the world opens up for you.

Just like magic.

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The Magic Formula For Success

I was taking a week-long Deep Writing workshop with the extraordinary creativity coach Dr. Eric Maisel.

I've been writing for a long time now, so this wasn't a how-to class, it was more about connecting with my work on a deeper level. What I learned about myself is that I was ready to fully embrace the writer's life.

What does that mean?

It meant that I was committing to writing every day as a practice. Because that's really what being a writer is all about. Writing. It's not about being published. It's not about accolades or money. It's about sitting my behind in front of a blank screen every day and filling it with my ideas.

It's the same for all artists.

Consider your journey. It begins as an interest, a hobby. Maybe you've always made art? Maybe you've taken a break and just started again? But you suspect that this art thing is more than something you just do, it runs deeper than that. It feels like it's part of who you are.

The next phase happens when you start making good work. You've been doing it for awhile, but now something has really clicked. Your ideas start coming together, your work speaks to you and even to others. You begin to suspect that you might actually be ... good.

And then you don't.

One moment you're feeling great about your work and the next you're terrified. You struggle with confidence, with direction. And the only reason you keep going are those wonderful moments of clarity and connection. They're addictive. But life still gets in the way. You take a day off, and sometimes that day becomes a month or a year. Or more. But like a lover you can't resist, art keeps drawing you back.

And now you feel ready. You're tired of playing artist. You want to step into the role, to fully commit to becoming a Working Artist. But you don't know how.

This is where you devote your time to your practice. Maybe not every day, but a consistent schedule that you stick to. No more starting and stopping. No more allowing the fears and doubts to get between you and the work. You fully step into your Self. You become a Working Artist.

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But what about money? How do I make a living? It's fine to be working every day, Crista, but artists gotta eat too.

You're right. And this is the question I get asked most frequently. How can I make a living from my art? Everyone seems to think there's a magic formula to this stuff. And they're right.

Do 3 things each day toward marketing your work.

It could be a blog post, contacting a gallery, or researching grants. It could be a social media update, writing a new Artist Statement or planning an Open Studio event. It could even be taking an online workshop like The Working Artist.

Really Crista? Three marketing tasks a day? It's that easy?

Yes, it is. They could even be teeny tiny tasks, that's what I do, but at least it's forward movement.

Great talent and wishful thinking does not equal a business strategy. And we are talking about a business. But remember, the quality of your results depends upon the quality of your actions. So writing a half-hearted Artist Statement and stopping at the first draft because you hate writing, or sending blanket e-mails to galleries because you're too shy to contact them properly, or relying on The Google for your professional information because it's easy, aren't going to give you stellar results.

To play in the big leagues, you've got to up your game.

What I know for sure is that small consistent steps will deliver the results you seek. And I'm not alone; Dr. Eric Maisel preached the same formula at my writing workshop.

Understand that it takes time. And there's no final destination. Once you achieve your professional goals, you'll set new ones. Marketing has become part of your practice.

Whether you're ready to fully embrace your role as a Working Writer, a Working Artist, or a working anything, you've got to commit yourself to the work itself. And to bring it out into the world, you've got to commit to the tasks that will take you there.

This is the magic formula to success. So now the question is, what are you going to do with it?

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My Landlady is an Angel

I'd moved to England three years earlier, living in a small town in the country. It was pretty, but also pretty lonely. Facebook was my closest friend.

And it was on Facebook that I first met her. We were both American expats, she was living in London. We each used Facebook to share our creative work, and I quickly became a fan of her poetic posts.

We also shared a mutual friend; the boy who grew up across the street from me in Arizona had met her when he went off to art college in Maine to become a painter. The art world, I find, is a small world.

She and I admired one another's work and then, on a whim, decided to meet in person.

It was like I'd known her for years, her grace and calm beauty matched her lovely poems and we giggled at all the same things. A friendship was born.

It was when she invited me to her London flat that my admiration was cemented, I drank in every detail. I'd never fallen in love with a flat before. Could she be any more cool?

Yes, Companion and I had flirted with the idea of moving to London ourselves, but the city was suffering an epic housing crisis. There was just no way.

Until I received a message from my Facebook friend. She wrote, "My job is taking us to New York for three years, maybe more. We love our home and want someone to look after it, someone who loves it too. We'll give you a great deal. Will you come to London?"

It was shortly after moving into The Most Beautiful Flat in the World, that I went home to Arizona for a visit. I was talking to our mutual friend, the boy who grew up across the street from me, and I told him that I'd moved into her flat. Her, the girl he'd known at that Maine art college all those years ago. He laughed.

"Do you remember the painting I gave you," he said, "when I came home from college?" Yes! of course! I know the one, the painting with the beautiful angel. I've proudly hung it in every house I've ever had. I love that painting.

"That's her," he said. "She was my model when I painted it."

It seems she's been my angel all along.

We've lived in this flat for three years now and not a morning goes by that I don't say "Thank you" the moment my eyes open. It's magical.

But I guess that's what happens when your landlady is an angel.

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Alumni Profile: Donna Skaropoulou

Donna Skaropoulou is a painter.  Originally from the U.K., she traveled to Greece in her early twenties, and there fell in love with the sounds, scents and colors of Mykonos. She stayed: married, had children, and it wasn’t until 2005 that she opened her gallery and studio Lifeline Art Studio.

Donna became aware of The Working Artist through a circuitous bit of serendipity when she stumbled across the website of an artist who shared much of the same background as her. She was impressed with this artist’s work and her story.

That artist, Ceridwen Jane Gray, had been on of Crista’s earliest students and was enthusiastic about the impact The Working Artist had on her career. So Donna took the leap and gave The Working Artist to herself as a birthday present.

“My biggest problem was a lack of confidence,” said Donna. “I was terribly ill-prepared for the business side of things. If anything, running the studio freaked me out. But now it’s the business side that fills me with the deepest sense of satisfaction! Because now I’m free to do what I love most.  And I know that I can trust my ‘safety net’…my website, my online profile, my blog.”

“I’m all set,” she continues. “My walls are covered with artist statements; my desk is covered with prints, gift postcards and my business cards. Even if I’m not in the studio they continue to work for me, to represent me and my art!”

Before taking The Working Artist, Donna admits that she was not the best ambassador for her own work. She was too shy, too self-protecting.  When she started taking the steps that Crista outlines in the course, “it changed everything.”

Donna feels strongly about artists who wonder whether or not to take The Working Artist. “It’s probably a good sign you need to.” 

“Once you’ve gone through all the steps,” she says,  “it becomes a joy. The business side is fun, and you gain so much satisfaction.”

“At the end of the day, an artist wants to be understood. If you don’t work through these steps, you’re going to be isolated. With the guidance plan prescribed by 'The Working Artist', what began as a practice of 'escapism' has grown into a journey of discovery - a journey no longer walked alone, but in the company of many. Discovering Crista Cloutier's online workshop was pivotal for me, both as an artist and business owner. I've never looked back - except in wonder!" 

Donna’s work can be found at http://www.lifelineartstudio.com

Back to Alumni Profiles Page

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Can You Hear Me Now?

I've just returned from the funeral of my dear friend Evan. Saying good-bye has got to be one of the most difficult challenges we face in life, especially when we look back and see how much that person has influenced us.

I've worked in and around the business of contemporary art throughout my career. I sold the work of artists I represented to museums and galleries and collections throughout the world. My job felt "important" and everyone agreed that I was "successful."

But I wasn't really feeling it. And couldn't understand why. I just figured something was wrong with me.

Then one year for my birthday, my friend Evan sent me a gift-wrapped package. On the card he wrote that this was a photograph by a great artist, someone who hadn't yet been discovered, but needed to be. A talent that I should pay attention to.

Inside, I found a framed photograph that I had taken.

As artists, we seem to spend an awful lot of time listening to our critics, the people who tell us our work is crap, we'll never make it, we should get a "real" job. We categorically remember every slight, every discouraging prediction, every bad review, each failure.

But it's those people who support us, who nudge us toward our light, that we should really be paying attention to. It's their words we need to follow and hold tight.

Evan's gift served to point me away from the world's opinion and back toward my true self. I'm sure that you have a friend like this too.

Don't wait until you say good-bye to say thank you.

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The Artist's 6 Stages of Initiation

In business school, they talk about The 6 Stages of Entrepreneurship. But in art school, they don’t even use the word entrepreneur.

They should.

Artists are entrepreneurs. That’s the truth. And it’s the difference between the old economy and the new.

But artists have always been entrepreneurs; they’ve had to be. Though instead of The 6 Stages of Entrepreneurship, I believe that working artists experience The 6 Stages of Initiation.

Stage One is that moment the spark is lit. You just know you want to do this one thing, all the time and do it really well. You want to make stuff.

The Second Stage is when you want to know everything, because you’re suddenly aware of how much you don’t know. Every time you look at your work it’s glaringly obvious to you. You’ve got nothing but questions.

So at Stage Three, you learn. You learn everything you can about your craft, about your practice, about your ideas, about your voice, about your self.

And then that spark comes back again, and suddenly you can’t be stopped. You connect with your work and it’s a pleasure like no other. Ah! Stage Four.

And then they come. Your people. You’ve been waiting impatiently since the start. But you forget; building an art career is a marathon, darling. It’s not a sprint. It takes time to get to Stage Five.

And then you find yourself one day looking into the eyes of a young artist, all lit up from that heady initial spark. She’ll be asking you questions about everything, because she wants to know it all right now. You’ve arrived at Stage Six, sharing your knowledge.

Now you understand that everything has its time. And that in the art business, sometimes lessons must be learned the old fashioned way; you’ve got to work for them.

These are the Artist’s Six Stages of Initiation.

Enjoy your journey!

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What's Your Story?

Though we'd never met before, I was just as excited as if I were meeting an old friend.  
She'd read my blog post about the first artist I ever met. He was a blind man, who taught me how to see.  
More than art, my friendship with Andrew led me to a path of spiritual inquiry that I continue to follow today. Andrew was my first real teacher.  
Andrew was her father, she said. He raised her until she was 10 years old, when her mother took her away. 
She's 20 now and looking to know more of this man whose memory still burned her heart. She heard he'd had pancreatic cancer years before. We each mourned the loss.
As fate would have it, she and I would both be in Phoenix the following month. We agreed to meet.  
I knew her straight away. Her face glowed with the same beautiful energy as Andrew, both inside and out.  I whispered to Andrew's ghost, "If only you could see this beautiful girl! And she's an artist just like you."
She was hungry to know about her father. I was honored to tell her. 
I shared all the stories I had of that man who came into the diner where I poured coffee when I was just 17 years old. In spite of his sight being largely taken away when he was a boy, he drew beautiful desert landscapes with fields of color. We became friends, and he opened my eyes to see the world more deeply.  
I cried as I spoke, overcome by sadness that Andrew was not there instead of me, telling his stories to her for himself.  
And then she said that Andrew might be alive. She showed me a clue, and then another. Before we knew it we were in my car, driving like mad, to the last place she was able to trace him.  
It was the last place I ever expected to find Andrew, to be honest. It was ugly, decayed, dogs growled menacingly behind weary chain link fences. "Andy," I thought, "What happened to you?"  
She pointed to a grim structure that was boarded up. We peeked into the backyard, strewn with trash and overrun by weeds. We both closed our eyes in pain. But she pointed out the raised garden beds and paintings on the tree trunks and we smiled at one another, "He's been here!" 
Only one neighbor would speak to us. Andrew had been there. But we were too late now. He was gone.   The man told us that Andrew drank. A lot. He'd been taken away, gravely ill. I never knew Andrew to take a drink. But I knew that losing his daughter would have left him hopeless.  
My own father died of drink. The fact that I was never able to say goodbye has always haunted me. I looked at my friend's beautiful daughter and vowed to give her story a different ending.
We studied the clues again and were able to piece together enough to track his family. "We may be too late," I warned her, but prayed that her story would conclude happier than mine.  
I tracked down Andrew's brother on the phone, and tears came when he told me that Andrew had recovered from his ordeal and was once again thriving.
Andrew's brother was anxious to meet his niece. I gave him her number and danced in happy anticipation of a beautiful ending to this story.
But then my phone went silent. Nobody wrote. 
Andrew's family embraced his daughter and closed a circle around her. They did not know me - so they shut me out. And why shouldn't they? I wasn't family. This was not my story. It was her story.  
But I became obsessed with finding Andrew myself. I wanted to take Andrew to his daughter in that way I could never do with my own father. I wanted to write this ending.  
But I had forgotten, it was not my story.  
His brother had mentioned the area where Andrew now lived. I drove the streets frantically, asking everyone if they had seen a sight-impaired artist named Andrew.  
The postman asked, "Does he walk with a cane?" Yes!  
The bus driver asked, "Is he fit and suntanned?" Yes!  
The neighbor asked, "Does he have long hair?" That's him! 
It had been 20 years since I'd seen Andrew but I was certain that if I followed each clue I could control the outcome, I could make it happy.
But this wasn't my story.  And, as it turned out, it wasn't Andrew. When I finally tracked him down, the man whose trail I had followed so obsessively turned out to be someone else. I was chasing the wrong blind man.
How many times do we chase stories that aren't ours? Do we get infatuated with things out of our control because we're so attached to the ending we want? How many times do we chase the wrong man because we're blind to the truth?
I finally let go.
I won't say it was easy. I struggled with not writing the story I wanted. But I learned to trust the truth that time would tell.
 And then, the night before I left Phoenix to return home, my telephone rang.   A once-familiar voice said, "Hello Crista? It's me, Andy."  
We talked for hours, picking up right where we left off, as old friends do.  Time fell away. My fears no longer mattered. Andrew had taught me once again how to see.
And this is my story. 

To read the initial post about my friendship with Andrew that led his daughter to me,click here.

And if this story speaks to you, please SHARE it!

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Why Artists Are Always Right

Hello, my name is Crista Cloutier and I am an obsessive list-maker.

 
To be fair, lists have gotten me pretty far. It's been a few years now since I first started dreaming of creating an online business school for artists. And, after checking off literally thousands of tasks on hundreds of lists, I launched the first official session of The Working Artist last October! 
 
But since then, new ideas and opportunities have been coming fast and furious.  One thing I've learned is that not everything needs to be dealt with RIGHT NOW, so I put those things aside in folders marked NEXT for the next session.
 
And then it was time! Time to start preparing the next launch for the Spring session of The Working Artist. And I looked at all the pieces to be put into place and began to weep uncontrollably. 
 
That's where I was, right at the center of Overwhelm and Freak Out, when I was visiting my brother over the holidays.
 
He told me to breathe, and gently reminded me that he works as a Program Planner for Mission Planning Systems. He helps the Navy put systems into place. He could certainly help me with The Working Artist launch.
 
My kind brother then carefully took me through the steps of the "Military Planning Approach." 
 
It was brilliant! I took notes, drew diagrams; this could work! Wow! I loved the Military Planning Approach! Who knew that the military could plan so well?
 
Once home, I pulled out all of my notes taken at my brother's house, only to find that I had inadvertently grabbed my nephew's calculus homework instead. 
 
Dammit!
 
"Don't panic," I told myself, "You've been obsessing about the Military Planning Approach ever since you first saw it. You can remember the steps." 
 
And so I did; step-by-step just as my brother had told me, I put together a comprehensive plan for moving forward. The next session of The Working Artist would be even bigger and better than before. And it was completely within my grasp!
 
I wrote to my brother of my success. I told him how I'd introduced the Military Planning Approach into my consulting practice, sharing his process with other artists - and how they embraced it too! And I proudly detailed the system just as I did it, just as he'd taught me.
 
"Err, that's not the Military Planning Approach," he replied. And he then detailed each step; complete with:
 
Mission Analysis
Course of Action Development
Course of Action Analysis
Decision and Concept of Operations
Transition to Execution
 
Hmmm.... that all looked sort of familiar... 
 
But my system focused on motivation, reflective questions, pretty pictures, and holistic structure that emphasized insight and feelings. 
 
Gosh, I thought as I looked at my planning system, my brother's right. This couldn't possibly be how the military makes decisions.
 
I'd gone rogue.
 
I'd taken the Military Planning Approach and churned it through my Artist Brain until it came out wrong. 
 
But then I realized that this is what artists do.
 
We break rules. We bend materials to suit our needs. We create something personal and unexpected out of what was. We take left-brain material and move it to our right brain, making something new and different.
 
Some may call us outlaws, misfits, renegades, complain that the strange way our brains work is all wrong.
 
But I say that's only because our brains are right.
 

 

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