Guest Post: Mark Gonyea on Slides and Limits

By Mark Gonyea

I used to be able to work.

Six years ago, I left a great full-time art director position to take my chances as an author of nonfiction art books for kids (some would say one of my riskier choices that I’m happy to report has thankfully worked out so far).

In the art department, we played the radio, phones were ringing, people walked in and out constantly. I could work on my computer, meet with marketing and probably be thinking about what the next three things on my plate would be that day, all at the same time, all getting done.

I was a graphic designing machine.

Now, not so much. Now I can’t have the television on, can’t listen to the radio (do people even have radios anymore?), can’t work without locking myself away in an impenetrable studio fortress of silence and solitude.

What happened? When did I get so easily distracted? And why does my neighbor feel the need to mow his lawn every other day?!? Grass can’t possibly grow that fast, can it?

Okay, wait, where was I?

The slide didn’t happen all at once. For the first year or so of working at home, I had the TV on, the Internet browser open. I’m hungry. A quick trip to the store wouldn’t hurt, right? I jumped from project to project, idea to idea, an hour or two here and there, this and that.

Somehow things still got done, but the side trips kept getting longer and the work hours consistently shorter and shorter.

Then there’s that first month where nothing get’s done. That can’t be right, a whole month with nothing to show for it? I know there’re things I could be working on. How did I let this happen?

One word… deadlines, as in “I had none” or at least none of consequence. The first two books were done, the next one wasn’t due for a year.

I meandered. I got lazy. Nothing focuses the mind more than the “there is no tomorrow” feeling of a looming deadline, and I don’t think I ever mentally adjusted to the glacial pacing of book publishing. Where time is measured in months and years as opposed to days, if not hours, in a rather busy art department.

My solution to this was nothing original, but still something I had to learn on my own (like most things really worth learning).

Limits. Self-imposed limits spur you to be creative. For me it’s all about getting the process started, not staring at that blank page too long.

Tell yourself “this much, this week” or “do this with just two colors.” One throwaway idea leads to another and another and then eventually to a decent idea that leads to a downright awesome idea. Force yourself to do it.

I also went back to doing some freelance graphic design. Not a lot, just enough to keep me on my toes and under pressure.

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