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Making Art: The 3.5 Degree Shift

Updated: Sep 29, 2023

wood art cut out of an octopus tentical

Hey, you’re back, and your timing couldn't be better. I was just telling everyone about the last post and my new big adventure. So now that you’re here let’s get into it.

Atomic Habits

There’s this book by James Clear called Atomic Habits. You've probably heard about it by now. If you haven’t, definitely add it to your reading list. Yes, it’s that good.

Anyway, there’s a part in the book where the author talks about change and how most monumental changes are achieved, through a consistent series of small, incremental steps, that gradually add up over time. He gives the example of a plane flying from Los Angeles to New York City. In that example, if the pilot were to make a small adjustment in the heading of only 3.5 degrees to the south, the plane would wind up in Washington DC, instead of New York City. So, while 3.5 degrees hardly seems like much, over time, it adds up. The more time, the greater the distance. So, when you start something and stick with it, even if it’s a small thing, it compounds exponentially over time.

Hey Bob, what’s any of that got to do with making art and your last post?

Bob in the garage studio prepping art
Checking the lines.

So glad you asked. A few years ago, an artist friend and I talked about all the opportunities that were suddenly becoming available to art-makers. When it came to creating, marketing, and selling original works it was easier and more available than it had ever been in the past. Everywhere we looked, changes were happening. Social media was allowing people to build huge audiences, websites were integrating better shopping technology and allowing users to create online stores with much less friction, and now, even more recently, A.I. has allowed individual users to manage tasks that used to take entire teams of people. Tasks that took days or weeks can now be done in minutes or even seconds. So we asked ourselves, why in the world are we both standing around flat-footed while all this opportunity was passing us by? Isn't it time we took advantage of these tremendous opportunities?

Looking VS doing

We both decided we were going to look into it and figure out how to sell and market our original works. One of us, however, looked into it a little deeper than the other. While my buddy began taking small incremental steps, I remained a passive observer.

cutting an art board on a scroll saw
Safety first when it comes to power tools

At first, it seemed we were not that far apart, I told myself could easily catch up to him when I was ready. You see, getting something like this off the ground takes a tremendous amount of consistency and is also a time commitment. I wasn’t sure I wanted to put that much on the line for something that felt that risky. What if I put in all that time and effort and it didn’t pay off? I had bills to pay and hungry mouths to feed. I decided instead to take a wait-and-see approach.

So we marched along checking every so often, neither one making much ground but he, of course, more than me. I told myself I would make the move when I wasn't scrambling for time or trying to catch my breath. My Buddy, however, just kept rolling along, 3.5 degrees at a time, until one day I looked up, and he was in Washington DC, and I was in NY.

octopus art on wood
Giving the saw a workout.

I was shocked to see how far he had come while I'd been complacent. I told myself I would start when I had time, or the risk seemed less risky. When I made a little more money and felt more comfortable. While I was busy making excuses, he was making small incremental steps, 3.5 degrees at a time, widening the gap.

Now, I’m not saying that you have to chase every opportunity that comes across your path. There are certain decisions that will preclude you from following others, so you must choose your battles wisely. You need to consider which to fight and which might spread your army too thin. This battle, however, was one I wished I had joined. Each time I saw him selling out his inventory, I thought, I should be doing that. Why aren't I doing that? I should definitely be doing that.

Will you step up or let it slide on by?

painting of a giant hand in pink and blue

Here’s the thing about making changes, especially 3.5-degree changes. At first, people will look at you like you’re crazy. “Look at him over there. Why is he doing all that extra work? Has he lost his mind?” And at first, it will actually seem like they are not wrong… to a certain degree because there is often very little to show for early efforts, just you, a hope, and a dream.

As you begin your 3.5-degree diversion it hardly seems noticeable, however at a certain point, it all begins to make sense. The gap opens widens and that’s when people begin to really take notice. That's when they see you are not just someone who's lost their mind, this is for real.

The early journey can be a lonely place with just you and your dream. Mostly because early efforts only offer modest rewards. This is the part where many people question their own motivations and begin to drop off. Seth Godin writes about it in his book The Dip.

What? You haven’t read that one either? Look it’s really not my place but if I were you, I’d maybe swing by your local independent bookstore on your lunch break and grab these two books and give them a look.

Ok, back to our regularly scheduled program. There are many points in that early process where you will think to yourself, “Those people are probably right, I AM crazy. All this effort and nothing to show for it but a few measly sales and a few measly likes. What if this doesn’t work out? What if it’s all just wasted time? I can’t even find where I am supposed to be on this stupid map. How will I ever make it to Washington DC?.”

When those thoughts come rolling in here’s the mantra I repeat to myself, “No rock star ever made it to the top without playing their fair share of dive bars along the way.”

Dive bars

three hamd painted lizards in blue, pink and green

I’ve been in a few bands over the years, and I’ve certainly played a few dive bars, and you know what? Dive bars are really, really fun. There’s no pressure and you are there strictly for the love of the music. You’re free to experiment and play whatever you want. If you mess up nobody really cares. It’s all about the love of the music.

For the past year and a half or so, you may have seen me posting these seemingly random giant wood paintings. I suppose you could consider them as my divebar stage. I’ve slowly been filling my garage studio with this new work. I’ve been doing lots of experimenting, making lots of mistakes, and painting for the joy of painting. Just like playing in a dive bar. It is art for the joy of making art but as any musician can tell you, if you want to play on the big stage, sooner or later, you’ll have to stop playing dive bars and step up to the next level. You have to make your 3.5-degree shift.

The 3.5-degree Shift

large painting of a mermaid

So as you probably have guessed by now I’ve been making that shift. I suppose if you were to use the map metaphor from James Clear's book I’d be somewhere over the lower Midwest just past the Rockies about now. To be clear (not James Clear) the other kind of clear, for those of you who read my last post, the new journey I am on is the journey to begin marketing and selling my original works and see where it leads. No, I'm not quitting my job or anything crazy like that. This is just something I've wanted to do for many years and now I am.

This then, is my 3.5 degrees and I’ve made some good headway but now I’ve reached the point in that journey where I have to decide, just like in The Dip, is it time to quit or keep going?

I think you already know the answer but in case you don’t let me explain it this way. There’s this show I used to watch on Amazon called Patriot where the main character played by Michael Dorman talks about how he does the difficult things. He says, "You don't have to go all the way. You only have to make it halfway and one more step. If you can make it halfway and one more step, it's longer to go back, and shorter to just finish, so you just finish."

So now that I'm halfway, it's time to take one more step.

Just Finish.

If you’ve seen my art, you love my art and you can’t wait to own some of that sweet, sweet original art, here’s the deal. I’ve got an art drop newsletter where you can get the inside skinny on how to get your hands on those originals. I’ll post an update on the newsletter in my next post but since you guys are here and we’re all friends I thought I’d let you know about it before the secret gets out.

Thanks for stopping in and thanks for being super cool. The studio door is always open. See you next week!


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