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How to Make More Work

Written By Val Brains | Apr 13, 2017

I have been called many things (not all favorable), but fortunately prolific is one of them. People ask me how I make so much work: “What’s the secret?” as if there’s some magical formula. My typical response is that you just stop asking so many damn questions and start making work, but upon further examination, it turns out there is a touch more nuance.

The basic concept is that to make more work more regularly, you have to make it *easy* for yourself to do so, i.e. to work with the structure of your life and your human nature instead of against it. Not exactly rocket science: the easier something is for you to do, the more likely you are to actually do it. The more difficult or complicated something is to accomplish, the more likely you are to put it off another week or not do it at all.

Ok, so how to make it easy to make more work? Five wee steps and you’re on your way:

1 Design a minimalist setup: Pare down your materials.
2 Carry it always: Be consistent and it’ll become a habit in no time.
3 Get over (yourself and) the need for perfect output: Adjust your expectations for what your everyday work should look like—it’s part of a bigger whole and not everything you make needs to be an opus in and of itself.
4 Let go of the idea that you need special conditions to work: Broaden the scope of places you can be productive and watch as you magically become more productive in more kinds of spaces!
5 If you can’t find materials that suit your needs, make your own: Get on that custom train. Choo-chooooooo!

Ok, words are great, but what does it really look like? Here’s a peek at my (illustration) setup according to the five basic tenets I just exploded your mind with above:

Val's setup: custom notebook, nice pens, bookbag
Minimalist setup is the same at home & abroad: Porto, Portugal

1 Design a minimalist setup

Who said the minimalist travel setup has to be just for travel? My travel setup is the same as my everyday setup:
– big notebook; tiny notebook
– pen
– a couple brushes
– random bottle cap to use as an inkwell
– small bottle of ink with eyedropper (which I refill from a larger more cumbersome bottle that I keep at home)
– a bit of napkin (to wipe out the bottle cap when I’m done so I don’t get ink everywhere)*
– and generally a small water bottle for messes and/or hydration*

*these last two you can easily procure wherever you choose to work instead of carrying

2 Carry it always

The above fits into both my laptop bag and my everyday handbag. If I have one of those bags on me I have no excuse for not also having my pen & ink setup. By carrying your setup always, you’re building a habit. Eventually you won’t even have to think about it—it will become a natural extension of yourself and will always be there when you want or need to use it.

3 Get over (yourself and) the need for perfect output

Liberate yourself from the idea that everything you create has to be a masterpiece or even a complete piece and just enjoy what an easy, compact setup affords: the chance to quickly get ideas on paper, testing out new techniques, marks and juxtapositions, and the ability to do studies for larger and more complex pieces on the go.

4 Let go of the idea that you need special conditions to work

Stop being such a prince(ss) and just make a habit of working everywhere—that way you’ll be able to make work anywhere—be it the comfort of your own home, your favorite coffee shop, or some random ass airport (shoutout to CPH where I wrote the first crack at this). For extra bonus points, try working without headphones. If you can conquer that, you can conquer anything! This is also very handy when you inevitably forget your headphones.

Val's various notebooks
The ValBrains balls notebook suite

5 If you can’t find materials that suit your needs, make your own

You didn’t think they really made balls print notebooks commercially, did you? Not yet, folks. Those handsome valballs™ notebooks are a custom job (high five to 6th Street Printing).

Making your own notebooks is 1. more fun 2. more satisfying and 3. generally more cost-effective. You get to control the cover and page colors, dividers, binding style, number of pages, paper thickness and quality and of course, the notebook size.

There you have it, folks. All my secrets of prolifically producing weird drawings laid bare.

My example is obviously specific to illustration but the bullet points apply broadly. Take each point and apply it to your specific discipline. And then…tell us about it:

Are you a photographer/videographer/animator/writer/sculptor/other creative person who has an on-the-go work setup you’d like to share? Show and tell us about it in the comments or get at us on the Twitter. #AlwaysBeMakingWork

Val is an author/illustrator. @valbrains & valbrains.com for more.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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2 Comments

  1. Eric

    Love it. 1 and 2 are both excellent points, but 3 and 4 really exploded my mind.

    Get over yourself and the need for perfect output!
    Let go of the idea that you need special conditions to work!

    #truth

  2. Nick Mendez

    Yeesh, I think about this a lot, but especially after reading this.

    I mainly write and take photos. Notebooks haven’t done it for me since journalism school (when I had to take down quotes super fast in shorthand). For the past couple years I’ve used a notes app on my phone to “keep track of ideas” but I increasingly suspect that to be bullshit. Something goes missing when I don’t write the thing straight away. Especially short form stuff.

    So I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about keyboards, different keyboards, taking typing tests. Since reading this, I carry a $150 Chromebook around everywhere I go. It has a dreamy keyboard.

    Thanks Val!

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