Make One Hundred Apples

“Create one hundred different paintings of an apple in one week.”  

That was an actual art school assignment that one of my artists, the incredible David Limrite, was given during college.  He shared this anecdote with his students (and me), while I was modeling for one of his workshops.

That sounds overwhelming, right?  A hundred paintings is a ridiculous amount of work, even ones of a simple subject.  To finish all of them in one week is ludicrous.  

Like any self-respecting college student, Limrite panicked.  He started out trying to create high-quality, beautiful paintings of apples.  But after the first dozen paintings or so, he realized something: the paintings stopped being precious to him.  He started experimenting, slapping paint on canvas, trying weird colors and compositions.  Apple #37?  Paint it from behind your back.  Apple #45?  Paint it a different color.  What about black?  What about blue?  

You learn more about painting by painting more, not by trying to make one painting perfect.

Limrite learned the lesson his instructor was trying to impart: don’t let your art become precious to you.  You learn more about painting by painting more, not by trying to make one painting perfect.  But why does pursuing quantity rather than quality give you better results, as counter-intuitive as it seems?

I think there are a few reasons. When you try to create one great painting (or essay, pose, or computer program), it’s hard to know the next step, let alone where to start.  When you have to paint a hundred of indeterminate quality, the next step is easy: put some paint on a canvas.  Repeat.  Changing your goal from quality to quantity can get you over your fear of acting in the first place. 

However, I think there’s more benefit to creating a large quantity of work than just forward momentum.  When individual results stop being so important, it’s easier to innovate.  You can justify taking risks or trying something new.  After all, failure isn’t as big of a deal when you have ninety-nine other tries.  Who cares if black apple #45 wasn’t profound?  Perhaps blue apple #46 will be. 

Some of my favorite images that I’ve modeled for have come about because of photographers who were willing to embrace the experimental process of making a hundred apples.  There’s nothing wrong with planning out or storyboarding a shoot.  But I think the best results happen when a photographer comes to the shoot with a concept in mind, and we make those hundred apples together.  We can vary angles, poses, compositions, and facial expressions.  We can innovate and experiment until we find the perfect image that we would have never otherwise created.

Making a Living Working for Yourself: Passion Alone Isn't Enough

Most people know me professionally as an art nude model: it’s been my full-time occupation for the last five years.  But what most of these people don’t know is that modeling is not the first business that I started.  It’s actually the fourth.

Before modeling, I tried working as a freelance editor and as a chain mail jewelry designer.  But where I spent most of my time and energy was working as a musician.  

I taught piano lessons, accompanied choirs, performed hymns every Sunday morning at a local church, and even played keyboard in a very short-lived classic rock cover band.  I was a pretty good musician; I had over fifteen years of classical piano training.  More importantly, I loved playing the piano.  So I did what I thought I was supposed to do as an adult: I followed my passion by trying to make a career out of it.    

I supported myself as a musician for two years, although “supporting” might be a generous term for it.  It certainly wasn’t the positive experience that I had assumed my self-employed dream job would be.  Including practice time, I regularly worked sixty to eighty hour weeks and made the same amount of money as a friend that worked part-time at Starbucks.  

Worse, I started dreading music.  It wasn’t a source of joy and creativity for me anymore; it was a source of unending stress. 

When I discovered modeling, it quickly became another outlet for the creativity that music had previously provided me.  Switching professions became an easy decision.  Within six months I was no longer collapsing from stress.  I was making more than I ever had as a musician, and I loved every moment of it. 

Although I’ve never regretted my decision, I’ve always been curious why one type of self-employed art was successful, while the other was not.  What was the difference between music and modeling?  Why was one passion a viable career option, and the other ultimately a failed venture?

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The answer I came across originates from a common pitfall in artistic endeavors.  Because so many people want the prestige of being a professional musician, they will undersell themselves and work for almost nothing, just so they can say that they were paid for their music.  

The problem is, these artists are making their art about them, and not about their audience.  I certainly made the same mistake with my music: I was so convinced that I was supposed to be following my passion that I never gave a thought as to whether other people would enjoy it too.

If you’re only concerned with following your own interests, then it’s very easy to lose sight of the value you’re supposed to be creating for others.  Whether you’re self-employed or working at a “traditional” job, your work isn’t about you: it’s about what your customers want. Work is about what other people love.

How do you know if your passion is something that is valuable to other people?

Yes, you can create art for art’s sake.  And yes, you can create it for your own enjoyment.  But marketable, salable art is about what your audience enjoys enough to pay you for.  Whether you enjoy it too isn’t relevant to what makes it work.  

But how do you know if your passion is something that is valuable to other people?  How could I have known that art nude modeling would work out as a passion and a job, while music was just a passion?

The reason that I was successful at modeling is that nudity is a rarer commodity.  As much as I personally disagree with the idea that there is anything wrong with being naked, society still puts a stigma on it.  Because of that, nudity is scarce: most models don’t want to pose nude in front of other people, let alone in front of a camera that creates a permanent record.  Since most models avoid nudity, it becomes a marketable commodity—something that is both desirable and rare.  And unfortunately, art only intersects with money when it’s a commodity. 

I couldn’t make a living as a clothed model at my age and weight (youth and unbelievable skinniness are rare commodities too).  I probably couldn’t even work full-time as a nude model in a more liberal area, because a larger number of attractive young women are comfortable posing nude, driving the overall price down.  And I certainly can’t support myself as a pianist.  There are too many incredibly talented and skilled musicians that want to do the same thing. 

This has nothing to do with the quality of my art, but rather the rarity.  Yes, quality has an impact as well--I certainly wouldn’t be able to build a career as a model if I wasn’t skilled at modeling in the first place.  But those are supporting skills: just like knowing how to run a business, they can be learned during the process.  If you try to start working for yourself without a marketable commodity, you will always fail.  It is not something that you can pick up along the way.  

If you want to successfully work for yourself, you need to answer one question: what value can you supply to other people that they cannot easily acquire elsewhere?  If you want to enjoy the process, you need to find something valuable that most people dislike, avoid, or can’t do for one reason or another, and that you can and want to provide.