Editing your body of work continually is something often done without realising, yet is so important to the development of your practice and yourself as a strong practitioner. I wanted to write more about editing work as, like reflecting, it can be quite a difficult concept to grasp. As I suggested in the first part of this blog post you can’t really edit without being able to reflect and make those informed decisions, and the two are so very linked despite being different concepts.
What is editing? Looking at the definition in the Oxford Dictionary offers us a few meanings, such as ‘a version of written, recorded, or filmed material made as a result of editing’, or ‘a change or correction made as a result of editing’, and it is the latter that I prefer in the context of creative practice in terms of informed changes being made (although through editing you do end up with better ‘versions’ of your ideas!).
You may be familiar with the idea of writing a first draft of an essay, and then editing it down to get to the final version? In my view, to edit a body of work is something that needs to be done continuously and not done just at the end, through reflecting on what ideas/techniques are working and what isn’t and making the decision to either take them forwards or ‘edit’ them out and leave them behind. Editing your work ensures that ideas are always pushed forwards and projects aren’t left to become stagnant and uninspired.
For me, I can instantly recognise a pile of student work that hasn’t had any edit. It lacks development, inspiration and substance because the work has reached various natural ends but the student maybe hasn’t recognised this and either continued to try desperately to make one idea that they had weeks ago work, or they have just given up with the project in general. The student also tends to tell me that they are frustrated, annoyed, demotivated, uninspired or just not really ‘feeling’ the project anymore, or sometimes even the whole course! I have had students wanting to leave because they have just become so unmotivated and uninterested in their work and it does make me feel sad that it occasionally affects students in this way.
I’m not trying to say that it’s only editing that makes for a successful project and a happy, motivated student- it is one of many aspects like reflecting, innovating, hard work and creativity- but I feel that it really does go a long way to help.
Keeping your projects fresh and continuously exciting is so important to your practice and editing helps to do this. I would like to offer some pointers and tips to try help you with the concept of editing your work and be in control of the pace of your project.
In short, to me editing is knowing which ideas/techniques/processes to leave behind for now, and which to pursue further- opposed to creating work mindlessly because you can’t see which areas have the most potential or won’t allow yourself to ‘part’ with things.
- As suggested in part 1 of this blog, I really do promote editing your personal workspace each week. Remove work that isn’t working so well so that you can visually see the ideas that are.
- Just because you have been told that a particular piece of work is good, maybe by a peer or in a tutorial, please don’t cling onto it for the whole project. Recognise its merits and see where else it could go. Also, don’t think that you have ‘peaked’- see it as a stepping stone onto more great ideas.
- I have seen so many students be really reluctant to see pieces of work left behind, especially if they took a long time, or cost a lot of money etc., but you really do have to reflect and be prepared to not be precious with your work too much or you will find yourself being dragged backwards and not seeing the value in other, better ideas. I remember one student who spent four days on a pencil drawing of a piece of their 3D work and presented to me with a mixture of pride and exhaustion. It was hard for me to try to explain that their quick experiments with parcel tape to draw the same piece with were so much more interesting and had higher creative potential. The student was really angry because they had invested so much time in the pencil drawing and it took them a week before they laid their work out in front of them with a critical eye and ended up agreeing with me about which drawings worked best. The pencil drawing was edited out, they went on to create some beautiful mixed media illustrations, and felt way more motivated as a result. I asked them what they would have done without this process and they truthfully revealed that they might have tried to do another pencil drawing, or maybe nothing for a while because they didn’t think that anything would ‘top’ that first piece. So please do learn when and when not to cling onto work!
- Create strict ‘yes’ and ‘no’ piles where every so often you gather the work you have done and edit out the pieces that don’t work. Don’t have a ‘maybe’ pile as you just won’t be ruthless enough and I’d put money on that pile being the biggest at the end, yet it won’t get you anywhere.
- Don’t think that edited out pieces aren’t valuable- they absolutely are! They show that you can try new ideas, that you can recognise stronger work and also help to chart your creative development. Never ever throw anything away even if not in use.
- Try see it as cleansing. I always feel better after having even a little edit as it helps me focus and I enjoy seeing fresh new ideas/imagery around me to keep me motivated.
- Visual mind maps can help you track and guide your work through edit. You can see which ideas are working and perhaps detect trends and patterns within how you work too.
- See certain pieces of work in isolation. If you have recently edited your workspace you may find you have gone from having ten pieces of work in front of you to just one. Don’t be afraid of this- enjoy seeing the piece without the other work detracting from it.
- Don’t allow the amount of stagnant work become a comfort blanket. I have had many students who really hate editing a workspace because seeing it bare makes them feel like they haven’t done anything, or they feel comfortable seeing a packed wall of work even if they don’t really like what’s there because it makes them visually feel that they have done enough. Remember it’s the quality of work, not the quantity. What is the point of having a pile of mediocre work because you can’t bear to part with it, instead of having one or two pieces that are truly special because you were brave enough to leave the old work behind and pursue the strong idea?
Good luck- be brave with your decisions and enjoy seeing your practice become more informed, inspired and frequently energised!
Also published on Medium.