The most effective way to become a free creative is to continually build then leverage successes in each of the three practice areas: economic, strategic, artistic.

Leverage means using something to maximum advantage.

For example, an Olympic weight lifter can only lift great weights by leveraging a number of things at once: all the muscles in their body (to lift then jerk the bar over their heads); momentum (to get the weight off the ground and up onto their chest then into the air); timing and speed (to get under the bar); balance (to steady the bar and hold it steady); willpower and endurance (to complete the lift).

Katherin Oriana Echandia Zarate of Venezuela, Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games. In this photo Katherine, who weights under 44 kg, lifted 90 kg.

Anything can be turned into a lever that may help you to reduce the amount of exertion needed to achieve your goals. For example, a musician uses busking to gain practice, experience, exposure and some income.

In finance the word “leverage” means to use the value of your assets to borrow more money for investment purposes. In other words, taking advantage of your current wealth to create more wealth.

As a free creative you are encouraged to develop strategies to free up your time so that you can spend more of it practicing your art. One of these strategies may be to reduce your expenses so that you can go part time at work. Provided you actually spend this time practicing your art—you are employing a strategic practice to leverage an economic practice that will enhance your artistic practice.

You can fast track your progress toward creative freedom by thinking of ways your can leverage investments of your time, energy and money.

How to Become a Master of Your Art

“Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become deeds. Watch your deeds; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become your character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

Author unknown, although this quote has been ascribed to: Gautama Buddha, Lau Tzu, Ralph Aldo Emerson, Frank Outlaw and Margeret Thatcher.

If you decide to become a master of your art you will need to devote a lot of time and energy to the cause. So it is important to know what you want to be a master of.

In this module you will learn what it means to be a master and how to become the best in the world at your art. We show how you can speed up your transition to mastery if you:

  1. Find masters who you can emulate
  2. Branch out on your own and develop your own style
  3. Discover your special areas of expertise
  4. Stake your claim in your artistic domain
  5. Use skill stacking to become the best in the world at your art
The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo

What is a master?

A master is a skilled practitioner of a particular art or activity. The word “master” brings to mind people like Leondardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, William Shakespeare, Ludwig van Beethoven, Kiri Te Kanawa, Albert Namatjira, Homer, Ernest Hemingway, Maggie Smith, Elena Kats-Chernin, Sun Tzu. 

Behind each of these names—and for all the names of the people you admire in your artistic domain—there is a lineage of talent. A history of achievement that has been passed down through the generations; from one artist to the next. And now it is your turn.

One excellent first step to becoming a master is to find masters who you can emulate.

It saves a lot of time to learn by observing and then imitating others. For artists in the past this meant going to a school or a studio for classes. This was expensive, time consuming and there was a limit to the number of masters you could access in this way. Now the internet lets you learn from many masters at once. Which significantly speeds up the transition towards mastery.

For example, if you choose to study Leonardo Da Vinci on the internet you will find: examples of his work; expert commentary on how and why he made such pieces; analysis of the value of his work; an historical documentary on his life; and thousands of other resources. 

Leonardo became known as The Renaissance Man. A polymath—(in greek polymathḗs: having learned much). Someone whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas. He studied under and with many masters (Andrea del Verrocchio, Ghirlandaio, Perugino, Botticelli, and Lorenzo di Credi.) An artist, scientist and thinker, Leonardo could do anything. He designed airplanes and helicopters, catapults, machine guns, diving suites, dissected human bodies, and understood the way humans grow in the womb. In painting, he invented sfumato (where tones of different things are blended together to lose hard line outlines) and he invented aerial perspective.

Masters do not have to be old or famous. They just have to be better than you in the given area of expertise. In the continuum of potential expertise (shown below) your best teacher is often someone who is only a little way ahead of you. This is because they have more recently passed through the same learning curve and will remember what it is like to acquire that knowledge and experience. They are more likely to understand where you are coming from and speak your language.

For example, as a painter I have learned a lot from the following artists: Brandon Schaeffer, Tom Hughes, Ric Nagualero, Andrew Tischler, Jose Salvaggio. Each of these artists has a different set of skills and strengths. I watch these guys (and others) because I want to become great at a combination of these skills and then build my own special style. Plus they inspire me. I particularly like how they come from very different parts of the world (Calafornia, United Kingdom, Sweden, New Zealand, France) and have very different styles and attitudes.

What is mastery?

Emulation is useful, but the next most important step in becoming a master is to branch out on your own and develop your own style

Experiment with techniques, mediums, formats and content till you find something that suits your personality. 

Then stake your claim. Inevitably this will require the courage to show your work. And to receive feedback. You must be able to say “this is my contribution”, in order to take your place in the pantheon of your particular lineage of talent and artistic domain.

In that moment—when you find the courage to take the plunge and have this sort of faith in yourself—that is when you become a master. Of your own destiny and consequently of your art.

Ultimately a master is not someone who knows everything (a common misconception) but someone who is committed to continual improvement in their areas of expertise. Mastery is a state of mind, not an outcome.

What art would I like to be a master of?

It may not yet be obvious to you which artistic domain you are most suited to.

As a starting point we suggest you answer a few questions starting with: What are your areas of expertise? What set of skills and strengths are you striving to develop? What projects are you working on and why? 

Practice makes perfect; but what do you want to be perfect at?

Vincent van Gogh did not think he could draw well. He couldn’t get the perspective right, his lines were wonky, the details of his drawings were not accurate. He tended to rush everything. Observers described paint and pencil going everywhere as he “dashed off” his images. He admired the easy proficiency of the great dutch masters (Rembrandt, Frans Hals) who could “catch an impression” with minimal effort and great economy of stroke. He tried to emulate their technique but he lacked the patience to develop the technical proficiency. He fell out with his teachers in drawing classes at art school because he refused to perform the tedious repetitive tasks they assigned to help develop his skill.

Vincent became quite despondent and was so obsessed with his failure at drawing that it almost derailed his whole career as an artist.

I see drawings and pictures in the poorest of huts and the dirtiest of corners. In spite of everything I shall rise again: I will take up my pencil, which I have forsaken in my great discouragement, and I will go on with my drawing.

Vincent van Gogh

Then he had a breakthrough. (Actually it was a breakdown.) Vincent found himself in Arles, recovering from mental and respiratory illness, when he finally gave up on drawing, as such. He found instead a new passion—plein air landscape painting in oil—where his tendency to work quickly became a strength that allowed him to rapidly create an impression of a scene by focusing more on light and colour. As a consequence, he stopped being distracted by his drawing skill and started to focus on expressing what he felt. From this point forward he produced the huge body of work for which he is famous. This work is greatly admired and transformed the way many of us actually see the world. Wonky lines and all.

The Siesta (after Millet) by Vincent van Gogh, Musee D’Orsay (Source: Wikimedia]

In Vincent’s case he seemed to want mastery over a skill at the expense of his art. He was also very concerned with other peoples’ opinions and struggled to maintain his self confidence in the face of critical feedback. Every time he got a negative review he either abandoned a venture; or persevered, without gain, out of willful defiance.

It is really important to know why you are working on your current projects and how they might help you to develop your expertise.

What are my areas of expertise?

Expertise means you have skill, knowledge, ability, deftness and merits in something. Expertise underpins mastery.

In the creatementality course, as a whole, you are being encouraged to develop expertise in artistic, economic and strategic areas. We see all three areas coming together to give you mastery over your sense of creative freedom. In this particular module, however, we encourage you to examine the assortment of skills, knowledge, abilities, deftness and merits you may call on to advance your artistic practice.

EXERCISE: Expertise audit, part 1
Complete the following sentence “I want to be a master of. . .”
Make a quick list of the skills, knowledge, abilities, deftness and merits that will help you to become such a master.

If you are like most people you probably focused exclusively on a single artistic domain. For example: plein air oil painting; or satirical fiction writing; or folk song writing; or minimalist photography; or documentary filmmaking.

Then went about producing a list of expertise related exclusively to that core artistic area. Such as: (for plein air oil painting) sketching, composition, colour theory, limited paint palette, blocking in, atmospheric perspective, stroke making, tonality, framing, and so on.

What does it take to be the best in the world?

Obviously each artist will have their own idea of the path to mastery and what it means to them. But if you are only focusing on one core artistic area (which most people tend to do) and you would like to be the best in the world; then you have a hell of a battle ahead of you. 

Consider the following example.

Rafael Nadal wanted to be a soccer player when he was little. He loved FC Barcelona striker Ronaldo and his uncle Migual played for the Spanish national soccer team. But his uncle Toni, who was a tennis coach, recognised a natural talent and introduced him to tennis at the age of three years old. By the time he was 8 Nadal was winning regional tournaments. So he had to give up soccer. 

Nadal turned professional at 15 years old and has carved out an 18 year career; winning 19 grand slam single titles and holding the World number 1 title for 209 weeks. To become the best in the world at tennis Nadal has had to fight it out with the best for 18 years. And come up with his own personal backhand return (not to mention learn to be a left-handed player when he was born right handed). It’s obviously taken a toll on his body (long term back and knee injuries) and I’m guessing that was not a very fun childhood. 

I don’t think Nadal himself would be able to tell you how many hours he has spent on the tennis court (probably most of them). Or how many matches he’s had to compete in. Sure, he made $120 Million in prize money and he will go down in tennis history—but in any given year there are 1,814 pro tennis players ranked in the ATP tour. And only the top 5 make this sort of money or have any prospect of becoming legends. Everyone else has to do the same amount of work as Nadal, without the glory.

For example: in 2013 Michael Russell, ranked 92 “won a tennis tournament in Manta, Ecuador, logging 8,628 miles just to get there and back. It was one of his best performances all year and the victory netted him $5,000.” [Source Forbes magazine].

[Source: Tomas Pueyo, Forge: How to Become the Best in the World at Something.]

So let’s be realistic. Trying to be the best at one thing isn’t the smartest path to success.

Most people (in the blue zone, above) have very little of a specific skill. A bit of work can quickly get you to the top 10% (the green zone). But as you join the elite, it becomes harder and harder to move up, because you are facing competitors who are deeply committed to that skill. So if you focus on only one skill; there will always be someone working harder, with greater genetic gifts, or more lucky—or all three. It is just too risky.

[The above graphic and the ideas in the following section are based on an article written by Tomas Pueyo in Forge.]

Skill stacking

Creative people have one great advantage over most: they can think of creative ways of solving their problems. So, if you feel competitive but don’t want to work as hard as Nadal to become the best in your field consider the following creative solution called skill stacking.

“It’s easier and more effective to be in the top 10% in several different skills — your “stack” — than it is to be in the top 1% in any one skill.”

Quote by Tomas Pueyo

In other words, create your own artistic field. Then you will be the best no matter what the competition is doing. Sure, someone else can come along and copy you (as a generation of top spin backhanders have been doing since Nadal hit the tennis circuit) but you will have the first mover advantage; which will give you time to cultivate new skills to add to your unique mix.

[Source: Tomas Pueyo, Forge: How to Become the Best in the World at Something.]

How does this work? Each peak in the above graph represents a skill. Getting to the top 10% (the green zone) of two skills requires much less work than becoming the best at a single one. And these two curves don’t overlap much, meaning most people who are good at one skill are not good at the other.

“If your city has a million people, for example, and you belong to the top 10% of six skills, that’s 1,000,000 x 10% x 10% x 10% x 10% x 10% x 10% = 1. You’re the number one person in your city with those six skills. Bump that number up to 10 skills? Boom, you’re the best in the world at that combination of 10 skills.”

Quote by Tomas Pueyo

Ideally, the skills combination would be unique and also complementary. Imagine someone is reasonably good at talking to a camera; remembering script lines; getting into character; photogenic; charismatic. Who is this person? A movie star. Most successful actors don’t seem to be off the charts amazing at individual skills, but check off the right boxes and they flourish.

This principle applies across all fields. A painter can be just about the best technician in super realistic portraiture; but probably won’t find the same success as the person who is a reasonable portraitist, calm under pressure, a pretty fast sketcher, a beautiful colour stylist and has the interpersonal skills to enter competitions. See Christabel Blackburn winner: Sky Portrait Artist of the Year 2020.

What is your unique skill stack?

Tomas Pueyo, the author of this approach, explains that “the best skills to choose are those that don’t tend to often go together, but complement each other well.” For example, artists are not known to be great teachers or demonstrators, so those who are have a huge professional advantage. (See Brandon Schaeffer who has 440K Youtube followers).

For example, say you would place yourself in the top 10% in plein air oil painting in your town. And also in the top 10% as an art teacher. These two things are complementary but they are also quite common in most towns. You need something else to differentiate you, that is also complimentary. For example, you might also be an experienced designer and have an interest in anthropology and social history, making you good at storytelling. And also an experienced multimedia designer. Plus you enjoy bringing people together and running events. This was the case with me when I set up my PaintStory program, so my skill stack looks like this.

Notice how we have deviated from the core skill set into complementary skill sets? This is the critical idea in skill staking to make sure you are unique.

EXERCISE: Draw your own skill stack
Identify a range of areas in which you have a reasonable level of competency. They do not have to be directly related to your art, but could be made to complement it.

Finally, what type of project might you kick off, using all the skills in your skill stack? Upon reflection, considering this new skill stack, how would you now complete your skills audit?

EXERCISE: Expertise audit, part 2
Complete the following sentence “I want to be a master of . . .”
Make a quick list of all the skills, knowledge, abilities, deftness and merits that will help you to become such a master.

The Design Brief

The design brief is a written description of what a new project or product should do. It asks and helps to answer: “What is the true problem or opportunity here?”

The design brief is written by the designer to clarify what will be achieved, particularly in relation to client expectations. It shows what the designer has in mind and gives other parties, like the client, a chance to influence proceedings. In a commercial relationship it becomes an agreement. 

But more importantly, the design brief allows a designer to lead the way, bringing stakeholders on the creative journey and setting a creative tone for the project.

Designer and client. Photo by You X Ventures on Unsplash

How does this help a free creative who may not have clients?

All creative projects involve other people. In my painting practice I have run projects with fellow painters that eventually toured around my state and involved people from the media, government and community groups. Not to mention the viewing public. Writers will deal with editors and publishers. Musicians with band members and venue operators. You get the picture.

On the path towards financial independence you may have commercial relations with actual clients. Or funding bodies, sponsors, patrons, partners, employers, bosses, etc. In this module you will learn how to write an insightful brief for your creative projects in one hour or less.

What is the true problem or opportunity here?

In design school writing the design brief is considered the most critical element in the success of any given project. It pulls together all the conversations held between the client and the designer and articulates the desired results that everyone needs from the design. It clarifies that the designer has understood project requirements and sets the tone for interactions during the design process.

Who are you doing this for?

A client is someone who uses the professional advice or services of a designer. It also means (according to Lexico) “a dependent”. So, someone who depends upon the designer—to use their creativity—to solve their problems.

A client is a person who sees a problem and does not think they can solve it on their own. A person who values your creativity and is willing to pay money to get your help. 

Wow, what a wonderful opportunity for a creative person. If you ask around, creative people who work as designers tend to love their careers. Because they get paid to use their creativity to help people by solving problems. Designers get a lot of respect, appreciation and, lately, money for doing this work. No wonder they like it.

What sort of problems do you want to solve?

Knowing what sort of problems you want to solve will ultimately dictate who you chose to work with as clients. You always get a choice. 

For example, industrial designers want to use their creativity to design products. They want to solve problems using everyday objects. Some will specialize in motor vehicle design, which means they are interested in solving the transportation set of problems. Others will work on medical products—they are interested in solving health related problems. And even within these areas designers will specialize in, say, medical appliances for aged care—which ultimately means they want to solve health problems for older people. And finally, the true problem you are solving may be as specific as helping an older person to walk, or open a door, or sound an alarm, take their medicine…

There is always someone who will benefit most from your design—the person who uses it.

Clients are usually representatives of the user. For example, the client for the design of an appliance for aged care is likely to be a manufacturer of those appliances. Who will bring you in as the designer to consider the needs of their clients—older people. 

In this sense the client relationship is a custodian or steward type of relationship that passes down from the client to the designer, on behalf of the end user and other key stakeholders. When you accept a design challenge you become the de facto custodian of the interests of important other parties; particularly people further downstream like the end users.

The challenge of the design brief is to get all the potential interests clear in your head and make a commitment to the set you want to champion. For practical and ethical reasons, that is usually the end user’s requirements. But if it is not, you have to make this clear from the beginning.

As a designer, it is best practice to understand the project at hand before getting to work on the design concepts. 

Getting started

Print this blank Design Brief

The following headings provide the basic structure of the design brief. (Over time you may develop your own template.) It is incredibly important to keep this document simple and straightforward. This is hard to do because it requires clear thinking. But that is EXACTLY the purpose of this process—to help you think clearly about what is the true problem and opportunity here.

As you fill in each section remember:

  • limit the word count and be as clear and concise as possible
  • focus on a limited and prioritized set of items, rather than creating exhaustive lists
  • use plain English for readability (see the Hemmingway App if you need help)
  • it is a living document, so you can come back later, with the client, to make adjustments

The problem statement 

(1 or 2 paragraphs)

What is the true problem or opportunity here? 

The problem statement describes the issues to be addressed or the conditions to be improved upon. It outlines the gap between the current state and the desired state (of a process, product, service, system). This statement helps to define the scope of the project. It does not describe the solution or the methods for reaching the solution.

Sometimes the true problem or opportunity is not the one the client initially describes to you. As the creative thinker in the house, you are in the best position to look outside the box and discover the hidden underlying issue or problem. If this is profoundly different to what the client is expecting, you will have a challenge convincing them. But the design brief will help.

The structure of this first statement of the problem should get everyone on the same page. To write a persuasive problem statement, you need to describe (a) the ideal, (b) the reality, (c) the consequences and (d) the proposal. For example:

Ideally older people living independently at home will be able to take their medicine without the daily assistance of another person. In reality the labels, bottles and prescriptions for medicine have very small writing that is hard to read and full of medical terminology. As a consequence older people get confused and scared and make mistakes that cause stress and complications in their health. So we propose the creation of an object and/or system that will remove the need for daily intervention and increase independence.

It is easy to see how a problem statement like this might lead to any of the following solutions:

Design goals

(The top 1 to 5 goals: one paragraph each) 

What are your desired design outcomes? 

Design goals are targets for design work. They are usually agreed on by stakeholders as the criteria for comparing and evaluating design outcomes.

When writing a SMART goal make it Specific, Measurable, Achievable and Realistic within a particular Timeframe

Design goals may be tangible, aspirational and/or practical. For example: you may want to win a design award with this project. This is an aspirational goal, but it is also tangible (since the final design must align with the selection criteria for the award); and practical (since the project must be completed in time for submission to the award).

Typical design goals: the quality of the end product; the type of styling; the level of innovation and authenticity; the degree of complexity or simplicity; usability and user experience; customer needs and perceptions; fitness for purpose; technology; manufacturing; compatibility; maintainability; learnability and discoverability, privacy and security; safety—the list is endless. And highly specific to the project.

For example, the final design for dispensing medicine to older people will allow the patient to take their medicine each day without assistance; will be easy to use (open, close, clean and store); will be easy to read for people with diminished eye-sight; will be easy to fill at the pharmacy or in the home; will cost less than $5 per unit to manufacture; will be in production within 3 months of this brief.

In determining your design goals it also helps to consider how this project ties in with your broader career and life goals. See our module on Getting Things Done.

Functional requirements

(Up to 10 functional requirements in order of importance: one paragraph each) 

“Form follows function.”

Carlo Lodoli, Jesuit Monk, 18th Century.

What are the functions that the design must perform to succeed? 

Some functions will be obvious, essential and non-negotiable.

Obviously a water bottle has to hold water and not leak. A watch has to accurately keep the time. But both of these items will also have additional functions that may be less obvious, seem less essential; but are also non-negotiable. For example, each should be easy to carry, maintain and clean.

And both will have some number of aesthetic or psychological requirements that may not seem obvious or essential and even begin to compete with each other. For example, the watch must also be easy to read, reliable, comfortable to wear and attractive. The water bottle may have to withstand rugged treatment, be easy to find if dropped in poor visibility conditions (snow storms, caving, water sports, etc.) but match standard dress requirements for an organisation like the army or the scouts...

The hierarchy of design needs

When identifying the functional requirements for a design there will always be a hierarchy of needs that the designer must balance as they develop and refine concepts. 

In order for a design to be successful it must first meet people’s basic needs before it can attempt to satisfy higher level needs. The following diagram maps the hierarchy of design requirements to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

[Source: Universal Principles of Design. See also: Designing for a Hierarchy of Needs.]

Mapping the given functional requirements for a project against this hierarchy helps designers to evaluate and choose between options when they are forced to make trade offs. The lower levels must be satisfied before moving on to the higher levels. So in the case of the watch, you would not focus on the attractiveness of the watch (creativity) at the expense of readability (usability).

What aspects of the design are critical to success?

Defining success criteria is essential to good design. A design is generally admired both for its beauty and for its functionality. And it is often difficult to separate the two. The most effective approach when considering the functional requirements is to ask: “what aspects of the design are critical to success?” If aesthetic considerations are critical, then this becomes a prioritized functional requirement, because it concerns higher level user needs.

When making design decisions, focus on the relative importance of all aspects of the design—form and function—in the light of success criteria. 

Design constraints

(Parsimonious list: clearly specified)

What are the limitations on the design?

Any given project will have constraints that limit the actions and scope of design. Proper application of these makes designing easier and minimizes error.

It is easy to over-constrain a design. Clients and other stakeholders often frame their expectations as constraints. For example: “the end product has to use the corporate colours.” It is the designers responsibility to sift through the potential list to identify things that are really critical to the performance of the design and/or the designer.

The constraints list should be parsimoniously (stingily) added to. This means that nothing goes on to the constraints list that is not absolutely necessary. As the designer you have to fight to keep things off the list (remember to be nice).

Design constraints can be physical or psychological. We are designing for human beings so we must consider natural biological limitations and limitations inherent in the usage context. For example, if you are designing a toy, then it will have to suit the physical and psychological abilities of a child—which differ significantly from those of an adult. If that toy is to be used in a bath, then it will have to suit a wet environment.

Once a constraint has been imposed on the design you must provide exact specifications and tolerance levels. For example, a 2 year old child has different hand dimensions to a 6 year old. This type of data is very specific and can be found in anthropometric databases.

Design variables

(Optimal list: one sentence each)

It saves a lot of time and confusion if the designer is clear about what they have to play with as they generate and develop ideas.

For example, many painters use a limited palette of colours when painting en plein air (outside). This means they need only carry 6 to 8 tubes of paint to make up almost every colour they can see in nature. A limited palette is easier to pack, lighter to carry and cheaper. The great benefit, though, is that once an artist has acquired the skill of mixing colours accurately, the limited palette reduces the distraction of finding tubes and colour matching and allows the painter to concentrate on capturing the scene.

What are the high impact variables?

Not all variables are worth worrying about. Especially if you consider that everything is a variable until it is locked down as a constraint. And since only a few things are constrained (as per the above section) that leaves just too much scope for design.

“Incredibly, research in psychology has shown that we are often more creative when we have some kinds of constraints. Where people have no constraints for solving a problem or creating something, they tend to focus on what has worked well in the past – coming up with uncreative, derivative works. According to Patricia Stokes, author of Creativity from Constraints, such freedom can hinder rather than promote creativity.”

Source: Enrichmentality

From the endless array of options a designer must select the few that will have the greatest impact on the eventual design.

For example, think about the elements in an app that the developers open up for users to customize. At some point, these aspects of the finished application were not locked down. They were seen as high impact variables from a customer satisfaction point of view.

In any project there will be a small subset of things that if you focus on these you will arrive at the optimal final product. The following diagram illustrates how a designer was able to explore a wide range of ideas for the design of a microscope by focusing on only two simple variables (form geometry and dimensions).

Source: A Short Course in Industrial Design, Eskild Tjalve


Design decisions have economic impacts. The scope of a design project is often determined by the available budget.

For example, there is no point designing a medicine dispensing system for older people that will result in a handcrafted finished product, if the budget specifies that manufacture should cost less than $5 per unit.


As with any commercial project, the designer will be working with a real world timeline. Often these timelines are tight and not very flexible (hence the word “dead” in delivery deadline). Under these circumstances the creative process must fit into an operational context, with measurable stages and deliverables. Whether this process is a warm coat or a straight jacket depends on the designer’s attitude.

Design Thinking

Thinking like a designer can transform the way organisations develop products. The process for arriving at a solution is not set in stone, anymore than the solution itself. Ultimately, you as a designer can decide what you will do in the given time to arrive at the optimal design outcome. However, you will have to help others to come along on the journey which means your plan will have to make sense to them too, and feel safe.


Mastery is being adept in your art—skilled, proficient, expert—and taking ownership of your creativity and the direction you want to head in. 

Photo by Matteo Maretto on Unsplash

Attaining mastery usually involves surpassing your teachers and feeling like you are in control of your creativity. As a master it’s not that you have no more lessons to learn or skills to develop, but rather that you have taken charge of your creative career.

Sometimes people undertake actual Masters degrees at university to take their skills and career to the next level, but mostly your creative practice becomes a career through being your principal occupation. 

Your lifework: master creatives often find that their work becomes a calling. They are driven by a strong impulse to push through the learning process and overcome the challenges in order to find their own style, voice or expression. Without this type of internal motivation it would be difficult to complete a course of studies or to find the courage needed to progress down the path towards mastery.

At some point the emerging master will confront the potential of turning professional—the choice to make a living from their art. The word professional has many meanings, but in the Art world it usually refers to accepting money for your work. The transition from amateur to professional is a huge step, not just in skills and confidence, but also in terms of personal philosophy.

See also:

Finding motivation

How to become a master of your art

Getting Things Done (GTD)

“Effectively doing while you are delightfully being” 

David Allen

This GTD approach will free your mind to be creative. At the very same time it will also help you to do the things that must be done to become a Free Creative.

This approach will marry your vision of what you want to achieve with actions in your day-to-day life. And energize you to break through the barriers along the way towards making your dream a reality.

Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash

The following lesson is based upon the book: “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-free Productivity” by David Allen, Penguin, 2015. [To purchase the book].

Needed for this lesson: 60 minutes; notebook; pencil; eraser; calendar; an in-tray; Trello (optional) [To download Trello].

This lesson will include 6 short exercises and 1 short break to move the body and rest the mind.

Setting up Trello

Exercise 1: Will take 5 minutes

Trello is an excellent organisational tool that is free to use. It gives you information at a glance, where you can drop and drag items as you work through your to do list.

You don’t have to use Trello if you don’t want to. You can do the rest of the lesson without it—using your own productivity system.

Set up a board in Trello called “Freedom”. Then build the following lists:

  • In Tray: To capture things as they come to mind
  • Next Actions: The things you will work on next
  • Waiting For: For things that you are waiting for others to proceed
  • Someday Maybe: For things that you would love to do but not yet
  • Reference: For things that you want to remember, but are not actionable
  • Done: For things that you have completed

Mind Sweep

Exercise 2: Will take 5 minutes

Put a stop watch on and spend 5 minutes dumping every single thing that is on your mind at the moment into your notebook.

You can use a MIND MAP if that helps but the important thing is to be fast. Don’t worry about making connections between things just list them. If you run out of space turn to another page and continue. Get it all out.

What is Your Dearest Dream?

What is your heart’s desire in life? What would life look like if you achieved it? Let’s get that down quickly. Off the top of your head. Write it in your notebook.

Processing Items on the Mind Sweep

Exercise 3: Will take 5 minutes

Download: GTD Workflow Diagram
[You can purchase a really cool version from the GTD website.]

Let’s pick things from the Mind Sweep list to process using the GTD workflow Diagram.

For each item ask What is it?

Is it actionable? (something you can do something about, as opposed to something that is just occupying your mind, etc). If it is actionable, add it to your In Tray. [If you are using Trello, make a card for each item in the Trello In Tray list.]

If it is not actionable, but you would like to remember it—put it in your Reference list. Anything else can be literally torn up and thrown in the bin. Get’s it off your mind.

If you haven’t processed the whole Mind Sweep list by the end of 5 minutes, come back and continue later till you are done—which is a very cathartic experience.

Processing Items in Your In Tray

Exercise 4: Will take 5 minutes

Now it is time to decide what is the next action for items in your In Tray.

Start by selecting things that are most important to you. By asking: “How does this relate to my Dearest Dream?”

If it is not important or related to your Dearest Dream, set it aside for later. [In Trello, move it to your Someday Maybe list].

What is the Next Action?

This is the most critical question in the entire GTD process.

If you answer this question appropriately you’ll have the key substantive thing to organize.

The “next action” is the next physical, visible activity that needs to be engaged in, in order to move the current reality of this thing towards completion.

Here we want to turn undefined, vague words into clear action statements. What we would see you doing as you work on and complete this action.

For example: A vague word like “de-clutter” becomes “empty my sock drawer of old socks.”

The action statement must be specific, concise and doable.

The Next Action Decision Standard is a process of working backwards to find the absolute next action and forwards to connect this with your Dearest Dream. Back and forth between the two until you have a precise next action statement.

Thinking backwards: Often people start further down the track when they identify an action to start with. It often helps to ask yourself “is there anything else, no matter how trivial, that must occur before I can do this action?”

It also helps to ask: “what am I trying to achieve by getting this action done?” This is a big picture question. A high level, quality of life question.

Thinking forwards, make sure that getting this thing done is going to be worth the effort it will take and result in moving you closer to realizing your Dearest Dream. 

What does done look like?

Lastly, as you drag this item into your Next Action list, you have to consider what getting it done looks like. How will you know if it is done? What will be produced? How will you feel? You can describe this outcome in the description section of a Trello card, if it helps keep your on track.

Waiting For…

Sometimes you start an action, then have to wait for someone else to complete their part before you can get it completely don. We park these items in the Waiting For list. It is important to check up on these regularly so they don’t slip off your radar.

Short Break

Get up, stretch, walk around the room, get a drink, go to the loo, come back in 3 minutes.


Exercise 5: Will take 5 minutes

A project is any action or series of actions that will take more than 2 minutes and no longer than 1 year to perform. 

Best practice: Knock off the stuff that takes 2 minutes or less while you are processing your In Tray.

For any action that will take more than two minutes to complete; you may have to break it down into doable chunks. If you are finding that you Next Actions list is too long, you can start creating lists that group related actions under a project name.

For example: “Prepare to move house” Is a project that may take weeks to complete. You would create a list with this heading and start to identify doable chunks of work such as “Empty sock drawer of old socks“.

Go through your Next Action list and arranged your items into appropriate project listings.


  • Projects should tie directly into your Dearest Dream: especially how they help to make you a Free Creative.
  • Project list headings can describe what done looks like. For example: a vague word like “new house” becomes “Set up in new house.”
  • Organize projects in order of priority:
    • Park a project into Someday Maybe if it is not of the highest priority and you have high priority things to get on with.
    • Always be willing to cancel projects and actions. Just because you thought of them and wrote them down does not mean you have to do them, right?
    • Only move an action item from Projects into Next Actions when you are imminently ready to work on it to get it done.
  • Don’t spend time thinking too far ahead listing potential actions for a project, this just clutters up your lists.

Add action items when they come to mind—via the In Tray.

Outcome Focus

Exercise 6: Will take 5 minutes

In the Getting Things Done universe there is a concept called Horizon Scanning. The idea is to set your big picture visions and dreams, then work backwards from that distant horizon, through five closer horizons, to arrive at the current actions that need to be taken to progress your dream.

Five horizons to scan when making your plans

We suggest you spend a few minutes considering your big picture. As someone on the path to creative freedom, your scan might look like this, (working backwards from your higher purpose):

  • Horizon 5: Purpose and principles: Be a Free Creative (Dearest Dream).
  • Horizon 4: Longer term vision (3-5 years): Become a master of my art.
  • Horizon 3: Goals (next 1 to 2 years): Have an exhibition of my work.
  • Horizon 2: Areas of focus and accountability: Paint 50 pictures for my exhibition.
  • Horizon 1: Current projects: Working on my latest painting.
  • Ground: Current actions: Block in the under-painting for my latest painting.

Putting GTD into practice

From now on everything that occupies your attention should be put into this GTD system. Straight into the In Tray, then processed on a daily basis.

Daily Practice:

You will need to set aside time each day to get your Next Actions done.

If they cannot be done quickly, move them back into Projects or Someday Maybe.

Weekly Review:

Once a week you will need to set aside time to:

  • Get your In Tray to empty (another cathartic experience)
  • Review the Next Action list: mark things as done (the fun part)
  • Review your Calendar: add items that popped up here to your In Tray
  • Review the Waiting For list: check if you can progress these items
  • Review Projects: move items to Next Actions for the upcoming week

In a crisis use the Weekly Review to get back under control. Whenever you fall off the GTD wagon, it is easy to get back on—just perform another Mind Sweep and add it all to Trello.

Quarterly Planning Session:

Take the time once every 12 weeks to think about how you are progressing. Perform an in depth Horizon Scanning exercise. Look at your Projects—what is taking too long? Can you hurry it up?

Look at Some Day Maybe—what’s been sitting in there for too long. Shall we just cancel it now? Can we just tear it up and throw it in the bin. Get it off your mind?

Ultimately GTD is about writing your dreams down, defining real projects, then ensuring that next actions are decided on—until the finish line is crossed.

It takes about 6 months to form the habit and 2 years to master GTD.

Good luck. Enjoy.


Portfolio = your possessions, investments, assets and education.

Leather portfolio with a laptop inside

In the design world a portfolio is what a designer puts together to demonstrate their work and their skills. It used to be an impressive leather bound case with a golden zip, containing sheets of paper with pictures, drawings and designs. Now it is also digital.

As designers go along they earmark pieces of work for inclusion in their portfolio. “Oh, I really enjoyed making this and I am proud of how it turned out—so it’s going into my portfolio.”

At some point they will go to the trouble of printing it out or marking it up for presentation purposes. This is a commitment to the future. It assumes that future employers and clients will want to see it. That it will be relevant for future interviews and sales pitches. Which, in a way, determines which potential employers and clients will get to see it. There is a subliminal decision being made about where their career is headed, based on what they have most liked doing.

In the world of finance a portfolio is the total holding of securities, commercial paper, etc., of an investor.

Both the design and the investment portfolios are very fluid. They are always changing. They both require continual trimming, tweaking and reevaluation.

A portfolio is also the office or post of a minister of government. And is sometimes used to describe a range of duties or work for a range of employers.

At creatementality portfolio means all these things. Think of it as the kit of skills, resources, assets and knowledge that you are developing to keep your edge. To increase your mastery.

Your portfolio contains the things that really matter—those things into which you invest your time, energy and hopes for the future.

Creative Freedom Weekly Planner

8 Steps for Putting Your Plan into Action

You only get good at the things you practice. And you will only get out of the hole you are in if you take action and make changes in your life.

The following exercise gives you a framework upon which to plan your path to creative freedom.

Getting Started

Print this blank weekly planner [print blank planner]

Start with instant gut feelings. Don’t overthink your answers. The whole exercise should only take 20 minutes to complete.

Step 1: How Creative Do I Feel?

This question sets the tone for the rest of the session. It is helpful to be aware of your energy levels and creative capacity before you start. This provides a benchmark to gauge your progress.

You will get the best outcomes if you are relaxed, happy and optimistic about your future. But even if you are not feeling 100%, by the end of this exercise you will feel a lot better.

How Free Do I Feel?

The main purpose of running this exercise is to evaluate your sense of freedom and make sure you do things to improve your situation.

If you are able to increase your freedom, even if it is only a thought, you will build up the courage and confidence to make your plans happen.

Step 2: How Would I Rate My Sense of Physical Freedom?

Did I have the space and tools to practice my art this week?

If not what was lacking?

Step 3: How Would I Rate my Sense of Temporal Freedom?

What type of practices and activities did I spend my time on this week?

Am I happy with the balance?

Step 4: How Would I Rate My Sense of Mental Freedom?

What was occupying my mind this week?

What Will I Do Next?

Now it is time to make some plans.

The main purpose of running this part of the exercise is to ensure that your daily practices deliver the outcomes you need.

Remember that it is through repeated daily practice that we gain mastery over our art and achieve our big picture goals.

Step 5: What Would I Like to Achieve This Week?

Focus on things that will really help you on your path to creative freedom.

You could begin this by doing a mindsweep of everything that is drawing on your attention and energy. This helps to clear the mind.

Then describe in a simple sentence or two what goals you have for the upcoming week.

It helps to think about what you want to be experiencing in the future; and therefore what will be the most important and effective things you could do in the following week to really improve your situation.

Step 6: Which Artistic Practices Can I Prioritize this Week to Achieve My Goals

In this course we put our artistic and creative practices first. So they do not get overshadowed or sidelined by life’s other demands. You will never gain mastery over your art unless you make this commitment.

First principle: I get my art done each day and worry about everything else after that. Even if it means I have to get up at 5 am and spend the first two hours painting, drawing, writing, creating.

Source: A Day in the Life of a Free Creative

The most effective daily routine is arranged so that your artistic practices (A) are supported by your strategic practices (S) and economic (E). And there is a synergy between the three.

Creative Freedom Model [See the model explained]

Step 7: Which Strategic Practices Can I Prioritize this Week to Achieve My Goals

Here you must think of the strategic things you must do this week to make your goals happen. For example: what you will need to learn; what systems you will need to put into place; what tools or resources you will need to acquire. This is where you make sure you are sharpening the saw: learning, thinking, and reflecting. 

Step 8: Which Economic Practices Can I Prioritize this Week to Achieve My Goals

Living a moderate lifestyle takes more time and effort than the traditional extravagant one we are leaving behind. This means you will have to be prepared to factor in practices such as: finding bargains, selling or weeding out things you don’t need, learning how to manage your finances, checking your expenses and so on.

Your portfolio (your possessions, investments, assets and education) is going to need continual attention to grow and stay healthy.

How Free Do I Feel Now?

Hopefully, at the end of this process you are feeling like you have achieved something. Encouraged to move ahead with your plans.

Print your poster out and put it in a prominent place to remind you of what your need to achieve this week.

Creative Freedom Calculator

9 Steps to Finding out When You Can Retire From Work and be a Free Creative 

As you work through this exercise, remember: much will depend upon the practices you put into place and the habits you form along the way. And how creative you are in defining what freedom means to you and what you are able to do without to have it.

The Creative Freedom Calculator

Getting Started

Print this blank calculator form [download blank form]

Start with rough ballpark figures.

Your figures will become more accurate each time you use the calculator.

1. What is Your Net Income?

What you get, after tax.

Put annual amount in top income circle.

Total net income

2. What Does it Cost You to Live?

This is a total figure including rent and/or mortgage repayments.

An accurate figure may take a while to work out. But don’t drive yourself mad. You will get better at this over time.

Put annual amount in living circle.

Total annual expenses

3. How Much are You Able to Save?

Now subtract the cost of living from your net income.

Hopefully you will have a surplus. Put this down in the surplus area.

If you don’t have money left over—  start reducing your expenses.

You will need a surplus to be free.

Annual surplus (savings capacity)

4. How Much do You Have Invested?

Add up all the money you have in your investment portfolio such as savings accounts, shares, superannuation, index funds, etc.

Put total investment portfolio value under the line in the investments circle.

Investment portfolio

5. What is Your Annual Passive Income (API) ?

Divide the total investment portfolio amount by 4% = Part 1 of your annual passive income (api).

Add up all the income you make from any other passive source such as: rent, sales of digital products = Part 2 of api.

Put the sum total of Part 1 + Part 2 above the line in your investments circle.

Annual Passive Income (api)

6. Can You Own the Roof Over Your Head?

If you have a mortgage put the figure you owe into the shelter circle.

An important goal here is to own your own house so you never have to pay rent again and you are no longer hostage to the whims of the economy.

There are many creative ways to do this that do not involve a massive debt.

Own your own home

7. How Soon Can You be Debt Free?

If you have other large debts, write these in a special red circle under shelter.

How long will it take you to pay off your debts and your mortgage using your annual surplus?

Put a debt free time estimate up next to timescale.

Debt free

8. How Soon Can You Leave Your Job?

Once you are debt free, deduct your annual mortgage payments from living
Is your annual passive income (api) amount greater or lower than your living expenses?

If api is greater, then you can afford to leave your job and live off your annual passive income.

If api is lower, how long will it take you to increase your investment portfolio, using your annual surplus, to produce an api that will cover your living expenses?

9. Do You Have Ideas for Optimising your Situation?

If the timeline to leaving your job is looking too long, try to find further
income or savings to speed things up.

Creative problem solving approach

Putting This Plan into Action

Now you have a full picture of what it will take to become Financially Independent and therefore free to create what you like, when you like, how you like.

The Free Creatives course is designed to give you practices that will make this plan become a reality—sooner than you think!

How do you feel now?

A Day in the Life: Of a Free Creative

What will we be doing in 2050?

Bill Gates predicted the following things for the year 2050:

  • Fewer humans (because of bio-terrorism and pandemic)
  • Most jobs lost to automation
  • Africa self sufficient in food
  • Poverty and Polio beaten
  • Clean energy powering the world

And mobile banking will transform our lives.

En plein air painting location

So now I am going to imagine a day in my life 30 years from now:

I will paint; travel the world to relevant and interesting locations; weave a story around my paintings; make videos; put these up online; write articles. I will become a master of my art; polish off lessons; go into my online course to talk to my peers and students; and have no fear that it will all end soon and I’ll have to go back to a job.

On this perfect day there will be no other list of things to do. No more things to get done to make this day possible. No more saving up or working towards this day. No more investing in the future so that I can have this day, or delaying gratification until this day arrives. This day will finally become the first day of the rest of my life. The life I really want to live.

Then I wondered—how quickly can I make this day happen? I don’t want to wait 33 years. I may not be alive in 33 years. But looking at my current to do list, it might take me forever, because my to do list is always full; and mainly of stuff I really do not want to do. 

Bill Gates said “most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”

So I wondered—what would happen if I just started living my perfect day—today? If I scrapped my to do list and just started painting and writing? 

I realized that I would stop getting paid. And then how would I afford to live?

This got me thinking seriously, for the first time in my life, about the way I live, the cost of my lifestyle and the many possible ways I might be able to fund my perfect life without having to ever go to a job again.

It all came down to: I could live my perfect life now if I owned my own house and could get a small annual income from investments.

Climbing out of the hole (Physical Freedom)

I couldn’t just make this happen instantly, but I began to see ways to work rapidly towards it. When I brainstormed ways, dozens of great ideas came to mind. [I could sell my house, pay off my mortgage, buy something smaller, then invest the remaining in an index fund. Or I could rent my house out, move to a smaller house and pay a lot less in rent to quickly pay off my mortgage. Or I could tighten the belt completely, take on extra contracts and put all my money into paying off my mortgage.] 

So many options started to occur to me.

And it began to look like I actually could make my dream happen in less than 10 years, possibly even as soon as 1 year.

Just the possibility of being free like this energized me. I started seeing myself climbing out of a hole.

Putting my art practice first (Mental Freedom)

But I did not want to put my artistic practice on hold. So I knew, whatever effort I made to become free now would also have to include becoming a master at my art. In fact from this point onwards, I committed to putting my art practice first. Literally.

First principle: I get my art done each day and worry about everything else after that. Even if it means I have to get up at 5 am and spend the first two hours painting, drawing, writing, creating.

This commitment solved the dilemma of delayed gratification. And as soon as I put it into practice I felt happier about getting on with the paid work. That sense of being trapped in a job that was taking me away from my art disappeared.

As a contractor I started to pick up work because it paid well, not because it might be “satisfying”. I was getting enough satisfaction from my daily artistic endeavours. My preference now is for short term, highly paid gigs. In and out. Rather than full time permanent positions. In my field (design) there is plenty of work like this. The shorter the contract the higher the pay, as a rule. 

Hitting the ground running (Economic Practice)

This was going against the mainstream, because most people want permanency. And hitting the ground running is a specialized skill that most people don’t have because it takes practice.

In and out. You can put up with a lot when you know you are not hanging around. For example, you are not affected by workplace politics or the stressful undercurrents caused by restructures. You are either working in an environment where contractors are needed to fill vacancies during a restructure or because this is the way everyone works in that place. So people are nice to you because they know you are not competing with them for their jobs. Your work is usually well organised, because a business case was required to afford to bring you in. And you are generally performing an urgent and important function, otherwise why have you there on a short contract?

As an artist, I enjoy finding creative ways to hit the ground running. I have designed first day practices to get to know the lay of the land. I like meeting new people, finding new cafes, travelling to new, interesting locations. All of this even inspires my creative projects. I feel like I am moving around and getting new experiences; in my hometown. Which is good practice for when I am actually travelling around the world later.

I have also enjoyed finding creative ways to save money. Although I am earning more now than ever before, I do not want to delay my dream so I have designed clever but cheap workwear, commuting hacks, bringing my own meals, my little tea cup ceremony, mindfulness meditations interspersed everywhere and walking as a fitness treat. 

I am pouring all my money into my portfolio (that is how I view my possessions, investments, assets and education) now with a sense of achievement rather than denial. And I can see the top of the hole. I have a very definite dollar figure for what it will take to be completely out of that hole. To pay off my mortgage and have an investment to fund my much reduced cost of living. 

But the interesting thing is, I don’t feel as vehement about escaping from the workforce. I feel like I already have. Don’t get me wrong, I now have concrete and realistic plans to move to live in Europe in two years from now, so I am not going to be hanging around. If you had asked me one year ago if any of this was on my horizon I would have said “sure, in my long term dreams”.

How to devise a daily routine

Use the Creative Freedom Model to consider potential artistic, economic and strategic practices you could put into place. What can be done on a daily basis?

Incorporating all three practices into each day leads to mastery.

The most effective daily routine would look like the diagram below. Your artistic practices (A) are supported by your economic (E) and strategic practices (S). And there is a synergy between the three.

Daily practice synergy

In my case my daily routine includes:

  • Artistic: painting, drawing, writing
  • Economic: living frugally and investing
  • Strategic: sharpening the saw: learning, thinking, reflecting. 

The real challenge is to keep these three sets of practices in balance. Not to let one completely take over and dominate. I do this by continually asking: 

  • What should be in and what should be out?
  • What practices are not helping me to become and stay a free creative?

At first it may feel like you are spending a lot of time on strategic and economic practices. But then they become second nature and the amount of time and energy you get to spend on your art increases.

The freedom not to create

Finally, let’s allow ourselves some down time. When we do not have to be creative. When we are free to just BE. In building our perfect practices we do not want to create a new master. There is a tyranny in self-discipline. There will be days when you just need a rest. A break from all this thinking and effort. On a day like that, let yourself switch off. Be gentle on yourself. Be free to be free.

What Does Creative Freedom Mean to You?

“Every painting is a voyage into a sacred harbour.” 

Giotto di Bondone

Do you want to be a full time artist, writer, musician, poet? Are you resentful of your working career because it pulls you away from your art? Do you dream of leaving your job and being free to spend your time and energy dedicating yourself to your art? Is your passion for you art being compromised by your search for a market? 

Being free to create your art means being financially independent. Not needing to work in a job or sell your work to make a living. In this article you will learn that creative freedom is just around the corner, if you know where to look.

The Dordogne River valley from the Château de Beynac

Giotto di Bondone was a painter who lived near the end of the Medieval period. In 1305 he was engaged by a rich usurer called Enrico degli Scrovegni to paint frescos across the entire interior of a chapel that Scrovegni had built to pave his way to heaven. Feeling ashamed of his occupation and fearful of being cast into Hell, Scrovegni though he could save his soul by honouring God with his money.

Giotto illustrated 37 scenes of holy significance in a solidly three dimensional way—in perspective—making them seem real and bringing to life the stories of the Virgin Mary and Christ. These images were amazing to eyes that had never seen such realism before.

Detail from the fresco showing Scrovegni himself handing his beautiful gift to Mother Mary, as depicted by Giotto in the Arena Chapel, Padua [Source Khan Academy lesson]

What Does Creative Freedom Mean to an Artist?

“The main thing is to be moved, to love, to hope, to tremble, to live.”  

Auguste Rodin 

In his day, Giotto was seen as a tremendously fortunate artist: to have such a patron; to get such an opportunity to paint these masterpieces; to have such talent and skill to master and then advance the art of painting. But was he free?

Certainly Giotto could devote all his time to his art. In this sense he had the temporal freedom to perfect his art. It takes many years to master painting. “If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all.” Michelangelo. 

However, although it is a rare privilege to be paid to be an artist; Giotto had to work long hours in difficult circumstances (suspended from scaffolding meters above the ground in cavernous church buildings, exposed to the elements).

But Giotto was paid handsomely for his work. By 1305, Giotto had a significant income. So he could afford to travel to find opportunities. Hence, his work can be found in churches all over what we now know as Italy, and possibly as far as the Papal seat at Avignon

But while he had the physical freedom to move, it was only to places where he could find work.

But he was not free to choose what he would paint. He, like most professional artists throughout history, made his income from the sale of his paintings. As a result, he depended on finding wealthy customers and sponsors to commission his talent. And he had to accommodate their wishes. 

Until the renaissance era, the Church funded most artistic work, hence our galleries are full of images of the Madonna, Bambino, Christ and the Saints. Alternatively, gallery walls are festooned with portraits of royalty, nobles and wealthy merchants. Endless august characters dipping into their coffers to glorify themselves visually.

Portrait painting is challenging and artistically satisfying as an art form—but surely most artists would have preferred to paint people other than their sponsors? Vincent van Gogh, for example, became obsessed with trying to capture the faces of hard working peasants—despite having everyone he knew including his beloved brother Theo (who ran a gallery) telling him that he was committing professional suicide. No one wanted to purchase these or any of Vincent’s experimental works; so he died in poverty.

As a sponsor, Scrovegni was a little more subtle, but his face still appears opposite the altar and God, the last image you see as you leave his glorious chapel.

In later life, once he owned his own house and other assets, Giotto became more selective in his commissions and was able to take on apprentices. Financial independence gave him the mental freedom to become bolder in his style and symbolism. Consequently he caught the attention and admiration of the new generation of painters following in his footsteps, which ignited the Italian Renaissance.

Statue of Giotto in the Uffizi Galleria, Florence [Source: Wikipedia]

Is There a Fast Track to Creative Freedom?

“If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.” 

Vincent Van Gogh

Fast forward 714 years and we live in an incredible era for aspiring artists. Unlike Giotto di Bondone, Michelangelo or Vincent van Gogh, you do not need to live in poverty or wait until you are old to become a free creative. You do not need a wealthy patron, agent or gallery to promote and sell your work. You do not need to spend decades trying to build your reputation in order to find a buying public. You simply need to save and invest your money.

Being free to create your art means being financially independent. Not needing to work in a job or sell your paintings to make a living. 

You do this by building assets that can give you a modest passive income—to free up your time—allowing your to practice and travel and create art of your choice (shown in the model below). This is the path to creative freedom.

How Long Will it Take to Become a Free Creative?

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” 

Henry David Thoreau

Down through the ages and here am I sitting on the wall of the Château de Beynac looking down on the Dordogne River valley. The sun is setting and I know I will paint this scene one day in my studio back home. I am on annual leave in Europe with my family and I am finally admitting to myself that I want to be free to devote the rest of my life to painting. I do not want to go back to my job, or any other job. I want to be a painter! I have always wanted to be an artist. But how can I make this happen? How can anyone make this happen? How long will it take? And most importantly, how will I make the money I need in the first place?

So began my journey towards self-sufficiency.

If you are an ordinary person like me (not rich) there seems to be four choices:

  • Make your income from your art. (Giotto took 40 years before he was free. But you will be doing what you love doing, right? Maybe!).
  • Make an income from something else and practice art on the side. (Hopefully you will not be too tired, stressed or emotionally exhausted when you reach for your brush, if you actually find the time to paint at all).
  • Wait till you retire from work to paint. (That’s what most people do, but it takes about 60 years).
  • Make an income for the specific purpose of building an investment portfolio, to fund an early retirement into a painting lifestyle. (Known as Financial Independence, Retire Early (FIRE)—this approach will take 5 years or less).

So I asked myself, what’s it going to be: 5 years, 40 years, 60 years or never? 

Easy decision! Sitting on that wall I knew I could do it! And I became determined to be free within 5 years!

How Much Will I Need to be Free?

In a nutshell, you must live within your means. Whereby your monthly income exceeds your monthly expenses to the extent that you are able to set up a passive income to fund your continuing monthly expenses within five years.

For example: If your annual expenses are $12,000: $10,000 x 25 = $300,000 in your portfolio. 

In this case, you would have to be earning $72,000 net per annum from a job to pay for your lifestyle and also save $300,000 within a five year period.

Could you live on $12,000 per year if you did not have to pay for rent or a mortgage? 

According to the author of Enrichmentality (a fabulous resource dedicated to helping creative people to learn the language of money and fast track their path to financial independence) there are three variables you can play with: your income, your expenses, and the time frame. “If you want to retire faster, you will need to improve your performance on at least one —or ideally both—of the other variables.”

Obviously you will need a roof over your head, but if you do not have to be in a big city to find work; your home could be anywhere in the world. There is a rapidly growing demographic of free creatives who house-sit; buy land and build tiny houses; rent at incredibly low rates in rural regions; travel and live in more affordable places elsewhere in the world. In some towns houses cost around a dollar; or they will even pay you to live there.

If you feel that you could not live comfortably on $12,000 per year, then consider this: at $12,000 per annum you have still made yourself free. Most people can actually live on $12,000 per annum at a pinch. Knowing this is a great consolation. Knowing you have your actual existence covered. That you can now afford to live without working is the whole point. After that, you are free to do what you want to do. So then, if you work in a job to “top up” your quality of life—it is by choice, not through necessity. This is the key to financial freedom—get the basics covered so you can take the pressure off earning for the rest of your life.

Any money you earn after the $12,000 freedom threshold, if put directly into your investment portfolio, increases your quality of life, forever. So if you do choose to work for money, it’s wise to save rather than spend that too. [See our article introducing Financial Independence].

Whatever your strategy, your end goal will be more quickly achieved if you:

  • Embrace frugal and sustainable living
  • Have modest house expectations, and
  • A willingness to learn the language of money and act upon your knowledge. The sooner the better.

How Will I Know When I Am Free?

“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” 

Vincent Van Gogh 

It’s funny but the moment you realize that you will soon be free from the workforce, it becomes easier to tolerate your job. Suddenly, when every dollar you save and invest puts you an hour closer to resigning and being free forever, it becomes easier to resist the temptation to spend. Magically every minute you spend at work has a greater purpose. You are no longer a drone. You are on a higher path.

This is how it feels to me now. It’s a dream actually coming true. In this sense I am already free. I am imagining being free: and as an artist I place great faith in my imagination.

Finally, you may wonder that by going down this path are you becoming one of the Scrovegni’s of the world? Of course not! A ususer is only interested in money for money’s sake. You, on the other hand, want to be free to create artworks that will enrich the world.

Your investments will give you time to make this contribution.

With this in mind, you must ask yourself, how long will I wait before I make myself free to own, honour and develop my talent? To invest my life in my art rather than wait for others to invest in my art?

The good news is: no matter where you are in life, you can start now and it will take no more than 5 years, probably less, if you are smart.

Then one day you will wake up and know you are there. Yesterday was your last day at a job. Today your voyage towards self-sufficiency is over and you have arrived at your sacred harbour.

Remember, wherever you are on this journey, you are already a free creative.