Guilt and Shame in the path of Artists and Designers

by Atim Annette Oton

“Guilt is anger directed at ourselves – at what we did or did not do. Resentment is anger directed at others – at what they did or did not do.” – Peter McWilliams


In the last few years of working with artists and designers, I have observed how fear has trapped some of them to the point of dysfunctional life and work productivity. And what I have learned about fear is that it has two main ingredients that follow artists and designers and ruin their lives: guilt and shame.

“Hard though it may be to accept, remember that guilt is sometimes a friendly internal voice reminding you that you’re messing up.” – Marge Kennedy

Guilt is an emotion that occurs when a person believes that they have violated a moral standard that they themselves believe in, according to Wikipedia. I think it is wrapped around fear and very rarely talked about in the art and design circles. It begins in childhood and it is about self-guilt about not achieving goals. And when I talk with artists and designers, I ask about the childhood and goals and have found a common thread: “as a child, I want to be a top tier artist or designer but I have not done the work to do so (as an adult)”. Even successful, stable or artist/designer parents do not raise guilt-free children.

Are you guilty? Yes…admit it. You are guilty of spending too much time on your work; of forgetting other people; of abandoning your family for your work or pleasure, and of not planning your time well. Just to name a few things I hear from the creative community. Simply, your guilt is a mirror and a reflection of your bad habits.

I am guilty of telling artists and designers the truth they do not want to hear or admit to themselves. It is my best quality and I do not mince words when I speak the truth. My truth is simple: life is too short to waste it and wasting time is not an option in a productive life. Most people prefer to lie to themselves, I do not. People who do not want to deal with the truth, pile up excuses and walk or run away to hide. Most hide in a place I call a “hole” where guilt begins, and I watch from far as they attempt to bury themselves in that hole, piling up layers to hide their shame and keeping their lies intact. Lies they tell are mirages, fronts that they create to hide the truth not from others but mostly from themselves.

guilt and shame emotions

Guilt tells me that most artists and designers have a front and no back-end. This means they are all about appearances and they have no foundation built. How do I know? I ask them a simple question: Do you as an artist have a year of scheduled exhibitions? 80% do not and cannot give you a schedule beyond 3 months. No back-end or long-term planning. Then ask a fashion designer for a line sheet. 80% do not have one but they want to invite you for a fashion show. Seriously, if you have one of these types as your friend, it’s time to tell them to stop lying to themselves. Fashion Shows are not the core of a fashion business. Guilt keeps them in the cycle of the 80% of their colleagues, following the wrong advice, taking no chances and afraid to step into becoming the 20%…and as one said to me recently, I am not about commerce. Right? My response: so, how do you eat and pay bills? So full of ideology but really, it is fear speaking. They have put no focus on earning money from their craft so to me, it is a hobby.

“Shame is the most powerful, master emotion. It’s the fear that we’re not good enough.” – Brene Brown

“I just feel compelled to continue to be transparent. It just really levels the playing field and eradicates the shame that I have, or that one might have, about being human. So I’m going to just keep going.” – Alanis Morissette 

The hardest part of fear is shame. It is more silent than guilt and I call it the “slave” weapon of not feeling good enough to admit the truth to yourself. I had a designer refuse to take a job in a bar to pay bills because her friends would see her working there. The implied shame of working in a bar as a designer, in her mind, was stronger than being broke. Huh? Wow, what logic from a declare smart creative person?

shame erases hope

Shame is the mastermind behind fear. It controls the mind, making it illogical and comes up with stupid decisions. Yes, I said it. Fool-hardy choices are part of the shame way of thinking. It frightens the mind into a box that terrifies a creative person and helps them deny and hide the truth. Shame is the reason for mirages, the pretension of keeping a false facade when nothing is going on. It is bold face lying and deceit, ironically not to others but to yourself. One artist I know spends time gallivanting from exhibition to exhibition, mingling and chatting but has not been in an exhibition in more than 7 years. Yikes. Even writing this scares me. Another was so broke he had to move home yet so many of his friends think he is doing well and shame keeps him from telling people where he lives. Wake up. Hiding is not going to help the situation, you need a plan.

Shame is pain, shame is fear. Holding onto it is like bringing poison into your life. So many artists and designers keep guilt and shame as their daily coffee and to release it would be like fighting with a rabid dog. You would have to lose an arm for them to release it. And the sad part is that they try hold onto them both like a comfort blanket. My shame is that as I work with guilt ridden and shame drenched people, I have come to them with guns blazing, and the smart ones respond by dropping their ammunition: guilt and shame. The others run away.

As one client reminded me, “I am the thought bubble that pops into her head when fears comes in” and rather than seeing things negatively and saying no, she looks for and sees opportunities. A remarkable shift in perspective that has moved her from 3 clients in 2012 to working with 12 in 2013. Yes, I have no guilt or shame there, we both worked on burying her fears and turning a new chapter of positive thinking that equals results.


Lessons for 3 Friends: 2014 Resolutions to follow

by Atim Annette Oton


The last few weeks of 2013, I decided to write a series of advice posts to 3 friends of mine who spent 2013 in some state of crisis and used fear as their main operator. These 12 posts are simple pieces of advice and may hit some nerves in others who are also experiencing this. I decided to capture the thoughts on my blog as a way to teach and advice others besides my 3 friends. Some of the advice will tear at you, so be warned as I don’t mince words.


Lessons for 3 friends, # 1:

  • You plan to move overseas, and 5 years of fear and timid action, still no move. Then an opportunity appears and you ask to be selected, then you are. You sabotage it and try to kill the messenger. Now, it’s year 6. #Opportunities do not come by twice.

Lessons for 3 friends, # 2:

  • You say you want to change, then you get the help to change and proceed to hold on to your way, frustrate the helper, drive them nuts and go unto sabotage yourself. #Change happens when you give up your way and try something different. Fear cages you.

Lesson for 3 friends, # 3:

  • Personal crisis happen to you. You avoid therapy and are sinking. Fear and avoidance rules you even when you walk by people, they sense it. Your friends stage an intervention and you blame them and not listen to what is being said. You are still sinking and avoidance is no solution. #You don’t have to fall apart before you make change, it’s easier to catch yourself before you bury yourself.

Lessons for 3 friends, # 4

  • Traveling every year to your dream place and saying you are really planning the move is lying to yourself. People who plan moves act on it. They take a risk, jump in and just do. Your fear, caution and over planning means nothing will happen. You are caught in a spin cycle. Now, you have five years of spinning procrastination and a dream is delayed. #Procrastinators dream, doers dream and do.

Lessons for 3 friends, # 5:

  • Your habit of never finishing anything and never meeting a deadline will not change unless you abandon your way of work. Holding unto work methods that end up in failure is not change but resigned defeat. Simply, you are prepared to defeat your intentions everytime. #Change happens when you give up your way and try something different. Fear breeds deep in you.

Lesson for 3 friends, #6:

  • Your Personal crisis has made you big on avoidance and you try to pull the wool over your face to other. Nope, you are hiding the truth from yourself and not others. Remember, you are hurting yourself and not others. You are your biggest liar. You have convinced yourself that you are okay. Nope, we all see the bruises and you see and feel it too. #Honesty is truth, hiding will not solve the fear.

Lessons for 3 friends, # 7

  • Another friend commented 3 years ago, if you are serious about moving countries, then pack and go to see it through, stop waiting for the perfect situation. I agree, Life is about risk, there is no perfection or ideal. Taking chances is what doers do. People who live in fear look only for perfection so they never do. #Risk beats perfection for those prepared to take it.

Lessons for 3 friends, # 8:

  • Your habit of using people and things to sabotage your work and progress is now a life long act that you can’t break. So, you produce mediocre work and not brilliance. The world celebrates your mediocrity but hidden below, the real observers know the truth. Fear and lack of confidence burns deeply in you so you keep sabotage as your tool. #Truth frees you. You cannot hide from the truth.

Lesson for 3 friends, # 9:

  • Your Personal crisis has made you an eyesore to people who see you. They are now asking, is something wrong with you? Or, I see them every time there? What you run away from and do not deal with buries you. Your past and even your heritage is proof of crisis, and patterns revel a lot about you. Hiding and covering up will not work. #Guilt is a powerful motivator if you use it wisely.

Lessons for 3 friends, # 10:

  • You decided that this is your dream place and to move there, you have done 5 years of planning. Perfection is a dream and plan. To move will not happen as perfection and your inclination for ideal situations will make you say no or sabotage opportunities. You don’t take chances, so change is hard to do. Your life is about safety and when you tried risk, you walked away. #Give risk a chance

Lessons for 3 friends, # 11:

  • You are an eternal procrastinator with bad timing, poor organizational skills and no sense of deadlines. You dream big but cannot implement. You talk big but can’t fulfill deadlines. You seek collaboration but spend time in fear to point the finger at collaborators, so nothing occurs. Fear of accomplishment and success drives you to failure. #Life requires completing deadlines thus success.

Lesson for 3 friends, # 12:

  • Your Personal crisis has made you play the cover-up game. You are not comfortable with you. And playing the game of facades and code switching is not true to you even outsiders are noticing the crack at the sides. It’s time to deal with your personal risks. Running and hiding makes the pile of mess much thicker to resolve. #Your pattern of avoidance will burn you.

Finally, resolutions are plans for active change not to be written down and not implemented. What’s the point of wasting time? Enjoy the transition to the next year.

happy new year


Creating Income as an Artist or Designer

by Atim Annette Oton

I woke up early this morning reflecting on how many artists and designers I had worked with over the last five years who came to me with just two or three income streams and they had never really looked beyond the two jobs or three opportunities in the years since they left school. It’s nothing new, but this means they keep the myth of the starving artist. I was born an artist and chose to become a designer and entrepreneur. Business was always around me when I grew up as my parents ran a company in Calabar in Nigeria where I was born. So, my frame is defined – to see opportunities and income streams in several arenas.


To be able to do this process, I tell artists and designers that you must move out of the tunnel vision of just developing as an artist or designer and shift to the creative entrepreneurial mode. This requires multi-level thinking and strategies to produce multiple pools or sources of income. I believe after 20 years in design and entrepreneurship, I have identified 15 work opportunities that must be developed to create income in the creative sector (earlier this morning, I had 13). Most artists and designers limit themselves to just three and wonder why they do not have income or enough income to produce their art or design work. These 15 ways will make you think creatively about your career and illustrate missing income sources:  

  1. Art and Design Work: This is the everyday work that most artists and designers are doing. This work is a job or independent paying work. When I begun as a designer, I worked in architecture. It was the place that defined the beginning of my career and helped me navigate my future in design. This way of working is the first way to experience your career.
  2. Exhibitions or Projects: After a year of work, I participated in exhibitions (a tradition I had begun in college), in this realm, I sold some art work based in design ideas at a gallery group show. For artists, exhibitions are a way to expose your work to the world, build a following, define a price-point for your work and begin to sell periodically. As a business who sold work of artists via exhibitions, I also ask artists to get prints and cards done to sell as part of the original work. Simply, you may not sell your originals but you may sell some prints. I sold some artwork early in my career and garnered about $2000.
  3. Freelance work: I urge artists and designers to seek freelance work – from doing logos to selling your images, drawings, paintings or design work. Here are some places to look or find some freelance work at this site My freelance work provided an extra $3000 – 5000 a year.
  4. Teaching in Academia, Online and/or your neighborhood: It is important to update your portfolio, website and resume (CV) periodically with the work and projects you are doing. Your blog or website should show that you’re interested in teaching as an artist or a designer. You could teach classes or give individual lessons to people who live in your area in your studio at a price. After graduate school, I began looking for adjunct positions to teach design and ended up teaching interior design in New Jersey for about a year and a half before ending up at Parsons teaching Product Design. This process took sometime, I even got offered positions in Long Island that I turned down. It provided an extra income of $4000 to 10,000 a year. I will also ask artists and designers to consider teaching online.user_friendly
  5. Workshops/Seminars for Organizations, Groups and Corporations: As I taught as an adjunct, I began marketing myself as a workshop or seminar instructor and began approaching organizations. This income gave me about $250 – $500 per workshop and since I had experience as an adjunct, it placed me on several speaking lists for several design topics including diversity in design, attending graduate school overseas and art and design options in New York City.
  6. Collaborations with Others: As a strong believer in collaboration, I was and am always invited by others to work on an idea or project. These opportunities take me into new arenas and income streams that I would not imagine. One of my best was in 2000 when I helped with Paula Griffith build the team that first won the competition for th African Burial Ground’s Interpretive Center – the team was led by IDI Construction who had the contract for it.( IDI ended up closing but that project defined my career and was one of the reasons I was hired at Parsons. It was a project I worked on after my day work.
  7. Research and Consulting: The next place I have found work is in research. The African Burial Ground project paved way for the Underground Railroad Experience where I was the Co-Executive Producer, Design Project Developer in Multi-media, Design and Content/Curator doing research and consulting. The project came to Professor William-Myers who I was working with on the burial ground and along with Deirdre Scott, we sat and crafted the project, built the team and had the last website up via City University of New York’s website, a site which is no longer up today. That project was about $40,000 of income over a period of 2 years through my company, A2EO Media, Inc.
  8. Company – Develop with services: I created my first company A2EO Media Inc., design firm and I specialized in idea, content development, conceptual design and strategic planning using multimedia technologies. Artists and designers need to create companies and not just get work as themselves – using their name. In competition with other companies, an organization actually prefers sometimes to deal with another company and not an individual, particularly an incorporated one. It is also good for your taxes as you pay more as with a Schedule C.Strategy-300x225
  9. Writing for Pay: As a child of a writer and journalist, I knew I had some skills, so I begun writing after graduate school. One of the first places was Oculus, an architecture industry publication (which no longer exists) – but it gave me a place to create a writing portfolio – I continued to write periodically and have earned about $3000-5000 a year when I am busy, that is why I keep this blog and have developed it. Some work is not about pay but about creating an audience and developing an idea or project. My work at Huffington Post Black Voices is about Africa.
  10. Not Profit Work: I have volunteered with several non-profits that have ended up hiring me for freelance work or for a nominal income. This opportunity is one that some artists and designers miss in their search for work or income. A not profit brings you in contact with a group of believers, but one caution I would say is that this process takes time and is about relationship building. Expect income of about $1000.
  11. Lectures: Like workshops, I also began approaching organizations and institutions to do lectures. The first one was free and set me off to speak at 3 other places where I earned a speaking fees. doing lectures builds your career, shares your ideas and work and provides a nominal income. I typically tell artists and designers to do at least one every season, so 4 times a year for an income of about $1000-$2000 a year.
  12. Making Products for Sale: My first product was a t-shirt, then a journal and I moved on to earrings and dresses. As a designer, I have earned income periodically with some of these products and lots of websites like can be used to create products. I typically expect an income of about $1000 a year.
  13. Traveling Opportunities: In the beginning of my career, I looked for travel opportunities to build my work and freelance experience, outlook and network. I got paid to travel to explore design schools, art and design curriculum and projects. This was a very specific income stream that I got occasionally. It earned me about 1000-$2000 only.
  14. Competitions: When I left college, I believed like most that you had to do competitions to make a name in architecture so I did several, won a few but realized it was more about my creative energy of exploring ideas and not an income stream. These days, I have moved away from design competitions to work on competitions in developing apps like the one I worked on with Nokia.
  15. Grants: Artists and designers have always used this as a source of income but it is not a reliable as it can be like the lottery. In the years I have gone after grants, I have received no more than 3 in 20 years.

Each of these 15 ways has produced income, taken time to identify people and organizations. I have used my Rolodex, and contacts to produce results. I believe after 20 years in design and entrepreneurship that these 15 work opportunities can be developed to create income in the creative sector for artists and designers. My final comments are that if you earn $20k as an artist imagine what you will earn if you added 14 income streams: I estimate that you double your income with a strategic organized plan of action.

Some Fears that Designers and Artists Need to Dismantle in their Life and Work

By Atim Annette Oton

Each month, I encounter artists and designers whose life and work are deeply engaged in fear in ways that even their creative minds can not overcome. I find there are four failures that define what they are experiencing and writing about them is a way to provide a guide and path to transformation. There are some fears that designers and artists need to dismantle in their life and work.

Fear of Failure:

“I really don’t think life is about the I-could-have-beens. Life is only about the I-tried-to-do. I don’t mind the failure but I can’t imagine that I’d forgive myself if I didn’t try.” – Nikki Giovanni

“Fear is only as deep as the mind allows.” – Japanese Proverb

“In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure.”- Bill Cosby

The fear of failure is a common fear for everyone but it is most paralyzing for artists and designers. I often say tell them that life is too short to let fear make big decisions for you. So many of them spend time thinking about failure that they decided not to try it at all. And even subconsciously, they undermined their own efforts to avoid the possibility of a larger failure. Mind blogging, right? Try this, some artists and designers self-sabotage themselves by procrastinating, being very anxious. and fail to finish projects.

My solution and response to changing this dynamic is six short steps:

  1. Take risk in small steps.
  2. Take time to understand every time you fail, simply write down why to remind yourself.
  3. Embrace your mistakes.
  4. Write a list of your successes, simply write them down why to remind yourself too.
  5. Approach your fears as opportunities for growth.
  6. Ask for help

Fear of Collaboration:

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” – Helen Keller 

For me making music is part social, part interaction, part collaboration. – Norah Jones 

It’s such a joy to work with different ensembles and create a collaboration. Rehearsing and building a performance is very interesting for me. – Cecilia Bartoli 

Even the lamest page can be saved by collaboration. – Philip Greenspun 

collaboration-not-compromise-control-agile-blog-solutionsiqThe fear of collaboration is the one fear that artists and designers never get over. They tend to work alone and do not build trust with others so there is no collaboration. Successful artists are decision-makers open to partnerships and multi-disciplinary processes because they understand that it break down silos in their work and life. And true leaders understand the power of collaboration. Former President Clinton noted its importance when he said, “We’re moving into an era where the only way you can create enough jobs for people and generate enough wealth to have decently-rising wages is if you have creative networks of cooperation.” Simply, your survival as an artist or designer depends on collaboration. One thing I know is that fear of collaboration stems from focusing on the weaknesses of the others, rather than their strengths. This always amazes me.


To be collaborative, you must:

  1. Take Responsibility and Be Accountable
  2. Clearly define what you can do together
  3. Put aside self-interests to advance their shared objectives.
  4. Seek collective impact
  5. Share ideas and work to generate joint ideas
  6. Speak up and Listen more.

Fear of Change

If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. – Maya Angelou

Only the wisest and stupidest of men never change. – Confucius

In order to change the world, you have to get your head together first. – Jimi Hendrix


So many of the  artists and designers who I consult with tell me they want to change and are here to make change. It takes about 6-10 meetings with them to transform them from the “talk” of change and make them “walk” the walk of change. Change can be a wonderful experience but it is scary. And it does not matter whether you like change or not, you should learn to embrace it rather that run in the opposite direction.And changes take place all the time, with and without your participation.

I tell artists and designers to embrace change because:

  1. Nothing Is Permanent
  2. You need to acknowledge and express your emotions.
  3. You need to Stay Grounded and Calm
  4. You need to Get support from others.

Fear of Perfection

Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it. – Salvador Dali

Strive for continuous improvement, instead of perfection. – Kim Collins

Artists who seek perfection in everything are those who cannot attain it in anything. – Eugene Delacroix, artist


In 2011, Dmitry Fadeyev wrote that “perfection is a concept that is responsible for a lot of grief, a concept that sends artists chasing a goal that does not exist because it has never been defined, nor can ever be defined.” I agree with him on this notion as he notes very clearly, “instead of chasing perfection, we should be chasing completion. A work need not be prefect, but it has to be complete.”  It is interesting to note that perfection seekers really have the fear of failing and often the search for perfection is leading them to diminishing returns and an avoidance of action.


To resolve perfection fears, I often ask artist to create a feedback loop, a person or group who can provide feedback about their work.

  1. Practice accepting imperfection—in yourself and in your collaborators
  2. Acknowledge effort—on your part and on the part of your collaborators.
  3. Cut yourself some slack and Develop a sense of humor
  4. Stop procrastination
  5. And remember, mistakes are not catastrophes
  6. Define a goal and focus on what is really needed

Fear is a powerful emotion. It breaks people and keeps them from being at their best. You can struggle, or surrender to fear. Life should not be about fear, as I have always said: Take a risk, life is too short. And most importantly, fear is a waste of time.

Breaking Serial Entrepreneurial Lessons of Failure

A serial entrepreneur is “an entrepreneur who continuously comes up with new ideas and starts new businesses. As opposed to a typical entrepreneur, who will often come up with an idea, start the company, and then see it through and play an important role in the day to day functioning of the new company, a serial entrepreneur will often come up with the idea and get things started, but then give responsibility to someone else and move on to a new idea and a new venture”. Source:

deep ideasLast month, a business colleague and I met for lunch to assess the issues with serial entrepreneurs for a workshop we planned to host with an organization and decided to look at 2 of them that we knew that had hatched so many businesses in less than 5 years. Our goal was simple. We decided to just ask the questions. How were the businesses doing? And what were the issues?

Serial Entrepreneur 1:

Jane (not her real name) began her career in the construction business and when the market crashed in 2008, she decided to open her first business – a retail store in her neighborhood and stayed doing her construction job. This business was not open consistently because she had a “real job” that had her working when the boutique was open. She opened it some week days, so she closed this business but kept the lease for the space.


The second business in the space was making and selling a line of clothing. This time, she took a couple of days off the “real job” to open the store more. She had customers complain about prices of the clothing and watched them only buy them when they were on sale. A year later, she got the message and closed this business but still kept the space.

SolutionWordPuzzleThe third business was in food. This time, she brought in a partner who help fund it. In this business, there was lots of branding, social media and buzz. It should have worked, right? No, it did not because the prices were still too high and the food product was one that customers did not need daily, it was a luxury. So, a year later, this business closed too and she still kept the space.

sucessThe fourth business was in food. Again, a new partnership funded the branding, social  media and buzz. What happened here?  Product was also expensive and consumers could find it at a lower price in proximity to her store.  In less than a year, the business was closed. This time, she returned the space and is quiet for now.


employee-entrepreneur-planThis serial entrepreneur, Jane, kept hatching businesses without doing any market research. She never worked in the clothing or food business prior so did not really understand them fully. More importantly, she really lacked the patience, never took time to do the business or to set up and follow a system or process to grow it. It’s not that the 4 ideas were bad, it’s that the entrepreneur enjoyed the rush of starting a new business and not the consistent day to day of maintaining and growing the business. Simply, there was no roadmap for any of the 4 business just concept concepts.


Serial Entrepreneur 2:

Michelle quit her job to set up a food business and did not develop her own idea but copied ideas from other similar businesses so there was no uniqueness about her business. She then decided to stand out by bringing a new product which should have helped but it divided her customers. Half of them left her after the new product arrived and the others began coming in less frequently. By the end of the year, she was struggling and decided to keep the business open  but it is still struggling.

In the midst of the first business, she decided to open the second business, a service business and began the learning curve of understanding the new industry, and getting distracted by the two sets of customer needs and demographic (the food and service customer). She added more overhead, time and money but was unable to get to a profit level and lost customers in both businesses. This business is still open but it is not making a profit.

The third business was in food, this time, a specialty product. This time, her rent was double the first store and the learning curve was even higher. All buzz and media still did not drive traffic to the new place. Business is still open but no profits yet.

The fourth business just opened and it is in a third sector, an area where the industry is contracting (losing businesses). Other similar businesses are closing. Rent is moderate, the space size and layout is poor, and the location is not the best. So far, some buzz but no profit in sight.



This serial entrepreneur, Michelle, also keeps hatching businesses and does not even wait to see a full year to start a new one. She is distracted and not doing sufficient market research. She also has never worked in 3 sectors so does not really understand them. More importantly, she lacks the patience, time to do the business and does not follow a system or process to grow any of the businesses. It’s not that the 4 ideas were bad, it’s that the entrepreneur enjoyed the rush of starting a new business and not the consistent day to day of maintaining and growing the business. Simply, there was no roadmap for any of the 4 business just concept concepts.

realityAs an entrepreneur with a business of over 9 years, I understand these serial entrepreneurs and frequently watch them start and implode in 2 years. The hardest part of the business is the start-up period, and it is a 2 year process. When you cross that line, then a business really takes hold. The next stage is to maintain and grow it. What I can say from these 2 serial entrepreneurs is that the lessons are simple to outline but complex to deal with. Some of the 10 important steps are:

1. Create a roadmap – a business plan would help
2. Understand the industry
3. Understand the product and service
4. Understand the consumer and target them effectively
5. Listen to feedback and response immediate
6. Understand location
7. Do market research
8. Know your competition
9. Work on one business effectively before starting another
10. Seek advise and listen

Most Businesses need a good 2 years to grasp a sense of how they function. It’s a 2 year cycle to see the similarities, differences and patterns from one year to the next. Some entrepreneurs lack patience and perseverance needed for the long haul of starting and maintaining a business. Serial Entrepreneurs trying to be Entrepreneurs always end up walking a way from concepts.

Need to get your business together, and if you are interested in making a shift to enjoying the entrepreneurial process, I will be hosting a series of webinars in October, please email me at

The Head Game: 6 Ways to Break the What Ifs to do Life’s Work

by Atim Annette Oton

Most people wonder why I seem to move ahead and succeed in what I plan or intend. My simple response is that my head game is extremely focused and inline with my life, goals and objectives, and I am on a mission to fulfill my dream. Additionally, I think positively and actually think less about the problems and issues. So when I meet designers and artists who tell me they don’t know where they are going, I often ask about their head game. Head game is about change and I have come up with 6 ways to break the what ifs and actually accomplish doing your life’s work as an artist and a designer.


SolutionWordPuzzleBreaking What If’s and doing work as a designer comes with insight. How did I get here? For me, channeling a positive head game all starts with assessing and analyzing any problem or issues for a solution. Simply, in most things I do, I let solutions be my focus. In order to do so, I have always planned and usually executed alone or with a team of people. It comes from my upbringing living with a journalist and an educator but I was also educated in this way. In this vain, I ask for help and have built a team of advisers who I can consult with when I need feedback.


The-Moment-You-Take-Responsibility1-300x176The hardest part of the process of art and design is how I enter any idea. I begin by taking responsibility for an idea that I conceive, the process and the end result. Most importantly, I see the beginning, middle and end of all ideas. I find that some artists and designers see or look at the beginning or middle.

Risk versus Fear:


In all things, I take risk and fight fear. As a designer and entrepreneur, my goals are to get things done and spend less time on the issues. In order to do so, I make sure that I never get stuck, and just keep moving with purpose. And like designer Dyson who created the vacuum who made over 2000 changes, I look for another option when I hit a roadblock.

Invisible Luggage (Burden):


My head game is very much aware of the invisible luggage I carry with me when I start a project or work on a project in unfamiliar territory. So, I throw away my invisible luggage/baggage every time I work on a project as it will hold me down. Each of us has one, and for some of us, it’s the fear of failure, not having money and not trusting your instincts or ideas. This luggage holds you for doing anything or moving ahead.

Playstage versus Work stage:

dreamIn order to place myself in the right head game in a design process, I begin by writing my ideas down so I can “remove” them from my head. I really believe the notion that if it stays inside my head, it means I am not working on it. Putting it on paper makes it real and I can draw it out, write about it and question it. In my head, it’s not really real as I change it and not really deal with it. I call it being in my head – my play stage and when it’s out of my head, it has become my  work stage And this shift means I own it and take responsibility for it.


feedbackOne of the most important processes in design is Feedback. I often see many designers and artists avoid this stage. They try to do it by asking novices and not the peers or mentors. I am a feedback loop, as I share my work with others for feedback all the time. It gives me insight and allows me to work more realistically. My feedback comes from a team of people who I assemble before, during and after a project.

word-cloud-giving-feedbackMost people who are successful have a good head game. They can develop ideas, work on them, complete and analyze them. Artists and designers who are unable to keep a good head game are in crisis and you can see it in their work. Life is short, live it with passion and purpose and keep your head game conquering your fears.

Need to get your head game together, and if you are interested in making a shift to enjoying the creative process, I will be hosting a series of webinars in October, please email me at

Enjoying the Creative Process: A Lifetime Process

by Atim Annette Oton

joy2Several of my last postings have focused on the perils of artists and designers;so this week, I begin exploring the process of creativity that blossoms in the hands of success. My good friend Patricia would say that New York’s sun affected my mood this morning so, alas, the positive mode.

Last year, I was counseling two designers, one in the beginning and the other in the mid point of their careers. Guess, who was happy? One would have expected the “young” one to be. I was not surprised, more amused that the young one did not see possibilities only issues that were having. What did the older one have? And why was she coming to me? The secret ingredient: Joy in herself and work; curiosity about things, an openness to learn, and an interest in trying new things. She was curious to know if I could make her design more vibrant, willing to see what she did not know and open to examine her processes. Bingo. These are some of secret sauces of artists and designers.

The Joy of Creativity, Art and Design:


Imagine the feeling the sun shining on a cold morning in New York, or spending the day on a beach in the Caribbean, that’s joy. So what is it in design or art? Some artists and designers say that it is that once in a lifetime commission or project, that big break or show. Maybe. I beg to differ because that one thing just last a short time. What about the rest of your life?

Joy in art or design is about doing work you love or are passionate about with purpose. It is the work that you imagined you would be doing for most of your career and life. The work that you rise up to do very early, the work you create and make change the world. It excites, nurtures and satisfies your soul. You cannot imagine doing anything else. Been there? I have periodically in my career.

It’s my life enjoy the work I do and to be in the obis of joy and creativity. The joy of art or design is an awesome place, it’s a place of nirvana, the best of you – fully functional, and most creative people dream about it. I have experienced it so many times, I often wonder why most creative people don’t. It is when there is a convergence of the right project, the right people, and you at your best. I have experienced it even at work. Much thanks to Tony Whitfield for some of those moments at Parsons. And most especially thanks to my mother at Calabar Imports. Work equals joy, it’s just that simple. But you must be working your joy.



The mark of a talented artist or designer is their curiosity, their intrinsic interest in people, things and the world. These creative types are the ones you see at the newest exhibitions talking to the artist or curator. They are curious about how things work, ask a lot of questions and even do research before and after, actually follow-up with people. Curiosity is sometimes built in to some people. It begins as a thought and an idea and evolves into an action. It is part of the creative process…to look beyond yourself and take an interest in someone else’s work. To be curious is an art, a way of being and an approach to life and work.

Some artists and designers who I counsel tell me that there are open. They make a statement of saying they are. I smile because they are not. Openness is a vital quality that separates the doers from the talkers. Openness is about supporting a fellow artist or designer who evolves a new idea in your own backyard. Openness lets you work with such diverse people and not the same old cliche you went to school with. Its about trying new things, taking a risk and being prepared to learn something new.
The irony of openness for artists and designers who are considered creative is that some of them are not open. You can see it in their work…they are still doing the same work they did 10 years ago; you see it in the collaborations they set up…the remain working with the same people. Very few surprise you, I even see it in the exhibitions they participate in, they are with the same old crew. Imagine if they step out their element and a new group or new viewer saw their work.

Openness requires flexibility, dynamic thinking and engagement. Do you know how many times I hear artists or designers tell me how open they are but they are the first to refuse to try new ideas, methods, or make any changes? Openness breeds transparency, authenticity, creativity, and collaboration.

Trying, and Trying again:


Designers and artists who enjoy the creative process believe in the concept of trying so much so that they do not sleep when they have an idea. They work at it, try many possibilities until the get to the place they need. One of the most successful designers, James Dyson became better after failure (see Imagine working on over 5000 changes and modifications just to improve a product. So, when I hear designers or artists give up after 5 trials, I shake my head and think, you really are not a designer who is on track to succeed. Another good read is here.

Joy, curiosity, openness and trial options are four key components that form the basis of the art and design process; they make artists and designers successful and quite frankly, happy. So many times, I see the opposite so I think it was high time to highlight positives. Need more inspiration and if you are interested in making a shift to enjoying the creative process, I will be hosting a series of webinars in October, please email me at