My experience presenting my artistic self and creating that ‘Woody’ video…and 10 things I learned.
Earlier this month I released a 14+ minute video documenting the creation, my process and thinking behind a large 60×40 inch painting called “Idol Woody”. The painting will was created for an upcoming exhibit at The Elaine Fleck Gallery in Toronto this March (2020). I wanted to share 10 things I learned while making it…
If you didn’t watch it you can watch it here via my YouTube channel – as well as on my art site www.toddlawson.com (I keep my artwork separate from my marketing/design/SaaS work over at www.toddlawsoncreative.com to keep things clean and focused for different visitors).
This was my first time in front of the camera after nearly 2 decades working with people on the other side of it. For a world that we now live in where everyone is vlogging (even my 8 year old daughters have created their own videos on their tablets by age 6) that says a lot towards my own trepidation to be scene. I have made a life and strong career out of intentionally being behind the curtain (Oz had the right idea).
I was very grateful for all the positive comments, re-shares, likes, new followers and private messages I received in multiple channels (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube Channel and here on LinkedIN). It’s a weird sensation and even now I pick it apart with things I want to change for the next one (which will likely come out in May ahead of my June exhibit. ) When I was the kid in middle school I was unable to present at the podium without sweating and nervously struggling through holding my q-cards with shaky hands. Perhaps that’s why I’ve pushed myself into uncomfortable situations and jobs that require me to talk more even though It’s always a daily struggle – but that’s a topic for a hole other day. I’d be just fine never talking again as odd as that may sound and for others like me who’ve I’ve met I always try to push them to find their own comfort zone to get by.
Taking ART not ADs for a change…
After creating artwork since elementary school…going through 5 years of art school…working first as an illustrator and designer upon graduation…I have continued to struggle to keep up my motivation (and free time) to paint for the past 15+ years. Partly because I also work in an equally rewarding and much faster paced creative industry in Toronto which keeps me very busy – and I have a family I like to see 🙂 . But also because artwork can be very personal. When you work on something for a client or brand you are able to divorce your emotions and be more objective because it’s not really yours or for you. That’s not the case when you choose to purely create artwork. Whenever I paint for myself I began to create things that are the epitome of personal and that can be terrifying to “present” the work publicly. Trying to explain your process without rambling or a script and trying to organize my thoughts was a scary challenge. Now that I’ve broken the ice I look forward to doing it more in hopes that it not only exposes people to my work but helps me communicate and understand what I create better.
With that in mind I figured the first place to start was logically with the video above and dissecting the what I learnt and how I prepared for it…
10 things I did and learnt in creating a self-directed art video:
- I didn’t over think and plan. I spent the week running up to filming this video letting the idea roll around in my head and getting comfortable with the thought. I thought about key things I wanted to say and areas I wanted to talk about. I thought about a general structure: Intro, overview, play by play process, review of the painting and meaning behind it, extro with a hint towards what is next and an olive branch to the viewer to give me inspiration on what to create next. I didn’t write anything down or make notes.
- I didn’t memorize things and write scripts. This is NOT a commercial or brand video – which I make a LOT of. There is no script because I wanted it to feel like a natural discussion and presentation, not me reading something. Even if you memorize a script and then say it to a camera you are still reading. It has a TelePrompTer effect on the camera (deer in headlines) unless you are a trained actor. And can actually exaggerate your stiffness.
- I thought just as much about how I would edit it to allow for natural mistakes. When I made it I didn’t want to do to many cuts of me in front of a camera to me still in front of a camera. I had intentionally captured footage of me working through the painting for 2 months so I new I had a lot of footage to cut to. That allowed me to talk to the camera in smaller bursts knowing if I rambled or got off track I could easily cut it and cut to another part while showing other footage – turning me into a voice over where needed.
- When I got into the details of the processes I watched the video as I talked. What you don’t see when I am going through the actual processes is that I am looking at a laptop that is playing back a pre-edited cut down video that is about 10 minutes long of the entire creation of the painting. That way my voice matches much of the rest of the footage (though its slightly more intimate because my head is tilted slightly down closer to the lapel mic as i watch the video in front of me.) Having this pre made and recording the audio in the same space equalizes audio and helps me simply talk about what I see. I’m not looking for works, it’s reminding me in real time what I want to talk about. Then when I edit it matches to the footage and can easily be cut down more.
- Think about time and how long you want to talk. I set my sights on going over 10 minutes. That made it impossible to post the video on LinkedIN, but with the primary location for it to live being YouTube it works well to go longer than shorter.
- I record by myself. When you are self-directing and talking about your work for the first time I was shy and nervous. Having someone looking at me, or having distraction was going to fluster me. So I did it on a quiet day in a my home while it was empty. That gave me the confidence after a few initial bad takes to work my way through what I wanted to say. (For every take there is at least three tries that I tried that I wasn’t happy with). I also didn’t want to be distracted and look away from the camera or treat it like an interview (as that would force a more rigid edit that likely needed supers to introduce the questions before answers.)
(this was my set up, a bit of lighting, back lit the painting, a camera on a tripod, a lapel mic connected to my phone…nothing too fancy)
- I expect to not like it. I spent 3-4 hours afterwards editing it to find the right flow and cut out at least another five minutes of content that went deeper into the idea. In the end I cut it out because it felt like I was trying to over explain the work into being more relevant. I quickly realized that felt needy and took away the viewers ability to relate. And now looking at it I already hate parts of it and have made mental notes for next time that I want to adjust to feel more comfortable on camera – including more mobility (not just sitting) and more moments of looking at the work as I talk. That goes for the edit too –
- I learn for next time based on numbers. Having it on Youtube allows for some nice basic analytics into view time. That helps shape the next one. In reality 80% of viewers don’t get past the first 1-2 minutes. But the remaining 20% stick with it for the next 12 minutes. Out of 370+ views to date that’s about 75 people – not bad. Facebook where it was also uploaded to my page there saw a similar range. That tells me that they decide quickly if they want to invest that time as well as if they see me talking and think – oh this is just some guy talking in front of the camera for 14 minutes. Now looking back I wished I did a bit more of an initial tease of the process and footage at the intro to break up the stool-sitting-camera-staring footage. This holds true with another 3 minute video that is a time-lapse with no voice I did a year ago which keeps people watching. All that additional insight really shapes the next edit
- I finish with a strong call for community. I ended the video with not only a call for people who made it that far to follow on various channels as well as tell me what they feel would be interesting things to create. Whether it brings conversation or not it is set up to do so. That opens me up and hopefully helps connect with the viewer.
- I made teasers. I was tempted to upload it and call it a day. But that was lazy. Instead I cut 2 teasers with a super to watch the full video. Each is only 40 seconds long. This can give people an idea of what they will see before they click and save them time. I also now have something to repost later and If I get into sponsored or paid ads with the video i can run a full video and teasers. At the end of each teaser in Youtube I added the subscribe button and a link to the full video to drive the viewer farther if they like my work.
If you are creating video of yourself, your work or your ideas – I hope this will help give you some insight from my own recent experience.
About the Author:
Todd Lawson is a A creative/art director who has made commercials, brands, software and ad campaigns, who understands tech and designs UI & UX, a designer who does large scale paintings, a painter who writes articles, a writer who is constantly curious about what’s next. His curiosity has garnered Cannes Lions, One Show Pencils, CA’s, Cassies, and countless other accolades. In 2014 & 2015, he was Ranked 9th & 15th Best Art Director by Strategy Magazine’s Creative Report Card. As Digital User Experience Lead & Associate Creative Director, Todd helped Grey Canada win ADCC’s 2013 Agency Of The Year. But the story doesn’t stop there. In 2015 Todd left Grey to Co-lead the complete transformation of Dashboard, his past agency, from a 16-year-old marketing firm into a Software SaaS Development Company, successfully selling it to tech firm Vicimus in under 2 years. Todd then led the company rebrand, developed departmental processes, guided UI/UX for product, oversaw and built external marketing plans and rebuilt creative and design teams.
Gallery Artist since 2004. Commercial artist/illustrator since 2001. See artwork at www.toddlawson.com
See 18+ years of curiosity at www.toddlawsoncreative.com