Earlier this month on a cold rainy Sunday, my husband and I were out “glamping.” Our RV is well-stocked with diversions to keep us occupied on just such a day. I read for awhile, took a short nap, then pulled out a bulging box of art supplies to try my hand at watercolor.
I’ve become a confident digital artist, but physical art still kinda wigs me out. You can’t tap “undo” on a sheet of paper, and watercolor is a finicky medium with a mind of its own.
So, instead of diving straight in to paint the flower I had in mind, I began with a sketch. Very light, with pencil, so I could erase the lines later. With the basic structure of a flower in place, I tentatively dipped my brush in water and pigment and did my best to place the color where it belonged.
I did not nail it the first time. Wow, was that a wonky bloom.
Instead of crumpling the failed flower, I used that page to practice. I filled the space with petals, striving each time to refine the shape and manage the flow of color. The more I studied the technique, the more confident I became.
Finally, I pulled a fresh sheet of paper off the pad and tried again. Not great, but better. While that piece dried, I attempted another. And another. And another. By dinner time, I had a series of flowers that were … well … obviously painted by the same amateur artist.
Back in my office the next day, I stared at the content calendar Jill and I use to manage the messages we publish on social media. I had a lot of ideas and wanted to work them into the plan—efficiently.
That’s when it hit me:
Those of us who create content for business could learn a thing or two from visual artists who create sketches, studies, and series.
I gut-tested this concept with my sister Norma Fredrickson, who is both a visual artist and a creator of content for her business. She and I think it’s freaking brilliant. See if you agree.
According to my artist-sister, a sketch is “a moment of inspiration, an aha, a note to self.” It’s that flash of brilliance that comes to you in the shower or while you’re running or in the middle of the night. It can be rough and incomplete—a mere fragment of an idea or image that you just have to get down so you don’t lose it.
Whether I’m working in words or images, I think of a sketch as a way to give form to a concept that’s floating around in my brain. It’s a way to get raw material out of my head and into the world where I can work with it.
Some sketches are worth further exploration. But some are trash. The more you look at them, those flashes of brilliance lose their sparkle. That’s okay. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
🎨 How can you SKETCH your way to business content? 🎨
By starting loose and messy, not expecting every attempt to be a masterpiece. Give yourself permission to write a shitty first draft, scribble a mess on the whiteboard, litter your desk with sticky notes, scrawl some math on the back of a napkin.
If your sketch seems to have some merit, you can spend more time with it in a study. In visual art, a study is a form of practice. You mess around with shapes and colors and composition as preparation for creating the “real thing.” Maybe many times over. It’s like training before you run the race.
In a study, you take your idea and work it out. Play with it. Consider it from multiple angles. Decide if you believe in it. And if you do, why?
Like a sketch, a study need not be perfect. But it does need more detail. Maybe even too much detail.
By exploring all the details and learning how to handle them, creators find their way. Altogether, the elements of a study may be chaotic and overwhelming to the untrained eye. But from this abundance of experimentation, the artist makes choices, refines the work, and prepares to create a finished piece that will satisfy and even delight the viewer.
🎨 How can you STUDY your way to business content? 🎨
By considering a message from every angle. Draft the long-form narrative that says everything there is to say about your brand, product, service, cause, or event. Create a “story quarry” you can mine for the gems you need for each audience, each purpose, each moment.
In visual art, a series is a collection of works that all have something in common. The creator explores one subject, theme, technique, color, or motif, treating it somewhat differently each time.
Picture an assortment of watercolor daisies, each a different hue; a selection of landscape photos, all printed in sepia tones; an assortment of clay pots, different sizes but glazed in the same vibrant blue.
A series, my sister tells me, has value for the creator. It’s a way to learn, build skills, and grow a body of work.
A series is also good for the art observer. The more you see of an artist’s collection, the better you can appreciate and understand their point of view.
At its best, a series deepens the connection between messenger and receiver.
And isn’t that exactly what we want from our business messages? Whether you call it “engagement” or “conversion” or “progression through the sales funnel,” the holy grail is that magic moment when an audience sees our content, appreciates the message, and says YES to whatever it is we’re offering.
And in business, seldom will a single expression of the message get results. We have to repeat ourselves, share via various channels and media, express the same concept in multiple ways in order to make an impression.
🎨 How can you create a SERIES of business content? 🎨
Oh, so many ways!
- Break that lengthly narrative into concise pieces a skimmer will have time and patience to digest.
- Plan a sequence of social media posts that build a story over time or convey the same core message but with different words and images.
- Package a message in a variety of formats (soundbite, short post, long-form article, image + caption, 30-second reel, 10-minute tutorial, animated explainer, podcast interview, testimonial, poll, infographic, e-newsletter, top 10 list, and on and on) so you’re prepared to reach all your target audiences with the media they love on the channels they trust.
Freaking brilliant, right?
Let’s put it this artsy insight to the test. Tell me how you can use the Sketch, Study, Series practice in your business communications.