8 Lessons on Creativity from the Artist Who Sold a $69 Million Collage

Image: Screenshot/Beeple’s Everydays archive

On the day Beeple’s collage sold for nearly $70 million in cryptocurrency, he did what he did for thousands of days before. He created an image. That day, it turned out to be a giant naked body with the head of Buzz Lightyear, posing beside a beige giant retro computer, set to a blue-ish red sky. 

Beeple started doing his everydays project in May 2007, committing to completing and publishing a drawing each day before midnight after seeing Tom Judd’s work. “It’s a really great way to learn new skills or hone your existing ones,” he says to Vice

When I wrote my book, There Is No Right Way to Do This, and subsequent blog posts about why quantity should be your priority, Beeple was an excellent case study even before the millions in sales. It was great watching him do these illustrations live, as he did at NAB in 2019.

If you’ve participated in something like this before, you’ll know how significant Beeple’s streak is. I’ve been shipping two blog posts per week, and nearly falling off the wagon—and yet Beeple’s still doing a new one every day, 14 years in. There’s a business lesson here, for sure, which is that the body of work can increase the lifetime value of each idea. Each day, he was creating $13,800 worth of the collage.

Image: Screenshot/Beeple’s Everydays archive

But more important is his stance on creative work. I studied Beeple’s interviews closely while I was writing my book on creativity, There Is No Right Way to Do This, and I learned a lot from him. Here are eight insights, straight from Beeple’s mouth, applicable whether you’re just going started, re-started, or continuing your creative work or hobby:

1. It’s Never Too Late to Start

“Yes, START TODAY!!!!!11 Once you get some days behind you, you’ll have some momentum and it will get easier and easier to not miss a day. I would also definitely recommend choosing an activity that you can do from start to finish everyday. Having an objective goal really makes it a lot harder to fudge it and start slacking off.” via The Atlantic

2. Time Is a Constraint

“From five minutes, if that’s all the time I have—like the day my first daughter was born—to a couple of hours.” via Vice

3. Why Creative Work Is Like Taking a Dump

“Looking at creativity as something that’s much less precious will help you stick with it long-term. Along with that, people around you will be a lot more supportive if you’re a bit more flexible and a bit less douchey about it. Like you’re not so pretentious in terms of, ‘I’m an artist, I need to blah blah blah.’ If you take it down a notch and just look at it as something you have to do today, just like taking a dump or eating supper, then it will be more sustainable in the long run.” via The Verge

“[I] think a project like this also helps with the notion that you need to be in some totally inspired state of zen to create art. Art is like taking a dump, it’s not always fun or convenient but it’s something you gotta do everyday and you shouldn’t get [too] hung up if the product looks like [a] pile of crap. Yer not gonna make a masterpiece everyday or even 95% of the time, but it’s a numbers game and [you’ve] got to get rid of all those crappy ideas before you can get to the good ones. Just showing up is 90% of the battle.” via The Atlantic

Image: Screenshot/Beeple’s Everydays archive

4. Focus on the Day’s Work

“I don’t focus too much on premeditating things. Even if it might be similar to something I’ve done before, I just focus on that piece that day. It’s too hard to focus on how a piece is within the context of the whole project.” via Vice

5. The Power of Sitting Down

“One thing I will say is that people spend too much time thinking about how to come up with ideas. If you just sit down, something creative will probably just come to you. You’d probably be surprised by how many ideas you have if you force yourself to sit down and do something. People make creativity this sort of magical thing, but there is also some luck to it. The more you sit down, the more you increase your chances of getting lucky.” via CG Society

6. Let Learning Guide Your Direction

“I am going to continue. It’s hard to imagine not doing it because of all of the positives in terms of learning and getting ideas out there. I’ve never strongly considered stopping, but one thing that I might do is incorporate more assets into each one. Up until now, I haven’t used a ton of other people’s models or stuff like that. I’ve mostly used stuff that I built that day. Now I am trying to work on more narrative and composition, so I’m not as interested in whether I can model scaffolding, or a machine, or truck or whatever. Now I just want a truck or car so I can think about what kind of story or picture I can make with them. Those are the kinds of things that I’m going to change going forward.” via CG Society

Image: Screenshot/Beeple’s Everydays archive

7. There Is Always Distraction

“Momentum is so important. With most habits, something weird can happen and you lose the momentum. After a certain amount of time, the habit becomes more important than the distractions. ‘I’m not going to miss today, just because [insert distraction here] happened.’” via Vice

8. The Importance of Shipping

“Sharing them is definitely a big part of this process. It helps keep you honest in terms of not just spending three minutes and saying, ‘yeah that counts for today.’ If yer putting yer stuff out there, it makes it a lot more objective in terms of whether or not that day ‘counts.’” via The Atlantic

Make Every Day An Opportunity

Beeple has figured out his way of doing things. Make a lot of stuff, allow perfection to emerge, and focus on the process. Show up every day. It’s a great way, and it’s a structure for quantity to produce quality. I wouldn’t say that specific way works for everyone—after all, there is no right way—but I think it’s definitely worth trying. For me, I’m sticking with two blog posts per week at a minimum. Unlike Beeple, I don’t do it live—I build up a two week queue so I’m not always stressed and treading water. (I almost missed last Thursday!)

You already know how to make whatever you want to make—you just have to not let yourself stop or criticize yourself. Find a structure and set of constraints that work for you. Then, release it, and sit back down to get started on the next.

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