Friday, August 16, 2013

Lessons In Collaboration ~ Intergalactica

Collaboration. It's something musicians do all the time. Think John, Paul, George and Ringo. Each brought something different to the group. And the music they created would never have existed had they not learned how to collaborate. Each had talent that was recognized and respected by the others, but in order to be The Beatles they also had to have an additional talent: the ability to collaborate.

Theater is another collaborative experience. The range of skills required is vast, from playwright to director to set designers, casting, actors and all the technical facets of sound and lighting in order for the audience to receive the full force of the production.

By way of contrast, artists and poets have historically been soloists. Walt Whitman, Claude Monet, Robert Frost, Salvadore Dali... They did what they did. They associated with others, bounced ideas off others, but they usually worked alone. Like writing this blog, or a daily diary, painting or drawing is usually a soloist pursuit...

The Beginning
Artist Kamikaze has been an annual Twin Ports event in which artists who work in different media and genres are paired with the aim of producing a work of art on a given theme. It's a competition, invented by Limbo Gallery and Eris Vafias, which results in art for display each year at Pizza Luce.

Last year for Artist Kamikaze IV I was paired with Steampunk fashion artist Patricia Mahnke. Intergalactic was the theme. We initially decided was to create a character and costume, that I would subsequently paint. Eventually this evolved into two characters and costumes, and ultimately a narrative. Our ideas kept expanding and the desire for a third team member with photography and Photoshop skills was fulfilled when Kate Dupre joined the team.

I found the end result -- costumes and five pieces that included two original paintings and over 700 photos -- so exhilarating that I felt it should be shared with a wider audience. That was the impetus behind producing the eBook Intergalactica

Here are some of the lessons I learned through this experience.

Intergalactic Contact
I had no pre-conceived notions on where to take our project, but when Patty and I first met she showed me some ideas for costumes that she'd sketched. She envisioned more than one character, as in a story. My skeptical response, when she described the first character was, "Can you do this?" She replied yes with much confidence.

Lesson One in collaborations is Trust. I was impressed by Patty's imagination and had to trust her capabilities. Being a painter my initial thought was that she would make the costumes and I would paint the characters wearing them. But Patty asked me to decorate one of the dresses, right on the material. I'd never painted on material in this manner and was insecure. But she was confident. And she trusted me as well. The final costume for Aurora was a true collaboration.

Confidence is a plus in any endeavor, and Patty had it in spades. In basketball you give the ball to your star player at the end of the game because he is confident that he can make that final shot.

Serendipity was also working in our favor. Napolean Bonaparte stated that in planning a battle one is wise to include spaces in the plan to allow serendipity, the unexpected, to happen.

As a team the three of us brainstormed to develop a story line. That week I wrote a first draft. I was encouraged when they liked the foundation I fleshed out. In a subsequent meeting Patty and Kate expressed the thought that the names didn't work. The story was good. Together we generated ideas for names, searching online for Danish, Icelandic and other name sources which would sound foreign to us but have a cool ring to them. Names of characters and planets emerged. And a sense of mutuality began to build. It was not one person’s project, but began to have its own life to which we were all connected and to which we were all contributing.

This is an important part of team collaboration. In projects like this, everyone needs to feel part of the project, have a voice. But there was another important factor at work here, the ability to lay aside ego for the greater good. I created names in the initial story, but when Patty and Kate weighed in I let go of what I originally proposed. The suggestions they offered strengthened the story.

The photo shoot would be an important part of the final presentation so we had to set a date for accomplishing this. It would have to give Patty enough time to produce the costumes she conceived and would be far enough from the deadline to create the final pieces we were to display, which was a collage of images, two paintings and a fabulous shot which required amplifications via Photoshop by Kate. The date was set for May 19.

Personal Sacrifice
Making the time commitment was challenging for we each had exceedingly busy schedules. But Kate made a comment that especially fired me up to not pull back on my end. She expressed her concern that what we end up with might look like a high school art project, that we must take this project to another level. This was precisely the prod I needed to go all out, to put in the extra hours required to embellish the paintings with essential details. The best teams are those in which everyone is making the same kind of all out effort.

The night of the show three other teams garnered more votes for their work, but I felt truly gratified by what we had accomplished. It was a privilege to be part of such a dedicated team.

Over the past eight months I have been working with TJ Lind, my ePublishing collaborator, to create an eBook version of our story so it could be shared with a wider audience. The art show is long gone, but the fruit of it is now available as a FREE DOWNLOAD called Intergalactica from the Apple iTunes Store. Check it out. You can't beat the price. 

Don't have an iPad or iTunes, here's a link where you can download the PDF.

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