What I Learned From Collaborating With an Artist

As a writer, words are my medium. I’m comfortable reaching into my arsenal of language tools and personal experiences to paint a picture of emotions for my reader. Art is something that has always confounded me, though: with abysmally poor depth perception and zero aptitude for illustration, I'll forever be in awe of anyone who can render an idea visually in any capacity, much less create a masterpiece.

So when I approached Austin-based illustrator Corey Carbo earlier this summer about a potential collaboration, I was honestly quite nervous about the reaction I’d get. Though I admired Corey’s work and she was my first choice to illustrate this idea I’d had rattling around in my head for awhile, I didn’t know the “right” way to present my proposal: is there a checklist or a specific protocol when asking to collaborate with another creative? I certainly didn’t have one.

The idea for a not-so-judgmental map of Barton Springs came to me on one of my many visits to the Austin recreational hotspot, where summertime seems to last all year long. I wanted to somehow capture the different groups of people one encounters at Barton Springs, calling out various archetypes and personas in a fun, playful way. Corey’s style and aesthetic was the perfect fit for what I’d envisioned, and, despite what my inner cynic kept telling me she would say, she was into the project, and we set out to make the idea a reality.

In working over the course of several weeks to bring this project to life, I learned a lot about collaboration and how to effectively combine talents to create something that all parties involved can feel good about. In retrospect, there were three core principles that guided our process and helped us manage expectations along the way:

Vulnerability. Coming at a project from an authentic, vulnerable place is essential to any creative venture, particularly when working together for the first time. Though Corey and I had met before, we’d never worked together, nor had we spent any amount of time just hanging out. Choosing a collaborative partner you trust and can be yourself around is crucial to creating an end product that you can believe in.

Accountability. Corey and I have different work styles and schedules, so keeping each other informed and updated every step along the way was crucial to seeing this project through to completion. We mapped out a schedule of activities and deadlines, kept each other updated on progress and ideas, and gave each other the necessary time and space we each needed to do our thing.

Compromise. A true collaboration should reflect the inputs of all parties involved. Corey and I are two creative individuals who joined up to make something, so it stands to reason that it should reflect both of our thoughts, ideas, and personalities. While she was responsible for illustration and I did the copy, we each shared ideas and gave feedback on both aspects of the project. As this was a passion project for both of us, the creative freedom (and lack of any external pressure) helped us compromise and marry our two separate visions to create the final version together.

I recently read something powerful that a friend and fellow writer posted on social media: the crux of the message was that if you like someone’s work, you should absolutely tell them, tell others, and never shut up about it. This is how great work gets out into the world, and it’s what fuels talented people to create meaningful work that resonates with people. I had been a fan of Corey’s work, and in telling her that, she shared that the feeling was mutual, and a collaboration was born.

The main thing I've learned from working with an artist is to tell others when you like their work. Great things happen when we're encouraged and empowered to become the best version of themselves, and telling someone you like their work can open doors to amazing collaborations and lasting friendships. You are never too experienced or too old to learn something new from someone you admire.

And you’re never too cool to be a fan of someone’s work.