Choose Must: Learning from the Paths of Others | Elle Luna | Skillshare

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Choose Must: Learning from the Paths of Others

teacher avatar Elle Luna, Artist, Designer & Author

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Project: Making Your Mentor Tree


    • 3.

      Identifying Your Mentors


    • 4.

      Categorizing Your Mentors


    • 5.

      Creating Your Mentor Tree


    • 6.

      How I Use My Mentor Tree


    • 7.

      Using Your Mentor Tree in Your Work


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About This Class

Must is your calling. It's what you feel deeply convicted to do. In order to identify and follow your Must, you have to show up and take a few steps — and this exercise will help you get there.

Success is never from scratch. Join Elle Luna, artist, designer, and author of The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion for a tactical and inspiring exercise on learning how to take action from inspirations. Elle walks you through assembling a Mentor Tree: you'll identify a list of dream mentors, learn more about their approach, and use that as a tool for getting unstuck. Identifying your influences and learning from their practices and their success will give you clarity in your own creative pursuits.

This is a great exercise to use in your day-to-day life as a creator. It's an exercise you can return to whenever you need inspiration, a boost of energy, or a bit of critique in your work. If you're someone who loves to pin and tack up what inspires you — and looks up to creators on their own journeys — this class will reinvigorate what you do and give you space to grow.

Meet Your Teacher

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Elle Luna

Artist, Designer & Author


Elle Luna paints, designs, and writes. She also runs a textile venture, the Bulan Project, a collaboration between designers and master batik artists in Bali, and has previously worked as a designer at IDEO and with startups including Mailbox, Medium, and Uber. She speaks to groups around the world, sharing the story of "The Crossroads of Should and Must," and lives in San Francisco and online at

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1. Introduction: Hello, I'm Elle Luna. Welcome to my Skillshare class. This is the second class in the series all around choosing must, finding and following your passion in life, which is based on a book that I just published earlier this year, called the Crossroads of Should and Must. If you'd like to learn more about your shoulds and your must, you can scoop up a copy of this on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and if you look of your local bookstores will carry it. But today, we're going to be talking about creating a Mentor Tree. Think of these folks as your board of advisors. When you get stuck on a painting, when you get stuck midway through a paragraph, just turn and look at them, find your group of writers, find your group of painters and ask them what do I do. I would like for you to dream wild, crazy, totally not possible ideas. You're going to be designing that critique space, that conversation and how that begins to manifest especially if you find yourself in a place where there might not be a number of other artists or people around you. We're going to be creating a chorus of voices around your must and your work, and how you can continue to get closer to your passion. So, thanks for joining. 2. Project: Making Your Mentor Tree: The origin of this activity came from a conversation that I had with another artist here in San Francisco. Her name is April Walters and we were talking about our studio practices and feeling very alone in the work that we were doing on nights and weekends at the time. I don't know about you, guys, but it sometimes can be hard to find a group of peers, a group of folks to share the work that you're doing that you don't exactly know where it's going. This is different from a meeting at the office or a support group. This is a group to sit around and almost in a very safe way talk about this work that is emerging that you don't exactly know where it's all going yet. Having that group of folks around can be very important, and especially if you live in a city where those people are hard to find, this activity is great for you. So, in this exercise that I had a chat about with my friend, April, I learned that April had a very interesting way of thinking about all of the different voices around her work. She was inspired by this book, Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon. It is a terrific book around the ongoing battle that we have with our creativity and with our work. One of the things that Austin talks about is seeing yourself as a part of a creative lineage in an effort to help you feel less alone with your work. Definitely, check this book out. I took this activity as April did and I made it my own in my studio. So today, what you're going to be doing is you're also going to be creating a chorus of voices, whether you call it a mentor tree, a critique circle, a group of other fellow travelers along your journey, you're going to be designing that critique space, that conversation and how that begins to manifest, especially if you find yourself in a place where there might not be a number of other artists or people around you. You'll be able to do it even if you are in your studio all alone working on nights and weekends. So, that's the overview of the activity, go on to the next video, and we'll dive into step number 1. 3. Identifying Your Mentors: So, one day, I sat down and I made a list. I called it my very audacious list of dream mentors. I took out a piece of paper and I thought, if time, if distance, if money were absolutely no object, who would I want to be connecting with about my work and with some of the things that I was trying to tackle? I made a list and it was ridiculous. Some people were no longer living, some people were from another entire language, we might not even be able to communicate, but I made this list, and the most amazing thing happened. I began to actually reach out to a couple of the people who were still alive and who were still local. What I'd like for you to do, for this very first exercise, is to do a similar activity and to create an audacious amazing mentors list. Pull out a piece of paper and take a timer. I think that a 10-minute increment is an incredible way to think about how much time is good to just put all of your focus and energy into an activity. So, just set it for 10 minutes. When you sit down with that list, I would like for you to dream wild, crazy, totally not possible ideas, also maybe some of them are possible. But if anybody could come in to your studio, if anybody could see what's fresh on your desk from the last six weeks, let's say, who would you want to be there? Whose insight do you respect? Whose work do you see as being maybe a couple of years or a couple of decades ahead of yours? Whose insight and opinion would mean the world to you? Make a list of all of those names on a piece of paper. Take 10 minutes. Go. 4. Categorizing Your Mentors: All right. Step number two. For me, I'm a painter and I'm also a designer and a writer. So, I began looking at other painters who really inspired me. Now, what we're doing is we're trying to aggregate a group of influences whether they're alive or no longer alive. We're trying to aggregate them in a list-like form, like what you did in Exercise one. I went to the store and I bought this book. It's called "500 Self Portraits". I went through the book with an X-Acto knife and I cut out all of the portraits of the artists who I actually wanted to get to know. So we've got people beginning in the 1600's, we've got people from the 1400's. It runs the gamut. You can tell I was inspired by a lot of artists. I mercilessly hacked this book apart. I still am in the moment. And I took all of those cards and put them together in a stack, because these people, these voices throughout time were speaking to me in some way. What I'd love for you to do is to think about a category, whether it's painting or astrophysicists or science, maybe it's math, maybe it's carpentry. Find a theme or a category of study that you're interested in, and find some of the people within that space who you really admire. Look at their work, find their picture and find some very tactical physical way. Maybe it's a book, maybe it's print-outs on your computer where you print those images out. It could be the actual thing that they created or hopefully it could be a picture of their face. I find that seeing a picture of Frida Kahlo is much more powerful than just seeing a picture that she did. Because in this activity we really want to speak directly to those people as individuals. So, grab a book, hack it apart, print them off on the Internet, build your stack a little bit taller, take 10 minutes. Go. 5. Creating Your Mentor Tree: Okay. So, now you have a stack of mentors, alive or not alive, possible not possible. What I would recommend that you do is you look at these two stacks from the domain, also from dream mentors, is that you combine it into one big stack. Maybe there are some people that you can actually email and ask out for lunch, that's cool and I highly recommend that you do that. I actually emailed some of my dream mentors off of my list, the ones that were local and living and every single person said yes. Never underestimate the power of an email. However, also people are really busy and the closer we get to our must, the less time we have to do all the things that take away from finding and following that must. So, if somebody says no, don't take it personally; it's just them continuing to do the thing that you really respect them for doing in the first place. I think that's important to remember. Once you have your stack together, you are going to use these faces of these people as kind of a sounding board around you, and one of the things that I love about Austin in his book, Steal Like an Artist, he talks about hanging their images up on the wall and creating a tree that he has looming over his shoulder when he's working. I love this image and this is a similar thing that my friend, April, did. For me, because my work is very fluid and I'm often moving around and it's happening in different places, I needed to rethink the location and exactly how I was going to interact with these different voices. What I would like for you to do is think about where in your house you could hang your mentor tree. Or I might say, where it needs to encounter, where you want to encounter it as you're out and about throughout the day. So, for me, I chose my shower and in a moment, we're going to take you into the shower, we're all going to go together, and I'm going to show you how I've hung up these portraits and these people's faces and how I interact with them on a daily basis. Maybe you decide that you want to hang them on the wall above your desk, maybe you decide that you want to keep them loose with a bundled twine and you want to keep them in your bag so that when you're on the train, maybe you have a long commute, you can shuffle through these cards. I'm going to tell you more about what to do with the cards in a moment, but first I'd like for you to see how I've installed them and I'm going to talk to you about how I use these cards in my daily practice and how it creates a chorus of voices around my journey towards months which is ever changing all the time, but these voices are a very strong constant. So, think about a place in your house and in the meantime, I'll show you my bathroom. So, now I'm going to show you inside of my bathroom and I'm going to show you where I keep my own mentor tree. This is actually the door, believe it or not. It's a cool painting a friend of mine in Bali did. So, in the bathroom you can see it's not exactly your conventional bathroom. All of the walls are covered with different bits events for inspiration, different notes. You can actually see some of my mentors are here next to the mirror. There's lots of quotes from my different treasure hunts that I've gone on, and also I include a pencil so it's feel free to draw on walls. So many of my dear friends enjoy coming in and creating flying ladies that soar through cabinets and all kinds of wonderful treasures. But really what I want to show you in here is the shower. Up here at the top, I have taken my mentors and I have hung their own self-portraits creating their own work of themselves all here along the wall and even up on the ceiling. You'll see they're crumbling from the water. The reason I have them right here is so that when I am in the shower, which is one of the most creative moments of my day, when I have a lot of very loose free-thinking time, I can have a conversation with these people. So, you can see we have some Magritte, we have some Shikoh, we've got Frida up there, the matriarch of it all. We've got some Brancusi, and some Hockney, all of these folks, Mary Cassatt, and I'm in particular very interested in looking at depictions of women throughout time and how a lot of these female artists have represented themselves in their own paintings, and these are conversations that have been unfolding for about a year now and the conversation's changed because I'm changing and my work is growing. So, this collection of folks has been very inspiring, was a very special space and having these conversations is a part of my daily life. So, even throughout the day, I can hear their voices and their advice and this is how my mentor tree has manifested in the studio. So, thank you for coming into my bathroom and entertaining me with this visit. 6. How I Use My Mentor Tree: One question that might come up is, where do I begin, where do I even start. Okay, I've got all the cards up on my wall. Let's say that you are working through something in your space and suddenly you turn and you look at this amazing group of folks. Where to begin is a very appropriate question and one that you might encounter. What I would recommend is sitting down across from your wall, or having a moment where you maybe just focus on one card, on one person. So, for example, one of the questions that I've been struggling with that I shared with my board of advisers in the shower, was how to think about pricing my drawings, and how to think about pricing my paintings. This is something that people have solved in a lot of different ways, and I could have gone online, and I could have just googled it, and I could have figured it out. But I felt like, maybe the way that I thought about pricing paintings and the way I thought about pacing drawings was different. So, I'm in the shower and I'm having a conversation and lo and behold, who is there? But Picasso. In right then and there, as I'm meditating on this one question, what do I do about pricing my drawings, I recall the conversation between Picasso and another photographer in Paris. Picasso told this young photographer, he said, "No matter what, I always try to get my drawings out into the world. Drawings are so important, they are nascent ideas what ultimately would become larger paintings, and I tried to get them out there as quickly and easily as I can." So, I'm sitting in there in the shower, and I'm thinking about Picasso and his advice about drawings. At the same time, I see another painter who's also in the shower, who only had one exhibition his entire life, and that's why he's in the shower. A wonderful Modigliani, wonderful incredible painter you've seen his work at all the terrific museums. Modigliani only had one show his entire life, and I'm thinking how does Modigliani got his work out into the world. In this moment, not only am I having a conversation with myself and with Picasso, but now Modigliani has showed up. All three of us are having a conversation, and then I see a picture of Keith Haring, Keith Haring, his work was free and public, and on walls, and on subway station. He was really looking towards art being free and available to the public everywhere. So, now Keith Haring has joined the discussion. You see how this goes? So, all of them are now in dialogue, and I'm getting to see all these different facets of this one question, and in the end what I decided was that drawings are really important to get out there in the world. I began to wonder, how can I get more of my drawings out there into the world? Then at that interesting idea, I came up with the idea of doing prints and selling prints, which is a whole new category of work for me. But through this conversation, I realized that it was important like Haring, like Picasso, to get the work out there, to freely distribute it, and finding a way to do that in a congruent way for me, happened as a result of this conversation between all of these makers. So, you might find new voices jumping in on your conversations, I would just recommend showing up, meditating either on one person, or write down one question that you're really thinking about. Maybe you just showed the group a piece, maybe you're working on a collage, and you hold it up, and you go through their different voices but give each different person their own voice and time. Let them speak to you, and let them interplay with one another. As your eyes begin glancing around, the conversations will naturally happen, you will naturally be able to see different sides of the same question that you have. Ultimately, you'll get to decide how you want to move forward, the board of advisers is powerful but ultimately it's your choice for what you want to do. So, that might be one great way to begin, your board of advisers will also change over time, how they want to be spoken with, how they want to be dealt with. You might narrow it down just to three main voices. I have a friend who's a writer, during the course of writing his book, he only listened to three types of music because that music was very important for the tone of his work. So, you might find that there are only three folks who you want on the wall for a little while, but then maybe later the whole group comes back to play. I would say be open to how it might even flow, but starting with one person and one question is a great way to start. 7. Using Your Mentor Tree in Your Work: Okay. Now you have seen my bathroom, you've seen the chorus of voices that surround me all the time, now what you get to do is using push pins if you want to hang them up on a wall. I love working with push pins because you can move things or maybe some removable tape that doesn't leave a residue, hang your cards up on the wall. This is an important moment where you might decide to edit. Maybe originally, I had pulled out of 500 self-portraits. It looks like I pull out quite a few. As you just saw, I didn't necessarily hang all of them up in the shower. I hung maybe 20 or 25 of them up. Some of them actually stayed as cards that I keep with me in my purse when I'm on the go, so I can have conversations wherever I am. I would now ask you all to hang up your cards, your mentors, build them on maybe it's your bathroom wall, maybe it's next to your bed, maybe it's in your purse, maybe it's above your desk, and I invite you throughout your practice, as you have questions, to turn and look at this incredible collection of thinkers, of makers, of people throughout time who inspire you, and to begin to pose questions to the audience. Think of these folks as your board of advisors. When you get stuck on a painting, when you get stuck midway through a paragraph, just turn and look at them. Find your group of writers, find your group of painters and ask them what do I do. You want to begin having a dialogue with these folks. You want to begin showing them your work because different people will see different things happening in different light. These are all very important facets on the same challenge that you're looking towards, which is getting closer to your must. You have selectively handpicked these folks to be there because they inspire you, they have called you in some way. So, for the final step, get the cards up on the wall and begin talking to them. A nice way of thinking about your mentor tree or your board of advisors is to think of it as a constant source of inspiration in your day-to-day life. These are a living, breathing group of folks who are always available to you. Whenever you need feedback, whenever you need help, you are literally having a dialogue, having some sort of a relationship with all of the folks on the wall. You might be able to actually recall some of their struggles that they went through in their life. You might be able to recall the late paintings of one painter, and that might inspire your work. There are little pieces about their historical relevance with your work and why they inspired you in the first place, which will continue to serve your practice over time. So, upload your mentor tree and in the comments, in the forum, if you can take a snapshot of your mentor tree, I would love to see where you all find creative nooks and crannies in your house to upload your tree, and I would love to see who's on it and as it changes over time. So, grab a snapshot once it's all up, put it in the forum, I can't wait to see what you do. Thanks.