The Open Window: The Fine Art of Subtracting

Insights on Creativity by Quinn McDonald


Whether you are a freelancer or work in an office, whether you are a mom, a step-mom, or a full-time artist, you are going to say, “Sure, I’ll do it,” once too often. Maybe it’s with a committee and you think everyone will help do the work. (Pardon me while I pause to laugh hysterically). Maybe you think you’ll be doing one thing and wind up doing it all. Maybe you just didn’t plan—and now your reputation is on the line. Maybe your reputation is on two or three lines.

I’ve been there. It’s hard to say “No” and make it stick. So before you put a serious dent in your good name, learn the fine art of subtracting from Gail McMeekin.

Gail wrote, The Power of Positive Choices: Adding and Subtracting Your Way to a Great Life. It’s a small book that needs a spot on your bookshelf.

It’s easy to think that adding one more thing will make the rest of our to-do list fall into line. We think of adding as a good thing, subtracting as loss.

McMeekin’s book gives a new perspective to subtraction. “The Power of Subtraction is astounding,” McMeekin says. “When we forcefully say ‘No’ to dysfunctional people, toxic workplaces, limiting beliefs, or unhealthy habits, we open up the space to fill our lives with what we long for.” Try applying the power of subtraction to perfectly good ideas that are not bringing in a good profit. Or teaching gigs that pay next to nothing but promise “a great marketing opportunity.” Once the list is finished, subtract those items from your to-do list.

The day I created my “subtraction” list, I got a phone call from a church group who wanted me to run my creativity seminar for less than half my usual fee. “Our group is really eager to have you teach,” the events director said. “And if this one works well, we may be able to afford your full fee in the fall.”  I was about to agree—after all, how can I turn down a spiritual group whose only fault is a cash pinch?

Wrong thinking.

Better thinking: Can I afford to run the seminar at a loss? Running it at the price they offered would not cover my expenses and supplies. And what were the consequences? Once I taught this course at a loss, could I realistically teach it again at my normal price, which would be more than twice the original church rate? Even if I did that, the combined income would be less than the cost of the supplies for the first class. That puts me right at minimum wage.

Was the increased cost for the second course fair to the fall group, whose only fault had been missing the first, cheaper, course? And would the group really come back in the fall and say, “We loved your seminar so much, we will gladly encourage you to charge more than twice as much for this session.” Probably not.

Subtracting is a wonderful exercise. Look at what isn’t making money. Instead of pumping money into it, think about the pros and cons of subtracting. Use the time for marketing your products that are already successful. Often, it’s a quick way to save time and money.


Quinn McDonald is an artist and certified creativity coach who helps artists through transitions in their lives and work. You can e-mail your business-of-art questions to Quinn is the author of Raw Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art (North Light Books).


* Find great books, DVDs, downloads & more for mixed media artists!
* Sign up for your FREE email newsletter for great tips, projects & more…
* Download free mixed media desktop wallpapers!

You may also like these articles:

This entry was posted in Mixed Media Blogs, The Open Window and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.