Collaboration: Take a Role

In this series on collaboration we’ve been sneaking up on the idea of full collaboration. We’ve looked at scenarios that lean that direction and help prepare us for fully embracing a collaborative experience. And in this article we’ll take one more step as we look at two or more artists collaborating with equal leadership but with separate roles. Let’s take a quick look at three case studies.

Case Study 1: In early 2013 I collaborated with Josh Davis, who is a singer, songwriter, and the president and founder of Proskuneo Ministries. The goal was to create artwork for an event that had a specific theme. In this case the theme came from Revelation chapter 7, and specifically the nations worshipping together—a theme that is especially dear to Josh Davis’ heart. As a songwriter, he came up with a poetic sentence inspired by this passage in Revelation. He then handed it off to me and I created a visual piece based on his writing. (I will be sharing more about this piece in a future post.)

Case Study 2: The Postal Service is a band made of up Ben Gibbard (of Death Cab for Cutie) and Jimmy Tamborello (of Dntel). Without getting into their backstory, they created an album titled Give Up in a unique way. Tamborello created instrumental tracks which he then mailed to Gibbard. Gibbard took those tracks, edited them and added vocals. That’s a super stripped down explanation, but it provides elements vital to our topic.

Case Study 3: In 2011 my wife and I agreed to tackle a mural together, featuring a train chugging through the countryside. She had created a mural before. I hadn’t—and I admit I didn’t realize the amount of work that would go into it. It took us half a year to complete the project, as we could only put in a few hours a month. But from the start we realized we would need a plan—and that plan involved each of us having different roles. I developed the layout and did the math to blow it up tenfold. She developed the style and did the bulk of the painting. Any painting I did was a mimicking of her style. I utilized my skill of detailed planning. She utilized her skill of “winging it.”

Now obviously somebody needs to initiate the idea and in that sense there is a leader. But in the planning and execution, this is an opportunity for true collaboration. Don’t get too safe. Don’t try to define the other person’s path. Let them exercise their creativity, and react appropriately via your role. There should not be a fully-defined plan at the start of the process. If there is, you’re missing out on the fun and potential of the creative journey.

In the cases of The Postal Service and my work with Josh Davis, the two parties were physically apart. There was no creating in the same room. That allowed a lot of freedom for each participant, though this freedom brings a greater weight of responsibility as there is nobody there to provide valuable input and critique. I desired Josh’s input and sent him photos taken at various stages throughout my process. Hopefully you too get to work with somebody you respect and will eagerly seek out their thoughts throughout the process.

This method of collaboration is a good way of integrating different mediums and even different disciplines. It’s especially challenging to mix ones that aren’t obvious fits. And this is my favorite form of collaboration. The challenge comes in creativity rather than compromise. And it’s still relatively safe for all parties. You’re comfortable in your role and they’re comfortable in theirs. Now work together to create something great!

Articles in this series on collaboration

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