I’ve struggled to find time to make art my entire career. I’m a big procrastinator and I also have some attention deficit tendencies, so unless I have a deadline on a commission, I usually put painting on the back burner while I go about doing other things. It’s a habit that I’ve been making steps to break this past year. Between having a baby and renovating our first home, my life is busier than ever, but I still make time for art on a weekly basis. I’ve learned that it comes down to intention; Do I plan to do something with my work, and is this something I plan to bring with me the rest of my life?
I’ve never been a full time artist, it’s always been something I did in my spare time. I think that my negative experience at college left me feeling as though I’d never make it as a full time artist, and that if I wanted to be represented in galleries, I needed to come up with some bullshit stories about my art and create hidden meanings where there weren’t any. I viewed it as a stuffy world where everyone was pretending to be something they’re not and I wouldn’t succeed because I couldn’t/wouldn’t name check past artists or art movements from history at the drop of a hat. I was disillusioned and left without purpose or motivation.
I took a break from art for a few years after college. I felt no need to pick up a brush and almost felt as though my whole college experience was a waste of time. I focused on other things; work, teaching, being a musician. If I wanted to be creative, I used songwriting as my outlet. But then I had the opportunity to book an art show with my brother, who is also a painter. This was an opportunity I didn’t want to pass up, and so, for the first time in years, I picked up my sketchbook and started drafting thumbnails for a new series of works. I poured everything I had into painting for months in preparation for the biggest show I’d ever had at that point. It was then that I learned the value of taking a hiatus from art. When there is no purpose, take some time off in order to find purpose again.
If you’re feeling like art is not a priority enough for you to do it regularly, step away from it for awhile. It will allow you to shift your perspective, reevaluate your intentions, and come back clear-headed and ready to be productive. Take as long as you need; weeks, months, years. Sometimes we all just need a refresh in order to come back with more urgency than ever.
When it comes to daily/weekly production, there’s always time to do something. Just because you’re not breaking out that large painting on canvas that you’ve been struggling on for months, doesn’t mean that you can’t start something else. Sure, it’s important to work with intention when making art that is for public viewing, but you can also set time aside for artistic “play”. Doodle, sketch random or funny things, play with a painting technique you’ve never tried before, use a new medium, or teach yourself how to work digitally. Sometimes trying out new things will jumpstart your enthusiasm for spending time on art.
If you’re like me and have a million things going on, have full or part-time work, along with raising a young child, set a schedule and adhere to it as though it’s your job (or 2nd job...or 3rd job). It’s important to be intentional with your time; don’t check social media and put your phone on silent. Remove yourself from distraction. Write it in your planner, or add to your appointments: “Today: sketch in notebook 1-3pm”. Don’t plan anything around that and you’ll realize that maybe the time you “didn’t have” was more of an excuse. Art can turn into a stressful, intimidating, and emotional experience if you put too much pressure on yourself. I like to think of art procrastination like jumping in a cold pool; the longer you wait, the more daunting it seems. Set time to work as often or as little as you want. I personally schedule “studio hours” twice a week since my baby was born, but before that it was 3-4 days per week. Since I can’t focus on something for long periods of time, I only plan to work in 1-2 hour stretches. Either I’ll step away for the rest of the day, or I’ll start something else. I usually have 4-6 different paintings in different mediums going at once. This allows me to not get burned out on one single thing, and if I step away and find myself thinking about a particular piece, that’s the one I try to finish the next time. I also keep a sketchbook or my ipad on hand in case I get a spare 30 minutes to work out ideas at the end of the day. If you spend a lot of time at night watching Netflix, grab a sketchbook and play around with some ideas while you relax and unwind for the day.
I will talk about organization here as well. If you’ve got a messy or dysfunctional workspace, you won’t want to work there. Tidy things up and make it an environment that is peaceful, enjoyable, and functional for you to work in. If you know you’ve got a welcoming creative space away from extra noise, you’re going to want to spend more time there. Think of your studio or workspace as an extension of you. If things are organized and clean, you’ll be more productive. Tidy space, tidy mind.
Ultimately, it’s all about priority. Your art won’t magically appear if you don’t prioritize the process. There’s no shortcuts, and it’s never easy. If there’s one thing 2020 taught me, it’s to reassess my values, and figure out what’s important enough in my life to spend time on.
The world is a better place with your art in it, be kind to yourself, reevaluate what your intentions are, and try to find time to work on YOUR terms, no matter what you choose to work on. Start small, dream big.
Happy New Year.