We all wish we had more time to paint, draw, sculpt, or whatever we do. At the very least, we often wish we could make better use of the time we do have. Especially if we happen to also be working a full-time job.
Well, from one artist to another, take heart! My own experience tells me that anyone can improve their productivity. Here are four tools that have helped me:
1. Work a regular schedule
Setting aside time to work on a regular basis is one way to keep the art “well” properly primed. We artists are creative beings by nature, but there’s nothing like training your mind to expect to be painting or drawing at a specific time each day or on certain days each week. You learn to anticipate those times when you’re not painting and that builds eagerness and enthusiasm. When you are painting, setting aside intrusions becomes easier.
If that’s not enough for you, remember this.
There is evidence to suggest that if you work regularly—even in small chunks of time—you’re more likely to finish more pieces more quickly than if you wait until you have an entire day to paint.
For myself, I prefer having a couple hours of interrupted drawing or painting time, but that doesn’t always happen! And I know from experience that I AM able to finish projects more quickly if I focus instead on finding periods of time as short as 20 or 30 minutes a day, five days a week.
As a bonus, with short work sessions I usually feel fresher, finish work faster, and remember what I’ve learned longer. Who doesn’t want that?
2. Have a number of projects in process
NOTE: This will not work for everyone. Some of us find it too distracting to have more than one piece-in-progress. If that describes you, then skip to the next item.
If you’re like me, then having more than one creative pursuit in progress will probably improve your productivity in a couple of ways.
We’re all familiar with those moments when a piece stalls or we just don’t know what else to do with it. When that happens to me, I just go work on another piece. Many times, the solution to that first problem comes to mind while I’m working on the second drawing, so I haven’t wasted any time or effort.
Yes, I know there are times when it won’t matter how many projects you have going, none of them will be working. That’s another problem altogether, and I completely empathize with you. I recommend reading Going Through a Time of Creative Stillness? Maybe This Will Help.
3. Try new things
Trying new things is especially difficult for me. It’s oh-so-easy to get locked into a favorite subject, medium, or style. Before I know it, I’ve stopped trying anything outside my comfort zone for way too long.
Focusing on one thing can certainly be good if you’re building a body of work that represents your style, medium, and subject. But it’s also a smart idea to mix up your routine with new things.
For example, I’m a studio artist. I’ve been a studio artist most of my life. It’s simply been the way I work for so long that it’s part of who I am as an artist.
I’ve also worked from photo references most of my life because most of my portraits have been purchased by clients living too far away to make working from life or even taking my own photos prohibitively expensive.
But working the same way in the same place for too long can become boring. And stagnating. And that’s part of the reason I decided to start drawing outside at least once a week.It gets me out of the studio and it forces me to draw something besides horses or the wide open landscapes because I live in town.
If going outside doesn’t change things up for you, why not try a few different mediums? Anything different will break up the monotony of your “regular” work and help make you more productive during the time you have for art.
4. Stay healthy
This is something else I have difficulty with. (Eating right and getting the right amount of exercise is difficult in the best of times!)
Add a portrait approaching deadline or articles that need to be written and illustrated, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle becomes even more problematic. I have to remind myself to get up and walk regularly or I tend to spend all day sitting at the computer or standing at the easel (or worse, sitting to draw, too.)
It doesn’t take very long before I’m overweight and out of shape. Then I start losing energy and once the energy goes, so does the creativity.
So what do I do? Just little things. I try to get outside and walk at least once every couple of days. Once a day is best.
Can’t get outside? Walk around the house or just get up and move around every 15 to 20 minutes. Take a few minutes to limber those muscles or even just stretch. This is especially important if you spend a lot of time sitting down.
If you happen to work standing at an easel, you’re doing better than those of us who sit, but you’re still not off the hook. Give your feet a break! Take a few steps. They’ll thank you for it!
And. . . cut down on the snacking. It’s easy not to snack when I’m doing art or writing. After all, my hands are busy and my mind is occupied, so there’s no thought of snacking. My peak snacking temptation period is just after I’ve finished.
Of course, the best thing to do is just say “no” to that temptation, and sometimes I do. The rest of the time, I try to limit myself. For example, do you know what the recommended serving size for plain M&Ms is? 35 candies. So when I eat M&Ms, I portion out 35 candies and put the rest away.
These little tricks work (most of the time) and help me stay fit enough for painting and everything else that needs to be done each day and each week.
For some additional reading on being a productive artist, I highly recommend this post as well: How to Finish What You Start (The Artists’ Edition).
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