Yesterday, Tim Zeiss of Chicago, Illinois, wrote, “I’m a painter and graphic novelist. I’m 27 and out of college 3 years. I’ve had 18 shows and sold work in every one. I rent a really cool little basement studio a mile away from my apartment. I have loads of opportunities but I still have a really hard time going to my studio. I have a 9 to 5 office job and I get home pretty spent. I have to force myself to paint. I can’t beat the allure of the couch, or ignore self-doubts and worries. I feel like I’m in a rut of a prosaic job. Do you have any advice for getting one’s butt in gear and beating the fears? The ‘Energy Draining Non-Art Life’ is tugging at the back of my brain while a ‘Fear of The Blank Canvas’ tugs at the front.”
Thanks, Tim. You’re like a fly between two swatters. But let me tell you my problems. Mine is more of an obsessive-compulsive mental health thing, but it’s also real. Blank canvases — I can’t stop going after the darned things. Right now my studio is a jumble of books and the comings and goings of shipping experts. Our home is full of extended holiday cheer, to say nothing of relatives and friends. I moved my wife’s car into the driveway and set up a painting sanctuary in the garage. Yesterday, for example, with the house full of revellers, I nipped out there. “This is sick,” I said to myself, but the painting was not too bad.
So here are a few thoughts on your predicament: You need your studio right at your home. You need to have your paints always squeezed out and ready to go. You need some paint already on your canvas so it’s not a blank one anymore. With one stroke already down, you’ll find the energy to leap over your couch and put on another. You need to stop thinking about ends and think of processes. This comes automatically when you live with your stuff, even when you’re bagged out.
Getting out of your prosaic job is a little more sticky. The insecurity around leaving it and becoming an independent worker is often merely a matter of temperament. The transition becomes easier when you have evidence of art-success. This takes a steel-clad will. Try cutting out ancillary activities–girlfriends, eating, etc. Give yourself a time frame–say six character-filled months of day-job and art-working only. With a bit of luck you’ll be able to kiss the office goodbye. Incidentally, people around here think your work is jumping with imagination and bubbling with potential.
PS: “Character is a bundle of habits, tendencies and interests, loosely bound together and dependent on circumstance and context.” (Malcolm Gladwell)
Esoterica: Long do we wrestle with the mysteries of motivation. What makes some folks jump out of bed and others lie in? Without a motive we are dead turkeys; with one we can win over both the world and ourselves. Passion is earned in the doing, not arbitrarily handed out as a gift. “It’s motive alone which gives character to the actions of men.” (Jean de La Bruyere)
Some questions for Tim
by Alberto Varela
Sounds like Tim is floundering around. It also sounds as if he sells a little. First does he expect to get rich from his art work — or is he like some of us to produce art just because we’re compelled as artists to do so. Is this just to have a successful career or is he a Real Artist? Does he specialize in something? What is it that drives him? Does he have a financial goal or a career artist goal to knock ’em dead? How passionate is he about his art work? Does it show? I agree he has to smear himself with paint. I have a turquoise front door, a red entry way, a purple bathroom, a green bathroom. Frames on the walls and on the floor in the dining room, garage, bathroom etc. I collect a little bit of art from artist friends. Does he hang out with other artists? Does he belong to an art group? Passion, passion.
Motivation from many ideas
by Nancy Hyer, Gainesville, FL, USA
In addition to finding the motivation and energy to create art, there is also the dilemma of the ever so crowded menagerie of ideas floating around in my mind. How to pick “the one” that will keep me interested and bring me back to the drawing table again… soon. Often the ideas are so numerous, I find myself frozen in a world of indecision. Just picking one and going forth, even if it isn’t really “the one,” is an exercise of persistence and then discovery. They are all worth putting down on paper or canvas. And often the result is a delightful surprise.
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Set up the atmosphere
by Eveleen Power, Ireland
Regarding Tim Zeiss’s struggle to paint as well as hold down a full time job, and how to make the time for it, I empathize and agree with having your studio at your own home. My garage is converted into a studio and even then it can seem too far away from the noise and bustle of the house. It takes every ounce of energy to open the back door to leave the chaos inside. What has definitely helped me is have the paints ready squeezed out on the canvas, a canvas with the background painted in (in a colour that makes me feel good), the right music to get me in the zone. And just the decision to go out for ten minutes could turn into longer. Just have the atmosphere set up first.
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Going all the way
by Sara Spanjers, Tucson, AZ, USA
It is the acceptance of what exists in our lives that allows us to make motion in both areas or ride the wave to one side. Tim, your art has both artistic and graphic expression, very unique and a wonderment to view. Fighting within ourselves is too destructive to ourselves. I also have those tendencies and at a ripened age of 53 am just getting the battles subsided to an allowance or new path altogether. You are so young, gifted, and maybe the fight isn’t about getting to the canvas, but going all the way with your art!
Wet a brush a day
by John F. Burk, Timonium, MD, USA
I have been an ad agency art director and freelance creative for over 40 years, lastly a successful agency creative director laid-off at the age of 62. Most of that time I have waged the same war with myself, coming home spent, but unhappy not painting. I am now a full-time painter, though making ends meet has become a creative endeavor. Happily, I can say I feel a large movement in my abilities since this change. There is one strategy I developed while double-timing it, though, that I’d like to pass on. I sought to “wet a brush every day,” no matter how spent, even if it was for only a 20 minute session. I found surely I could get up for that much additional effort each day, and did so. Making a daily exercise of it, even briefly, helps to produce gains in ability and in moving a canvas along. The real discovery, though, is that my 20-minute intent often led to an evening at work that made me anxious to get back to it the next evening. If the session was a rocky one, I’d get my rags out and clean it up for the day. That didn’t happen quite so much.
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Thrill of a new space
by William Dale Panzer, Taos, NM, USA
I am now living in my great studio space. It has been a very satisfying creative experience setting this space up. It was an auto repair shop originally. I have had some difficulty getting back to painting in this space but my writing of song lyrics and poetry has flourished. When the sky is blue, I really want to be out of doors doing photography and taking in all of the visual treats that Northern New Mexico offers. A few weeks ago I purchased The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Working the program outlined in that book has definitely opened my creative channels. I highly recommend it! I have actually gotten back to painting and finding new outlets for my work. It looks like I will be printing and selling T Shirts with my Ski oriented images to Ski Shops. We definitely need to “think out of the box” and try new stuff in these times. Currently, I am in the process of doing Feng Shui on this studio.
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Organization pays off
by John Fitzsimmons, Fayetteville, NY, USA
When I was this age I was able to do it all, work all day, paint then go out for a few beers. But you can’t do that forever. It is like losing your hair, it happens one hair at a time, and you don’t realize that the reason you can’t do it all anymore is that you are a few months older and that the “other things” are becoming vastly more demanding at the same time. 99.9999% of the time, the art disappears.
It took me until I was 50 to realize that until I put the art first it will always be last. Getting everything else done first means getting to your art only on a Sunday afternoon around 4. I started putting Thursday morning from 8 to 12 aside to paint and that made all the difference. How about getting up early, paint for 2 hours, then go to work? Or work a 4 day week? If you are organized and anticipate it, you can get a lot of painting done in 4 hours.
Get your finances in place
by oliver, TX, USA
I certainly wouldn’t leave a day job until I had a few things pretty secured….. on a six month plan of devotion to work, I’d have a year of funds in the bank, enough to pay for living expenses, materials, marketing expenses etc. I’d also have already trimmed my costs to the bone. I’d have a concentrated show schedule lined up so that hopefully my reserves can be extended with sales. I’d want to have broken even on my art for a while too – that means materials, utilities, marketing expenses, studio costs etc. Note, the transition to self employed is tough, there is a discipline self starting when there are no commitments to really drive you that is tough.
Recall that many great artists and writers have had “day” jobs until relatively late in their careers. Franz Kafka worked as a low level administrator in the government. His The Trial, about bureaucracies, it appears to me arguably has some inspiration from his day job. Too, connection with non-artists may help ground you, which may be important, because ultimately they are the consumers of art.
Write a poem a day
by Lisa Vihos, Sheboygan, WI, USA
Two years ago, I had an epiphany at a writing workshop I attended and I realized that I needed to figure out a way once and for all to practice the art of writing in some consistent manner. I came up with the idea of making a commitment to writing one poem every week. Not only would I write this poem, but I would send it out to a small group of friends who I got to agree to read the poem. I was not sure when I made the commitment if I would actually be able to carry it out, but I thought, what the heck, try. Well, 105 weeks later, my distribution list has grown from 23 friends and relatives to 145 people, many whom I do not even know. I probably have written twice as many poems that I have not put out there for whatever reason, and I have tons of ideas for things I want to do yet with my writing.
Stand up to work
by Rod Cleasby, Witney, Oxfordshire, UK
Stand up. It’s really that simple. Remove the couch, stool or chair from the studio, raise the canvas up to the new level and go for it standing up. There is something in yours and my body that switches on when you stand up.
In 2005 I changed from doing one job (teaching) to two: teaching and doing. Btw: the evening job was after a full 9 hrs of prep and teaching. First, the only way I had to do my evening job was on my feet and I found that from 7pm thro to 10.30pm I forgot that I was tired. After doing this for a while I tried the sitting thing and it was a disaster. My body decided that sitting was too close to resting and switched off.
Plus, standing is good for you. A pal of mine teaches physical fitness, so I asked him a while back, what exercises I could do as my job is always sitting down. Many people have this problem, especially with computers in the work place. I expected him to give me a series of clever exercises and to join a Pilates class. He didn’t. He told me to stand up. Sit to eat, stand to work, lay down to go to sleep.
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by Lauri Luck, Forestville, CA, USA
When I write out my schedule on the calendar for the week or month I always write out my studio schedule FIRST — that way job, appointments, get-togethers etc., seem to revolve around your scheduled studio time. Like creating a savings account — the first amount out of your paycheck goes into savings otherwise if you invest only what’s left — well then you’d have a pretty empty savings account. Same with studio time.
If you are finding you are too tired after work — and who doesn’t? — then schedule your studio time BEFORE you head to your job. Get up early, invest your freshest hours in yourself & your art and give what’s left to your job. Your job will probably benefit from your sense of accomplishment in the studio.
As for taking the fear out — take the emotion out of it — don’t question it — make going to your studio your responsibility just like you do when you get up and go to your job. By putting your studio time first on your calendar and first in your day you are making it first in your life. As you do this EVERYTHING will start to change.
So create a workable schedule with room to grow, lay out your clothes, set your alarm and then go do it.
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Hearts and Bones
oil painting by
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Cherie Sibley of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, who wrote, “I recalled the words of Robert Henri, mentor to so many: ‘Art is painting, not painted!’ The process is what it is all about. That is the addiction.”
And also Ljiljana & Radoslav Putnik of Pula, Croatia, who wrote, “Thanks a lot for your very nice and inspired letters about arts, life and philosophy through the year 2009! We enjoyed!!!Happy New Year!!!”
And also Karina Bjerregaard of Denmark, who wrote, “I found that wiping my dirty brushes on the blank canvases both saved brush-cleaning and gave me “something” to work with. In some cases the painting would be half done before I started it!”
Enjoy the past comments below for Fighting the double demons…