Lately I’ve become aware that some of my friends are losing their marbles. Their ability to concentrate has gone up the spout. They’re so overwhelmed with distractions and daily impedimenta that I hardly recognize them anymore. Too busy to paint, they are harnessed to a downward creative spiral. I was even losing a few marbles myself — so I deflected my problems by spying on their studio habits.
You could blame telephones, computers, smart-meters, cell-phone towers, and technology in general for our lack of focus, but that’s not the whole problem. A chronic lack of “intention” is ravaging studios. And, you guessed it, there’s a remarkably simple, low-tech solution.
Just as people learn to spell words and add numbers, folks can learn how to gain intention. It takes a bit of character and a Pomodoro. A Pomodoro is one of those red kitchen timers that looks like a tomato. Pomodoro is Italian for tomato. You can buy them on Amazon for $7.99. The Pomodoro Technique is a time-management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. The timer is set for 25 minutes and then you focus and go to work on your predetermined job. At the end of the time period, the alarm goes off and you take a five minute break. Then you start on your next Pomodoro. If your Pomodoro gets interrupted by a phone call or a request to go down and drain the lake, you’ll have to stop and restart your Pomodoro later.
To rise and become a “Certified Pomodoro Master” you need to determine how many 25-minute segments you’re going to need to do a particular project — say a 20″ x 24″ painting. You need a notepad and pen to list and keep track of your staged Pomodoros. Give yourself a check mark at the completion of each.
If you think all of this is nonsense, you’re not alone, but I suggest you try a Pomodoro just once. For those who regularly lose focus, fail to finish or fail to start, you might be pleasantly surprised. You may find that your Pomodoro-days produce better work, build your character and, if you think you’ve been losing a few, win back some marbles.
PS: “Pomodoro is a simple yet effective way to improve your work.” (Francesco Cirillo)
Esoterica: When you’re in full intention mode, certain tasks can be effectively accomplished in a surprisingly short time–for example, laying in a basic composition. When Pomodoro’s ticking, the overall picture is better planned in holistic smartness than in un-ticked timelessness. When I was first painting with Pomodoro, I tried shorter and longer timings–but I think Cirillo got it just about right. Twenty-five minutes often leaves time at the end to sit back, contemplate, and eat a tomato. “Tempus fugit” (Virgil 70BC) “Time flies.” “Mensura tempus” (Kjerkius Gennius 36BC) “Measure time.”
A painting in 7 Pomodoros
Hard to be focused today
by Judy Lalingo, Jarrettsville, MD, USA
You’re onto something here! Society has become crazily distracted, myself included. I’m doing my darndest to keep on track and accomplish what I set out to do, but the world is just spinning too fast! Ok, small bits of tomato time to keep focused. I blame all the technological trappings of trying to keep organized, of marketing work, of getting older, but it all comes down to what Timothy Leary said: “My advice to people today is as follows: if you take the game of life seriously, if you take your nervous system seriously, if you take your sense organs seriously, if you take the energy process seriously, you must turn on, tune in, and drop out.”
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Domestic chaos reigns
by Richard Gagnon, Knowlton, QC, Canada
This would apply to just about any task or job. I have turned off email notifications as they come in and get to them once an hour. As for telephones there is the answering machine. Don’t even set it so that it announces who is calling or allow you to hear their voice and turn call display away so you are not tempted. My stepson unplugs the phone when he doesn’t want to be interrupted. Anyway, I have to stop as the five dogs just came in from their walk and Emma wants to know what time she can go shopping this afternoon. Now the children have arrived with the grandson and a guest. We will be babysitting their dog while they go shopping. So much for the pomodoro. Even pomodoros have their limits.
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Pomodoro even more useful nowadays
by Sarah Burns, Edmonton, AB, Canada
This Pomodoro method is a spin on my “manageable parts” system. In fact, I used the Pomodoro method to work my way through my graduate studies in the mid ’70s. I not only had to read the course material from the courses I was taking but also read the material from the courses I missed in the previous semester… it was tough sledding, but with the kitchen timer set to ring every half hour I managed to do what needed to get done. I didn’t have a cell phone, TV or computer back then; I am sure this method is even more helpful now! Thanks for reminding me of one of my most challenging academic adventures. Now if I could only find a way of using this to break down the painting I want to do.
Music as timer
by Katie Hoffman, Denver, CO, USA
Lately I have the attention span of a gnat and find I need to use a timer to accomplish much of anything. But in the studio, the ticking is clinical and distracting to me, so I’ve taken to using music as a timer. While my favorite 25 minute long songs — Sufjan Stevens’ “Impossible Soul” and Komar & Melamid’s “Most Unwanted Song” wouldn’t be to most people’s tastes; there are plenty of lengthy classical and jazz tracks. I had been using 15 minutes on/fifteen minute break, but after reading your letter gave the 25/5 a try and finished a painting.
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The ‘piggy’ system
by Kimberly Santini, Lake Orion, MI, USA
It used to be that I got completely absorbed by my process, falling so deeply into a creative black hole that I would lose track of time altogether. My studio’s in my home and it is far too easy for me to duck in here to fix one niggling thing on a painting and be lost for hours. Dinners charred to a crisp, kids were forgotten at soccer practice, appointments missed altogether until I started setting a timer as a reminder.
For years I have used a variation of the Pomodoro Technique, although mine is pinker with cute little ears and came from the dollar store. It took me a couple auditions to find one loud enough to break my reverie and obnoxious enough that a child wouldn’t abduct it for some project of their own. Now my piggy helps me to allocate my time on other things too, especially with tasks like email and Facebook.
It’s a fantastic method, but it does require an understanding of how to prioritize — there’s no substitute for recognizing and organizing projects, then allocating windows of time to get things done.
Silent at work, noisy when teaching
by Julie Douglas, Belfast, Ireland
I am a painter, of the traditional school of observation, and am at my most intense and silent when painting, and at my most vibrant and passionate when I am teaching. I have taught for 20 years and the most fascinating thing is seeing how folks learn — and how much they need to draw, to make those connections with paper etc. Even though they don’t realize that’s what they need.
Recently I had to do a Pecha Kucha talk (not for the feint hearted) and in that self-examining required to pare down information, I realized that I’m not a drawing and painting teacher, but in fact, I teach Observation, through drawing and painting.
(RG note) Thanks, Julie. Pecha Kucha is an information presentation system where twenty slides are shown for 20 seconds each, often rigidly adhering to the time frame so a maximum concentration can be achieved in six minutes and 40 seconds.
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The busy life
by Grace Karczewski, Livonia, MI, USA
I have to be in the mood to paint and make sure everything is done such as work around the house and my job. There seems to be a problem with selling paintings or subject to paint. “I have seen that painting before.” Does anyone want or need to buy a painting? Because our economy is just starting to recuperate and none can afford it. Framing is costly unless you’re selling unframed. There are many artists out there whose paintings are very juvenile, and as a professional I see that they have not completed their paintings. They need to get another opinion, look, look and look again — the painting will tell you what it needs by looking at it, even when you think you have completed it.
Most of the students in undergrad school just take art classes as an elective. People are paying good money for college these days and need a job after graduating, but I still think even if you have no talent in art, the endorphins received in completing an art project is the best stress reliever.
Our city has placed professional artists’ paintings around our town businesses, banks, credit unions, YMCA, etc. and we keep changing them for the seasons every 90 days. We all get rave reviews but no one buys. Many of our galleries have shut down and the ones that are open are not taking any more artwork.
I am an Arts Commissioner for the City of Livonia and curator for the main library gallery. I have different artists monthly and some of the artists have receptions and sell their work. We do have a waiting list to get in the gallery which holds about 100 paintings.
Punching the clock
by Susan Lenz, Columbia, SC, USA
Several years ago, new to the world of artistic practice, I found myself constantly complaining, very depressed, and whiny. I wanted to be a “full time artist.” I wanted respect. I wanted a lot of things. Then I had an epiphany moment.
In any other profession, “full time” is easy to distinguish. It means putting in approximately 40 hours a week, period. It has nothing to do with the money earned. After all, garbage men and neurosurgeons might put in the same number of hours but their pay isn’t the same. Full time is full TIME. It has to do with the hours of work not the financial reward.
At first it was difficult to achieve full time hours. I’d get to the weekend and only have logged ten hours the previous five weekdays… impossible. After awhile, I found myself sneaking in a half hour of work here and twenty minutes there … working toward my full time goal. Eventually, full time work became habit, an emotional and mental commitment that seemed as needed as air.
It’s been years now. I don’t need the time cards anymore. I’m a full time artist with a part time job to pay the bills. People, especially other artists, often ask, “Do you ever sleep?” I smile and say, “Of course!” Secretly, I know how I differ from them. I put in forty hours a week! Naturally, I have something to show for it!
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Viva Cuba Libre
collage watermedia painting Gayle Gerson, CO, USA
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 Susan Greer of CA, USA, who wrote, “Don’t forget the Pomodoro iPhone app. I use it regularly and find it an effective time management tool, just as you mentioned. You can even opt for it to tick like the real thing.”
And also John Siberell who wrote, “Just in time — you read my mind. Nothing seems to be getting done here! I will give it a try.”
Enjoy the past comments below for The Pomodoro Technique…