My last letter triggered responses from artists who said that they needed regimentation in order to produce. To many of us “regimented artist” is an oxymoron. We prefer to float through our lives and our creativity. I’ve found that a small amount of regimentation heads off procrastination and vegetation. It’s not necessary to be regimented all the time — perish the thought — but occasional periods of examination will shine a light on the faulty areas. One way you can do this is to keep a daily account for a few days. The following is my record from last Friday. Items such as “working on the large one” are cumulative; that is, the time was added over several work periods during the day. Small drift-offs such as looking out the window, moving the sprinkler and other misdemeanors are not included in the inventory. This represents the 16 waking hours between 6 AM and 10 PM:
Working on the large one: 1 hr 50 minutes
Checking, sending emails, etc: 40 minutes
Visiting with Denise (dealer) in studio: 10 minutes
Helping Therese edit clickback: 20 minutes
Working on several small ones: 1 hr 5 minutes
Phoning: 1 hr 35 minutes (some of it while working)
Eating, nibbling, grazing: 20 minutes
Playing with the dogs generally: 30 minutes (est.)
Contemplating: 45 minutes
Helping Al with boat: 1 hr
Performing domestic duties: 15 minutes
Reading: 25 minutes
Office impedimenta, mail, etc: 20 minutes
Visiting hospital (including driving): 1 hr 35 minutes
Walking Emily and Dorothy: 20 minutes
Sushi with Diana and Carol: 1 hr 15 minutes
If you’re concerned about your own habits, give it a try for a few days. Use a kitchen timer. Here I see that my easel time is lower than it has been. This may be due to the “avoidance activities,” which crop up in cycles. I talk on the phone a bit too much and often find that my fellow artists are painting. This bothers me. Also, if I add up the hours and minutes that I can be accountable for, what was I doing the rest of my time? I’m sorry to report that those hours and minutes have slipped down behind my easel and are lost forever.
PS: “I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see.” (John Burroughs) “Plan like a turtle; paint like a rabbit.” (Edgar A Whitney)
Esoterica: When I was in college a friend of mine, Russ Gurney, told me he had found the solution: “Cut out sleeping,” he suggested. This has always seemed to me to be a practical idea. Wish I could keep it up. What I have largely eliminated are TV, sit-down eating except for restaurants or dinners at home, and golf.
The following are selected correspondence arising from the above and other letters. Thanks for writing.
by Olinda Everett, Sao Paulo, Brazil
Besides having to overcome the normal tendency towards staring out of the window, moving the sprinkler and other misdemeanors, I also have to negotiate around people’s expectations. This being that a “stay at home” wife and mother is, by definition, someone who is in need of being invited out to lunch, outings to the botanical gardens, has to attend the monthly neighborhood meeting on garbage collection or a talk on the impact of weather patterns on the Amazonian crocodile and award prizes to the best pansy in the garden show. I need to have a very strict fence around my art time, and to make it known to others that, if something does not happen on Tuesdays between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., I am out. For all of us, I think it is necessary to have at least some part of the week unalterably dedicated to work, bar catastrophes and family holidays. Even a half day per week, will put in place some continuity necessary to push forward the ongoing vein of possibility. So, when you put your chisel down and dust the table you know that this time next week you will be tackling that particular surface again with a fresh eye and the benefit of a thinking interval.
The Sheherazade method
by Kelly Borsheim, Cedar Creek, TX, USA
I was taught to look at the work and ask, “What bothers me the most?” Then go fix that. Repeat the cycle as needed. When I find that things are not going as well as I would like (and often even when they are), I use the advice of setting up my next step at the end of each day’s work. I mark the stone where it needs to be cut next. I quickly dab on a contrasting and exaggerated tone over the one that I am unhappy with in the painting and purposely do not fix it until the next morning. I think of this as the “Sheherazade method.” The dangler at the end of the day leaves me in anticipation of the next visit and can save one’s life.
Blocks of time
by Linda K. Blondheim, Florida, USA
I seem to do very well with painting for blocks of time during my week. Not necessarily every day. I am a plein air painter so there are certain days that I work on location and other times that I spend doing marketing, framing, hanging shows, etc. A great deal of time is spent at marketing.
Love your space
by Cassandra James, Austin, Texas, USA
On the subject of scheduling, I think the key is carving out dedicated studio time and being sure that the studio is a pleasant, stimulating place to be. This studio environment is one of those process elements that I’ve identified that has a huge impact on being productive. I WANT to be there and it’s better for me to paint consistently every day, even if it’s for only a couple of hours, than to paint in binge spurts. Even though I’m up early, I work into the mornings slowly and use that time (when light in the studio is a bit too hot) to clear the decks – phone stuff, email, walks, appointments, correspondence, errands. When I go to the studio after lunch and a nap, I’m in it for the long haul and don’t feel nearly as distracted. I can safely ignore the phone unless I’m at a stopping point anyway if I’ve taken care of urgent business earlier in the day. I’ve worked on this schedule so long that if I’m not in the studio by 2:00 latest I start to feel really itchy and horribly guilty. I’ll take short breaks and read during studio hours, but otherwise, that’s dedicated time.
Painting and golf
by Phyllis Steimel, N Carolina, USA
I have noted that while on a golf course, I see paintings to be painted and have little concentration on the game. Following an expensive 18 hole round, I remember the frustrations and go home with nothing to show for my efforts. Time spent at my easel is far more rewarding.
Plans one does not plan
by Yaroslaw Rozputnyak, Moscow, Russia
It appears, at planning it is necessary to plan troubles: small troubles like the broken water crane, door lock, door bell and computer monitor and large troubles like heart attack, paralysis, madness, sting by a mad animal and all possible consequences of large troubles, like of absence of money and close relatives and the funeral of the artist-monitorist, who was bitten by a mad doggy right here on Moscow street and at him the computer monitor has blown up, but he absolutely did not plan it.
I don’t have a kitchen timer
by Faith Puelston, Wetter, Germany
8 a.m. Squinted at a boring half-finished portrait of the gray tabby cat. Awful. Cheered up at the thought that Picasso liked to recycle his canvases several times, and not just because he was poor! Squeezed out some acrylic paint on my airtight microwave dish (marvelous for keeping colours moist). What shall I paint? Have about 10 canvases waiting for further “editing.”
8.15 p.m. Dabbed at the cat picture for about 10 minutes then decided it was a lost cause and covered it in a burnt umbra-vermilion mix. A great improvement. Then did a 5 minute storm landscape using the colours on the palette – mainly primaries. Actually managed to stop before I messed it up and will add threatening black tree silhouettes later. There’s always tomorrow!
(RG note) Thank you to everyone who sent in schedules and hour-by-hour records of their personal accountability.
by June Raabe, Vancouver Island, Canada
You’ve hit a subject that is the obsession of my days. As a wife and mom of six I said “wait ’til the kids are grown” THEN I will paint. Fortunately the passion welled up and I didn’t wait. I painted when they went to school, let the dishes lie in the sink, ignored the dust balls, everything until they came drifting home. Then the palette and brushes went on top of the fridge. I have tried over the years to make my memory a camera, (unsuccessfully!) thinking that I MUST capture the moment when there’s nothing handy for notes. I hoped that in this way I have stored some ideas and techniques to later work out a composition. Years later I swore that now alone I “would paint everyday.” It didn’t happen. Other passions got in the way, volunteer work, involvement in hospitals and health. Now I ruefully admit to myself that I haven’t even much time to become Grandma Moses! Now computers have also got in the way. I flit from this to that, and now wonder if this is “age,” but I know better. It’s the easily distracted temperament I have wandered through life with. I keep flitting from this to that, guilt trailing me like a web, and always striving to behave a little bit better. So here I am. Me of the scrambled brain trying to cram everything into my lifetime. I am scared to try your idea of keeping track of the moments because I know I have been wasting hours, doing anything but paint. Perhaps I will try and keep track and try to squeeze in more moments for the artists’ muse. At least I have a justification for the digital camera I bought myself for Christmas and the computer. This camera is going to provide me with subjects for the art gallery’s next challenge, “wildlife”… mine will be DUCKS. I am not sure if I can come up with a Monet inspired water lily creation though. Oops, with all this I forgot breakfast and it’s mid morning already and upstairs my PAINTING awaits!
(RG note) Action comes easier when you go to work on a microcosm. “Ducks” is an excellent idea. “I decided to become an authority on beans.” (Henry David Thoreau) See letter and note below.
Too many thoughts
by Adrienne Renee, Springtown, Texas, USA
I am one of those very unorganized types, who knows she has things, and can never find them. I am a pack rat, but instead of putting things away and remembering where they were, I have to have it out so I can see it and not forget, or I will go and buy the supplies again or whatever. I am finding at times, it is very self-defeating and at other times I am grateful for it. But the dilemma I am facing now is…I will be out and about and there are too many ideas swirling through my head. I create an agenda of things I want to get done when I get home and in the studio, but then, almost as soon as I walk in, I feel the energy or the mood to do those things sucked right out of me and the procrastination begins. I just do not know why I have this occurrence in my mind or spirit lately when it comes to my work. Do you have any suggestions?
(RG note) Been there, done that, made the video. It’s a sort of self-defeating lethargy the hits you when you enter the studio. I notice it particularly after spectacular trips when I’m brimming with ideas that just cry for exploration. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s the mind’s way of prioritizing. I take some trouble to make notes and force myself to begin on one or two of the more promising — or lesser, projects. This primes the pump; other projects follow, work flows. It has always surprised me that some of my most wonderful ideas are quickly found impractical or unworthy when I start to play with them in the studio. It’s a kind of edit and I find it’s a healthy creative tool. But basically the answer is: simply make yourself start work and do not suffer lazy habits for long. I say to myself, “Hey, I’ve got character here.”
When procrastination begins, ask yourself if you might have a fear that you are inadequate for the task — that the task itself will bring only further disappointment. This is where the lesser of tasks comes in. Start with something you know you can complete with some degree of quality. In other words, trick yourself into building self-confidence. Also, take a look at what the fear of success may bring. Some of us are stuck with the deep-seated attitude that “This is too good for me to have.”
With regard to the messy pack-rat thing — some of us file spatially and others alphabetically or numerically. I’m in the first camp, with you. Spatial filers have a comfort that accountants know not of. Apart from ADD and all the other excuses, spatial filing is particularly prevalent in sentimental people, like a lot of us artists.
Steps on my journey
by Mary Jean Mailloux, Oakville, Ontario, Canada
There are at least 4 responses to the last letter, “The inner artist” which represent my own sentiments about painting. Even though some pieces will never be sold, and they are not what I intended to do when I started the work, they are steps on my journey. I rarely throw work out. It is after all an investment in time and energy and my search for self expression. I am always learning. Sometimes when I review pieces I did twenty years ago, I realize that I was hyper critical in my assessment. One cannot necessarily judge one’s own work with objectivity. If you aspire to be Renoir, or Van Gogh and you do not meet that objective, is your work unsuccessful?
1938 Bentley — A Work of Art
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 100 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2002.
That includes “anonymous” who wrote, “Whoa. You aren’t spending nearly enough time ‘performing domestic duties.’ Modern men help out.”
And Jocelyn Goodman who wrote, “Wish I could hire a wife… I have a husband like you… he spends about that amount of time each day on ‘domestic duties’” (RG note) And that included brushing my teeth. I did better on Saturday and Sunday. But I’m not yet ready to share the actual totals because of the backlash. Thanks to everyone who protested. In defense, we have help.