Artists-- How to Schedule,
Plan, Use Your Studio Time
A key to surviving as an artist is to work everyday-- not when you feel like it, not when inspiration strikes, but according to a schedule that you create and follow. Being an artist is a fulltime job just like any other profession. In order to achieve success, you either have to get serious about making art or find another calling. So let's take a look at where you make art, how you go about making it, and at those countless hours you'd better be spending diligently drudging away, producing loads and loads of quality work.
The endgame here is figuring out how to effectively manage your work time and channel your creative energies, thereby maximizing the value of your aesthetic stock. You are the one in control, your own boss, the one who organizes your time, makes your own inspiration, and decides when to go to work.
First off, you need a specific location for making art. Whether you rent a studio, carve out a space in your home or apartment, or find some other solution, this becomes your office, your headquarters. Having a dedicated area with everything you need for making art is essential, a place where you focus totally on your work every time you go there, with zero diversions or distractions.
Now that you've got your art-making space, make yourself a schedule. Optimally, you want to work every day at set times, not when you're in the mood, not in your spare time, not when there's nothing better to do, but according to a timetable that you decide on. Always remember-- being an artist is a fulltime job; treat it like one.
Keeping an irregular or undisciplined schedule has no upside whatsoever, especially if there are significant gaps between the times you make art. Stay away from making art for too long and you lose your thread, your focus. Come into the studio after an extended leave and you'll wonder, "Now where was I? What was I working on?" Trying to figure out where you left off, assuming that's even possible, takes up valuable time and energy. Plus the longer you're away, the more out of practice you get.
At this point some artists might ask, "Why go to the studio if I'm not feeling inspired or have nothing new to work on?" The answer to that question is simple: You go in order to establish and maintain a regular routine. If you can't think of anything to work on, practice skills or techniques that can use improvement. Watch instructional videos or read about art history. Sketch out ideas or subject matters that interest you, whether they have anything to do with your current work or not. It makes little difference what you spend the time on as long as you're there spending it on something having to do with your art.
If you've never disciplined yourself to work like this before, you might have to force things at the start. Coming to work on time and getting busy may be a pain, but the more you get used to being there, the easier the ideas, inspirations and work will flow. Sooner or later, you'll look forward to your studio time rather than make excuses about why to avoid it. Once those creative juices get flowing, the ideas will come, your to-do list will lengthen, and you'll get more and more excited producing new work. So don't worry if things seem tough at first. All that will pass. I promise.
Your studio is your "factory", the place where you make your art, but it's also your laboratory. You go there not only to focus on your current work, but also to experiment with new mediums, applications, ideas, compositions, types, styles, methods and even ideological aspects of creating. Allowing yourself complete freedom to create-- both to succeed and to fail-- inevitably leads to confidence and certainty about the direction of your art and career. Through the painstaking process of trial and error, you discover where your strengths lie, what you want to pursue, where you want to go, and what's better left by the wayside.
One of the goals of the "research and development" process is to establish and solidify a sense of mission or purpose to your art. Many artists start out basically making art at random, spending their studio time with no definitive plan or agenda like, "I think I'll make one of these, then I'll make one of those, then I'll make one like this," and so on. Now randomness is fine, don't get me wrong. Exploring the vast expanses of your creative muse and letting your artistic inclinations run wild is integral to your evolution and success as an artist. But sooner or later, you better begin to zero in on the essence of what you're about as an artist, and what you want to share and communicate to the world with your art.
Some of you might take issue here, maintaining that making whatever you want to make whenever you want to make it is the only true path to artistic freedom and expression. And in a way it is. But if you want to show your work in public at some point, and in particular, impact or connect with viewers in some way, you have to make sure we can understand and appreciate what you're doing and why you're doing it. You see, the problem with the "I make whatever I make" approach is that you risk producing a disjointed or difficult-to-understand body of work. Having no clear direction or connection between one work and the next might be too much for many of us to overcome.
This is how people typically respond to a body of work like this, often with confusion, and unwilling or unable to invest the time or energy to sort through it all in search of order or meaning. But it's not their fault if they give up. It's yours. You are the one responsible for making sense of your art, for organizing and presenting it in ways that get us involved. In other words, you have to dedicate your work time to thinking about the bigger picture as well as to individual works, about your plan or system or whatever you want to call it for tying everything together.
So how do you get from disjointed to unified? The answer takes us right back to the studio and how you make use of your time. For example, while in the process of random creation or experimentation, monitor yourself and pay attention to how your mind works. Take mental or physical notes, maybe even talk out loud and record yourself as you go. Think about what you're doing while you're doing it. Put yourself in a frame of mind where even accidents or unexpected encounters can become the beginnings of something great.
Continually ask yourself what's going on. "What am I doing and why am I doing it? Why is the art looking the way it is? What fascinates or intrigues me most about it? What might I want to investigate or elaborate on further? What catches my attention? How does one work relate to the next? What types of concepts, ideas, subject matters, mediums, compositions, styles or techniques might be worth exploring further?" Also pay attention to what doesn't work, what gets you nowhere, what you could you care less about following up on after trying it once or twice.
By maintaining a constant awareness of you're doing, you're better prepared to pick up on those magic moments-- whatever they may be-- that intrigue you to the point where you want to look closer, learn more, make more, and evolve your art into cohesive coherent series or stand-alone bodies of work. Creating unified bodies of work really gets you in touch and informed about what you're doing, where you're headed, and above all, about how to convey whatever it is you want to convey in an increasingly compelling and convincing manner. And it's good for us too. The more chances you give us to get your point, the more of us will get it.
Some artists may recoil here, saying they don't want to get locked into an assembly line type of production, painting or sculpting the same thing over and over again. But that's not what this is about. It's more like looking at something under a microscope. The closer you look, the more you see, the better you get to know it, the more effectively you are able nuance each subsequent piece of art, the more convincingly you can get your point across, and the more profoundly you can involve with the results.
You become crystal clear about your motivations and intentions, why you produce the art that you do, where you're coming from and where you're going. You get so genuinely and passionately involved that you become like an expert, a teacher-- with your art becoming your means of imparting knowledge and introducing us to new perspectives and ways of looking at things. People love art that embodies these levels of depth, commitment and vision, and welcome it into their lives. Guaranteed.
Those of you who have little or no experience with this approach may have to force yourself at the outset, but once you begin thinking in terms of overarching ideas and bodies of related works as opposed to one at a time, the rest will come naturally. Sooner or later, whether by accident or by design, you'll latch onto some notion or concept or idea that you'll want to devote some serious time to creating art around. When you reach this point-- and just to make sure you don't fall into old behavior patterns or wander off on tangents-- you might want to write up a statement, an outline, a plan, or a set of guidelines or parameters to keep yourself focused and on the path.
As for all that leftover art that seemed like such good ideas at the time, but simply doesn't fit with the master plan-- those dead ends, false starts, misfires and other calamities that just plain didn't work for you-- file them away in the catacombs. Out of sight, out of mind. Maybe dust them off every once in a while to see whether they have more potential than you initially thought. Some just might.
In the meantime, stick with what works, with the best of the best, the art you're proudest of showing. That's what you want to share with others, and what those countless hours you spend making art are all about. Now get back to the studio; it's work time...
In case you're ever interested, I consult with artists professionally on all aspects of their art and art careers. Interested in my services? Have questions? Want to make an appointment? Call me at 415.931.7875 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
(art by Rex Ray)
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