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  • Artists - How to Schedule, Plan and

    Use Your Studio Time



    A key component 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 work. The endgame here is figuring out how to effectively manage 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 structures your time, makes your own inspiration and decides when to go to work.

    First off, you need a place to make 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 place for making art is essential, a place where you focus totally on your work every time you go there, with no other options or distractions.

    Now that you've got your studio space, make yourself a schedule and go to work every day at set times, not when you feel the urge, not when inspiration strikes, not in your spare time, but according to whatever timetable you decide on. Always remember-- being an artis 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. You come into the studio after an extended leave and wonder, "Where was I? What was I working on?" You have to retool the machine and get back to where you left off, assuming that's even possible. And that takes valuable time and energy away from making the art you care most about.

    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. At worst, you might have to force yourself at first, but the more used you get to being there, the easier the ideas and inspirations will flow. Sooner or later, you'll have so much on your to-do list that you'll look forward to your studio time rather than make excuses about why to avoid it.

    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 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 true artistic freedom and expression. And perhaps it is-- for you, but not necessarily for us. This is assuming you want to show your work in public, and in particular, impress, impact or connect with viewers in some way. You see, the problem with the "I make whatever I want to make whenever I want to make it" approach is that you risk producing a disjointed or unrelated body of work. Spending your studio time doing one-offs might be satisfying in the moment, but in the long run gets you nowhere fast. It's like starting over again every single time you make a new piece of art. You might understand the progression perfectly, but chances are good that we won't.

    How do people typically respond to art that's made like this? Often with confusion, and unwilling to invest the time or energy to sift through it all in search of order or meaning. But it's not their fault if they give up. It's your responsibility to make sense of your art, to organize and present it in ways people can understand and appreciate, or better yet, to make that order apparent through the look of the work and how the individual pieces relate to one another. In other words, think about producing your art according to a plan or system or whatever you want to call it-- one that people can identify with.

    So how do you get there from here? 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 the unfolding experience. Take mental or physical notes, maybe even talk to 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. Why is the art looking the way it is? What fascinates or intrigues you most about it? What might you want to investigate or elaborate on further? What catches your attention? What types of concepts, ideas, subject matters, mediums, compositions, styles or techniques might be worth exploring more in depth? On the other hand, what doesn't work, what gets you nowhere, what could you care less about following up on after trying it once or twice?

    The main reason for maintaining this level of awareness is to keep an eye out for that special something-- whatever it may be-- that intrigues you to the point where you want to look closer, learn more, present from various perspectives, and evolve 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. 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 at all 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 the viewer. You become crystal clear about your motivations and intentions, and why you produce the art that you do. 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 new ways of looking at things. People love art that embodies these levels 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 work 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 into irrelevancies-- 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 art that leftover art 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. But that's about it.

    One thing you don't want to do is throw them up on your web site or social media pages or take them public in other ways. Resist the urge to show every work of art you've ever made. You know what happens when you do? You confuse people, yourself included, about what you do, where you're going, and who you are as an artist. Stick with what works, with the best of the best. That's what you 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...

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    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 alanb@artbusiness.com
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    (art by Rex Ray)

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