A Contract with Creativity: 5 Tips on Time for Art

I am secretly annoyed when people ask me “How do you do it?”  I have a job.  I make art.

My first thought is that any young mother is ten times as busy as I am.  It’s just that she doesn’t get the public accolades of an art show.  Her project is her child.  How do young mothers do it?

Here are a few hard-won ideas on how to make time for art.

  1. Do your art first, before anything else.  Use your best time of day.  Twice a week I go to the studio and work from 6AM to 7:30, then go to work.  I have an alarm clock set in the studio to remind me to leave, just in case I enter flow time or art trance.
  2. Keep notebooks everywhere, not just in your home or studio.  That’s right, have duplicate or triplicate notebooks.  You can do some studio time in a notebook, but it has to be there.  Sketch and write down poetry, daily junk, and ideas. It’s not important which notebook is your art notebook and which is a daily journal.  Mix them up.  The important thing is writing in them.
  3. Remember that even if you had more time, you wouldn’t necessarily do more art in it.  Work in what you have right now, rather than get lost in a resentful dream state about your “other” imaginary life, which has both more time and more money, and in which you are better-looking.  This is easier said than done.
  4. Make a contract with yourself or another person.  That’s what the Caerus Artist Residency is all about: a simple support structure for art time and work for two weeks.

    Caerus, god of opportunity.

    Impose a commitment and yes, gasp, a few limitations on time and energy.  Be accountable to yourself and a few other people as well.

  5. Stop work when the painting (or your art form) is going well.  Leave it in a good place.  Do not work until crazed exhaustion and retinal eye spots begin to appear.  If you stop when your time is over, and the work is going well, you’ll have an eager feeling when you hit the studio again.  JUST PUT THE PAINTING DOWN AND LEAVE THE ROOM.

Don’t over-dramatize or over-romanticize the time needed for art.  Routine is not a dirty word for creative work.  It’s the fuse for the fireworks.  I know you know this already.  Just sayin’.

Book recommendation:  I found The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield  incredibly useful.  We make war on our own resistance.  Though I don’t like war and warriors as a metaphor, he uses it beautifully, and it’s one of the best books on artistic discipline I’ve ever found.

I liked this recent article by Aimee Bender called “A Contract of  One’s own.  You can read it here.  Both authors are professional writers.  I’ve often wondered about the difference in time needed for writing and painting.  Painting, I found, requires more time and more “stuff.”  Anyone else have an opinion on this?

20 comments

  1. Opinions are us! I think one can create a short bit of writing (haiku, short poem, song) in a relatively short period of time, but a book, a memoir, a novel, often takes seven to ten years of work, so I wouldn’t say writing takes less time as a rule. It does take less stuff: pen, paper or computer and consciousness. Very portable. Whether your art takes a lot of stuff depends on what kind of art you do. My art takes just a little more than writing: same paper and pen, acquarelles, tubes of watercolor or gouache, a few paintbrushes. But some people are sculptors and need literal tons of marble or granite. Writing is faster for me than painting, but finished work is slower in the writing realm.

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    1. Excellent point, Sharyn. I confess– I didn’t think at all about how long it takes to finish a book overall. My education continues! As painters, we are ALWAYS asked the question, “How long did this take?” It’s a sort of sore spot with us, as it really did take the sum of our practice and education and skills to produce a particular work.

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  2. I didn’t know it, but I am already using the five steps – especially the one about the notebooks! I have ’em everywhere, and sometimes I can’t find the one with the cluster or list that I want, so I have to do it over. I like the way you articulated them, too!
    I will look into the book – maybe today when I go to Guerneville for the Walk.

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  3. I ordered the War of Art book from the library as per your suggestion. As per your question. . .I curl up with my writing but painting takes a fair amount of physical energy and stamina.

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  4. Thoughtful post! Time and money are frequent excuses — though they can be mitigators, they should never be barriers. When Arthur Dove was too poor to even purchase watercolors — he made a collage using his wife’s hair for red.

    I love your notebooks — perhaps you might post an image of a random page so all might see the inner workings of the mind of the artist. I try to keep my notations more as images than words.

    It is so true about the “how long did this take” question. I have to respond — my whole life.

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      1. Would love to see your notebook project. Are you familiar with the Sketchbook Project? I did it one year…..artists are send a blank one to fill in on deadline, then sent to Brooklyn Art Library for permanent collection. Folks can check them out just like in a library…
        Here’s a link to mine:
        http://www.sketchbookproject.com/users/acoustic59/artwork
        They go on tour around the country (like the bookmobile of our youth) too and can digitize the drawings….

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  5. Time for art… I think there are a few people who don’t have time. My daughter with 5 children, aged 17 to 4, does not have time for art. She is the exception, I think. The rest of us have varying capability of using the time available. I have VERY MUCH TIME, few obligations in my life, by design. And I am working toward being more mindful (yes there’s that word again!) about how I use my time. One thing I’ve decided is that I need to manage my intensity. So I am practicing *stopping.* This evening I stopped before dinner. I have other things to work on after dinner. But even if I didn’t, one of my true goals is to balance my priorities, because when I am balanced, I am most powerful.

    Thanks…

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    1. Yes, I agree. Yet we all have time, the same 24 hours. Your sister chooses to spend the time with her precious children. I like the idea of managing intensity to avoid burning out. I enjoy talking to you… as for me, I have abandoned balance as an ideal, because it just produced another level of guilt when I couldn’t achieve it. I think we are in a state of permanent imbalance and need to manage that! You always make me think, Melanie, even if it is in contrary ways!

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