As an artist, I try to make something every day. Imagine it. I walk into my studio when the mood strikes, sit down, am flooded with ideas, and then I effortlessly turn all of those ideas into art.
Except it doesn’t work that way. I find nothing short-circuits my art better than lack of planning. In order to create, I need structure, or it’s too easy to pop down one of the many rabbit holes that I stumble over throughout the day. If I want to create, first I have to get organized. I organize my thoughts, my time, my family priorities, and my space. Here’s what works for me.
I Bullet Journal the Heck Outta My Day
I’ve been bullet journaling since mid-May 2016. (As of this writing, about three months.) This is about using a notebook and pen and a list to keep me on task. I use the basic bujo formula detailed in this video. In my bullet journal I take notes on research I’m doing, I keep lists of potential blog posts, and I make sketches of paintings or any art-related ideas I have. I keep a detailed daily task list. I make the task list each night so I don’t have to wonder what I’m doing the next morning. I work from my list and fill in my box when I’ve finished a task. I carry it with me when I’m out so I can stay on target. It has been a game changer for me in these past few months as I’ve prepared all of my documentation to request a show and to submit the grant I’m writing.
Why do I like it? All of my brain dump is in one notebook. Why do I not use my phone? I don’t keep lists well on my phone. There’s something really visceral about keeping a paper list that works for me. And who doesn’t like the feeling of marking off a finished item? Pencil and paper for this task is just flat out easier for me.
For further reading on bullet journaling, I recommend this Bullet Journal Article by Kim Werker. She has several posts where she’s tried out bujo and other systems. She shares the no-nonsense approach I embrace to keeping a notebook. Also, check out the comments on that post because there are several good bujo hacks.
I Make Mental Space for What I Want to Work On
If you are doing brain-intensive, creative tasks, when during the day are you the most creative? For me, I get creative stuff done well in the morning. I’ve been working the past few months on keeping a block of creative studio time in the mornings: two to three hours of music turned up loud, no social media pinging, head down and working. The work can be a lot of different things for me. Sometimes it’s art journaling. Sometimes I’m making books. Sometimes I’m working on a commission. Sometimes I’m working on a piece of art that I’m interested in pursing. Sometimes it’s cleaning up the space so I can do all of those other things. (I find when I clean, I find materials I want to use that have been covered up in the natural ebb and flow of work in my small space.)
But what if you have an out-of-the-house job? That’s a tough one. You are gonna have to get creative. But you are awesome at being creative, so get to it!
- Can you get up an hour earlier?
- Can you turn off the tv for an hour in the evening?
- Can you make yourself a travel kit and a bagged lunch and work during your lunch break?
My husband and I have the “No TV for an Hour” rule when we are are working on projects that have upcoming deadlines. We are just as addicted to marathon watching “Parks and Recreation” as the next couple, but sometimes we’ve gotta get some work done, and sitting in front of the tv isn’t cutting it. So after the kids are in bed, we set a timer and go to our work spaces. At the end of the week, we’ve spent seven hours on our projects. That’s a whole bunch of time spent on something we love. Bonus: when our hour is up, we still watch “Parks and Rec”!
While working in the morning works best for me, if you set up a schedule, your brain and body will get used to showing up for that time slot. I always think of the Picasso quote when I think about this part of my work:
Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.
What does balance look like for my family? Fortunately, my children go to excellent public schools five minutes from my house. So after everyone clambers onto their respective buses, I spend some time in my studio in the mornings. Yes, my kids ride the bus even though school is close and the bus ride is lengthy. The bus is already-paid-for transportation that I would unnecessarily duplicate driving them to school. They love the bus because they socialize with their friends and decompress from school, and they often get their homework done to boot. I get to avoid the car line, which makes me feel like a prisoner waiting for a firing squad. It’s a win all the way around.
Midday, I take care of errands and chores and try to grab another hour or so in the studio after lunch to concentrate on my website and social media and all the other business-building of modern commerce. Once my daughter arrives home from elementary school, I try to have things wrapped up for the day so I can spend some one-on-one time with her. My son makes it home from middle school an hour later. We do all the usual rounds of homework, dinner prep, and after-school activities a couple days a week.
On weekends, I still spend an hour or so in the studio each day, but I am often accompanied by my daughter. She paints, draws, and glues alongside me. My son would rather play video games or fold origami, so he’s less inclined to venture into the splatter zone of my workspace. He will occasionally lean in and ask why I’m making a thing in a certain way, and once I’ve satisfied him with my answer, he’s off to bury his head in his origami again.
I’m pleased that my kids are seeing me morph from their mom who likes to make things into their mom who is also building a small business around her creative work. I think there’s something powerful in children seeing their parents solve problems and come up with solutions to their lives’ questions. I think it’s vitally important for children to know their parents are ever evolving: studying, learning, and growing in some of the same ways they are experiencing as young people in school, but guided by our own internal motivation and direction. I want them to be able to face the challenges of their own futures with a growth mindset. I like to think they are seeing me model those things.
I hear you saying, “But I don’t have that kind of time.” I get it. I have a huge luxury of time. I recognize this and am very thankful for it. I also recognize that not everyone wants a creative business. Once again, you will have to get creative. Where can you trim your schedule? Social media and tv are the two biggest time sucks I deal with. How much time would you have for creativity if you spent only half of your usual amount on social media and tv? Can your kids pitch in with some (or more) house chores? Can you make a date with yourself on Saturdays for two hours to do the thing you love? Have a conversation with your significant other and let them know that you are interested in finding some time for this. Maybe that conversation will be all it takes.
While I do have a huge luxury of time, I’ve made a huge mental shift in how I think about it this year. I’ve gone from thinking “I’m a stay-at-home mom who runs the business of a busy household and also does art” to “I’m becoming a full-time artist who is also a stay-at-home mom.” Never underestimate the story you tell yourself about what you do.
We have an extra bedroom in our house that was designated “The Office” when we moved in. I share it with my husband. And by share I mean, he has a desk where he stores stuff and his half of the shelves have his stuff on them. I have the rest, which probably amounts to more than half but less than three-quarters of the room. I have a desk where my computer and printer are. I have a cutting mat and a big ruler, a printer, bins of paper, and my handy dandy bullet journal here. I call this area the dry work area. Then I have a folding table that I set up when I started my Make Something Every Day project, and that’s where I paint and glue and generally make a mess. I call this the wet work area. Sometime in the past two years I’ve transitioned from calling this room “The Office” to “My Studio.” What’s changed? Again, not much except my mindset.
When I started to Make Something Every Day, I started daydreaming about a real studio: converting our garage into my work space or building something in the backyard for me to use. I chafed at the cramped space I had. I was more than a little put out that I had such a small space. I looked at too many studio magazines. Clearly, I need a standing desk and four walls of open shelving to get good work done. The Get Messy Art Journaling folks have a Facebook group page where we chat about different things. A few months ago, someone asked for everyone to snap a work space selfie. Several people said they worked on their kitchen counter, on their kitchen table, or on their coffee table. Suddenly, I looked at my space in a whole new way. I have two desks! And I can leave my things out all the time! I don’t have to move my art work to literally put dinner on the table.
Two weeks ago, I did a clean out because my computer backup drive failed. I removed an older printer and a whole snake’s nest of cables from underneath my desk. This caused a cascade of tidying that I hadn’t had the opportunity to do in a long time. Now not only do I have more work space on my desk (the old printer was a monolith!), I put out some favorite tchotchkes and suddenly I am thrilled to be in my space. It feels like home in a way I’m not sure I’ve ever had.
If you can manage any sort of permanent area for your work, do it. Set up a lamp. Put out a favorite picture. Make it an inviting space where you are going to want to spend some time. If a corner of the kitchen table is what you have, then colonize it with gusto! If you give pride of place to the creative work you love, you’re going to be excited to show up there and work.
These are a few organizational tools that work for me. It may seem counterintuitive, but in order to be my most creative I also have to be my most organized. Once I have all my systems down, my mind is free to do the real work of being creative. I no longer have to keep reinventing the wheel in order to start the artistic journey. If you’re finding it hard to fit creativity into your life, feel free to try these hacks. If you have a system that works for you, please share it in the comments.