Starting an art practice can be daunting. Here are my best tips and ideas to help get you set up for a sustainable practice. Make time to make time. This is second in my series on How to Create Your Art Practice.
“I don’t have time!”
“My days are so full of work and kid care and and and…”
“Where do you find the time to do all of that.”
I hear these and variations of these a lot. People ask how I have the time to make art. I’m an artist so of course I have time for making art! But I didn’t start out that way. I started with 20 minutes a day.
Many days I set a 20 minute timer and when the bell rang, I got up and walked away. I had elementary age kids and I had so many other tasks and duties that demanded my attention. Once I tried working early before they were out of bed (ok, only once but I tried it!). I tried working after they went to bed, I was too brain fried and frazzled. Then I tried a set time while they were at school. I tried so many options until I hit a rhythm that worked for me. And I let some things slide. I delegated some things. And I just flat out said no to some things. My partner recognized what I wanted and was supportive in helping me make it work.
I recognize I’ve had it easier than some folks will in setting up time to make art. Getting creative with the schedule is the first step to getting creative for many folks. Just keep working on it until you find something that works. Starting and not quitting is the goal.
20 Minutes a Day
If you’ve ever heard me talk about making art, you’ve heard me talk about my 20 minutes a day beginnings. I talk about 20 minutes a day a lot. A whole lot. But it was so foundational to the start and continuation of my practice. I will die on the 20-minutes-a-day hill. Turning out work consistently (every day) and then assessing it, will help you improve. You will learn what you like and what you don’t. You will skill build and expand your stamina. I find the brain work of practicing to be very tiring so if you are like me, 20 minutes a day will be the most you can do on many, many days. But staying with it and coming back to it every day helps push those limits.
Even if all you do for 20 minutes is push paint around on the paper, that counts! You cut out pictures from a magazine that you like to start your image bank, that counts! Maybe you picked out a pattern you want to crochet and found yarn you like to make it with, it counts! You got a giant piece of newsprint and scribbled and drew around your hand and made animals out of your scribble hands, totally counts! (OOH, save that for later so you can collage with it!!)
This is a great place to consult your list you made from last week’s post and try some things.
The best thing about the 20 minutes a day practice is that you are showing up for yourself by making your creative time a priority. Making art has so many health benefits and it just makes us feel good! Who doesn’t want more of that!!
In the beginning, I recommend you absolutely start with a 20 minute timer. And just keep moving and making during that time but once the timer goes off, stop and get up and go do something else. Some days that 20 minutes will be all you have time for or that you will want to do. That’s ok. Life happens and you have a to do list that looks like Santa rolled out his list of names.
But some days 20 minutes won’t feel like enough. Those are the days I love to chase. When you are just getting into it and you are feeling the joy of making when the timer goes off and then you get to DEFY it by going on and making some more art! Sneaking around and making art. Look at you, you rebel.
Build it into your schedule
This too will take some experimentation. Does anyone have enough time to do all the things? I don’t think so. Figuring out how to build your 20 minutes a day into your schedule will yield results over time though. Keeping it scheduled at roughly the same time every day can help defend against missing it because you ran out of time or gas at the end of the day.
Years ago while my partner was still in school and it was crunch time for him we started a thing called Project Hour. Instead of our nightly watching tv and vegging out, we spent an hour working on a project. He was working on school work, projects, grading, dissertation prep and I had various craft or computer projects happening. But every night after dinner, we would turn off the tv and work for an hour. At the end of the week, we had put in five hours on our projects! We still do Project Hour sometimes when we are working on big projects.
An hour sounds like a lot when you are already scheduled to the max. That’s why when I started this project, I began with 20 minutes. My kids were 5 and 8 when I started 20 minutes a day. They were at school during the day. I volunteered at their school and our church, I did freelance graphic design, and I managed our household. I was busy. So I had to figure out how to shoehorn the 20 minutes a day into the schedule.
Having a space set up for your 20 minutes a day is a big part of this too. That’s why I mentioned it in the post last week. If your materials are already set up and ready to go, it allows you to walk into your workspace and just start! If you have to get everything out and set up and then put it all away at the end, you can spend your 20 minutes just on set up and tear down. And again, it doesn’t have to be a big space! My work space is 12 feet by 6 feet. I have tons of shelving and two desks in that space. It is extremely tight but when I’m in it my body and brain know it’s time to work.
I experimented with time of day a lot at the beginning. First thing in the morning didn’t work for me because I had kiddos to get ready for the day and also I’m not a morning person. School pickup started at around 3 so I was busy with my smalls from 3 until bedtime. After that my brain was goo. So my best time ended up being just before or just after lunch most days. I could settle in with some peppy music and just play for my 20 minutes.
Be aware of how the time of day affects your 20 minutes a day. You might have to move it around in the day to get your best results. An artist I know keeps her art supplies in her car and everyday at lunch she goes to her car from her office job to paint. So be flexible until you can find the best slot in your day for your 20 minutes.
What do I say no to in order to say yes to creative time?
Things I say no to regularly in order to have creative time:
-TV: we don’t have it on unless we are actively watching it. Our tv is on less than 2 hours a day.
-Scrolling Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter: When I took Facebook off of my phone, it was a game changer for me. Those apps are designed to grab and hold your attention. Making it slightly harder to access them, I have created so much time in my schedule for the things I want to do.
Another area where I gained time was sharing house chores. I said no to doing all the housework myself. My kiddos are older now so our family shares the household cleaning tasks. Everyone pitches in on Sunday afternoon and the whole house gets cleaned in under 2 hours. This frees me up to work on things and it’s great for them to share the responsibility of caring for our space. We share laundry too. I wash and then everyone folds and puts their own stuff away.
Your list will likely look different than mine because we have different sticking points. You need to examine your schedule and work in the areas that cause you to lose time. Expect resistance in this arena too. While my family is great about Sunday house cleaning now, there were MANY Sundays where one or several of us were mad about it. It works great now because I started working on it 5 or so years ago. Growth is always hard. You can do it.
Make it easy to continue
All of these set up tips are about making it easy to continue when you are feeling unmotivated or crunched. Because that will happen. Habit is what you fall back on when you are out of motivation. So whatever you can do to make it easier to show up for yourself the more likely you are to continue to do it.
What are your questions?
Hopefully you’ve read both last week’s post and now this week’s post. What’s coming up for you? Are you feeling energized to start? Do you have questions that you are hoping I’ll answer in this series? Send me an email and let me know what you are looking for or wondering about.