Starting an art practice can be daunting. Here are my best tips and ideas to help get you set up for a sustainable practice. The long haul. This is the eighth in my series on How to Create Your Art Practice.
How do you keep this going long term? What makes it stick? How do you keep going on the long haul of your art practice?
I think there are a few ingredients here and they are a matter of, you guessed it!, practice. Just like everything else I talk about.
Give yourself a break
I talked about this in “Start where you are” and it bears repeating: You are going to get off track and miss a day (or a few) of your practice. You’ll go on vacation or you’ll have crunch time at work. Kids’ school/after school activities will suck all your free time. The days will be beautiful and you’ll decide the hammock is the place to be every afternoon for a week. The trick is to not give yourself a hard time about it. Just get your supplies and go back to your practice. What I’m saying is give yourself the same grace you would give a friend or a loved one who needed to get back on track with a practice.
I find it easier to do when I think about the lack of judgement my supplies carry. They don’t know how long I’ve been gone. They aren’t interested in shaming me for my absence. But they are ready to sing on the paper at a moment’s notice for my enjoyment. So how long I’ve been away doesn’t factor into when I come back.
If you haven’t practiced in a while, you’ll have to give yourself a break again if you are rusty or you feel like you’ve lost some skills. The skills will return and you will regain that ground. Not starting because of this only compounds it.
If you can learn to hold yourself accountable for your daily practice while also allowing for some grace when you can’t make it every day, then you are a step closer to the long haul.
Having a community to cheer you on and to work alongside can give you a tremendous boost. They can encourage you to work when you might otherwise slack off.
I have a couple of long-distance groups that meet on Zoom where I can chat and work and discuss supplies and techniques. One of those groups regularly takes classes together. So we are all learning at the same time and working on similar projects. Another group is a writing drop-in group where we get on Zoom without sound and camera for 50 minutes and then at the end of the hour check in with one another about the progress we’ve made.
I have an in-person crafting group who I haven’t gotten together with in 16 months. I am hoping that we will start gathering again later this summer because I miss them and their laughter. More on this group in the next section!
There’s another group of friends who I call “The Council of Arty Cleverness”. I gathered this group of linguistically-minded folks in a Facebook group to help me name my art. When I first started, I struggled with naming pieces. I could show the piece to this group and give them an outline of what I was attempting to do and they would offer me suggestions. Sometimes I know exactly what to call something and sometimes a title needs workshopping. This group is funny and ridiculously clever and a fantastic group of cheerleaders for my work.
I have 3 art accountability partners. One I talk about business practices with. Another one is a critique partner and one is someone I bounce ideas off of when I am stuck. Being in community with art friends who know me and are also working on skills and practices keeps me from feeling so alone when I work alone all the time.
I am a member of my local chapter of Women’s Caucus for Art. This is a professional organization and they advocate for and provide opportunities for members. I’ve made some local artist friends and am starting to invest in my local artist community.
I know this sounds like a lot of people. And it is. But there’s a lot of overlap between groups. I think the important takeaway here is that having a larger community to engage with means there’s always someone around to bounce ideas off of, talk through projects, work together, and offer and receive encouragement.
Also, I’ve been cultivating my art practice for a lot of years. I’ve accumulated these groups over the course of those years. Start with one group and see how it helps you. You can continue to acquire more groups as you go if that’s what you want or need for your practice. Having a community is part of the joy on the journey of a long haul practice.
What if I can’t find a community?
If you are struggling to find your community you might have to make it yourself!
My in-person group started after the birth of my son. I was home all the time and lonesome for adult interaction. I called some friends and asked if they wanted to come over on Tuesday nights and craft and they said yes!
Some version of Craft Night has been happening at my kitchen table for more than 15 years. People have come and gone, sometimes they fit and stay in the group and sometimes they don’t and wander off. We sometimes do planned group crafting (we learned how to tie knots one session and regularly make Valentine’s cards) and sometimes everyone brings their own project to work on. Sometimes we have snacks and other times not. I don’t fix up my house to make it “company” ready. They just join my family midweek in all our glory. We’ve built a group based on love and encouragement and crafting. So if you are seeking community, this may be your solution.
My in-person group was inspired by this quote from Crafternoon: A Guide to Getting Artsy and Crafty with Your Friends All Year Long by Maura Madden*:
Crafternoon is all about being around friends who support your work, who encourage your growing craftiness, and who inspire and get inspired by you. Crafternoon is about getting back to the roots of crafting. It’s about getting pleasure out of the process as much as the product. It’s about making room for the input of other crafters and allowing yourself to be open to new ideas. It’s about the contentment you feel when you are surrounded by happily crafting friends, friends who can see the beauty in imperfection, the pleasure of happy mistakes.
If you are thinking of starting your own group this book is a great resource for it. It has monthly suggestions for what to craft and can help you generate group project ideas. See if your local library has a copy!
Another piece I talked about in “Start where you are” was about assessing your space and figuring out where to work. I think having my designated studio space has been invaluable for my continuous practice. My house has a bedroom that my partner and I made into the “office” when we moved in. He has half and I have half. His half has a computer where my youngest attended school this past year. My half is both computer workspace and art space, you can see it in this Studio Tour I did with Cut Out and Keep a few years ago. I started calling it my “studio” as opposed to the “office” because I wanted to be intentional about the language I used to talk about my practice.
I don’t think it matters how big this space is as long as you are able to leave your work out so you can come and go in your spare time. If you only have 15 minutes and it takes you 10 to haul all your supplies out of the closet and get set up then you aren’t going to work in that 15 minutes. Having a dedicated space removes the roadblock of setup time. And the long haul is all about removing every roadblock we can.
The last aspect of what makes a sustainable practice for me is accountability. I built my accountability around posting a pic to the internet every day. It was posted to Twitter for a long time and then Facebook and then my blog and now Instagram. But it’s still a picture a day. Posted somewhere so I can see over time the accumulation of what I’ve been doing.
Your accountability can just as easily be marking off the days of a calendar or a text check in with a buddy. Build your system with low resistance so you can continually make your goals. Just as with setup time, if your accountability is too hard or too many steps, it will fizzle and you will stop.
When I first started “Make Something Every Day” I didn’t take any time off. I was afraid that if I stopped I wouldn’t get started again. This accountability piece was the thing standing between me and never making art again.
While I typically do creative stuff every day, I’ve been moving toward a more sustainable practice by doing something different on the weekends. Sometimes I post a photo of something I worked on and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I spend Sunday with my family and our religious practices and cooking and house chores and a big long session of crocheting while watching a movie. I’ve learned that I will start back up again on Monday or even Wednesday and things will be fine. But in the beginning, I understand wanting to make sure you are staying with your goals and meeting them. Make your accountability piece work for you so you can build your long haul practice.
What are your questions?
Hopefully you’ve been reading along with my How to Create an Art Practice posts. What’s coming up for you? Are you feeling energized to start or are you sagging in the middle? 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.
*As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. If you buy this book from my link, I may receive some income. This money goes to support my art making.