Monday, March 28, 2011

Thoughts on Routine: Part III

Okay, so after a week of most of what structure I've managed to build being dismantled (my catching a cold, my cat needing to go to the vet, my husband catching my cold), I will attempt to share what that structure (usually) is.

As I said before, my routine is a constant work-in-progress, but one aspect that has been a constant for several years is that I work best in the morning, so morning is my studio time.

Another constant has been that, in spite of heady visions of painting dawn til dusk (or heck, why not midnight), seven days a week, sustained by creativity and paint fumes alone, I can really only work for about three (or, on exceptional days, four) hours at a stretch. And it's almost impossible for me to return to painting once I've done that much. And as for the seven days a week? Well, not so much. A really good week is me working in my studio five days a week, but usually it's more like three or four.

The hardest lesson I've had to learn has been accepting this structure (and then remembering that I have accepted it). To not push myself to be somebody else in order to fulfill my unrealistic vision of what a "true artist" does all day (which only results in meltdowns and having to start over again). I'm sure there are some artists who work this way, but I'm learning that it's okay that I'm not one of them. When I was re-reading "Creating a Life Worth Living", one novelist that the author interviewed works in much the same way as I do (except he does write seven days a week and views weekends and holidays as annoyances). The day I read his interview I felt such a sense of relief. And when I next headed to the studio I gave myself permission to only stay for an hour or two. Ironically, I stayed longer and worked harder just knowing that I was allowed to work less!

Now, the rest of the day is another matter. When do I do marketing and research and all the stuff that surrounds the making of art but isn't the making of art? What about the parts of my life that aren't art-related? I'm still working on all that. I'm finding some tools that are helping me with all this, and I'll talk about those next week.

Friday, March 25, 2011

End of week check-in

This week wasn't so stellar. I had a cold (finally getting over that, I hope) and one of the cats had to suddenly go to the vet (she seems to be getting better too), so I only got to the studio one day this week - today.

But I'm not feeling too bad about this week. I think it's because I have a good feeling about where my art is going right now, and I managed to do some sketching and planning while I was stuck at home so I feel like I did accomplish something. And I've somehow managed to keep self-judgment in check so I can actually acknowledge that.

And, fourth week of two blog posts a week!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Thoughts on Routine: Part II

color sketch "sprout", acrylic/pencil/oil pastel on paper

Last week, I wrote about wrestling with the concept of having a routine, finding a schedule that works for my creative life, and today I want to return to that topic because I have more thoughts about it.

One of the things I've found most helpful on this quest for a structure is hearing about other creatives' routines. Not only does this give me new ideas to try, but, more importantly, it reminds me that we are all different. And therefore we all have different approaches and techniques that work for us, and they are ALL VALID! What a relief!

Sometimes, when I forget this, I just get so overwhelmed with all the advice about how an artist should arrange their day, and so angry and judgmental with myself when I can't seem to live up to someone else's expectations about my structure. There is soooooo much advice out there - paint (or write, or sculpt, or…) every day, paint first thing when you wake up, stay in the studio all day every day, treat it like a 9-5 job, etc, etc. And don't even get me started on how we're told we should use the internet. I'm not saying these are bad ideas, I'm just saying that they are not one size fits all. And trying to keep up with some of these ideas just because we think we should, well, it just causes pain.

Thankfully, I was re-reading yet another of my books about the creative life (Creating a Life Worth Living by Carol Lloyd). Throughout the book she interviews creatives of all types in all sorts of fields (novelists, artists, filmmakers, designers…), and they are all successful, and they are all different. Some rise early and create for several hours, others work 2 or 3 hours at the same time each day, and one writer only works when the urge to write becomes too strong to ignore, usually at the end of the day.

And then today in my Yoga class, my instructor had us meditate on this topic of structure and expectations, internal and external, mental and physical. She allowed as how structure can be a good thing, but when held to too rigidly and without consciousness, it can also cause painful constriction. She reminded us to pay attention to what is and to release expectations of what we think it should be. By letting go of expectations, we can actually move beyond those expectations.

Next week I'll try to share my structure (a constant work-in-progress) with you. I'd love to learn about yours too!


Friday, March 18, 2011

End of week check-in

This week was much better.

I spent quality time in my studio three days this week, and the other two I got to spend with my husband when he returned from his business trip to Austin. I even went to my studio this morning in spite of some strong Resistance that was telling me, quite reasonably, that my time would be better spent at home today.

I was rewarded for my persistence with a note from my studiomate telling me how much she loved the painting I had just completed yesterday! She's never left a note like that before, and it really made my day. :)

And, week three of two blog posts per week!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Thoughts on Routine

color sketch - acrylic/pencil/oil pastel on paper

Recently I've been wrestling a lot with the topic of Routine. Schedule. Habit. Trying to set one up, trying to keep to it, and oftentimes just plain giving up on it as soon as I get just a little bit distracted. Since I stopped being anyone's "employee" about five years ago, this has probably been my biggest challenge. I don't have anyone to tell me what to do but me, and I'm a very lenient boss.

Why do I keep trying? Because I know that I can't just wait for Inspiration to strike, or she never will. When I do go to my studio consistently, I might have three crappy days of painting followed by one fantastic day, and I know that the fantastic day was only possible because of the foundation I built by showing up for the three crappy days. And if I don't schedule the necessary time for this, then I don't treat it with the respect it needs and I'm too easily talked into doing other things and letting other people's scheduling needs trump my own.

Something I am finally learning though, through oft repeated and torturous lessons, is that my scheduling needs are just as real. I may not have to report to an employer, but I do have to pay respect to my Muse or she gets really miffed.

But I also know that if I push myself too hard to meet my (unrealistic) scheduling expectations that I burn out and give Resistance a crack to wedge itself into. So what I'm really seeking here is balance. But how to achieve this balance?

I'm working on it, and it's made me very curious about other creatives' routines. Do you have a routine? Do you work on your art every day? At a set time? For a set number of hours? Or as the muse takes you? What really gets in your way? Do you have any tricks to get yourself working even when you're not in the mood? I'd really like to know.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Another check-in

So this week wasn't quite the gold star week I was planning on. First, there was the giving in to Resistance I spoke of in my last post. Then I had an orthodontist appointment the following day. And then the day after that Wade unexpectedly needed our car for work (and I was too lazy and wimpy to brave the cold, wet day and take a bus), so I didn't get to my studio until yesterday. I did go then, and I went again today, and I might even go tomorrow. Usually Saturday is errand day for Wade and me, but he's in Austin at SXSW Interactive this weekend, enjoying temperatures in the mid 70s and margaritas – oh, I guess he's working too ;), so I'm thinking I might restructure my weekend a bit.

And, this makes two blogposts this week.

So, not a complete loss, but want to do better next week.

Monday, March 07, 2011

More Resistance

Order Out of Chaos, acrylic/mixed media on canvas, 24" x 18", ©2010

Today, Resistance got the better of me again.

After having such a great week last week, my guard was down and Resistance struck. It struck by weakening my resolve through lack of sleep (got up at 4:00 this morning and couldn’t really get back to sleep), and through it’s strongest tool and ally, Fear. I’m about to start a new series of paintings and I’m scared that I won’t be able to do it, scared that I’ll fail. And since I was feeling pretty sure of myself after earning that gold star last week, I let consciously re-committing to my work slide, and my focus and intention became unclear.

Result: muddle-headed fuzziness. Fuzzy muddle-headedness? Either way, you get the idea.

After a couple of hours of wallowing in the fuzziness, I made some coffee and set about reclaiming what I could of the day. I knew that studio time wasn’t going to happen, so I decided to focus on the stuff that surrounds my painting time but that I procrastinate doing, often to the point of forgetting all about it. In addition to some other things, I’m preparing a couple more submissions for competitions, I’m writing this blog post, and I might even get around to updating my website a little.

So, not the day I’d hoped for, but not a total waste either. At least I didn’t give in to the pull of the sofa magnet.

I’ve been working with some tools lately that are helping me to work through Resistance (though, obviously, it’s a constant fight) and I’ll write about those soon. For now I would like to share with you one of the most powerful quotes I found in The War of Art:

Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives. There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny. This second, we can turn the tables on Resistance.

This second, we can sit down and do our work.

–Steven Pressfield

Friday, March 04, 2011

End of week check-in

I'm working on a longer blogpost, but since I want to stick with my goal of writing two posts a week (and I might not finish writing it in time) I've decided to have a brief check-in here.

My priority for this week was to get my focus back on my art, treat it with more of a professional attitude:
• Went to my studio and painted every day this week!
• Photographed some of my new pieces and entered a competition.

I also wanted to work on setting and meeting goals, and on reaching out to people:
• Posted one of the two promised blogposts earlier this week, and this is the second. And I am working on another.
• Commented on friends' blogs for the first time in months.
• My husband and I made plans to go to the movies with friends tomorrow.

I think I've earned a gold star. :)

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The War of Art

color sketch: tempera/pencil/crayon

“The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day.” –Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

As I said in my last post, I am giving blogging another try. Kind of at a a loss as to where to start. I guess I’ll just start with where I am.

It’s a familiar place, one I’ve been to many, too many, times - stopped in my tracks by Resistance.

A couple of weeks ago, I let down my guard and I caved to Resistance: that lying voice whose purpose is to keep the artist from doing her work, and which sounds only too reasonable once it gets hold of your insecurities and fears. As a result, I only managed to get to my studio one time in over two weeks! Of course, the longer I was away, the worse I felt and the harder it was to go back.

Finding myself unable to combat this bout of Resistance on my own, I turned once again to the book that taught me to call it that in the first place, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield. What a lifesaver this book has been! I was lucky enough to get an advance reading copy of it when I was still a bookseller about nine years ago, and I turn to it again and again as I traverse this strange path I’ve chosen.

When I was only about 20 pages in, I could already feel myself getting stronger, and I knew I’d be back in the studio in no time. (Which I am!) It also made me realize that not only is Resistance holding me back in the studio, it’s keeping me from getting really serious about putting my work out there. I’ve let it stop me from setting goals for myself, and from truly treating my art as a career.

That stops now.

Since I’ve decided to blog at least twice a week this month (a goal!), you’ll be hearing about how I’m working toward achieving this. I know I’m not the only person struggling with Resistance - everybody does. It’s my hope that by sharing my journey, I can help others too.