A friend Facebook-posted two gorgeous watercolors she had done. She was squeezing in watercolor sketches between the looming demands of work. She enjoyed the making of art but also felt like it was a form of procrastination. In response to her friends’ encouragement to make more, she posed the following:
“I am afraid that with any added structure or intention the whimsy would vanish.
“If you have any tips on keeping creative without stifling your own inner-nature, I am receptive to trying new things!”
I don’t have the quintessential answer to this query. I can tell you what seems to be working for me so far. I work full time and I’m a mother and wife, but I have started drawing and painting again for the past four months. A lot.
I had a big dry spell before this. I was making some other stuff, but rarely creating any drawings–and zero paintings–for years. I tend to go through periods of great artistic activity. Yet they don’t sustain.
I hope this latest burst will remain with me for a very long period of time. What’s working for me right now–why am I making more art than I have since art school?
I turned 50.
That is a serious wake-up call. I’m having an existential crisis: how will I live a meaningful life? I haven’t been living up to my potential. I’ve spent decades worrying about a whole lot of stupid shit when I could have been making more, putting more out into the world. I want to leave “my mark”. I want to leave something behind that is beautiful, substantial.
Sure, having a kid is a wonderful legacy. It’s not the same as leaving your own, very unique mark on the world.
I started saying no.
I suspect I have something akin to ADHD, in which I get involved in many personal projects and group efforts. Burn the candle at both ends. Burn out. Get bored. Look for something else. If people asked me to help out with something, I would usually say yes. Eventually, I realized I did not get much satisfaction from this.
I only have time to do a few things really well. The first three (be a good mother, spouse, and employee) are non-negotiable. I decided that the fourth thing will be be a good artist. I will say no to almost every other demand on my time. No more fundraising, no more political and science advocacy, no more taking college courses for fun. At least not for now.
Art. Do art.
I spend money to make art easy to do.
At first, I was painting at the dinner table because I had long ago thrown out my art desk. I started building a little kit of supplies and paper, and I collected them on a small bookcase I put next to the table. Every time I worked, I’d need to pull all the supplies over and then put them back afterward so I could eat.
After several weeks, I decided I needed my studio space again. I cleared my office of most of the toys that had taken over. I set up a nice art desk by the window, and put a bird feeder outside that I can see as I work.
I spent money on quality tools and paints that make it easier to create. I put together a portable kit so that I can make small drawings and paintings as my son plays at a park or McDonald’s.
If I find myself making excuses why I can make art when there’s down time, and there’s a product that overcomes that excuse, I buy it. For now, my office job pays for my supplies. My plan is for them to start paying for themselves.
I watch a lot of online art courses.
These art courses not only teach me exciting new techniques to try, they almost always get me “in the mood” to make something, anything. YouTube has lots of great content for free. I’ve also paid for online courses at SkillShare, CreativeLive, Craftsy, and New Masters Academy.
Books and movies on art and the lives of artists feed me too.
I promise myself I only need to spend a few minutes on something.
Because my little art studio is pretty much ready for anything now–just add a cup of water–I can step in and work for a few minutes and walk away. Working for a few minutes is better than nothing. I usually end up spending much more time, maybe an hour. Getting into flow is absolutely wonderful.
But I don’t feel guilty if I just do a little. And I am trying to make art every day–but I won’t feel guilty if a skip a day or two each week.
I accept that some of it will be shit.
I have a sense of humor and appreciation for failure now. I go in knowing there’s a chance this work of art could be a disaster. I work really hard on it anyway, hoping that I will learn something valuable.
I show my work.
Making something almost every day allows me to photograph what I am working on and share it on social media. This usually results in a lot of encouragement and positive feedback from friends. I do care what others think.
I enjoy making the art. I also want it to be enjoyed by others and to witness that enjoyment.
I’ve made a little money.
Not a lot of money yet, not even enough to pay me back for all my new studio supplies.
I will only take commissions that I think will be enjoyable to do. If it ever stops being fun, I promise to stop and reboot.
I’ve just gotten started with my little art business. In time, I will find a method that makes me money. Keeps me enthusiastic about making art. Remains fulfilling.
Good luck! I hope you find a system that works for you, and that you can keep making beautiful things to put out into the world.
P.S. I am listening to this book currently, and it is WONDERFUL.
The artwork in the social media featured image for this post: “Allegory of Painting” by Gerard van Honthorst (1592–1656), Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento