Thursday, 15 January 2009

So, you don’t have time to paint

This article was first published in "Frequency Magazine" – January 2009.

January is the time for New Year’s resolutions. May be you received a brand new paint box for Christmas and you wonder: “If only I had the time…” Not having all the time you think you need is not necessarily an issue. Twyla Tharp, in her book “The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life ”, explains:

“Remember this next time you moan about the hand you’re dealt: No matter how limited your resources, they’re enough to get you started. Time, for example, is our most limited resource, but it is not the enemy of creativity that we think it is. The ticking clock is our friend if it gets us moving with urgency and passion.”

You want to know the secret? Just start. The world is full of people with a novel in their head; people who wait to retire to learn to play the piano; people who hope for the ideal moment to paint. If you want to be more than a dream artist, you can change that for yourself:

  • Start small, but often: the reason most of us don’t even start is the sheer size of the commitment. Just commit to draw or paint for fifteen minutes every day. If on a particular day, you have more time and feel like carrying on, just do so. You will be amazed by how much you can achieve by taking regular small bites at your projects.

  • Makes it a habit: It takes thirty days to build a new habit. The key is to repeat the new habit often, ideally every day. If you fall off the wagon one day, don’t worry and start again the next day.

  • Paint small: a small painting in oil or watercolour (6” x 8”) can be completed in one hour or less. By painting small, you can paint more often and see the result immediately, which is really gratifying. Try your hand on quick techniques: a sketch in your notebook will only take you a few minutes.

  • Make it portable: it is easy to put together a drawing or painting kit that is small enough that you can carry it around in your bag. For drawing, you just need a notebook and a couple of pencils or felt pens. For watercolour, all you need is: a pad of watercolour paper; a small pain box with an integrated palette, one brush, one pencil, one eraser, a piece of tissue paper and a small container for water. Having this portable studio means that you can paint on the go, in the train during your commute, during your lunch break or while you wait at the airport.

  • Organise your material for easy set-up: If you have a studio, then it is easy to let you current project on the easel and just close the door until your next session. But you don’t need a studio to start painting. Spend some time to organise your art materials by media, in separate boxes or bags, so that when you have time to paint, it takes only five minutes to set-up when you want to be creative.

  • Reclaim these pockets of time: “Time management” is a deceiving expression because time is fixed and what you can really manage is the tasks you do during the allocated time. If you look closely, I am sure you can free-up fifteen minutes per day. You could cut down on television time for instance.

  • Sign-up for an evening art class: If you enrol for a two hours evening class, you ring fence time to paint. The class is in your calendar, so you can let people know that you have to go. You will also learn a few things and meet like-minded people.

  • Paint early morning or at night: Find a time when you are quiet and can immerse yourself in art making. Invest in a day light lamp (they have blue bulbs that simulate the quality of the day light) so that the next day your colours match what you wanted to achieve in the previous evening.

  • Make art even when you don’t paint: Gardeners don’t stay idle during winter; they get ready for the new season, plough their patch and get their tools in shape. It’s not because you are away from your easel that you can’t make progress in your art. You can prepare canvasses or frame you works for instance. You can visit a museum, read about art, collect painting ideas in your notebook or walk around and look for painting subjects.
One last word on the subject: Start. Don’t try to make it perfect, just start today.

Further reading

Working in batch, the artist way

Time Management for Creative People”, a free e-book by Marc McGuiness

Brad Blackman at Mysterious Flame wrote a series of articles on Art and Getting Things Done:

Recommended books:
The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life by Twyla Tharp
Do it Tomorrow and Other Secrets of Time Management by Marc Forster
Getting Things Done: How to Achieve Stress-free Productivity by David Allen
Eat That Frog!: Get More of the Important Things Done, Today! by Brian Tracy

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