How Do You Do It?

Sometimes I pose rhetorical questions. This is not one of them. I really want to know how you do it — “it” being the process of art.

I contemplate this question on a daily basis. Each morning as I come downstairs to my studio I look at all the projects I have going on, think about all the art lessons I’m studying, gaze upon the different art areas I’ve created, and I wonder what I should do and how I should go about getting it all done.

I’m rambling. I do that a lot, especially when I can’t pin something down. The point I’m getting at is that art is a world filled with possibilities. So how do we choose? Do we find one comfortable little niche and stay there for a while? Or do we bounce from one medium to another, dabbling in this and that, trying lots of different things?

I’ve approached my art from both directions. Neither has been quite right for me. Lately I’ve tried to find a sort of compromise between doing it all and focusing on one thing. It seemed to work for a while, but somehow I’ve ended up feeling more scattered and disorganized than ever before.

I love oil painting, but I’ve also come to enjoy watercolor. Despite my problems with acrylics, I’d still like to do more pourings. I love graphite drawing. I want to do a bit of “warm-up practice” before Inktober arrives.

I want to continue working on portraits, but I recognize myself as a landscape artist first and foremost. And what about still life painting? Figure drawing? When? How? I don’t know, so that’s why I’m asking that question: How do YOU do it?

Do you work on a single project at a time? Or do you usually have a number of different drawings, paintings, or other art projects in the works at any moment? Do you stay with a favorite, preferred medium? Or do you choose and use different ones for different projects? If you’re striving to improve a particular skill, learn a specific technique, or try a different genre — such as portrait painting or figure drawing — do you focus exclusively on that until you feel you’ve mastered it? Or do you find yourself studying different topics at the same time?

Do you have any unbreakable rules for your art time? For most of the summer, as an example, I began each day with a watercolor warm-up before moving on to other projects.

Lately, though, I’ve been scheduling my art time differently, choosing to focus on a different medium each day. One day I’ll do nothing but oils, working on several different canvases, reading about oil painting techniques, and working to improve those skills. Another day, I’ll spend my time playing with my watercolors — watercolor portraits, landscapes, exercises, color studies. Yet another day I’ll focus on drawing skills. I’ll visit Quickposes to do gesture drawings, read about drawing landscapes in graphite, go over basic drawing skills, draw portraits and more.

Some days are just art days. I read about the elements of art, visit online art museums, read art history, listen to lectures about great works of art. I think there’s value to be found in all of these activities.

But the problem is, I can’t do it all, all at once.

So, tell me, please, how do you do it? Do you grab time here and there when you can and work on whatever strikes your fancy? Do you plan your art time?

I really want to know! I hope you’ll take a moment to comment below and share a few thoughts about how you organize your time and your art!

27 Comments

  1. Oh, I wish I had an answer to this question. I have the same problem, I cannot imagine limiting myself to just one medium or style but, unless there is a deadline involved, I have no idea how to prioritise things. I have a list that I add to whenever I see something interesting or have an idea for a project or just one of those “would that work?” thoughts, but none of them are urgent. Most often I have to make a start on something almost before I’ve had a chance to think about otherwise more mundane things remind me they need doing. Decision paralysis is real and it’s a massive pain…

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    1. Oh, you nailed it! Priorities! That’s what I can’t figure out. I’m so very glad to know that I’m not the only one who makes lists of the projects I’m working on or want to work on soon. I’m the sort of person who is easily overwhelmed. Too much to do? Can’t do any of it! And right now, my studio is a mess. My husband is working here in the downstairs bath (putting in my new hot tub!) so his mess has encroached upon mine LOL. I’m planning to straighten up my studio area today, and maybe then I can get some artwork done!

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  2. It’s normal for artists to want to try a lot of different things that interest them. Some people might tell you to stick to one medium or one style so your work will be “cohesive” and seen as a progression but I disagree. Jump around to different media and methods as much as you like. As for myself, I can only work on one project at a time but it’s your art and you can do anything you want to with it. If you really get into something then you will stick to that thing for a while longer.

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    1. Yes, we love trying new things, don’t we! I do enjoy jumping from one thing to another, but what’s happening right now is that I’m getting overwhelmed by the mess and clutter. When I start feeling “disjointed” and confused, I reach a point where I can’t move. Definitely time for me to straighten up the studio a bit and make it more “workable” for me!

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      1. overwhelmed, that’s not a good feeling. I hope straightening up the studio makes it go away. And step back from it if it’s making you feel confused, disjointed. Don’t force yourself to produce art if you feel like that. That’s how people get burned out. Unless you want to do a social commentary with your art and that’s how the world is these days. It’s your vision, your expression. What’s right for you is the right answer. Go with your gut feelings.

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      2. A lot of it comes from the fact that my husband is working here in the downstairs, re-doing the bathroom, converting it to a lovely spa with a big hot tub! The one thing I had to leave behind when we moved to this house was my whirlpool tub, so I can’t wait to get the new one installed here! But it’s all such a mess, and so noisy when he’s working! It’s like part of my brain — the art part — has just shut down temporarily. So that is a good time for me to do more physical things — like sweeping the floor, re-arranging my supply shelves, and organizing my paints and brushes. Then, once the confusion and disarray goes away, I’ll be ready to jump in feet first — both with my new tub and with my art! 🙂

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  3. I agree with Chris about straightening the studio. You might consider putting some of your work, completed or otherwise, out of view. Simplifying the environment will help still the “monkey mind” For myself, when I am learning a new media I can be single-minded about it until I feel some degree of mastery, before moving on to a different media. Good luck, I hope this helps.

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    1. Thanks for the suggestions! Yes, I think getting a little order around the studio will help. I love being a creative individual, but I’ve learned that I need a bit of structure and organization to keep my brain from “poofing” (an expression one of our grandsons uses often). I’m actually excited about getting back to the paintings I have in progress. I just have to be “mentally” ready, and straightening up the studio will definitely be a step in the right direction.

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  4. i love your thoughts on art and life. it’s august, it’s hot, and why think about winter? but i am, because where i live becomes (almost) a black and white world for six months. i am focusing on one thing and one thing only before this happens – color. no bouncing around from one medium to the next – there will be plenty of time to do that after the leaves fall and the snow blows in and the montreal express is beating at my back door. i have been filling sketchbooks with the color i find every day in bits of nature in my neighborhood. i have never felt more focused or satisfied.

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    1. What a wonderful way to approach art and be “in touch” with seasonal changes at the same time. When I first began learning to draw, I worked entirely in black and white for almost a year. When I finally got to start using color it was so exciting! And this year, I’ve found myself developing a different color palette than I’ve used before, and that’s exciting too, so I can really understand the need to focus on color. How satisfying it must be! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. 🙂

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  5. Take a day at a time. Start a project, go back to it another day and so on until you finish. Hopefully you will have a long life and be able to do a lot of different things, but you won’t do it all, and you will drive yourself crazy trying. Where’s the pleasure in that.

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    1. Good advice. I’m been doing a bit of art-playing this morning — there will be a post about the experience tomorrow. I hope I’ll soon be able to shake off these “art doldrums” and get back to drawing and painting!

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  6. I ran across a video not too long ago in which an artist said the one piece of advice that changed his life came from a successful artist who recommended that he draw only one thing and master it. He said that he tried it and boredom set in, as expected. So, he began inventing ways to work around the boredom while sticking to the challenge of drawing the same subject every day for at least one year. And in the end, that one subject became so quick and easy and familiar that it kind of became his trademark. (Which is what happened with the artist who recommended that he do this.) So, he thought it was good advice.

    I had very mixed feelings after hearing this. I couldn’t imagine myself doing it. I’m sure I would do the same thing as he did and start looking for different ways to do my one subject as soon as boredom sets in, but I also think I would start to hate my subject. And when the year finishes, I would probably never want to draw that subject ever again. Maybe I underestimate myself. But I think that’s what would happen because my urge to create is always greater than my ability or time to create.

    On the inside of my sketchbook, I have a list of activities for drawing and painting practice. I have my shelf of how-to and model books. I have You Tube instruction videos. I have folders full of notes from art classes. And I have a project list where I jot down ideas as soon as inspiration hits me. And sometimes I come home from the library with art books. Or I get distracted browsing art blogs. I have tons of resources. And that’s not including just sitting down with a blank page and colors from a room full of mediums to see what becomes of them! But I only have an hour or two per day to do all of this. Sometimes less. So, I tend to rotate unless I get it in my head that I want to do such-and-such project for x-many days. Inktober is one of those exceptions. And by the end of Inktober, I’m usually dying to sit with a blank page and do whatever inspires me in whatever way that I want! Another exception is if someone has commissioned me to do something. For commissions, I work on something until it’s done. And sometimes I will set aside days or weeks to make SURE it gets done in a reasonable time because they’re paying me to produce THEIR art, not mine.

    But on my own time, the thing that matters most for me is that I don’t succumb to overwhelm and waste that precious time. I choose my activities based on where my energy level is at the time that I have available to me. If my energy is ambitious, I’ll pick a challenge — something I know I need to practice to improve at. If my energy is moderate, I’ll pick something familiar and doable. If my energy is low, I’ll choose an activity that comforts me or allows me to learn without expectations. By this I mean coloring books, art therapy, doodling, abstracts, or reading or watching videos about art, instead of doing it. As long as I am strict about not surrendering my 1-2 hours available for art, I let inspiration guide me on what I should be doing to explore my creativity practice each day. Often one thing will lead naturally to another. For example, I was working on drawing and colored pencils to sketch a scene from Mary Poppins one ambitious day recently, but froze when it came to Bert’s face because I have never been able to draw small likenesses. Never. And as predicted, I ruined the sketch by adding his face. LoL … So, there’s my next challenge. I haven’t felt ambitious since that, so I’ve been doing other things more moderate and low in energy. But then next time I feel ambitious, I’m going to practice doing small portraits. And I’ll set a goal: maybe one week. Maybe a month. But I *will* make myself come to a point where small faces no longer make me freeze. I just know now not to attempt that kind of challenge while my energy is being drained by other things. I set myself up for failure if a difficult day turns into a difficult art session as well.

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    1. I’ve read/heard that same advice about “drawing one thing” until it becomes so familiar that you can almost do it without thinking. I tried that earlier this summer, drawing a different bird each day. That lasted about 3 days LOL. It’s actually similar to my experience last year with Inktober. I chose “trees” as my theme. Each day I drew a tree, and soon I was struggling a bit, looking for ways to make each drawing different. I drew tree bark. I drew tree roots. I drew leaves. I love trees, and I loved drawing them, but after 31 days I did not LOVE the constraint of such a singularly-focused art theme. I was glad to stop drawing trees! That experience is making it difficult for me to choose a theme for this year’s Inktober challenge. I want a theme, but something more general.

      It sounds like we have a somewhat similar approach… keeping notes about drawing and painting practices. My list is an Excel file where I can keep track of tutorials, URLs for different art sites, art books I want to study, online virtual tours, and more. At first they were in no particular order and I started to feel that I was just jumping everywhere with no real plan. So I revised a bit and tried to focus on different “areas” — drawing, painting, art history, portraits — just big “classifications” of various interests. What I didn’t like then was that it took me so long to finish projects as I rotated through the list, so I revised again, putting various watercolor projects and activities together, then putting different oil painting projects together. It’s better this way, I think, but still not exactly right for me.

      And now, the studio is a mess with my husband’s remodeling-construction project going on. I’ve just been taking a short break from creating art and spending more time just reading and learning.

      I’m ready to get back to drawing and painting now, but I’m still so unsure about how to best organize and manage my time. 😦

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      1. Yes, patience with long projects is one of my issues, too. I need lots of short things I can finish quickly, but I realize that’s not really a sign of progress. I think the best learning happens organically, so just keep following your interests, energy levels, and inspiration and I think it will all come together in the end. I often have to remind myself that progress isn’t linear or fast.

        But in terms of organization, I think it’s something we have to keep playing with until we find what works for us. I used to say that I knew it was time to move again when I finally had the house *exactly* how I wanted it. LoL … And sure enough, about four months after a total rearrangement and organization, we would move again! Change is the only constant in life, unfortunately. As our needs change, so will our organization and methods and practices. And I guess that is as it was meant to be.

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      2. I’ve revised my “plan of action” again. I think part of my frustration — and all the overwhelmed feelings that went along with it — was that I had too many projects going on at once. I wasn’t finishing enough work to feel truly satisfied, despite seeing progress in what I was doing. So I’m choosing 3 projects to work on. I will work on those until they are complete. I’ll also “fill in” my art time with my art history reading, virtual tours, and other inspiration things, but I’ll keep myself a bit more centered this way, I think. I’m working now to finish up a painting that’s been staring at me from the easel for a couple weeks. I’m not really happy with how it came out, but I like having something DONE. 🙂

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      3. Oh, yes! I’m just now realizing how much confusion all my “unfinished projects” have caused for me. It’s no wonder I was feeling overwhelmed. I couldn’t keep up with it all — at least, that’s how I felt. I think my new approach will be a good one. 🙂

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  7. I do understand your question. I feel it. I majored in art education but never taught art. My life took a different path. I dabbled in oils, acrylics, silversmithing, bearing and pottery. Now I’m retired and got into a bunch of clubs for these different mediums. I quit the clubs. Now I’m focusing on acrylics and education about painting principles and techniques. I paint a lot and take many free and less expensive lessons. I know I will visit my oils again soon, but my focus is minimizing and concentrating on mastering (to a point) my Acrylic medium. Later, I will move on to possibly other mediums again, like my oils. I think that learning some real basics and applying them whether to acrylics or oils, my painting will only get better. That’s how I decided to declutter my brain to focus on one or two mediums at a time. Do I miss the other mediums? Yes, but for once, I want to see proficiency in one area.

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    1. Thanks for the comments. It sounds like you’ve dealt with a lot of the same frustrations I have. I’ve resolved my time issues by choosing 3 or 4 things to focus on and working on a couple each day. Right now, as an example, I’m doing graphite drawing, mixed media, oil, and watercolor. Today I did mixed media and started on a new oil painting. Tomorrow I plan to work more on the oil painting and dabble a bit with watercolor. I’m feeling much more settled now. I feel much calmer! That’s so important. 🙂

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