Oh let us count the ways of frittering away time!
1. I must just check my email, there might be something important.
2. I’ve got to make that phone call to the plumber.
3. A cuppa tea/coffee/water/beer/coke (name your poison) would be nice and would help me focus.
4. I need to get this fabric tidied up from the floor, I can’t work in a mess.
5. I need to clean the bathroom before the guests get here.
6. I’ve run out of fabric! (you’d be surprised!).
7. I’ll just have one game of Scrabble/Solitaire/etc etc that won’t take long.
8. What were those exercises the physio told me to do before getting on the sewing machine?
9. Must put a new blade in the rotary cutter, oops now I’ve cut my finger, need a band-aid, oh while I’m in the kitchen I should just put the rice on for dinner…and is that the phone?
10. Gotta write a blog!
…………………….and I’m sure like me you could add a thousand or more possibilities to this list!
Ways to spend more time in the studio:
1. Daily Time. There are two problems with time in the studio: one is not spending enough time (average amount of time), and the other is spending very erratic amounts of time (large standard deviations of time). So it’s a good idea to begin by whittling down the standard deviation, because research shows you make more progress with short daily practices, rather than one weekly long practice.
To develop the discipline of a specific amount of time each day, first calculate how much time you spend in the studio over a week (or maybe a month! but I hope not!). For example: if in a given week you might average one hour per day in the studio, but if we take a closer look at the data we might find that the one hour per day is actually an average of three days with zero time, three days with half an hour and one day with 4.5 hours. More progress would be made and more learning take place if each actual day were one hour. It’s the same with piano practice – I know we’ve all tried it – making up for not practicing all week by one mammoth practice at the weekend! alas, not very effective, sleeping and eating likewise!
I suggest that the first week you just keep a note of how much time you’re in there, figure out the average and make that the goal for each day the following week.
2. Amount of time. so how much time does it take to make progress? As far as we know, the more time you put in the more progress you make, I don’t think anyone has really calculated what the actual “learning curve” would look like for complex creative tasks and I’m sure there’s a great deal of individual variation anyway. Also, how can you measure success? Now if you were a rat learning a maze there would be masses of research to turn to! but fortunately ….you’re not…because rats can’t read! So I would just begin with the amount of time that is comfortable, and try to increase it in very small increments…every increase will help. Small increments would be as little as 5 minutes per week. In 3 months that would be an hour, in a year 4 hours! Every single artist who has ever written about or been interviewed about their creativity and their success stresses “time on the job” as being the most important thing. Not innate talent. In fact if you look at early drawings by many of these folk, they’re no better than average. (Not all of course, there are a few who seem always to have had some special gift, but they are very rare).
Either note the time, or set a timer when you go into the studio, and you can’t leave until the time is up – unless the house is on fire!!! No excuses!!
3. A specific planned time. This really shouldn’t be too hard, all of us had to be at school on time, and later at work on time. Now you are your own boss, you can set the time, set it to whenever you want, but set it you should if you want to get more work done. Write it in your diary, on your calendar, tell people you will be unavailable at that time. Commit to that time.
4. The list. It’s hard to get going from cold…remember the old car engines where you had to manually feed in extra juice and then let them sit quietly and “warm up”, well ,we’re not that different. One way of warming up is to make a brief list of what you hope to accomplish this studio session. Note: not a great detailed fancy list!! just about 10 seconds worth of jotting down. THEN start with the Most difficult thing on the list.
5. Leave a start the previous session. Take a leaf from a writer’s book and leave something obvious from the day before so when you walk in it’s right there ready for you to get moving on. I like to leave something in the sewing machine….
6. Inspiration…..but sometimes you don’t have a piece in progress…in this case it’s good to have an inspiration notebook, or box or file (whether real or virtual) to refer to. However, sitting looking at “inspirations” can lead straight back to frittering! So it’s good to have a plan for how you’re going to look at them For example you could say “I’m going to look through till I find 6 ideas that just jump out at me, then I will look at those six together and narrow the field to three…then I will take each of the three and see if I can develop 3 quick sketches” – or some such way of setting parameters for yourself.
7. The random start: some people prefer a more spontaneous start. Painter Willem de Kooning would often start a painting by making random marks onto a canvas, for example a friend’s name written backwards……if you like to start “randomly”, you can still have a list of ways to be random! Beatle George Harrison would flick through one of his mother’s romance novels for a telling phrase with which to start a song! You could reach into your scraps for a shape, or two shapes…put them up and begin there.
8. Staying on task. so you’re stuck in this studio for a predetermined period of time? How d’you stay on task? I find the best way is to give myself little goals and rewards. Now I don’t mean piles of chocolate or food pellets, but rather the reward of an easy activity following a difficult one: for example if I will spend 10 minutes trying to resolve a difficult section of a piece, then immediately afterward I can spend 5 minutes on tidying up. Note I don’t say I have to solve the difficulty – that might lead to me accepting a solution that is not a good one….I have to put the time in. It might take 2 minutes, it might take 5 lots of 10 minutes…
9. Prepare. Making art, doing anything creative is still work! You can’t just potter around and expect to get anywhere. Now it’s fine to just potter as long as you’re not deceiving yourself that what you’re doing is work! but pottering time should come after work time (remember those little rewards that are contingent upon the appropriate behaviour?!). The best way to do focussed work is to prepare and prepare well. Right now I’m cursing myself because I deviated right off the bat from an inadequately sketched value study and now I’m in deep doodoo (or rather dontdoo!) because I can find no piece of fabric that works! and I’m up to my armpits in discarded fabric to prove it!!! A value sketch or a collage mock up either in paper or in fabric of the main shapes and values saves you a Lot of time.
10. Most important: don’t panic and don’t despair! At least now I no longer panic and rip everything off the wall telling it to leave home and never darken my door again…I’ve learned that sooner or later (usually later if I’ve not taken my own advice in good prep) I will find the right shape/value/color etc for a given area. I must just keep working on or around the piece and keep coming up with possible solutions being as open and as loose as I can.
Okay! well you’ve got my ten ideas for developing and using studio time wisely, please tell me yours! Don’t worry about giving me more ways to fritter away time though, I’m already champion fritterer!
And if you have been (frittering!), thanks for reading!! I look forward to the comments! Elizabeth