Monday, December 15, 2008

How to stay focused

Don’t you get annoyed with those people who think you have an easy life because you’re an artist? And should even give your work away because all you’re doing is having fun?

“It must be so much fun!” I hear from so many people, “just relaxing with your sewing machine and design wall!” “How lucky you are to be able to make such beautiful things!”

Well, we all know that it’s frequently not fun, it’s often very hard to stay on task – when nothing seems to work, every thing looks ugly, every piece of fabric is too short, too creased, you’ve run out of water in the spray, when no colour looks right, when you’ve a million other thoughts in your head that you have to attend to. It’s also difficult to avoid getting caught up in distractions like “tidying the studio”, “checking email”, making a phone call, writing a note, watering the plant on the studio window, filing away papers, etc etc. But the only way to get there from here is by action! Plodding forward day after day…so it’s important to figure out how to do that! And telling yourself it should be easy because “you’re having fun!” and all you need to do is wait “till you feel like it” isn’t going to work! I’ve tried!!

I know no one but me will crack the whip! In fact most people would prefer I didn’t work in the studio…then I could do more things to, for, by, with or from (this phrase would be better in Latin!) them. So here are some of my whip cracking ideas:

1. Break up the activity into small units…I say to myself, just get one piece of fabric up on the shape cut out..even if you change it later…before you listen to the little distracting devil sitting on your shoulder!

2. Stay on task for a given period of time – the CD I’m listening to right now is t he last one Lorraine Hunt Lieberson made – a gorgeous voice and a super CD – the Neruda songs – and only about 30 minutes long…so I have to stay on task for that long!! I literally say – “you can’t do anything else till the record’s finished!”

3. a little reward – make 3 possible value sketches and you can have one 3 minute computer game!

4. Simultaneous vs consecutive: working on two activities at once….I have two design walls, so I can work on different compositions at the same time, or even better, having two (or even 3, or more!) pieces at different stages. Working a little bit on 3 different projects simultaneously will in the end get you to the goal of 3 finished pieces in the same time as doing them consecutively.

5. Setting specific working hours to be in the studio – this is hard…but the only way to get better is by doing more work. If it takes 10,000 hours to get good at something that’s 2.7 hours a day for 10 years!!! If you really want to get there, you’ve got to put the time in – just like a regular job.

6. Quit wasting time: It’s sometimes helpful to find out how time is actually being wasted. Since I’ve started blogging, I decided to give up Sudoku – which used to be 3 times a day after meals!!! I wanted to blog (I think it helps to clarify thought) but I didn’t want to subtract time from working on quilts…so something else had to go. However, I do think that researching – reading art books etc, gathering inspirations, trial sketches is not a waste of time.

7. Planning ahead…get a clear compositional plan and a clearly worked out colour scheme ahead of time. Then you don’t have to solve those problems once you’ve started working. It’s also helpful to have your studio fairly well organized. Not obsessively though!!! Because then you’d spend all your time maintaining it.

8. Lists! I’m a great believer in lists. I’ll always get much more accomplished if I’ve made a list before going into the studio, sometimes the lists look pretty naff: find the right fabric for the bottom left hand corner, sew two pieces together for the background, pull out all the blue fabric…but I find if I can work through crossing off as I go, I stay on task much better. It’s especially important to put things you really don’t want to do at the top of the list!

9. out of your head and onto paper: I use lists in another way too: if when I’m working I think Oh! I should get a dentist appointment, or Oh! I need to clean the window…then I just put those items down on a list to be attended to later…..then my head isn’t cluttered up with the “to do” stuff for non-studio time.

10. A hook for tomorrow: Something I read that many authors do: before you leave the studio for the day…leave out the piece of work that you want to start on the next day…so when you go in..there’s always something awaiting you.

11. Turn off the computer! And, having written that, I will! [click]


Deb said...

I've just recently discovered your blog and thoroughly enjoy your frequent posts. As for keeping to task, I like the idea of keeping lists to keep the clutter out of your head!

Libby Fife said...

This is the second post that I have seen from you with such great tips! The first one being about what an art critic sees, of course! Wonderful information and much appreciated-I am a list maker myself:)

Barbara Strobel Lardon said...

Love the ideas. I agree with Debbie about keeping lists. It does clear it out of your head and somehow gives me the feeling that things are under control. (I am a control freak of sorts.) Although I have a job & responsibilities that keep me away from my studio more than I like, I also like to remind myself that it could all be so much worse as it is for many people.