Wednesday, May 11, 2011

10 ways to fritter and 10 ways to stop! Confessions of a champion fritterer!


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


Nina Marie said...

Wow! Elizabeth - I'm thinkin' you've been peeking in my windows! I've pretty much done all of those things to avoid creating at one time or another - or several at the same time! One thing that I'm going to start doing is. . . Next January when the winter doldrums hit, I'm going to do a pretty traditional pattern - gasp! - yes I said pattern, to keep me sewing. The directions are there and it will keep my hands going and my sewing lights on! That way, when I do get creative, my hands are already on fabric!

tongfengdemao said...

I had to laugh when you mentioned giving yourself tidy up time as a reward. I have to reward myself for tidying up! I don't consider myself a professional artist. I do what I do because I love doing it, but still I need the rewards to keep my plugging away. I give myself a time/completion goal... either spend a set time or have a set amount to finish (usually whichever comes first). Then I can take time to read. I've only just implemented this, but it seems to be working -- at least a little bit.

Nina Marie said...

Sorry - forgot another suggestion - I listen to a good book on mp3 (tape/cd whatever) and the rule is that I can only listen in my sewing hole! Keeps me going back!

Sonia said...

Once upon a time I had the luxury of all the time I wanted in my studio. I spent at least 6 hours a day but could spend more if I wanted. Enter grandson and dog who had no place to be except my studio. I am now lucky if I can spent 2 hours 3 days a week there. Believe me, I treasure my time and now no longer fritter. The perfect cure I wouldn't wish on anyone!

Tien Chiu said...

I've found that the only times I fritter are when I'm afraid of some aspect of my work, or when I'm bored. When it's fear, I sit down and ask myself what is bothering me, and that often leads to a fruitful internal discussion about what I'm creating, why it terrifies me, and how to get past the fear. If I'm bored, I know I need to change some aspect of the project so it retains my interest. Between those two "fixes", and the time pressures of a full-time job, I rarely find myself frittering! If I'm not at work or doing one of life's necessities, I'm in the studio. I love my work (handweaving and surface design), and just wish I had more time for it!

Marié du Toit said...

This is a wonderful post. I will print it and refer to it often. There is so many truths and useful suggestions. Thank you very much- this must have taken a lot of your time and a lot of brilliant thoughts!

Linda M said...

Great post - I recognized myself frittering away!

Elsie Montgomery said...

Great post. I still remember the advice you gave me in Canmore when I said I was attention-deficit... and how to work with it instead of trying to do things like everyone else... or using it as an excuse for not getting anything done. I've removed all non-art stuff from my studio, which really helped with the distractions. As Tien Chiu said, I also think out my procrastinations and distractions. But most of all, I'm just enjoying the process and not focused as much on "success" by the way others measure it, as I am on growing as a person and as an artist. Elizabeth, you rock!

Ann said...

The experts reckon it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert (the ten thousand hour rule). The book Bounce goes into the myth of talent vs practise and is fascinating. I have started a a new hobbie/career and have made a grid for 10,000 hours. Got one hour down so far and had it a week :). I am certainly a champion fritterer - had LOADS of practise.

Cathy Kleeman said...

I was going to post a long comment, but I think I will go down into my studio and do some work instead. Thanks for the kick in the pants!

Shelly said...

Thanks Elizabeth, I just did a quick sketch because your post inspired me. But really it was frittering because I sat at my computer to work on my website instead
It's funny how when I'm writing webpages I wish I was quilting, and when I'm quilting I have website ideas.

Kristi said...

I have printed your list and am starting to work on the solutions. I'm in the middle of Twyla Tharp's book, "The Creative Habit" which has many reinforcing ideas. We do best with consistent work than with weekend cramming.

And I signed up for your Series class in June. Hurray!