5 ways sleep can improve your productivity in the artist’s studio

 
©Stuart Bush A pocket full of dreams 2010 oil on canvas, 120.4 cm x 160.4 cm
I have often encountered problems in the studio. It has taken me a long time to realise how to put it in perspective and move forward quickly.  I might have an issue with a painting, and the next step would be unclear, and I would sit there contemplating ideas to solve it.  
 
I have learnt to realise that at a certain point, of staring at the painting, I am not going to find a resolution in that moment. I now reach a point when I know I need to move on to another piece of work.  I usually have two to three different art projects or paintings running side by side. Now I turn the painting to the wall and move on to the next one.  
 
I have heard the phrase, ‘it is best to sleep on it’, many times, but now I do. Within a few days or weeks, a solution normally comes to me. I have been aware the dilemma resolves itself in my head, but I was unclear how until I read, ‘Sleep Smarter’, by Shawn Stevenson.
 
In Stevenson’s book, he explains the benefits of relaxation and rejuvenation when we are asleep. After he looked into many scientific investigations and is confident that a good nights sleep with lots of REM sleep cycles helps you to;
  1. improve your efficiency,
  2. organise your memories,
  3. process the day,
  4. solve problems,
  5. and make better decisions.
 
Apparently when we sleep there no longer the usual biases and preconceptions that we have when we are awake from our conscious mind. We can make more informed choices to resolve a solution.  We can think through new ideas, thoughts and directions where we can take our work.  That explains why, when I have blank moments, like when I’m in the shower, a solution jumps out from my subconscious mind.
 
In studies, after twenty-four hours of being sleep deprived, it is likely you will make twenty percent more mistakes, and it will take fourteen percentage longer to do the exact same thing.  When we are being creative and wanting to make favourable decisions being sleep deprived prevents us from making good choices and being effective. When we force ourselves to make decisions when we are tired we often do things, that will need re-doing at a later date.
 
It is also not related with how much sleep we get.  More sleep does not necessarily equal better sleep.  Quality is much more important than quantity.  Stevenson suggests a list of quick tips that help improve the quality of your sleep;
  • A caffeine curfew at noon. (Caffeine lasts 8 hours in your body),
  • Exercising in the morning is the best time to exercise,
  • Avoiding blue light from your screens and device by having a screen time curfew, where your not looking a screen 20-60 minutes before bed.  Other helpful, useful technology tips include using the Flux app or Apple devices with night shift built in to reduce blue lights before bedtime.
  • To prevent feeling exhausted establish an evening bedtime sleep ritual, where the bedroom isn’t an entertainment hub.  Taking a bath or reading light fiction helps me to create a sleep sanctuary, giving your mind time to unwind.
If you’re in interested in learning more please read ‘Sleep Smarter’, by Shawn Stevenson, it was worth a read.

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Redefining my studio time

©Stuart Bush, The Law of the Jungle 2015 oil on aluminium panel 38 x 76 cm - £3000 + shipping enquiry
©Stuart Bush, The Law of the Jungle 2015 oil on aluminium panel 38 x 76 cm
I am always looking for ways to improve my output, whether I want to be creative or when I need to complete business tasks.  I recently read ‘Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule‘ an essay by Paul Graham. Paul Graham is a blogger, computer programmer and entrepreneur.  He is known for Lisp, his former startup Viaweb (later renamed, Yahoo! Store), co-founding the influential startup accelerator and seed capital firm Y Combinator.  Let me explain how Paul Graham’s essay helped me refine my time to help me be more productive, especially in the studio.
 
Paul Graham’s Maker’s schedule relates to computer programming. His maker’s schedule is generally about scheduling creative time, an uninterpreted period of about half of a day.  As an artist, the idea of a makers schedule helps me to keep my studio time and business tasks separate. The night before or at the start of each day, I like to write a plan of what I want to achieve. This way when I walk into my studio I begin with the creative time. 
 
The Manager’s schedule is cut into appointments of around an hour long, sometimes longer, sometimes shorter. Business tasks generally require a closed mind as there is little creativity.  When working on business tasks or managing a project, it is important not to let them stray into your studio time as this can be a time and energy killer. I have learnt to batch business tasks or managers tasks into blocks which l use for emails, social media activities, meetings and admin tasks.  I try to schedule these tasks to be completed in the afternoon or evening.
 
During the studio time I have found that there are two extra categories within maker schedule, not mentioned in the essay, that apply to the way I work. When I am trying to solve a problem I need to be creative and in an open mind frame. It can be hard to get into the state of creative flow; but once I am in it, interruptions would spoil my artistic output.  I need to be in a relaxed, less purposeful mode where l am more contemplative and playful, allowing my creativity mind to take over.  Sometimes I just need to look at my latest work and contemplate the next step and the future direction to take.  
 
Often when I am away from the studio, my mind subconsciously continues to play around with solutions.  Part of the reason I like to plan before I reach my studio is so that I have time to consider the direction my work is heading before I arrive.  If my mind is given time to wander on different subjects my brain makes connections. Although this to time ponder the problem can be uncomfortable, I often acquire the confidence to know what direction to take my work during my next studio visit. This allows me to work directly on the task with highly focused intensity and resolve issues.
 
There is lots to be done every day.  In the creative open state, sometimes my mind wonders on to business tasks or things going on in my personal life.  Any job or thought that interferes with my creative flow has the potential to stop me achieving my most important goal for the day, which is always to make new work. I keep a pen and paper nearby to write these thoughts and ideas down so I can get them out of my mind and resolve them later.  This approach leaves me content and happy that I have focused on the most important thing first and to leave the other stuff till later.  
 
It took me a while to figure out this solution to my artistic day, but it all fell into place once I had read this essay and had time to think it through. Case in point, when I take my mind off my studio work and am finished for the day, it is amazing what creative breakthroughs I have achieved.   I hope  you like these thoughts and this link to ‘Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule’ helps. Please read my related posts;
 
This post focuses on what I want to achieve in the studio each day.
 
Advice for starting a session of creativity in the studio.
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A strategy for getting started in the studio

Stuart Bush, Prep work 2015-6

If you talk to people who procrastinate when in the studio they will often say…
‘First l have to travel to the studio. Then l change my clothes, so l don’t get paint on them. Next l usually choose some music to listen to and make a cup of tea. Somehow, l need to unwind and turn my mind off from all the stuff that’s been happening in the week and focus on being creative. It’s hard getting started.’

However, if you talk to an artist who doesn’t have this problem, they might say, ‘you just pop into the studio and start drawing.’ If you then ask them about the steps involved, they will say, ‘there is just one step, you just get started.’

We all have this ability to make some things simple and other things complex. Daily success in the studio can be simple. ‘Just decide what to make before you get there, arrive and get busy. But it doesn’t mean it is easy.

Ernest Hemingway offered this advice to a young writer, “The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing a novel, you will never be stuck. That is the most valuable thing l can tell you so try to remember it.”

The first thing I am drawn to do when I arrive at the studio is to check my phone. I have personal errands, reading the news, checking my bank account, paying bills, following up on loose ends, researching things of interest on the internet plus personal messaging and social media messages. If I walk through the door and allow myself to have unplanned time, I’m finished for the day before I have even started. All the personal errands need their own block of time on my calendar, later in the day so I first have 3 hours of quality studio time.  If you notice your mind is making things complicated and stopping you from getting started, turn the dial towards simplicity in your mind.

I prepare a simple problem in advance that I can explore or play with when I arrive at the studio so there are no obstacles. I set up a clean sheet of paper and a form of inspiration like a photograph. This is often enough to prevent obstacles. The inspiration needs ideally to be a simple interesting problem to resolve through a quick sketch.

I have found it is important not to be judgemental about the outcome. If it is a mess, I can always do it again. There is no such thing as failures in my studio as I learn from every mistake. I am pleased if I have picked up a pencil I have started, that way it has been successful. Now I’m in the open creative mode it is easy to move on to something more challenging.

Please read my post ‘Productivity in the artist’s studio’ for further reading about how I define my most important two to three tasks before I arrive. 
 

At the end of each day I organise my work with the juicy ideas laid out with your pencil and paints ready for your return, aswell as a quick piece of work to get me started. By leaving my work prepared for the next day, I just arrive at the studio and start working. There is no need to stop and reflect on what to do.

It also means that by preparing what you are going to do, you have the night to ponder it sub-consciously while you are asleep. Thereby allowing new insight to come forward without you having to think about it.

For further ideas about how other artists have developed strategies, I recommend reading the book: ‘Daily Rituals: How artists work by Mason Currey.

 

©Stuart Bush, A section of ourselves as a commodified object, oil on aluminium panel, 80 x 120cm

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Productivity in the artist’s studio

©Stuart Bush, sketch book study 78, oil and charcoal on paper
 
I am taking positive steps to make me more productive in the studio including things like planning and reviewing what I am going to do in the studio before I arrive and creating some studio ground rules.
 
I have a list of current projects and series of work l am trying to complete. Before l go to my studio I write down a short list of next steps l need to take, often between two or three depending on long each one will take.  This brief list is hand written in my diary, so it is clear to follow.  This way I know what my first task is, therefore avoiding beginning with an extended period of uncertainty.  Of course, uncertainty when painting is always present, but I try to remove it at this stage with preplanning.  
 
To choose the right tasks, I ask myself a series of questions; If l only achieve 2-3 tasks in a day what would these tasks be and would l be satisfied if l only get these done? If I made only one work of excellence, which one would make an enormous difference and have the greatest consequences? 
 
To help keep my mind clear and on creative studio time I write down all the distractions l might encounter on a to-do list.  Plus l avoid all office and business related tasks while in the studio to avoid all low-level activities.  Even if these task are urgent, I still try to do them after my creative block of time of one to three hours.  The creative time must come first.
 
The rules I have put in place while working are;    
Phone on silent, select music quickly (if I choose to listen to any at all), no tv or video, no newspapers, no friends dropping by, no emailing, no internet research unless it is related to making my next work therefore, hopefully, no diversions and distractions from the creative task ahead.
 
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