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.

Further reading;

Refining my studio time (part 1)

Refining my studio time (part 2)

©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.
 
If you like my post, please join my mailing list for my monthly email newsletter or if you have any suggestions to improve productivity in the artist’s studio please comment below.

Refining my studio time – part 2 – The Law of the Jungle

©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 – £3000 + shipping enquiry
After listening to Tim Ferris’s podcast the other day I checked out one of his recommendations and read ‘Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule‘ an essay by Paul Graham.
Paul Graham describes the difference between two types of time. Makers schedule and the Managers Schedule. I like how his simple explanations defines the two; Firstly Managers Schedule’s are cut into appointments around an hour long, sometimes longer, sometimes shorter for a single task.
While the Makers Schedule, is generally scheduled for about half a day sessions, as an hour is only normally enough time to get started.
This is all fairly obvious so far, it gets interesting when the two meet in daily life. As an artist you need to work with both schedules, to be productive in the studio and for meetings or social time.
A meeting in an artist’s day can really affect the productivity in the studio. Being aware of this helps me understand how to plan my studio time and business tasks for the week. It is important to plan for each day and review the plan the day before. I try to work out 2-5 tasks to achieve and with an understanding of how creativity works it is then possible for me to overcome procrastination and to be a lot more productive in the studio.
When working on business tasks or managers tasks as an artist, it is important not to let these stray into your studio time as this can be a time and energy killer.  Studio time needs the creative, open mind. We need to be in a relaxed, less purposeful mode where we are more contemplative and playful, allowing our creativity to take over.
Whereas Business tasks or managers tasks generally require a closed mind as there is little creativity.  By batching business tasks or managers tasks into blocks of time, they can be done away from the studio.  Putting emails, social media activities, meetings and admin tasks into a preplanned time slot just like the studio time means greater productivity.  Doing business tasks often makes the artist a little bit anxious and without humour. There are lots to be done to become a successful artist and overlapping the Makers time, and the Managers schedules can be counterproductive.
Unfortunately, business tasks or managers tasks have a way to find their way into the studio at times. For this, I recommend reading the book, Eat that Frog by Brian Tracey, and consider his helpful suggestions for removing distractions.

Refining my studio time – part 1

©Stuart Bush, The crystallisation of a scratched memory, oil on board, 70.2 x 100cm
©Stuart Bush, The crystallisation of a scratched memory, oil on board, 70.2 x 100cm – £1000 Enquiry
I made this work “The Crystallisation of a scratched memory ” in 2013. I was inspired after visiting the Gert &Use Tobias exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary in 2010. I used the rapid shutter function on my camera to capture the moment and followed it with a series of drawings and paintings. It was a unique, experimental piece of work and l enjoyed using many of the techniques and skills l developed during my degree course at Wolverhampton University. I also painted ‘Walking that Clown Walk’ at about the same time.
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Productivity in the studio has always been a problem for me. I’m sure many people can relate to this in their work environment. It is very easy to not be working on the most important things. While reading ‘The Success Principles’ by Jack Canfield l found the chapter titled ‘Refining Time’ very intrigueing and it really did help in the battle to increase productivity. This section suggests that you split your time into three groups. Best result days, preparation days and rest and recreation days.
Rest and recreation days (R&R days)
Rest and recreation days are essential to get the right balance in your life and should be just as important as eating well and exercise. The book suggests that on R&R days you should not do any work related activities, including emails and reading work related documents. And even if possible have some days away from the children. This way you are ready and refreshed, and you can work harder and smarter on your best results days and not feel guilty that you have work to do.

 

Preparation days
Preparation days are all about doing the planning, groundwork and laying the foundations in place for your best result days. Preparation days are the days when you carry out the not-so-important tasks but ones that still need to be completed to make sure that your best result days are extremely productive

Best results days
The book proposes spending more days on best result days. These days are when you do the most important work which will give you the highest payoff for the time you invest. If you schedule more of these days and hold yourself obligated to having these days you can produce better results.
This method of working is definitely a good way to obtain a better balance between work and rest days.

Crystallisation of a scratched memory is available for sale, enquiries, please click here