Finding Time for My Art When Priorities Must Shift

Photo by Giallo:

As my priorities need to shift, I’ve had to grapple with the questions of where I find studio time and how do I keep my art practice from suffering from a time deficit. Finding time for what is important is something with which we all struggle. Work/life balance is frequently written about for legitimate reasons. It is a difficult balance to strike and affects every aspect of our being. This month I’ve been struggling with a new version of this balancing act which involves work, life, and the studio.

Why My Priorities Need to Shift

I have a pressing need to find a way to underwrite my art, and my life. The stereotypical starving artist scenario holds no fascination for me whatsoever. For various reasons my attempts at obtaining a remote corporate job have been unsuccessful. One reason may be that my heart hasn’t been in it, and that probably came across.

For a very long time, I’ve believed I hated office work because I found it a stifling, soul-crushing endeavor. I believed I was trapped because that is where my skills and experience lie. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been working on establishing a freelance administrative consultancy, and I discovered something rather surprising. I don’t hate office work. Exploitation, office politics, and herd mentality are what I hate. Most of the time I don’t mind the work at all.

I, now, happily work long hours to get a business set up. It is no small project starting a small business; as many of you may know. One of my daily challenges is the work/life balance, or rather work/life/art balance.

How This Struggle Shows up For Me

The truth is I’m a 100% kind of person. I throw myself into whatever I’m doing with wholehearted abandon. This means one primary focus and fitting the other aspects of my life around it. When I worked full-time in an office, and art was my hobby, Sunday was art day. It worked well.

However, I’m now working night and day on the new business and much of that is a learning curve, which can be exhausting. Art is no longer just a hobby for me and I’ve never been able to move backward in life. A lateral move is the best I can tolerate. None of my old-scheduling fixes work now, because I’ve never been in this situation before. A new approach is needed.

Earning a living comes first. I won’t be moving forward in life if I’m homeless. My standards in the practical aspects of life are lowered to accommodate; yet not so far as to cause problems or become demoralizing. Writing this blog 4 times a month is too much but twice a month is a frequency that is comfortable for me right now. I’m still able to find studio time, just not as much as before.

Looking at the Big Picture

Strange as it may sound, I believe all this is, ultimately, a very good thing for my art practice. It takes the ‘making a living pressure’ off of it and places it elsewhere. That pressure was affecting my relationship with my art. Removing that block is very freeing. Having short pieces of studio time keeps things from getting bogged down and keeps everything fresh.

The time I do spend in the studio is like a vacation from everything on the other side of that door; which also helps everything on the other side of the door. When I take a break from the computer now, I can create a world of my choosing or express what I need to express from my inner world. I can’t think of a better way to take a break. It’s like a mini vacation.

What the New Approach Looks Like

Some loose structure is needed. This whole process of learning, researching, and bootstrapping is exhausting; exhilarating but exhausting. I found if I just tried to work in the studio time, whenever, I would skip a day because I just didn’t feel it. That is a very slippery slope and soon it was 2-3 days with no art.

I do not have a specific time of day scheduled now; that is a free-range decision. I do have a goal of spending time in the studio every day. The length of time varies from 20 minutes to 1 ½ hours.

What I’ve Been Doing

My focus is on 8” square paintings on paper with a goal of 1 a day. That isn’t always possible, but they are small so never takes more than 2 short sessions to complete one. Getting too bogged down in detail and tweaking the life right out of my work is a recurring problem. So, the focus of these exercises is simplification of composition and rendering, by painting vistas. You know, looking at the big picture, not all the little details. Something that is very useful in my life, in general, right now.

At first, I was going to do 3 of each composition, just as stated in the roadmap. I do find the second attempt is better than the first. By the time I get to the third the quality drops because I’m bored with it and eager to move on to something else.

Here are some of the small paintings on paper, taped to my studio walls. The first attempts in the series are on the bottom with the third on top.

Lately, I’ve been experimenting, so many of the pieces aren’t very pretty but do move me along. I find some things I really don’t want to do again, and others I want to pursue further. For example, today  I tried a different approach to palette knife work in the foreground that is promising.

Close up of foreground knife work from 8″ painting by Karon Tripp. Photo by Karon Tripp.

Considering Full Scale Work

I also dug out a 30” square canvas on which I’d poured an under-painting a while back. I was happy with it when I finished the pour but when I came back the next morning it had run together in a big grey mess. Today I took it outside to sand it back. It didn’t make a huge difference, but I was able to uncover a few layers of green and blue. I was holding back because I was concerned sanding more vigorously would damage the canvas. There is a painting in there, even if it doesn’t seem obvious right now.

Poured under painting. Photo by Karon Tripp.

It isn’t quite the right time to give up the small paintings. Even though I do get frustrated working so small, I have the satisfaction of completing something on a regular basis; even with reduced studio time. That is helping morale greatly. Also, I am now using the small exercises to work out a composition for the larger painting. 

I’m adjusting to my new challenges and everything important is getting done. My studio practice changed dramatically, and the changes seems to make my practice better. I am optimistic, happy, and love learning new things every day. Posting to my Facebook page has also slowed, but I do still post updates there as well. I would love for you to join the conversation.  

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