Living at the convergence of faith and art.

Balance & Productivity

Accidental Splendor - QuiltBlock Collage

Accidental Splendor by Lewis M. Curtiss jr~

You’ve seen them at variety shows, and circuses; plate spinners.  To great fanfare and energetic music they place long thin rods into a base on the floor and proceed to balance a plate atop each by spinning it.  They begin with maybe four and by the end of the act they’ve got eight, ten, maybe twelve or more plates up there spinning away.  The suspense of this show is that the performer must run from one plate to another whipping the rod round to give its plate the spin needed to stay up there.  The grand finale is that, for a mere moment, they can actually stop long enough to take a bow before rushing along the line of rods collecting their plates without dropping a single one.

I don’t know about you, but as a working artist and a global thinker I can sometimes get too many plates spinning.  These gifts of being both global and a philomath are driving forces to my art practice, but unless I channel them somehow I break far more plates than I spin.  I get far too many “ideas” about what I might make.  I get to thinking about how to show ‘n’ sell my art long before I’ve even created any.  It’s frustrating.

In the last several of weeks though, I’ve finally got some of this discomboobulation figured out (which is why it’s been so long between posts here).  I’ve found that if I mix just the right amount of disciplined art-making time, with just the right amount of flexibility I can actually get the work made without losing other tasks between the cracks.

In the past I’ve tried everything from rigid schedules, to no schedule and everything in between.  I’ve set digital reminders (like egg timers) to tell me that it’s time to go here, do that, and make this.  In that milieu though, the uninterrupted serendipity of creativity simply hit the floor.  Then I gave up entirely and just did what seemed to be the right thing to work on at the moment.

For example; Have you ever gone onto the internet specifically looking for one thing, but getting drawn down various other fascinating bunny-trails, and after two or three hours of fascinating wandering, discover you’ve gained nothing?  Being a philomath it happens to me all the time.  So how do I organize myself in ways that enhance how I’m wired AND get the best art made at the same time?

It took a lot of experimentation but, I am now trying out what I call a Work Guide, and so far it’s been wonderful because I’m getting good work done and lots of it.

Coptic Bound Journals

Coptic Bound Journals

I found that the artist in me needs regularly set aside hours of uninterrupted, focused, making.  I need to be free of concern for other tasks; learning, marketing, portfolio, CV, etc.  I need to know that none of these other important items will be overlooked or forgotten.  I also had to ask myself what the most important thing about my art practice really is.  It’s about making the very best art I can at this moment, and yet I’m not a creativity factory.  I’m not doing this just to “produce”, hence the gentle, uninterrupted art making time.  The solution God gave me is wonderful in its simplicity.

I now commit to making art for at least 5-hours every morning beginning at 8am, and I will work on only one of the three types of art I am currently making.  On Monday & Tuesday, I bind books.  On Wednesday & Thursday, I make Collage Quilt Works.  On Friday & Saturday, I make Collage/Mixed-Media Paintings.  After lunch each day, I review my other commitments. If there’s nothing needing my attention, I just keep going with the morning’s work.

The exciting thing for me is the juxtaposition of both sacred / don’t interrupt me / must do the work art-making time, and the fluid / open-ended / serendipitous flexible time of other tasks and commitments.  When I get to my afternoons I can rest assured that the Main Thing was tended too – Making Art for that day.  In the afternoon I’m free to go on an Artist’s Date (Julia Cameron), or other refreshing, creativity nourishing outing.  I’ve done the work and I can “play” if I want to without any guilt (art-journaling / photography / sketching / drawing / reading).

It all reminds me of Twyla Tharp‘s wonderful book, Creative Habits: How to Develop and Keep One.  She uses habits, what she calls “rituals”, to get her started, focused, and prepared to make meaning for the day.  Come what may, good days, lousy ones, she goes through her rituals and gets the work done.  It happens because she protects her creative self and her process through meaningful, preparatory habits / rituals.

My old friends . . .

I’m sorry Julia Cameron, but I must delay my Morning Pages for five hours until after I’ve made my art for the day.  Anything that needs attention, like a wonderfully nagging great idea, is parked quickly and briefly onto a note pad and I get right back to the making.  The Making of Art is the Main Thing, everything else in my practice is in support of that fact.

So far it’s working really well!   Oh, there’s my 8-o’clock alarm.  Sorry, I gotta get to work!

How do you deal with your own productivity in balance with all else that you do and are?  What works for you? Do you know how you’re wired for learning and creating and are you caring for it?

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