When I ask about students’ struggles with developing a solid painting practice, their biggest obstacle is not style, or technique, or shading, or color knowledge. Their main struggle is … making time for painting!
Hey, I get it. I am a pro artist (as in, I’ve been doing this art thing for a living for over a decade), and you know what? It’s hard for ME to find time to paint. You may think – how can that be? – but here’s how: as a full-time peddler of my own creations, I run a business which requires many parts to be synchronized together. And some of that includes: accounting, marketing, art show applications, social media, image editing, research, answering customer emails, printing, packing, shipping, framing, communicating with galleries and stores… I’m exhausted just listing all of these. So, clearing brain of all that clutter and shoving aside the schedule of all these tasks isn’t always easy…. but necessary, and so I prioritize showing up in front of my easel, on average, about 5 days per week. And once I am finally in full-on painting mode, it feels pretty awesome.
The thing is, some of our time constraints are literal (when you just don’t have a free minute in your schedule!) and others are psychological (those have to do with prioritizing, and spending less time on social media, and maintaining focus while working, and viewing the task as being more monumental than it actually is). When you’re struggling with making time for painting, it’s important to address both.
Here’s how you can get better at awarding yourself with more painting hours!
SET UP YOUR PAINTING AREA
Set up your painting area AHEAD OF TIME, because nothing kills creative enthusiasm like tedious preparation. If you constantly have to search for canvases, pencils, brushes, unfold your easel, get all of your colors in order, and then stash it all away in different areas after you’re done – not only that eats into your precious painting time, but it also saps your energy.
If you have room in your home, dedicate a full space to your easel (or painting table), as well as cart or surface area on which you keep your paints and brushes, palette and water.
Plan your lighting ahead of time, too – if you paint only at day time and your light source is a window, that’s great. But for most of us, window alone does not provide enough of a reliable light source, because even at day time, it can cast a shadow from our painting hand. It is best to have a strong light source mounted overhead – and / or, you can set up lights on both right and left side of your easel for shadow-less process.
If your home does NOT have enough space to leave your easel and paints and brushes in “ready to go” mode, you can store them away – but make it an easy storage option, ok? Keep them all together. Something like a cart with wheels and multiple drawers can serve as your Artist Station. Clear stackable plastic bins can serve as additional storage (clear, so you can see what’s inside, which can be helpful when looking for that very specific shade of blue).
Point here is, you should take no longer than 5-10 minutes to prep your area for painting every time you are ready for creation.
Scheduling a task is one of the most effective ways of getting to it. Seems pretty obvious, right? But many creative enthusiasts don’t treat their art practice that way.
Scheduling means writing the time down, putting it on your calendar, and sticking to it. Just like committing to a dinner with a friend, or a class (that you have already paid for!) – you gotta decide on “when” and then show up for it.
So, even if you can only commit to 1-2 hours of painting per week – get it into your planner!
Easier said than done, I understand. You may have children, and pets, and dinner cooking, and loud noises all around. But to successfully get into your “zone”, you need to start with clearing distraction-free time space for each painting session. Think of it like meditation – people don’t run over to the kitchen every 5 minutes to stir soup while they are sitting with legs crossed and eyes closed, right?
Because when you get interrupted constantly, you lose your flow, and getting back into that flow will take more time, and as a result, your improvements will take much, much longer.
So, turn off that TV and put your phone on the other side of the room so you don’t constantly get tempted to check social media.
But you know what you can do? Surround yourself with pleasant sound stimulation. We (visual artists) are lucky in that painting brain normally does not interfere with our sound processing brain (if sound is pleasant, and doesn’t force us to stop, that is), so we can, in fact, multi task here. Allow yourself to consume podcasts or audiobooks, or rock it out to music while you paint.
And if silence is what you crave – then painting in complete silence has its very soothing and reenergizing special powers too.
START THE PAINTING, DAMMIT!
If all this talk about preparation makes you think that you should be all seamlessly and magically aligned before you delve into your painting – get that nonsense our of your head, fast!
The most important part of your painting practice is to START. If you are not inspired – START. If you don’t feel like it – START. If bad things are on your mind – just START.
Dip that brush into paint, and get that paint on your canvas. START.
I’m sure you already know this habit forming mantra. The biggest hurdle with going to the gym is getting out of the door, right? So think of paint touching your canvas as you opening that door. You will not get anywhere unless you open the door first. START.
Don’t feel the inspiration to get back to that big canvas you’ve already put so many hours into? That doesn’t excuse you from keeping up with your practice, sorry pal! Grab a small blank canvas and create a warm-up mini piece. START.
Things begin to align after you start. Those challenging parts work themselves out one way or another, but it happens WHILE you paint. So the most important word of this blog post, I’m not sure if I happened to mention it yet? ….….START!
EMBRACE THE UGLY
There will probably always be a stage in the creation of each painting where you think your work looks HIDEOUS. And this anxiety can push beginners to stay away from painting.
You may have all the time in the world to get to the easel and finish a piece, but are feeling like a failure because your painting has reached the “ugly stage” – and that keeps you away from even looking in the direction of your art supplies.
And sorry to tell you, that “hideous” process stage may never go away – I’m not immune to it at all, and I’ve created thousands of originals over all my years.
What DOES change though, is your mindset. And by that, I mean how perceive that ugly painting stage of yours. And the sooner it shifts, the better you will feel. The better you will feel, the more progress you will make.
Embrace your unsightly painting stage, love it, laugh about it if you have to, maybe talk to it a little. “You poor thing. If people saw you right now, they would be horrified. Lets make you all nice and pretty. Let’s start with this window riiiight here and add a little white. Now, the layering over here. And the grass right down here. Ah! I see small signs of life. Stay with me! It’s a process, but you will be the best! I believe in you”.
Most importantly, know that it’s an inevitable stage of creation, and it will pass. As long as you keep at it.
HAVE MULTIPLE PIECES IN PROGESS
Sometimes during a painting session, our brains get a little stuck, and we find ourselves in need of a break from the piece we are trying to finish. That is completely normal (and, ahem, if your painting is going through that “ugly stage”, you can take a rest from it too, as long as you will return to it and give it love)! Walk away from the painting for a few days, so you can later come back to it with fresh eyes.
But don’t sacrifice the remainder of your painting time just because that piece is “resting”. Have 2-3 works-in-progress going so you can swap up for another on your easel. Switching between multiple pieces helps to get your brain unstuck and keeps it interesting.
That’s right, tomato (if you speak Italian, grazie).
Have you heard of the Pomodoro technique? It’s a very popular time management method, designed to keep your mind in the game. For this, you simply need a timer. Any timer – one on your phone will do (as long as you promise to not start browsing your apps, deal?)
Set the timer for 20 minutes and start painting. You are only allowed to stop when the time is up. After a 20 minute chunk, you’ve earned a 5 minute break! Set your timer for 5 minutes, get up, stretch and relax. Then – back to another 20-minute session. And then – take 5 again. And, continue.
This method develops discipline of keeping your attention on task. After a while of practicing this, you will get better at ignoring distractions, and that means – less precious painting time lost!
Oh, and it’s called Pomodoro after that cute little red tomato kitchen timer. Which are still around by the way, so you can totally get one for your painting space!
CLEAN UP AFTER YOU PAINT
It’s an obvious suggestion, but not everyone does it. Because it’s SO effortless and easy to leave old paint water and palettes with dried up crusty paint sitting around! But that only means, more prep work for you at your next painting date with yourself. And don’t you want to start your next painting date with a clean slate? I sure as heck do.
…And what do you think? Did miss anything? Do you have your own time-creating tips for your painting practice that you’d like to share? Please leave a comment below! And if you’d like to have more discussions and gain feedback on your work, don’t forget to join our Facebook group here (it’s free!) – Expressive Acrylic Painting with Anastasia Mak