Thursday, January 31, 2008

What increases your artistic productivity?

Drawing with Ease!
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

I've been prompted by a couple of posts I read recently on a productivity blog (see links at end ) about organisation and increasing productivity to ask all my readers two things:
  • What's the one thing you do which increases your artistic productivity - BUT you've never read about it in a 'how to' art book?
  • Which recommendation for improving artistic productivity do you tend to ignore - because it doesn't work for you?
Go on - show off and/or 'fess up - either or both!

Here's mine

My tip for artistic productivity

People like to draw in all sorts of different ways. I've always felt that anything which helps anybody to draw should be encouraged. For those of us who experience various aches and pains, being comfortable while drawing is a very important way of increasing our productivity.

I have problems with both sitting and standing due to a genetic inheritance which impacts on my soft tissue (eg ruptured insteps) and leads to falls. The injuries arising as a result have only exacerbated the existing problems.

This means trying to find a comfortable way of sitting for long period can be a bit of a trial. ;) I sometimes 'seize up' while sat still in my drawing class! While out sketching I sketch - for short periods only - resting on my knees or at a table. At home, I've had major reservations about using either a normal drawing board or table or an easel. I can't stand still for lengthy periods and need to sit wedged against a desk!

So, I've tried and tested all sorts of possible solutions over the years. I started to make progress when I came across the notion of a lap desk.

Nowadays, all my art is produced sitting in a comfortable armchair. I can get comfortable and find it very much easier to focus and concentrate and easily get lost for hours in my work as a result. It works particularly well for my work with coloured pencils but can also work well when I'm working on a large support with pastels - although I then tend to switch to the sofa which acquires a protective cover over the sofa cushions to avoid accidents plus I have wet wipes to hand at all times!

How do I work in an armchair? Well I've worked out all sorts of ways of making sure that I can have my materials to hand and can work at a suitable height and angle without compressing the circulation in my thighs! Click on the image at the top for a close-up view of my imaginary perspective of what I look like! I think I may need to try this one again.... ;)
  • I sit in an arm chair with cushions supporting my lumbar region.
  • I have flat surfaces to left and right for drawing materials. I usually have the colours on one side and the rest of the drawing tools on the other.
  • 5mm foam core boards of various sizes are used as drawing boards. I use a board slightly larger than the size of paper I'm working on. Foamcore is very robust and extremely lightweight (It also makes a great drawing board to take on holiday as it can go in the bottom of the suitcase and doesn't eat into your weight allowance. Take two boards and sandwich all drawing paper inbetween to avoid damage)
  • the advantage of using a 'free' board is that I can twizzle the board around to make drawing easier as I follow contours or create patterns with my pencils strokes
  • I use and adjust a selection of firm and/or soft cushions and pillows on my lap to get the board at the right height and angle - which tends to vary with the size of the board.
  • I've been tempted more than once by a lap desk but haven't succumbed as yet as I haven't found one lighter than my current arrangement. You can find various versions if you put 'lap desk' into a search engine and I've included some links below. I'm just waiting for the bright spark who comes up with a lightweight drawing board which can be angled and is also fitted with a lightweight micro-bead bottom.....
What doesn't work for me

I'm afraid I'm not a huge fan of the inspirational artist books. I do know there are people who have found them enormously helpful for getting kick-started, continuing to make progress, moving up a notch and generally being productive - but somehow they just don't do it for me.

I think it's maybe because it all comes as a book with lots of pages whereas I think I prefer to read shorter and more focused pieces on a weekly basis in things like Robert Genn's Painter's Keys letters or Alyson B Stanfield's Art Biz Blog.


So what's your unique way of increasing your artistic productivity and which tip fails to 'hit the button' with you? If I get lots of interesting and really good answers I'll do a follow up post and link back to your blog - and any post in which you write about it.

I'd love to see your drawings of you being productive as well! :D



  1. Honestly for me its deadlines. If I don't have deadlines, I question yself too much and discard some good possibilities. BUT if I have a deadline, I'm cheerful and PRODUCTIVE!!

    I agree with you on the inspirational books - I've never been able to get past the first chapter in them.

  2. Right now my deadlines aren't doing the trick - the opposite, in fact! Usually I am a miracle worker on deadline.

    One thing that helps me is rising early in the A.M.

    I had a flash of my childhood, when I used to sit in an easy chair with big, flat arms to draw. I estimate that i drew 100,000 drawings from that old chair, and secretly wish for one in my new studio.

  3. I am really interested in your use of foam board. I have arthritis and need to keep things light weight. I shall experiment!

  4. Late last year I was a paintng machine, and I've found that it's important to use strategies for the long haul instead of being a sprinter. Taking care of the business aspects and painting is a balancing act and if I'm overwhelmed I tend to freeze. Many times I will look at art blogs and magazines to get inspiration. That usually does the trick.
    Chris Bolmeier

  5. I work in the middle of the night often, so a daylight bulb and good general lighting is essential as is sound sleepers in the rest of the household. I sketch while driving (I should say being driven) and I have developed a method of concentrated looking so that I can draw later. When I was a kid I used to draw the contestants of mastermind and the news readers! I skim inspirational books looking for the inspiring pictures then read those bits and I make myself draw every day, even if it is on an envelope or napkin which is left behind. I also seem to have the habit of throwing my life into turmoil, I think it must feed my creativity!
    Love the silly feet by the way.

  6. When I have a clear daily program such as marketing, paper and business work during the morning until lunch, then a pause and afterwards back to the easel.
    And what I have realized to be very helpful for my productivity is being outdoors on the bike at least every other day in order to get the head free of dust and trash. Photographing outdoors on the hunt for new motifs and ideas spurs my inspiration and that again helps to be more productive.
    I also cannot sit still for hours - therefore moving around as much as possible is the best recipe for me.

  7. Starting a major project has been the single biggest inspiration for me to work regularly and deeply. My Waterways Project gave me a frame work to gather ideas, generate work, draw, orgainize my sketchbook. When ever I'm casting around for what to paint, I have only to visit my favorite water way or delve into my photo ref for the project. I"m indebeted to Vivien for having the Waterways Project idea and I've begun working on my portrait project this year.

    I too am a huge fan of foam core boards.

  8. Deadlines do push me to move along, but I think insomnia has become a blessing of sorts. I seem to do my best work on a hard chair in the pre-dawn hours. I can't draw in a soft chair or even sit in one for very long without getting uncomfortable so I use a hard back chair usually with a thin cushion so certain parts don't go numb!

    As for those 'inspirational' books, I leaf through them but they don't inspire me as a rule. They sometimes have quite the opposite effect. I'd sooner have the interaction of other bloggers and websites.

    Love your little drawing by the way. Very comfortable you look.

  9. What a great question. Rather than take up space here, I posted my answer on my blog. I have enjoyed reading other people's answers very much. So much inspiration!

  10. I'm curious about the inspirational books mentioned -- what are they?

    The thing that helps me be the most productive is to start early in the morning when I have more energy, and to stay away from the computer as much as possible.

    Also, I keep all of my stuff out and in sight, so it's easy for me to just pick up a brush or grab a pencil and get to work, I don't have to continually put everything away and then take it out again, which wastes time. Yes, it's a messy solution, but it works for me!

  11. What works for me:
    1. Dedicated art space
    2. Keep a sketchbook
    3. Go outside!
    What doesn't:
    1. Showing work too early
    2. Perfectionism
    3. Television

  12. Inspirational books do nothing for me - sometimes they irritate me.

    Keeping away from the computer is the most productive action I can take!

    Lately I achieve most at my little desk by the bedroom window - far from my studio and computer. Sometimes I put the laptop on the floor there, tuned to Radio 4 - then it's not a computer but a radio, which is quite a good productivity aid.

    I love the look of your cozy chair, Katherine, surrounded by all your 'bits'.

    That leaves me with one final problem: How to say Foam Core Board in Italian, because no matter where I seek I have never seen one here!

  13. These are going to sound strange but...sunshine! It's hard to be inspired when it's cold, overcast and the light is dull. Also, as I used to draw every night after work in my early twenties, I used to listen to Joni Mitchell's Hejira a LOT. Now if I hear it, it's like a trigger, I'm instantly ready to draw. A handful of other artists do that to me too, it's a great shortcut when nothing else has worked!
    Inspirational books are a double-edged sword - they can inspire but they can also make you feel like 'well that's so amazing, why do I even bother?'. Deadlines are great too - I'll invent them if I don't have any, like 'I'll post this on my blog by such and such a day'. Having to keep a blog has transformed my output.

    What doesn't work is other artists telling me what to do. I subscribe to the Weekly Keys and generally enjoy them but I get quite annoyed by the 'loosen up, work fast' ideology that is everywhere these days. That is great if that is your style but it doesn't apply to all artists, all styles, all media. So much sloppy work is accompanied by this mantra as if to head off criticism. Computers are a BIG distraction and time waster and need to be balanced against the benefit of being in touch with other artists!

  14. A plan that includes deadlines is my best incentive. I'm more of a single focus personality type...too much in my head at one time and nothing gets done! For the same reason I listen to soft jazz while I work, I find it soothing and it doesn't interrupt my thought process.

    As for my creativity...there are more ideas in my head than I will ever accomplish in my lifetime. I find I must work at my drawing table.

  15. Katherine

    as another person with a disability (T12), may i please salute your courage.

    thanks for sharing the 'lap-desk' idea.

    may i also share one of my teaching adages (other than 'comfort is next to godliness'):

    'if you paint sitting down, then stand up & have a break. if you paint standing up, then sit down & have a break.'

    this isn't only for reasons of comfort but also for shifting the concentration & getting an overview on the painting in progress. i find that trying to pull a painting together in the later stages requires 'recul' or distance.this isn't just physical but is mental as well.

    clambering out of an armchair may be a bit difficult but often, what i have observed whilst teaching over the years, is that people get the bit between their teeth & chase the painting to bitter last, rather than getting an overview & assessing what needs to be done. if getting out of the arm chair is impossible, maybe the frequent use of 'disorientation' techniques such as the mirror-upside down trick might be a substitute? it takes discipline to apply this.

    matisse managed to make those wonderful cut-outs from a wheel chair.

    draw on!

  16. It's really fun to read all these ideas. I put mine here .

  17. Thanks for sharing! I enjoy making art in front of the telivision. Not when I watch a movie or something like that, but random tv-watching with series is great, home decoration programs etc. Then I love to spread my stuff out in front of me and glue or sew on the table or in my lap, or using a tray (that I also have with me in bed) to put my crayons and pens on.

    I don't think I've commented on you blog before, but I enjoy reading it and hope you'll keep writing you interesting stuff here! :-)

    Take care and keep creating!

  18. What works for me:
    Going to an outside studio, that actually has other artists in the near vicinity. I enjoy people around.

    I also enjoy having multiple projects happening at once.

    What does not work: Not sure. I guess procrastination. And I blame the computer! I find it is so easy to sometimes waste a great deal of time on the computer. jax chachitz

  19. As a physical therapist I like the fact that you bring attention to the postural benefits of using a lap desk. I make Lap of Luxury Lap Desks in Eugene, Oregon. I have two standard sizes and do custom orders. I use maple or cherry laminate as well as solid bamboo. Many cool fabrics. You can find me on-line under 'lap desks Eugene, Oregon'. I'm happy to help with specific physical problems too. Thanks for supporting products made in America.


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