Monday, February 25, 2008

Feedback on what increases your artistic productivity

Pink petals
coloured pencils on Arches Hot Press, 6" x 6"

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

***STOP PRESS*****************************************
Reading blogs may help you to be more productive as an artist!

At the end of January, I did a post about What increases your artistic productivity - and invited people to comment on what they found helped them. It attracted a lot of comments and lots of really good insight into what works for other people!

I used to have to make sense of lots of different perspectives as part of my job so it was fun to take the comments and see whether a pattern emerged and, if so, what it was. Well the answer is that it did - and it reminded me quite a bit of some aspects of 'The Seven Habits of Effective People' by Stephen Covey. Hence the conclusion which is my version of the seven habits translated into artspeak! I'm toying with the idea of developing this into an article - so please let me know what you think.

What helps to increase productivity
....if I have a deadline, I'm cheerful and PRODUCTIVE!!
Nicole Caulfield

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.
Felicity Grace
    • Having a project for some people helps them to frame, focus and generate ideas and material. Some people found that multiple projects were helpful. I know I always need an alternative to work on when I get 'stuck'.
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.
Lindsay (Non Linear Arts)
Having a specific list of goals really helps me. I need to know each day exactly what the art time is supposed to accomplish. Without that, I either fail to fight the battle with the kids over "quiet time" or I spend the whole time wondering what I should do.
Rose Welty (Rose's Art Lines)
  • Time management - in the short and long term - is important
    • Having a strategy for the long haul and pacing yourself is important. For Chris Bolmeier (Chris Bolmeier Art) this means avoiding being overwhelmed by too many demands on her time. She focuses on getting the balance right by making sure she finds time for business as well as painting. Petra Voegtle (Images and Imagination) finds it very helpful to have set times for getting specific business tasks done after which she gets back to the easel.
  • Rejuvenation of your wellbeing and your visual brain is also important.
    • exercise enhances wellbeing Petra needs to get out into fresh air and to exercise to clear her mind for her work. She also likes to move around while she is working. Adam Cope (Dordogne Painting Days) spelled out the benefits of moving after this comment - read the comments for more information.
'if you paint sitting down, then stand up & have a break. if you paint standing up, then sit down & have a break.'
Adam Cope (Dordogne Painting Days)
    • environment impacts on productivity Having a studio environment - or a chair - which works for you enables productive work. Tania needs a dedicated art space. Casey wants a chair like mine while Jeanette wants a nice hard one! People often like background noise - music is favoured by people like Marsha (who favours jazz) while Robyn (Have Dogs, Will Travel) likes her radio. Felicity Grace (Sketches by Fiz) just needs sunshine and to hear Joni Mitchell's Hejira! Television splits opinions. ihanna (Create and Live Happy) likes working with creativity oriented TV programmes on in the background while Tania and Carol both think television does not help productivity.
    • Being with other artists - Jax Chachitz (Atelier Jax) prefers to be in a studio near other artists. That simply isn't an option for many people which I guess is why communication via the internet has become important for a number of artists. However showing work too early inhibits some artists.
    • Reading art blogs can inspire and helps stimulate artistic productivity! Seriously! The rationale seems to be rather similar to the more traditional stimulus of looking at images in art books if you can't find a handy gallery, Actually looking at different sorts of art helps people to respond in a visual way - and a number of people considered they were often more productive after looking at art and illustrated blogs.
What tends to inhibit artistic productivity
  • "The computer" was seen as a serious timewaster by some and to be avoided by others. I guess it depends on what you do with it but it does seem to have a 'suck you in/stay too long' effect on quite a lot of people!
Computers are a BIG distraction and time waster and need to be balanced against the benefit of being in touch with other artists!
Felicity Grace
  • "Inspirational books" A number of people commented on the fact that "inspirational books" did nothing for them. They actually antagonised and irritated some artists. I was intrigued by this - see my response below!
  • A lack of a balance in their life Trying too hard/too much painting can make some people stale. This seems to be the artist equivalent of 'burn-out' or writer's block - and that's not something which goes away quickly or easily if it hits you hard.
Habits which make you more effective as an artist?

I did notice that at least one of my respondents listed The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey as one of their favourite books. If you want a short synopsis then you can read more about it on a few websites including his own, Wikipedia and QuickMBA.

I also noticed that a number of the habits which contributed to productivity seemed to echo a number of Covey's suggestions.

His notion is founded on the idea that the principles and habits you adopt can inform the way you choose to live your life. I've used his seven 'habit' headings and what they are supposed to be about and then tried to apply them to what it means to be an effective and productive artist. Read on to see what I made of it. The links are to an explanation of each habit on Stephen Covey's website.
  • Habit 1 - be proactive As an artist you don't leave things to chance. You know you can determine your own future and you choose to focus on the things which matter to you and which you can influence. These will normally include: your subject matter, how you paint, your studio environment, who you do business/associate with, your marketing and distribution channels.
  • habit 2 - begin with the end in mind You can imagine yourself as a successful artist and know what you need to do to become one. Your art has a clear direction; you have stated goals for your career as an artist and you know what your personal and artistic priorities are.
  • habit 3 - put first things first You are very disciplined about how you work on your art, your art career and your art business. You focus on results and manage your time well. You make time for the routine and achieve a balance between producing art and managing your art business. You're very clear that the urgent must not drive out the important (exhibitions versus tax returns!). You avoid procrastination and becoming easily distracted by the pressing, proximate, popular and pleasant (eg loitering in art supplies shops!) by being clear what you need to do and what MUST get done. You develop habits (the prioritised 'to do' list which is clear about results) which clearly demonstrate how you focus on essential activities in order to be productive, achieve results and become more successful.
  • habit 4 - think win-win Artists who live their lives according to the 'win-win' principle/habit have integrity about what they do and how they work. They are mature and confident in their approach to the art environment in which they live and work and understand success very often comes because you work successfully with other people (eg with gallery owners or as part of an artists' co-operative). 'Win-win' artists are empathetic and supportive of development. They contribute ideas and critique art with a view to being clear about what needs to be said but do this in a way which is considerate of other people's own ideas about art and their feelings. ("There is no one right way of making art"). Above all, they believe that there is always plenty to go round and that it's easier to be more successful if you live and work together in a spirit of co-operation rather than competition.
Win-win sees life as a cooperative arena, not a competitive one. Win-win is a frame of mind and heart that constantly seeks mutual benefit in all human interactions.
Stephen Covey
  • habit 5 - seek first to understand and then to be understood This habit relates to communication and emphasises the importance of listening intelligently and without the filters which are about 'what does this mean for me' or 'how do I fit this bit of information into how I see the world'. This means artists are open to new knowledge and ideas and interpretations of the world about them and how artists see this. They don't judge art according to their own perspective on how art 'should' be done. Instead they seek to understand what an artist is trying to do and why they work as they do before reaching a judgement. For me it means we all recognise we have a lot to learn from one another.
  • habit 6 - synergize This is the habit of creative co-operation and is about recognising the value of the contributions of others and the value of effective team working. As an artist you don't try and do it all yourself. You recognise that you can accomplish and achieve more by working with others who can help you than you can on your own. (When working as a consultant I used to call this the 2+2=6 approach.). Who those others are is up to you - it could be gallery owners or getting your children to do the packing and postage!
  • habit 7 - sharpen the saw This is the habit of maintenance and self renewal. All artists need to nourish and develop their spiritual, mental, physical and social/emotional wellbeing. Some use images, some use the friendship of other artists, some use exercise and keep fit, some place an emphasis on the maintenance of their health, some manage their money and business well to avoid stress and anxiety and some reinvent themselves on a periodic basis so their art remains fresh and vibrant. This habit on its own enables you to function effectively in every other respect. Think about what you need to renew yourself.
I hope you got something out of the analysis of feedback and notions about effective habits in this incredibly long piece!

If you have anything to contribute on this topic which might be helpful to others please leave a comment below.


  1. Really wonderful follow-up, Katherine!

    I have a couple of things to add since I missed the original post in Jan. These really helped me when I was doing my several hundred pieces last year!

    1) constantly reevaluate the way you work on your art -- the technical aspects. Just because it's the way you've always laid down color, etc., doesn't mean it's the best or most efficient. I spend a lot of time at my colored pencil workshops breaking folks of inefficient habits they picked up as newbies.

    2) have set hours to work on art if you have problems getting started. If your mind knows all day that at 2 p.m. you're going to start to work on art, I guarantee that at 2 p.m. you'll sit down and get right to work.

    3) Slay self-doubt. It sucks up time and inspiration. Don't wonder whether you should start that new piece . . . just do it.

    4) Keep a well-stocked studio (or art space). It's hard to be efficient and create beautiful art if you reach for a tube of paint and don't have it or really want to work on your pastels and have run out of your favorite paper. Do an inventory every so often to keep from being caught with your pants down.

    5) Definitely be accountable to as many people as possible. Tell your husband you're going to finish X piece by Y time. He won't care (well, he might, especially if it's a nude piece of him dancing in the moonlight that you're planning to show in a national exhibition), but by telling him, you've promised yourself you're going to get it done by Y time.

  2. Great post Katherine! I see some things in there I do, somethings I wish I did, and some things that are just plain funny. :)

  3. Thank you for putting this all together. I think it will make a very good and helpful article. I really relate to Maggie's number 3 about slaying self-doubt. I think that is the number one distractor for me. Great post.

  4. Hi Katherine,
    nice recap of important habits for artistic productivity. I think these cover really everything that's necessary. Great reminder also!
    And thanks for the plug!
    Best regards,

  5. Thank you Katherine for a great article. I, too, can relate to Maggie's no. 3 of "self-doubt" daughter calls it "Monkey-Mind" (taken from The Energy of Money by Maria Nemeth) or that chatter in our minds that undermines our good intentions or goals.

  6. I've read the teenager version for the seven habits book, and I must say this is a wonderful entry!

    and great answer, maggie.

    as a student, especially an art one, my teachers are slowly honing me for always starting with the end in mind, and pacing myself so i don't exhaust my energies two days before the deadlines.

    They understand that, however, there are some times we just don't feel like actually doing it - but have got to do it. Making a routine out of it makes it easier in my mind, though. It's always harder to get started than to work on it, I've found out, with everything in life.

    Thank you for putting this together, it makes me think about my own habits and how to change a few of them. Thumbs up!

  7. Glad I could be helpful -- I talked about self-doubt on my blog awhile back. Katherine, do you mind if I post the link here? If you do, just delete this comment.

    Anyway, the link on how to smack artistic self-doubt with a wet noodle is here.

  8. These two posts on artistic productivity have been really great: I found it a valuable exercise to evaluate what's been working for me and what hasn't Also, I found it stimulating to read what works and what doesn't for others. Some really insightful stuff out there, i.e. Nicole Caufield's declaration that deadlines make her feel "cheerful".
    Because deadlines have always felt slightly threatening to me, her comment has made me wonder if I maybe I could use an attitude adjustment?

  9. I have no idea how I missed your January post (???) but thanks for this summary. So much of this rings true.

    This year I've improved so much due to addressing several of these things. BIG improvements for me having come from doing Alyson Stanfield's 'Get Organized' class online and joining the Accidental Creative. I can't recommend both enough!

    So now I'm organised, I'm on top of my calendar and schedule, I actually schedule daily! including painting hours, I assess the use of my work hours and even non-work hours, I'm focusing on effective work and use of time (not efficient - big point on Accidental Creative).

    All of this actually leaves me with far more energy for creating. :)

  10. Katherine,
    Thank you for such an well organized post. It's great seeing what everyone does and I hadn't heard of Steven Covey's book's now on my "must read" list.

  11. Wonderful post and thanks for organizing all of this information. I thought of something else. Having a blog and making a public commitment to complete a project really helps me too.This ties in with Maggie's # 5.

  12. Great post Katherine!

    Ditto Maggie's comment about, "Don't wonder whether you should start that new piece . . . just do it."

    I think self-doubt often masks itself as indecision. Favorite quote from David Allen in "Getting Things Done"....... "There is usually an inverse proportion between how much something is on your mind and how much it’s getting done."

    Thanks all for the words of wisdom!

  13. What a wonderful and informative post. I think I'll go make myself some deadlines right now. Love this treasure trove of information.


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