How I Do Art When I Can't Do Art

Last week was a blur as a weird health issue arose, necessitating an Xray, doctors' visits, lab tests, antibiotics, and a CT scan. A separate issue in my left foot requires an MRI this coming week to evaluate for surgery. I worked every morning and tracked down medical help in the afternoons. When the weekend hit, I needed to clean the apartment from top to bottom because the first of two annual inspections is here. Needless to say, there hasn't been a lot of time for art-making. However, I still managed to make art.

Tammy over at Daisy Yellow recently posted a lovely little inspirational piece about daily art and it made me think about how I get anything done in the studio given my schedule and health challenges. And then I thought "Maybe that would make a good blog post" so here it is:

I Work In Teeny, Tiny Time Frames:
Sometimes, I only have 15 uninterrupted minutes at a time to sit and work on a project. Most days, I can find a couple of these quarter-hour chunks of time to devote to art. I might sketch a monster in one small time period; the painting part of the illustration could happen later in that same day or maybe weeks later. For me, the hardest part of working like this is accepting it as my reality. I would love to sit in the studio all day long but unless it is the summer or a holiday weekend, I don't really have the luxury of unlimited art time. I am building a cohesive, unique, and extensive body of work bit by bit.

When I Can Work for Longer Periods, I'm Prepared:
I don't want to waste time searching for supplies; thus, my studio is set up so everything I could need is within immediate reach. I also don't want to waste time trying to figure out what I want to do in the time I have so I am constantly writing things down: lists, brainstorms, quickie sketches, random ideas. I have a couple small "kitchen sink" pocket notebooks for when I'm out and about but mostly I keep my notes and lists and sketches with the project they relate to.

I Do Many Things So A Door to Art Is Always Open:

Some days, my fine motor skills are crap so I paint journal backgrounds. When I'm focused and feeling good, I draw or watercolor my illustrations. When I have time for a challenge, I sculpt or sew. I have projects for short time periods and long, sharp focus and poor, steady days and shaky. No matter my mood, health, or work schedule, there is always a project at hand to fit the circumstance of the day.

If I Don't Make Art, I Absorb It:
I read and watch things that inspire me on an artistic level. I pay attention to color schemes, shot composition, textures, and beautiful writing in movies and my favorite television shows; I write down anything I want to remember and tap into later. I read fiction that is heavy on description and that centers around topics that I play with in my art. All of my non-fiction reading has to do with art in some way: makers, history, technique. When I'm out and about, I look at the world through an artist's eyes and through an artist's hands. (When I'm in a store, I spend a lot of time touching things because experiencing textures directly is very stimulating; if I'm feeling stuck, my best bet is to visit a local furniture store to experience all the patterns and fabrics.) I take pictures of what intrigues me so I can tote that inspiration back to my studio. 

I Remember that Art is Everywhere, Not Just in the Studio:
I have found inspiring patterns in the dishwater, cool color combos in a stack of bath towels, and awesome shapes in the rocks my landlord uses for landscaping. Some of my best art materials and inspirations have been discovered in the course of casual walks to the trash compactor or corner grocery store. You become an artist not just in the doing, but in the seeing. It is also essential to remember that art is more than just "art stuff." Writing, cooking, traveling, music, theater, decorating, dance, getting into the outdoors: these are all artful arenas as well. 

When I'm Not Making Stuff, I'm Teaching Others to Make Stuff:
Of course, I also happen to be lucky enough to teach art and that alone is a fantastic way to maintain a connection to art when I can't make it myself. In the classroom, I create vicariously as my students tackle their art assignments. When I need to build up their courage or reign in their negativity, I give voice to things I need to remember for myself. I never give my students an assignment that I haven't first done myself so lesson planning becomes a making session for me.

Everyone has their own unique mix of responsibilities and distractions that get in the way of art-making. However, if you stay open to inspiration and get creative with the time you do have, it can feel as if you make and/or experience art every minute of every day.


Ami said…
Excellent post! I agree--I'm a stay-at-home mama to a toddler, and for me also the hardest part of working in tiny increments is accepting that that's my reality. I've loved so much of your discussion of your process. Thanks for another insightful post.

I think you might have asked about reader questions previously, so I'll share a recent question I've tried to research--how does one even get started selling one's art online? Are places like Fine Art America or Society 6 or etsy even worth it, in your opinion? Do you have things printed at local print shops, or on demand, and what kind of paper, packaging, etc? Right now I've only ever made art in journals or on index cards/cheapie materials, so I'd also love to see a post on how you mount your artwork.
Loulou in Texas said…
It's great to read about how you find snippets of time and go about creating your art. Thank you for sharing.