Miguel Mayher is Chief Instructor at The Art MBA, the entrepreneurial training for professional fine artists, and hosts the FineArtistSummit.
His background in fine arts, tech startups & partnerships with museums allows him to help creative minds make new opportunities out of thin air.

Not enough time to make art?

You may have a day job or a teaching gig to help pay the bills. You have relationships that require ongoing attention. Perhaps you even have children to raise.

At the same time, you want to make great art.

You want to live off your art … but you feel there is not enough time to be in the studio, brush in hand.

Without enough time, how can you express the art waiting inside you?

The wrong expectation of what is possible sets us up for disappointment first and feeling jaded in the long run. If you don’t know precisely how much time you have available, you cannot plan, and you will fall short of lofty aspirations—letting down yourself, your gallery, or your collectors.

In this guide, you will learn an alternative approach that will first fade frustration and second steadily move you forward towards doubling your studio time.

First, we look at what you truly have available right now: daily, weekly, yearly.

Second, we redesign our week or month to better serve your art practice in the short term.

Third, we lay a blueprint for the long term.

Here's how to double your creative time.

Start with a time audit

To know how much time you really have available today to make art, there is nothing better than investigating your own footprints with a time audit. If you have never done it before, you may find it eye-opening.

Here is how it works. For the next 24 hours, every time you change activity, write it down. Going for a walk? Write it down. Checking social media on your phone? Write it down. Going to the restroom? Write it down.

Go ahead and take a piece of paper right now and write down the current time + “reading article”. When you will look at the paper tomorrow you will see many categories such as phone scrolling, working unfocused, queueing, mind-wandering … as well as real tasks such as grocery shopping, email communication, or cleaning brushes.

Suddenly the difference between the story we tell ourselves (“I don’t have enough time”) versus the reality (we all have 24 hours) comes into contrast.

If you classify all the actions you wrote down, you will find three types of moments as it relates to your artwork practice: micro-moments, extended periods & planning periods.

Let us understand each and then see how to rearrange your time to make more art right away.

 

Featured Download:

To go along with this post, we have a special bonus for you: Time Action Guide (PDF) 

This is a great two-page action plan to help you get clarity on the time you have and the time you need to make great art.

Micro-moments

This could be anything from a one-minute meditation to a ten-minute visit to the convenience store.

Micro-moments don’t require you to be particularly focused, energized or inspired—they can happen any time, at any place.

There are three types of micro-moments:

1) Non-art related micro-moments: such as house chores, laundry or shopping.

2) Art-related micro-moments not making art: such as social media, email newsletter or shipping.

This guide is focused on making art time, so we won’t address the first two in depth, but a key productivity tip is to batch together as many micro-moments as you can. This is also called “scheduling your multitasking”. For example, you designate Tuesdays every week for doing all house errands, liberating interruptions of that kind the rest of the week.

Let us zero in then on the third type, which is where artmaking opportunity awaits.

3) Art-related micro-moments making art. These can include:

  • Sketching

  • Journaling

  • Visiting museums

  • Visiting galleries

  • Reading art books

  • Researching an artist’s body of work

  • Even daydreaming!

Spanish painter Sorolla was once asked how he found enough time to make so much artwork. His reply, staring back at the questioner: “Gentleman, I am painting you right now as we speak.”

You can advance your art practice in micro-moments by just thinking about your art practice!

Extended periods

How much time do you need to make great artwork? A full morning, a full afternoon, a full day, or perhaps minimum three days in a row?

How much time do you need to get in a state of “flow”, where time disappears, you become one with your artwork, and the magic happens? And for how long can you maintain it before losing focus?

When you think about the time you need to make great art, it is important to not confuse it with the time you would want to have. One is a requirement, the other is a wish.

So park aside the ideal scenario of infinite time with zero responsibilities, and think carefully right now about the minimum and viable amount of time you need to have a great art-making session.

Be honest with yourself.

Got the answer?

Here is why this is so critical: you are not a widget factory. It is not just a matter of time, but energy. It is not even just a matter of not being too tired to make great art, the quality of your energy influences the quality of the artwork you can make.

So you must arrange your studio time to optimize for states of being.

Here are a few states of being to get you thinking: calm, focused, awake, determined … maybe even inspired, though that is a flaky one.

It is best to be at your peak energy point, focused, and inspired for three hours, than to have a full day available but exhausted due to Friday night’s party.

Now that you are clear on how an extended period of artmaking looks for you (eg. three hours anytime before lunch), let us look at the third kind of art practice time.

 

Planning periods

Without a vision of where your art practice and your art career is going towards, you are more likely to get stuck in a rut.

Take the high-level view. If you continue at this rhythm, on this path, where will you be five or ten years from now? Of course, no one knows—but make an educated guess.

Constantly reviewing your goal for this week, this year, this decade will make you feel the illusion of control. And that’s a good thing! It is an illusion because new opportunities will arise that you hadn’t considered when planning, and unforeseen roadblocks will arise—that’s life. But this illusion of control will provide you with an underlying feeling of confidence that you are not spinning your wheels in circles.

Planning periods provide your inner compass with a definite direction towards your true North. And since an artist is more like an explorer in the jungle than a tourist with a map, you understand you will be off-track most of the time. That is ok.

Constantly correcting course and continuing to move forward is what prevents you from feeling lost, confused and stuck.

Here are some things that likely need your ongoing attention in your high-level planning:

  • The evolving theme of your new body of work

  • Outreach to art world influencers you would like to meet for advice

  • Applications to grants and artist residencies

  • Your rate of work production vs your commitments with galleries and commissions

  • Research through books, museum visits, and peer conversations.

If you carry all these things in your head they will distract you. By having written plans, your brain can rest assured knowing you have “captured” the thoughts and you have each branch of your career plan under control.

Now that we have defined micro-moments, extended periods & planning periods, let us increase your studio time with some quick wins.

Short-term gains

We can have some short-term gains by rearranging your current time puzzle.

Here are quick wins you can implement as soon as you finish your time audit.

Change your artwork: "Oh the horror," we can already hear you say.

Here is what this means it really means. Adapt it to the time available. Reduce size. Increase prices. Raise the number of prints in your limited editions. Do whatever it takes to align reality with your practice—as long as you don’t compromise the integrity of your work. Only then will you also secure the integrity of your commitment to yourself and others on what is possible with the current time you have available.

Task day: Designate one day a week (eg. every Tuesday) to accumulate all chores and get them done in bulk. By limiting your interruptions, this should liberate new extended periods, surfacing at least a few hours or potentially one full day.

Be micro-moments ready: Always carry your sketchbook or journal for when inspiration strikes. Carry a camera or use your smartphone to capture visuals that could influence your studio work. Pack a book in your bag to avoid wasting time waiting in line. Don’t let social media be your only micro-moments fall-back action.

The five-second no: If you are asked something, make "no" your default answer instead of "yes". We are hardwired to please others. Sometimes this is the right thing to do, especially with close friends and family. But oftentimes saying yes is just a distraction that will steal from you another artmaking micro-moment or even extended periods of artwork practice. So don’t let people hanging when they ask a favor: think "no" to yourself by default, check your gut to see if the downside is serious, and if it isn’t let them know you cannot help—you already have other commitments (your studio time!).

Planning: Dedicate a specific half-day a week to your planning period. If you think things out on paper or by typing before you execute, you will become a lot more effective.

Set your frequency: You need to decide for yourself how frequently you engage on each type of art practice. Know whether you are on track with the ideal rhythm you aspire for by defining your frequency. In this table, you can see a recommendation that may work well for you too.

 

Micro-moments

Extended Periods

Planning Periods

Recommended Frequency

Daily

Weekly, + 2-3 creative retreats yearly

Weekly or Monthly

 

Draw your timetable: having moved the puzzle pieces around, write down the before and after of your weekly timetable so you have a clear view of where you stand today.

Let us take Paula Painter as an example. Here is her timetable today:

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

Sunday

AM Teach

PM Try to Paint

AM Teach

PM Try to Paint

AM Teach

PM Try to Paint

AM Teach

PM Try to Paint

Try to Paint

Paint

Try to Paint

 

This timetable is exhausting for her.

Monday through Thursdays, after teaching four hours in the morning, she finds herself too tired to make good art in the afternoon.

In fact, she tends to spend it “researching” and waiting for Friday to do “serious work”. It takes her all Friday to transition into painting mode, manages to have a six-hour painting session on Saturday, and Sunday is non-productive since it is spent dealing with errands before the week begins again.

After doing the time audit, Paula realizes her Extended Periods last about 5 hours, but it takes her a good 2-3 hours to get in the zone. And, if she knows there is an appointment coming up later in the day, her mind cannot fully abandon itself to the joy of painting.

She knows that she works best in long afternoons, as it takes her time to ramp up in the morning.

With that knowledge in hand, she decides to maintain the same amount of hours teaching but shifts them around. Pitching it to the school where she teaches as a “three-month pilot to see how it works for both of us”, she shifts her timetable as follows starting next month:

 

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

Sunday

AM Teach

PM Teach

AM Teach

PM Teach

Research

Paint

Paint

Paint

Planning and Errands

 
Notice how she is teaching the same amount of hours—but she tripled the number of weekly Extended Periods. This is what she identified as a need to make great artwork. 

Paula finds that now Wednesdays become a transition day, tired after two consecutive days painting full time, so she dedicates it to mostly research and starting to pick up the brush.

Then Thursday, Friday and Saturday become glorious Extended Periods of studio time.

Finally, based on her previous experience of feeling the pressure of Mondays, she decides to dedicate Sundays to high-level planning and getting all menial tasks taken care of.

What just happened? She tripled the amount of top-quality time to make art, which will lead to more quantity and quality of the artwork. Which is bound to lead to selling more artwork. All the while not decreasing her teaching income.

That is the power of understanding how you make art and rearranging the puzzle in the short term. Take a good half hour to write down your current time table, look at your own micro-moments and extended period requirements, and brainstorm how could you get quick wins as “temporary pilot”.

Granted, Paula was lucky to be able to increase her art making time that much so fast. A more reasonable expectation would be to increase by 20% to 50% in the short term, but this is already a significant improvement.

Long-term vision

It’s time to draw your destination.

What conditions and situation do you consider enough for you to live and make your best work?

Maybe you'd like to be in a hut with food served to my door and no interruptions seven days a week.

If you can find that arrangement ... you don’t need to keep reading—but otherwise, we need to dive into that question.

We are looking into “enough", so that if you took away four hours from your weekly art practice you would start feeling that you are being deprived of your creative potential, but if those four hours were added back again you would feel “yes, I can breathe again and make great artwork with this calendar on an ongoing basis”.

This means figuring out your combination of artmaking, planning, and non-artwork tasks.

Be specific:

  • Which days of the week will you make art?

  • Will it be morning, afternoons, evenings or full days?

  • What time will you start and finish?

  • Is it one session or multiple with breaks in between?

  • How often will you go on “creative retreat” and for how many days?

  • How frequently will you get into planning mode, when, where and what do you do?

Here is an example:

My extended periods last about three hours, four maximum in any given day. I enter the studio at 8:00 am and work steadily from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm, my peak hours. I do this Monday through Friday, working afternoons on income-generating activities.

Saturday morning is my planning time: emailing my contacts and crafting pitches for grants. Twice a year I take one week “off the grid” as an artist in residence to deepen my art practice.

It will likely be something different for you: but it must be inspiring and achievable in five years.

The years will pass anyway, but now you have a northern light guiding your steps to get nearer

It may mean you negotiate your workday hours to be longer but in fewer days a week

It may mean you work more days per week at a time and then have mini-retreats every quarter

It may mean you need to level up and secure gallery representation at the next price point

Use your creativity to find multiple options and present them as “experiments we can try”. Plan your life’s journey ahead so as to increase the size of those extended periods.

If you keep trying new arrangements and tweaking your artmaking calendar, you’ll arrive at your future vision of studio time abundance.

Can you make all adjustments happen in the next six months? Maybe, but probably not.

Can you do it in the next five years? Certainly.

Worst case scenario: even if you don’t fully arrive, you’ll be much closer than staying stuck with your complaining voice, you know, the resentful one that whispers “I don’t have time to make art...”.

Nothing is more important as an artist than enabling optimal time to make great art. Prioritize making it part of your weekly tasks to track this progress. 

 

The bottom line

As an artist, you must protect extended moments when you are at your peak for creating artwork.

In the short term, it's best to know where you are spending your time and where to maximize your time. This helps avoid frustration and adjust art-making aspirations realistically.

A long-term vision will take years, but it is achievable if you move your plans forward every week.

Solve the planning part of the process by trying Artwork Archive free for 30 days and be on your way to doubling your art making time.