If you’re an artist with a full-time day job, you are no stranger to sleep deprivation.
Holding down a 9-5 job, piecing together freelance work, or making hundreds of lattes a day—no matter how you get your paycheck, you are probably familiar with the daily grind of balancing your paid work with the work that fuels your creative passion.
However, after a long day in the office answering emails, you most likely feel the temptation to plunk down on the couch with a big cup of tea and your latest Netflix obsession. Checking out for the night is often much more appealing than getting to working again.
But, your creative outlet is key to your happiness and your fulfillment. So, at the end of the day, how do you gather enough energy to make the work that fuels you?
Not every artist has the luxury of being able to quit their day job. What's more, having a steady income, especially at the start of your art career will actually help keep you creative and prevent burnout when you don't have to worry about supporting yourself through your art.
With bills to pay and supplies to buy, your full-time job has an important role in pushing your creative career forward. You don’t need eight hours a day to be an artist, but you do need the energy, focus, and drive to create in the time you have.
Here’s how you can maximize the time you do have:
Find a mentor to keep you accountable
One of the things that artists continually contribute to their success is finding a mentor that they trust to guide them through the undefined path of becoming a professional artist. Having a seasoned artist in your corner—someone who has been through it before—can challenge you, offer advice or a different perspective on your work.
Many students that studied art in college or even got a post-grad degree in art often will stop pursuing art after graduation. This can all be attributed to financial burdens or perhaps an initial lack of interest, but it is also the first time students don’t have to stay accountable to anyone but themselves. For some people, this works. However, having someone outside of yourself helps guide you in the right direction and take you to the next level in your work—even after school.
Find a mentor, art coach or teacher that inspires you creatively and professionally. Coaches can offer you weekly accountability by simply checking in and seeing where you are at on a project. If you aren’t ready to commit to one-on-one time quite yet, sign up for a weekly class where you will be accountable to show up and work, get feedback and think through your work.
Slow and steady—piece by piece—wins the race
In Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird, she recommends looking at your creative work as short assignments. If you say, “I’m just going to sit in the chair for ten minutes and paint this one small section”, it’s much easier to get started.
Once you get started, you’ll be surprised at how quickly your fatigue fades and your creativity sets in, giving you the energy to keep going. Accomplishing a small task out of your bigger creative goal will kick-start your creative flow and oftentimes you will slip into a flow zone, ending up working on your project for much longer than ten minutes.
And, if you stop after ten minutes, you still accomplished ten minutes more than if you didn’t begin at all. Just take it step by step, “bird by bird”.
Be honest with yourself about your priorities
We are all trapped in the “too busy” mindset. But, when you break it down, there is always room for the things in your life that you make a priority. Of course, you have a lot on your plate. But using “I’m too busy” doesn’t get to the root of the problem and doesn’t make you accomplish the goals you have set out for yourself.
A few years back, Randi Zuckerberg talked about the “Entrepreneur’s dilemma”, which struck a chord with many artists building their own business.
“The entrepreneur's dilemma: Maintaining friendships. Building a great company. Spending time with family. Staying fit. Getting sleep. Pick three.”
You can’t do it all. Your priorities might shift from week to week, but knowing where you are focusing your time will help you plan. Maybe you are currently prioritizing your health, or your friends, or your family, and you should be! There is a lot of pressure today to try and do it all. And all the while with a smile on your face and an Instagram-worthy photo to prove you did it all.
So, instead of saying “I’m too busy,” be honest with yourself that it isn’t a priority right now. It will take some pressure off and let you re-prioritize in the following weeks.
Then, stick to those priorities
It can be easier said than done, but once you have identified your priorities for the week, month or year, stick to them. If your art business is a high priority, make sure you don’t spread yourself so thin that you can’t concentrate any time on it.
Sometimes this means having to say “no” to social obligations or dinner parties. You might have to sacrifice a few events in order to keep on track with your priority.
If you’ve set aside a certain amount of time to create art, whether it’s weekday mornings or weekend afternoons, stick to that schedule. Block out outside distractions during these times. Turn off your day job email and notifications. This is your dedicated time to get creative. It will only make you better at your job, better as a friend and better as a family member if you take the time you need to make the things that give you life.
Dig into how you are spending your downtime
There are also things that take up our time that aren’t quite as beneficial. How often have you found yourself in an endless social media scroll?
The next is to figure out what your real needs are when you are “wasting time.” If you find that you are aimlessly scrolling through Facebook, ask yourself what triggered this behavior.
Did you need a break? Did you need social interaction? Were you bored with your task at hand? Then, acknowledge that feeling. If you needed a break, really take one. Close your computer and zone out for a half hour. If you need social interaction, call a friend for twenty minutes. If you were bored, try shifting your activity, or telling yourself that you will come back to your email, business plan, tax prep, whatever it is in ten minutes.
Kick perfectionism to the curb
Another common problem when tackling creativity on a drained brain is perfectionism. You may be thinking, “I’ll wait until I have the energy or inspiration to get started.”
At the core of perfectionism is fear. Fear of failure. Fear of rejection. Fear of not measuring up to other people’s expectations.
You’re always wanting more before you start—more studio space, more time, more energy, more supplies, more fully-formed ideas, more practice. By waiting to start until everything is just right, you feel like you have a better chance to succeed. This sounds harmless enough until you realize deep down it’s just an excuse. You are scared to get started because you are scared of the possibility of failing.
You will most likely find that once you start, however, the process isn’t as scary as deciding to start.
If you catch yourself feeling hesitant to get started, push yourself to begin anyways.
Create rituals for yourself (like five-minute warm-up sketches, wedging clay, washing paint glasses) as a way of triggering your body into starting your work. If your hand begins the process, shortly after, your mind will follow.
Create systems to maximize your time
As artists, there’s hardly a day that goes by when we aren’t working on ten different things at once. From making the artwork to shipping, marketing, social media, client follow up, sending gallery lists and administrative tasks, it’s easy to get lost in the details.
This is why you need a system that helps you remember all those little details, so you don’t have to.
Ask yourself: what tasks do I have weekly or monthly that I tend to procrastinate or flat out forget? Do you often forget to send that inventory list to your gallery? Post on social media? Apply for that show you really want to enter? Follow up with an important client? Send out invites to your next opening?
Getting a system in place that helps automatically generate those lists, labels, and invoices along with giving you the ease of sharing your most recent work on social media helps cut down on the amount of time you are spending on the business side of your art.