How We Make Time, and What We Do With It


Over the last 6 months, I’ve had a number of people ask me how I make the time to paint as much as I do, while still writing this blog, running a business, and having a family.  I’m not a professional painter by any stretch (I actually run a landscape design business), but I manage to squeeze in (on average) about 10 hours a week of painting.  I wanted to talk about this a little, in the hopes that it might be of value to others, and that readers of the blog might be able to offer their own input on the subject in the comments. 

So… where do I find the time? And what do I do with it when I’ve found it?

The foremost thing is that there’s probably nothing more valuable, in my opinion, than the simple fact of scheduling time to paint.  It definitely doesn’t happen by accident!  I’ll talk about that more in a minute, but the short of it is that everything else flows from that action.  It sounds stupidly straightforward, but it’s true- I have had to paint more, and more regularly, to get better.  Secondly, when I’m in-between those scheduled blocks, I work at exploiting little micro-chunks of time, where I explore the many other aspects of art-making I enjoy… namely, blog posts, researching technical details, exploring other artists, book reading, etc. 

How has that all come to fruition?

First, I admit I'm self-employed, and that I run the business (deliberately) at about 75% time.  Two years ago, after painting haphazardly on my own for a few years, I decided I was ready to try and take a formal painting class again (I had taken two semester's worth of introductory classes 5 years ago).  I made the active choice to work less, make less, and thus provide myself a day each week to paint, each and every week.  There’s a local JC that has a watercolor class on Fridays from 10-2, so that’s when I make the 1 hour commute and go paint.  I have just enough time to drop my daughter off at 830 and pick her up at 300!  Phew! 

Having it be a class I’ve paid for keeps me “honest”.  The other painters I’ve come to know and like make it more fun.  Combined, they help keep me going.  I don’t even receive instruction much anymore- I’m self-guided now.  The most important thing is that I’m helping myself make the time.  The class is the bare minimum, and I often paint more, but I know, at the very least, that each week I’ll get about 5 hours of work in.

Of course, I understand that not everyone has that kind of flexibility.  Still, my opinion is that people often have more scheduling flexibility than they give themselves credit for.  Many folks are often capable of carving out at least a little bit of time to exercise, pray, or veg out, if they feel they really need to.  At the most basic level, I just think many people undervalue the true, inherent worth of their own desire to pay attention and create beauty (aka, to paint).  But if you want to improve, what can I say?  Art-making has to be so important to you that it’s worth the hassle of reordering your life a little (and perhaps the lives of those who are close to you!), or in my experience... it just won’t happen.  And yes, it can be a hassle.  ;P

As for what we do with it once we’ve made the time, I can only say that regular instruction is important in the beginning, and a regular painting “regimen” is even more essential as you go forward.  Yes, of course, I've also taken a number of workshops over the last few years that have helped me climb past certain plateaus.  I heartily recommend the experience. However, I also know they’re expensive and, depending on where you live, sometimes hard to get to.  In my opinion, it's the regular painting schedule that has helped me improve the most.

Why?  Because if I don't have the chance to paint for 2-4 weeks (which still happens a few times each year), there is always a slow, frustrating process of re-acclimating my hand and mind to painting.  I'm bound to make a series of subpar efforts, sometimes for a few weeks, until I get back in the flow.  It makes the already difficult, often humbling process of learning to paint harder than it needs to be.  I can't overstate the value of painting regularly- I would rather paint only 5 hours each and every week, then 10 hours one week, 20 the next, and then nothing for a month.  What’s nice is that, as you get better at something, you often find more time to do it- I paint about 10 hours a week now, and I remember when finding 5 a week was a miracle.  Has my schedule changed that much?  Nope.  I have just made other things occasionally wait (like doing the laundry or the dishes- really!) or rearranged my schedule (like going to bed earlier) to provide more free time at the right time.

As for those “micro-chunks” of unscheduled time I brought earlier, that’s when I do a lot of other "painting related" things that help my mind stay involved in art-making.  I keep a list of things I'd like to do on my phone.  It helps me use the time efficiently, so when the opportunity arises, I'm prepared to make headway.  When thoughts come to mind for paints or techniques I'd like to try, or posts I'd like to write, or teaching curriculum I'd like to build, I type it into my phone.  I keep groupings of tabs open in different windows on my laptop, and when I arrive back at my browser , different painting-related research projects are waiting for me.  The goal is to make "getting things done" easier when those brief opportunities arrive.   

What would be a few examples?

In the morning on weekends, at night after my daughter goes to bed, as well as in the weekdays here and there, I write these blog posts, where I think a lot about art, how it’s made, and how I might make it better.  Before dawn, when the house is still quiet and I’m drinking my coffee, in between reading the sports and politics pages I browse forums like those at Wet Canvas and research more technical watercolor questions in places like the astoundingly (perhaps overwhelmingly?) useful Handprint.  When I don’t have time to do a whole painting, I sometimes make sketches, play with color-mixing and swatches, or browse my photos and ponder how I would paint them. I sometimes read books on painting and art before I go to bed.  Occasionally, I explore new artists I’ve discovered on line while I putz in line.  :pThe point is to find the time when you can’t make it.   Making use of those little micro-chunks of time, those “lost moments” in my schedule, has been a helpful way to supplement my weekly painting, and keep my toes in the water and my mind active while other responsibilities are ruling my life.