Thursday, August 06, 2015

"How do you find time for personal art?"

I was asked this question by another professor during the interview for my job at BYU. Now that I've been at BYU for almost a year, I understand that his question wasn't a test for the job, but an honest question about how to fit one more thing into an always-full schedule. The thing about being a professor is that you never clock in or out---your teaching and prep time, personal time, and freelance time all blend together and you're left to make your own calls about how to balance it all. I think I actually stammered my answer, something like "Well, uh, I just do it." That was a useless answer and I wish I could have a do-over.

I get summers off at BYU, which sounds awesome and laid-back, but in reality I'm spending that time working on freelance character design, illustration, preparation for my classes, and various tasks around the house. I get to set my own schedule, but it's always full no matter what order I put things into. What I thought would be a great break where I could do a lot of my own work has been just as busy as the semesters when I'm teaching.

So I've been thinking a lot about an answer Marcelo Vignali gave in a great interview with Bobby Chiu a while back. Answering a question about how he finds time for figure drawing, he said he makes figure drawing non-negotiable. In other words, he schedules time for it, and when that time comes, no other task takes priority, no matter how urgent (of course this doesn't apply to the house burning down scenario. Or maybe it does: guess I don't know Marcelo well enough to say for sure).

I've taken that "non-negotiable" mindset with my personal art these last few months, and I'm so glad I did. I have a block of time scheduled for it every morning---not much, just an hour---but it's enough for me to chip away at stuff that comes out of my own head. I can't say I've gotten to the point where it's non-negotiable yet; there have been days when I've skipped it for a big deadline, but I'm getting pretty consistent. And amazingly, even slowly chipping away at it is deeply satisfying, and I find more energy for the jobs I have to do afterward. For me personally, it works best to not overthink what I use that time to paint on---sometimes an idea works out and sometimes it doesn't. That's not the part that matters.
One of the paintings I've been slowly chipping away at. Not because it's worth painting, but because it's good for me to sometimes paint stuff just for fun.
The reason for this post is that I know lots of artists personally who struggle to find time to draw or paint their own stuff. I know many skilled artists who haven't done a piece of their own for months or even years. Most are people in the industry who by all appearance have completely full schedules. And yet as I've scheduled in that time, I haven't noticed a deficit anywhere else. I'm somehow getting everything else done just fine. Maybe there was some slush time in my schedule that I didn't realize was there, or maybe that extra energy is making up for the lost time. Either way, if you're the person asking the question in the title, I recommend trying this. Doing your own art may not be urgent, but it is important, and if you treat it as if it is urgent, you'll be better off.

And while you're at it, go read this article.

17 comments:

  1. Thanks for this Sam, this is something I've been thinking about for a long time. I chip away at stuff when I feel like it. Recently I've been setting time in the morning for freelance work and it would be absolutely nothing to just turn that into time for my own art, especially when freelance work is slow. Also the link to Bobby Chiu's interview with Marcelo Vignali is such a great resource. I watched this way back but its great to get a refresher and definitely worth the hour to watch again. Thanks again for the inspiration. Take Care.

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    1. I'm glad to hear it's working for you, Dan!

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  2. Fantastic article Sam! really makes me review my working days. The article that you refer also reminds me the importance of removing the artist designer from the painting to achieve the purest execution (An idea that I also read from Alan Moore). Detached from any idea of "success" or "failure", It will let just space for the joy of its process. Thanks for the article Sam.

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  3. Great post Sam. This is my approach as well. I still haven't figured out how to "chip away" at bigger projects, and that's a source of great frustration, but I gain satisfaction from just creating on my own. Little by little I suppose.

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    1. I'm having just the opposite problem---lots of chipping little finishing. I wish I could just do something real quick that was good every once in a while.

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  4. Thank you, Sam. This is a very useful article. One could never finish all the projects and catch the dreams without a schedule these days. Strict and non-negotiable times for everything that matters: work, personal projects, family, learning, health and rest.

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  5. Great piece of advice Sam! Thank you :)

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  6. I appreciate this. As a student, I feel a heavy burden to only spend my time doing fundamentals. I think it's probably important to find time for more relaxing, personal art too! Sometimes, that seems to be where all the fundamentals you've been working on come together and click.

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    1. I think this time could be anything, but I do think it has to be productive. If you're working on fundamentals, be doing so with a final piece in mind. It keeps the fundamentals from being too monotonous.

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    2. Hey, Sam. I was just reading over some new stuff and noticed your response. Thanks for taking the time to shoot some advice my way. Hope things are well!

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