I think a lot about creativity. Partly because it’s my job, partly because I find it fascinating to learn about creative experiences, but mostly because it’s at the core of my being, and I just can’t help it.
I also think a lot about routine. For many of the same reasons, and now more than ever, as a work-from-home parent of two.
Maintaining routine is hard for most of us I think. We know when it feels good, we often know how to make it so, but it’s tough to keep it going. Because I work from home, if someone oversleeps and breakfast is late, it’s no big deal. My days are not structured by meetings or punching in and out. They are structured by snacks, quiet times and naps (not my own). I am grateful for it, daily. Please don’t get me wrong on this. But life is mostly paradoxical I think- beautiful, and hard, and often at the same time. And these things are so fascinating to explore!
When you work from home, you will soon discover that you also live in your office, so the reality is that there are a lot of blurred lines. Extra attention needs to be given to boundaries, because there are none until you make them. Unfortunately there is no “how to” manual for juggling each of our unique circumstances, expectations, values and duties. And so, trial and error, reflection and learning are the only way! I believe they call this situation “life”.
For my own life situation, the most challenging part is the concept of having a “creative schedule”. There is the business part of my business, of course. And when my tasks are emails, book keeping, planning, printing and packaging, it can all be put on hold. If need be, I can go to bed a little later, wake up a little earlier, or squeeze something in at another time. This is the dance we all do. But with painting, which is the root of the whole thing, it can get tough. In my experience, creative energy cannot be scheduled, paused or planned. It is a wild sort of creature. It’s tricky to see it coming, but when it arrives (often at a very inappropriate time), it’s very hard to push aside. That idea or energy is there just bouncing around, and it needs to come out! When I am in the middle of painting and the time I thought I had gets cut short, it’s really frustrating. Often by the time I get back to an idea, the magic is gone. Also, my best time to paint is early in the day (I find it hard to work without natural light), but I have not yet been able to negotiate a good three-hour morning paint session with my children. I mean, come on!
The biggest adjustment for me has been around the expectation. Painting was a hobby before I had kids. I did it when I wanted to, and not much got in the way because I was in charge of my own time. But since having children, painting has also become my job. There is more pressure to paint now, but my time is more limited than ever, so I am perpetually pondering how I can better respect the balance between my inspiration, and following a realistic schedule.
If I simply took the lead of my creative whims, I would paint when inspiration hit. This could mean my children would be totally neglected days at a time, and I’m quite sure this is frowned upon. However, if I abide strictly by a schedule, I would often be forcing myself to paint by the clock, without much creative energy pushing me along. Although that may seem easy, it’s really not. Painting without the desire to do so does not produce good work, and is certainly not good for the soul. That’s when my inner dialogue really plunges into self doubt, resentment and fear (heavy stuff right?)
So this begs the question, how do I successfully manage being an artist and part of a family?
Well, what I’m learning four years into the adventure, is that it’s impossible to have a strict schedule when most things in life are fluid. Being too rigid is setting myself up to be disappointed, because, well, life! Having a really tight schedule certainly kills creativity, but being at the mercy of all my creative whims is just not realistic for family life, and not productive for business either. Keeping all of this in mind, I decided to approach 2018 with something I heard somewhere on the Tim Ferriss podcast last year; “Discipline is Freedom”. This is the central idea I am trying to keep with me as I navigate through the year.
Discipline means allotting windows of times for like minded tasks (and then actually doing them. Really.) That can be hard! But it gives me the freedom to have more time to dedicate to my painting, which means less stress when work get’s interrupted.
In any creative venture, there needs to be time to work out the junk, in order to get to the good stuff. There is a process that must be respected in order to get anything worthwhile! I am learning this as I go. For example, one of my new paintings was painted in full, three different times before I was happy with it. If my deadline had been “By Tuesday night”, that could have meant abandoning the idea, or settling for something that wasn’t as good as it could have been. And I’m so glad I gave myself time to work through it.
So this all sounds good in theory, but how does it look?
Well, I took January off to do all my book keeping, website and computer tasks, look at my calendar for the year, organize my work space, write lists and order materials. Most importantly, I used this time to get centered and think about how I wanted to approach a new year in business. I knew if I didn’t block off the time to do all the things I was procrastinating on, I would never do them. My website hadn’t been updated since 2015, and my brain was scattered with all the things I was behind on. By setting aside the month of January to do all of it, I was more motivated because it was on the calendar and the start of a new year! I also made sure to tell lots of people I was doing this to help hold myself accountable (if you’re interested in forming habits, check out Gretchin Rubin’s “Four Tendencies”) I knew I had limited time to complete these items so my discipline was a bit easier to summon.
February and March were set aside for painting. I did not take on any other big projects or expectations and this freed up an unexpected amount of time and energy spent on the setting up and tearing down. My home studio has one huge desk that is home to several different messes-painting, packaging, product photos, planning-all of it! So usually I spend a lot of time taking out, cleaning up, looking for things etc. Sometimes the thought of getting set up to paint can be enough to deter me if I’m putting off a project (yes I procrastinate on painting too!) Having everything out and ready to go eliminates that problem. Probably the biggest thing I noticed though was all the energy I saved by knowing my task. In the past, so much time and energy was spent on “should I paint? Or should I do my book keeping?” etc. I think this is type of energy is hugely underrated when we look at how we spend our time. Much more energy goes into deciding to do the thing, than it actually takes to do the thing.
In giving myself that period to be creative, a lot of interesting things happened! I found that by not forcing anything, I could work through all the junk that had to come out first, and not feel stressed. And I could allow myself to really get into a project and know I could come back to it. Of course I still got interrupted and off schedule with all sorts of things, but having the expectation that whatever time I had during this block was dedicated to my painting, proved to be effective. It helped me take my own work more seriously, it allowed me to find themes in my work, build on each series and best of all, really exhaust that creative energy so that I came out ready to move on to other things, not just bottling it up and resentfully going on to other tasks I feel I should do. This can not be understated, and is really important because it allows me to feel more present as a mom, as a partner and as myself. This is the whole point! To find methods in our work, our parenting, our relationships, our hobbies, our health etc. that help us feel balanced in everything else! It's not either, or...it's and, and, and.
As I write this I am coming down from a creative high - a frenzy of botched paintings, paintings that worked better than planned, frantic sketching and ideas in the middle of the night, bright colors, messy studio… and suddenly, I just feel done. I can’t explain it, but the energy is gone for now and I am ready to shift gears. It feels exactly how it’s supposed to be.
Coming out of winter and into spring, I am feeling excited about the work I have done. Not just the painting, but with testing out this new approach- the life work. Life is ever changing, but learning is the journey, and the journey is the life! To me nothing is more exciting than discovering what works, and what doesn’t, trying things and seeing how it impacts the big picture.
Discipline is Freedom, and freedom is the most beautiful thing of all.