How to Get Yourself to Create

art advice

Do you want to draw or paint, but find yourself floundering when you finally have time, only to beat yourself up later? Or does sitting down in front of the easel intimidate you because it's been so long since you created? In this presentation recorded for the Realist Art Club, I share a series of tricks that have helped me when I find myself facing these same roadblocks.

Create a Routine Regardless of Inspiration

This may seem obvious, but probably the number one thing is to create a specific, regular time that you work whether you feel like it or not.

It is said, "The muse finds you working," and this has been true for me and so many others! Inspiration comes when you're already engaging in the process, so even if you don't have a grand idea for your next project, just start doing something... ANYTHING! Sketch the corner of a room, paint a coffee mug, or even just tone some canvases with abstract color. It will engage that creative part of your brain, you'll feel good, and eventually more personal ideas will come.

Block Time

Don't just put painting on your to-do list. Give it a specified block of time in your calendar, and commit to only focusing on your work during that time. If you find it difficult to follow through with your plans, consider making it social: Sign up for a class, join an online group like the Realist Art Club  where you know others are waiting for you, or make a weekly creative date with a friend!

Having something scheduled (or participating in a class, or even virtually creating at the same time as a friend) can help you avoid excuses and distractions. And when it's routine, resistance starts to diminish. Block other time *after* your painting time for other tasks, or prioritize other jobs on non-painting days. 

Turn Off Notifications

As much as possible, try to stay off your phone, computer, etc. Reducing or eliminating how much your phone or other devices are lighting up or making noise is essential, because it steals your attention perhaps more than you realize! 

Use a timer if you if you really feel the need to check email, social media, or the laundry during an art session.

Tip for iPhone users: You can silence notifications by using the Do Not Disturb setting. If you are concerned about emergencies, you can also allow specified people to get through. Go to Settings > Do Not Disturb Look for "Allow Calls From..." and choose a setting. Add people to "Favorites" to allow their calls to come through.

Do a Little Before You Do Anything Else

This one is huge for me!! It tricks you into working by removing the barrier of getting started.The idea is that before you're actually ready to settle into a painting session, you just get a little bit started: Mix up a color, outline a correction you're going to make, put a few strokes down. Now you are in the middle of a project that is waiting for you, and you'll be less likely to allow yourself to get sidetracked.

I used to do this early in the morning before bringing my son to school, and it really helped me return to the project ASAP after returning home. The same idea could work by sneaking a few brush strokes in upon returning from work, to help you get back into the studio after dinner.

Give What You Love Your Best Energy

Are you a morning person? Do you have a second wind at 8pm? Are you depleted after work/kids/etc?

Getting up early to go to work sucks. But getting up early to put what you love first can feel pretty amazing! Consider when is your freshest and most creative time of the day and do what you can to put your creative time in that slot, whether that's morning, night, or in between.

Plan What to Work on Ahead of Time

Do you ever sit down to work, but it's been so long that you don't remember what you were doing and have no idea where to begin?

Take a peek at your project during lunch, or even on the toilet instead of scrolling social media! Write down (or keep a note in your phone) what you should work on next. Make a list and check it off as you go along.

This will help you not only get started when it's painting time, but it will help you see that you're making progress. That feeling will help you want to paint again next time!

If you can, have your work somewhere you can see it throughout the day, or take photos on your phone. This will keep it on your mind so you're ready to get back to it.

Create the Right Social Situation

Notice if you do better having a separate space or being in a common space. Perhaps people, conversations, and pending chores are a distraction and get in the way for you. Conversely, maybe when you're away from others you feel isolated and would rather draw or paint close to your family or around other artists. Consider this and try to create a routine that suits your social/solitude needs.

This is different per person and per situation. Pay attention and adjust accordingly! People also can shift from needing solitude to needing company depending on changing life circumstances, so don't assume that being an introvert will automatically mean you should create by yourself.

Stick to One Medium

This goes along with routine, ad is not meant to be limiting but rather to help create a flow from session to session.

Switching from one method to another too much can sometimes add another barrier: Always having to re-remember or re-learn how to use a medium, which can make the creative process stressful.  When you are in a routine with one medium and one process, then you can focus on what you are creating and have more control over the results. Plus, you won't have to put away and pull out different materials or arrange your set up to suit different mediums each time.

Have Things Set Up and Ready to Go

As much as possible, reduce the effort needed to get started. If you can, keep your work on the easel or drawing table, your palette ready, and everything where it needs to be so that all you have to do is have a seat and get going.

It's all about reducing resistance and making it easy to get started!

Before I had a dedicated art space, here are some things that helped me:

  • Easel: Was able to be put in the corner of the living room, so it was always accessible.
  • Palette: Placed on top of a high bookshelf between sessions, with wet paint still on it and ready to go.
  • Painting-in-Progress: I had a nail on the wall where I'd stick the current WIP after each session, getting it out of the way. It was easy to see, yet out of the way.
  • Painting Supplies: Were all kept in one small rolling plastic cart of drawers, which rolled under a desk during the day. When painting it served as a place for my palette and brushes.
  • Location: Mostly, I painted right in the middle of the living room, after my son was asleep so that I wouldn't be interrupted.

Some specific tips for making it easier to work with oil paint...

  • Leave Paint on Your Palette! Leave the paint from the tube around the perimeter of your palette. Clean the mixing area each time. Let it get a patina, so long as there are no annoying chunks. Many colors will still be wet at your next session!
  • Freeze Your Brushes Instead of washing your brushes after each session, leave paint on them, wrap them in plastic wrap (or even a paper towel will do) and pop them in the freezer. This will slow down drying well enough that you can leave them there for a few days, and then use them in your next session.
  • Put Brushes in Water or Oil Overnight If you'll be returning to your painting the next day, place your brushes in a little bit of water, slow drying medium, or baby oil. This will prevent it from drying overnight, but it's not the best situation for the brush health. Weight the pros and cons!
  • Use a Palette Knife Instead of Brushes Super easy clean-up! (Uses lots of paint, though.)

Some Final Notes...

If it helps you, track your time spent painting so you can see your progress. This can be through a habit tracker, a weekly time sheet, or just a list of steps to take with your painting.

No Beating Yourself Up! Not only is it not nice to yourself, it's also counter productive.

Frame It: What does making art mean to you or do for you? Does it help you feel like yourself? Does it help you feel like a professional or productive? Is it a form of self-care? Frame the idea of what it's providing you so that you can feel good spending your time on your art.

I hope you feel inspired to recommit to your drawing or painting practice!


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