I recently asked the artists that follow TAA on social media for their tips on how to be more productive and efficient in the studio. We got some GREAT answers and inspired tons of really fun discussion.
Why Does Productivity Matter?
Why does productivity and efficiency even matter? Doesn’t thinking like that get in the way of making art?
As Elithea Whittaker said:
“Wait, this is an objective?”
or as Deborah Rushton put it, “But then it becomes a product or commodity & not true “art.”
“I think we have to stay aware of Faustian bargaining. Contextualising, reviewing and refining art work, takes time, we shouldn’t neglect these things and rush just to make a sale and churn out more emperor’s clothes.”
While I certainly agree that making good art takes time, I challenge the notion that art creation cannot be made more efficient and easier on the artist.
Some artists feel that they need to be given unlimited time for exploration and “feeling” out the art. There is certainly some value in exploration, and every artist has a process that they go through to make their work.
But when you start talking to some artists who sell regularly, you start to see a slightly different take on productivity.
Of course, it takes time to find the optimal process for your own specific work. When you make work over and over again, you find short cuts in your brush strokes, in your color choices, in how you dry your work and a thousand other little things. Some of that can only be discovered through doing the work.
David Lee Murray emphasizes, “Don’t take shortcuts. Learn the knowledge, develop a strategy and procedure, then execute. To make prolific art more efficiently takes time and lots of studying. There’s no easy way to get fast and do good work, it’s all about the grind and learning to love the grind because there’s no “making it.” It’s a lifestyle of training and constant growth.”
As Joel Garza said, “It’s all about perfecting your craft and technique as much as possible. It’s a constant state of perseverance and evolution. It doesn’t happen over night but when it does happen… it just flows!”
How to Produce More Art, Faster
So, with the understanding that we’re not trying to lower the quality of your work, here are the community’s top tips for being more efficient in the studio.
MAKE ART EVERY DAY
Melissa Dinwiddie is well known for encouraging creatives to create every single day. Her 15 minute per day challenge was recommended by several artists.
The suggestion that you must make art every day was echoed by dozens of artists. (Here’s more on how to create a daily art habit.)
Mike Brennan said, “I’m almost at 4 years of consecutive 365 days of a drawing / painting a day. I’ve found that when you have momentum, you can more easily systemize some things and also the self talk that you need when creating something new is more readily available. Keeping a list of concepts, ideas, and inspiration when you don’t need it is key so it’s readily available when you do! I collect those in Evernote or google docs.”
For centuries, high performing artists, athletes, scientists, and others have recognized that there is a state that is highly conducive to doing our best work. In 1990, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (no, I can’t pronounce it either) published his seminal book on the subject, titled Flow: the Psychology of Optimal Experience, and this state of performance began to commonly be called Flow. The book details the results of years of experience researching how people enter these optimal states. The book is rather academic and a bit dry, but it is a very useful read.
Based on the science, giving yourself time to enter the state of flow is giving yourself an opportunity to enter your peak performance state.
Some artists try to simply fit the art in wherever they can. If you are immersed in a full time day job, raising children, or other demanding responsibilities, this might be all that you can do. But making art really requires giving yourself time to sink into a state of flow. That might take anywhere from a few minutes to an hour of work, depending on your state of mind and the difficulty of the work you’re doing.
I like this suggestion from Savannah Newton, “Just making myself work work work for long periods. I have days that I set aside as ‘art nights’ when I’m not allowed to go out with friends or watch tv, set my phone on do not disturb and lock myself in the studio for hours. It doesn’t make me work faster necessarily, but I do complete pieces faster. The only time I actually work fast is when I work emotionally.”
Savannah’s comment echoes our post The 50/50 Rule for Successful Art Careers.
Remember that you do what you plan to do. If you plan your time to make art, you’ll do that. If you plan time dedicated to selling art, you’ll do that. Remember that by planning time to sell you work, that means you must be more productive in your art making.
TREAT IT LIKE A SECOND JOB
Most artists are still working at day jobs that suck up a huge portion of their time and energy. By the time you get home, its easy to just … not make art. We wrote a blog post on how to deal with day jobs that is still very relevant.
As Kellee Conrad says, “Set a schedule and block off work hours. Don’t get tempted by all the million other things you could do… Do your work!”
ORGANIZE YOUR WORK AREA
Alisa Bradish said, “Get all your supplies set out in advance (including snack and drink if you’re going to need it). That way once you start working, you don’t have to stop. Put your cellphone right there too if you might get calls that you might want to answer.”
Evan Johnsen said, “Keep all your art materials out, immediately available and very visible. Put your work space in a place you cannot avoid, this way you have no prep work to slow you down and you’ll be constantly reminded of what you ought to be doing whenever you’re not doing it.”
WORK MORE SIMPLY
Melissa Dinwiddie, again, “I consciously started working in a less time-consuming manner, in order to make my paintings more cost-effective. I still make more layered, time-consuming art, too, but very intentionally developed a style that takes me less time.”
This is great way to create some easier art that will bring in some cash in a crunch.
Amira D Rahim, “I paint in cycles at this point. Working on up to 10 different canvases at once. My best recipe for being prolific and I publish at least several paintings per month!”
Again from Savannah Newton, “Find a reason to set a deadline really soon. I used to apply for shows and competitions like crazy just because it would give me a reason to make new work.”
Joshua Lawyer says, “Start a few personal pieces then set a deadline to finish them that you are comfortable with. This will not only get you ready when you have to get a commissioned piece done at a certain time. But it will also train your hands and brain to stay focused on a project. As an artist myself, this tactic has really helped me. Hope it helps you as well.”
Studies have shown over and over again that taking breaks when you’re studying and working makes you more productive. The same is true for artists. Your energy flags. You need to stretch. You need to step back and return to the work from a different angle.
GET RID OF DISTRACTIONS
The irony of asking about productivity on Facebook is not lost on me.
Jim Murphy says, “Go to the studio at a set time. Just like punching a time clock. Stay there. Leave the phone, computer, and TV off. Just show up and start working. Art is a vocation, not a hobby for me.”
CLEAR YOUR MIND
In a similar vein to getting rid of distractions, clearing your mind of mental clutter is important. Its very challenging to enter a state of flow when you are distracted thinking about the million points of resistance that come with making art.
Meditation, prayer, and having a strong spiritual life were suggested multiple times.
CHALLENGE GROUPS & MASTERMIND GROUPS
There are dozens of blogs and social media groups around helping artists challenge themselves to be more productive. From daily paintings to 30-day challenges to other projects. Here are a few examples and ideas that we like:
LET YOURSELF OFF OF THE HOOK
TL Steinbrener says, “(Accept) that my standards are much higher than others are for my work. If I only made art that met my ideals, then I would never get anything done.”
The truth is that most of your art isn’t going to be amazing. As Karl Hauser said, “45 years ago I realized that 90% of the art I made was crap. So if I made 100 artworks I could count on about ten or so to be not crap. The more I made, the faster I got the 10%.”
PRODUCTIVITY BOOKS AND RESOURCES I LOVE
There is an entire industry built up around productivity. Here are a few of my favorite resources on productivity.
Your tips on productivity?
What other tips do you have for being a more productive artist?