I remember sitting at the piano as a 10 year old, plinking the keys aimlessly. I was “practicing”… or at least that’s what I told my mother. I was not. The term frittering away time (being a frittering potato if you will) was more than applicable. I was unenthusiastic about piano for several reasons, and all of them resulted in a less than willing spirit to practice. Once I finally wore down everyone around me, I was allowed to cease piano lessons and I started drawing. Art and drawing were something I loved. I did them in my spare time. All the time. I remember staying up late into the night, hiding under my covers with a flashlight drawing.
My parents purchased for me a drawing class. I remember the video and the opening of the supplies and the feeling of ecstatic joy on opening new art supplies I had never used or seen before. It wasn’t long before the excitement of new art supplies faded. Once again, I began to fritter when I was supposed to be drawing.
All this goes to say, that my natural bent, from childhood, is not one of rigor but one of laziness. I’ve had to work with myself a great deal to learn how to practice things once the shiny newness wears off. After the honeymoon period is done, how do I persevere? Consistency in a creative practice does not come easily to me. My natural bent is to only paint or draw when it feels good. I fritter still more often than I like to admit (I was actually just having a fritter party in my studio which inspired this essay). Here are ten things that have helped me with my creativity practice and being consistent with them.
Find a tribe of creatives who will hold you accountable and push you. This has been the number one thing that has helped me the most in being consistent in pursuing my art. I knew that I needed people to hold me accountable to create; not just any people, but dear friends that would tell me the truth. From this need, Coffee and Creative was born. Sometimes it hurts to hear that I’m not doing as good a job as I imagined, but my Coffee and Creatives team is not there to be my cheerleaders. They’re there to be my coaches; yes, they encourage me greatly, but they also correct. Correction from someone you trust and value is precious. I want to be 1% better at my art every day, and to do that sometimes I need to hear things that make me uncomfortable. Growth is an uncomfortable process, and that’s okay. My goal is not to have a comfortable life; I want to be uncomfortable so that I grow and can encourage the people nearest to me to grow as well.
When thinking of your creative time, imagine an imperfect circumstance rather than a perfect circumstance. When I think of the perfect circumstance for creating, I think of being alone in my studio in the morning. I have a fresh cup of coffee, and Grace Potter is playing. My space is clean and organized. It’s 65 degrees outside; the birds are singing… this never happens and probably isn’t going to happen! And that’s okay. My daughter has the most energy in the morning and my husband works most days 6 am-6 pm. If I’m in my studio in the morning, I’ve got a cold cup of coffee and a two-year-old attempting to do a cartwheel. And this is also okay. If I wait for the perfect circumstance to create, I would almost never create. When I think about my creative time, I try and imagine all of the bumps that might come up on the way, so that I can plan for them. If I want to paint with my daughter, I’m going to have extra supplies for her to use. If I know my space is messy, I’m going to spend the first five minutes tidying up so that I’m not frustrated during my creative time.
Figure a good time of day, rather than an ideal time of day. My ideal time for creating is in the morning. Although I’m not really a morning person, this is when I have the most energy and motivation. Housework is not my strong suit, so it’s best if I get it done early in the day (and my daughter loves to help with it). Therefore most of my mornings are taken up with tiring my little one out and tidying up my house. I do my morning pages, but most of the time that’s it. The best time for me to create is at night, after my daughter’s gone to bed and the chores are done. Although my energy isn’t high, I’m able to concentrate on what I’m doing.
Figure out where you’re spending your time and why. I know that I can spend quite a lot of time on social media and reading dumb articles on the internet. I know that I do these when I’m lonely and seeking connection. But social media and dumb internet articles do not really provide the meaningful connection I’m seeking. Instead, I try to call a friend. It’s not that spending time numbing on instagram is necessarily a bad thing, but it’s a tool. Just like sweets or caffeine or anything else, and I try to be mindful of how much I’m consuming as to not over do it.
Place boundaries on your creative time. This one is hard for me, probably the hardest. I don’t want to be selfish, but at the same time I am my best self when I am in a creative habit. Of course there are exceptions, such as sickness and snowstorms, but I protect my creative time. If a friend asks me to watch their kid on Friday at 12 pm, I say no sorry I can’t. That’s the day that I have my art peer group. This is difficult for me, but very valuable. I’ve noticed (at least for me) when I start giving away my creative time, I’ll have none left. Creative time, for me, is sacred.
Ask for the people around you for their help with protecting your creative time as sacred. Saturday afternoons are my sacred creative time. My husband helps me with this, and we work as a team to carve out this time. It might be your partner or a friend or a sibling: ask them for help to create time for you to spend uninterrupted and distracted your craft. It doesn’t need to be a massive amount of time--an hour or two on a regular weekly schedule will grow your craft immensely.
Set up a creative space, or a space that’s quickly converted. Having an art studio has revolutionized my art practice. Multiple projects can be worked on at the same time, I don’t have to worry about the cat walking through my paint, and so many other reasons that make this ideal. However, I know that this is a luxury, one that I did not have a year ago, and might now have a year from now. If for some reason, you aren’t able to have a permanent creative space, try to have a space that’s easily converted. When we lived in a small apartment space, I had a box with my paints, canvases, and some of my brushes. This box didn’t have all my art supplies, but my most often used ones. What are the essentials to your creative practice? Can you pair them down? Try and place them near to your temporary workspace? Remove as many physical obstacles as possible to creating.
Have fun! What’s the best kind of exercise? The one that you enjoy! If you’re truly enjoying something, you’re more likely to stick with it. Consider eating healthy, exercise, school, work, etc. It’s so much easier to do these things when there’s an element of enjoyment. None of these things are fun all of the time, but when there’s that element of fun, it definitely helps. The same goes with creativity. Have fun.
Warm up first. At the beginning of your creative time, take a couple of minutes to warm up. Consider dancers: they don’t start cold. They spend time warming up their bodies. In drawing classes, they teach the same. Class is often started by some quick gesture drawing to warm the artists up. When I teach art, I have my students start by drawing quickly, focusing only on speed and not on the product. We often try to draw the worst flower, or the worst portrait, or the worst whatever in a minute. When we do this, I notice for myself and for my students, it helps relieve the pressure. If you’ve already drawn your worst drawing of the day, it can help you relax to enjoy the longer drawing process.
Know yourself. Whether it’s the Enneagram or the Myers-Briggs or some other tool for self-knowledge, use that insight to help find your creative groove. I know that, as 6w5, I need to be diligent in following my own path, not the style of my favorite teachers. I also know that as this enneagram type that fear (often for me the fear of doing something unwell) can hold me back from pursuing my passions. This self-knowledge has been extremely helpful to me as I grow as an artist.
Whether it’s the self-knowledge that my artistic calling was not hidden in ivory keys or that I needed community to keep me from fritter-mania, these disciplines guide my practice just as much as the moments of inspiration.