Back when I lived in North Carolina, I had the privilege to be a faculty member for several summers in a program called ‘Legislators’ School for Youth Leadership Development.’ We worked with middle and high school students, teaching leadership skills and initiating community involvement through a curriculum based on Sean Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens. (If the name sounds familiar, he is the son of Stephen R. Covey, known for his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, among other things.) I knew after my first summer with this program that not only was this beneficial to the students involved, but also the adults teaching it. The first thing that we taught the students was to be PROACTIVE and begin establishing good HABITS.

How long does it take to establish a habit? The popular belief is twenty-one days but truthfully forming habits varies. A habit might ‘stick’ faster for one person than another. But one thing is for sure–you have to take that first step, to identify what your short and long term goals are and then create scaffolding in which you can construct achievement towards these goals.  

I asked a few groups I am involved with, artists and teaching artists if they could share some insight on some habits that they utilize to be more productive.  Here are some of the answers that I received back:

Be Inspired

Brent Bludworth: “Always have multiple projects in production. Instead of working on one sketch start to finish, I like to sketch several out. This way when I finish a piece, get frustrated or feel unmotivated I have sketched pieces ready to go.”• Debbie Martin Allen:This might be kind of lame but I put sticky notes around my work space that motivate me. My latest is “this could be the moment that you were created for” from a sign I saw at Hobby Lobby. It reminds me that art brings joy to many people and that God gave me a gift and I can use art to inspire and bring happiness. I use this at my desk at work and in my studio for making art. It makes me want to be a better teacher/person/artist. You never know whose lives you could change, including your own.”

Andee Rudloff: “Work for and with people, organizations, and businesses you like. It is very motivating. Get studio space or dedicate space to your art making. Be excited about your work and feel an urgency to share it with others.”

Be Consistent

Betsy Foster Welfare: “I created the habit of arting before bed each night even if it was just a small doodle. I held myself to it and it led to some great, bigger projects…”

Vince Herrera: “The best way to make something stick is to do it over and over again. Whether you want to do it or not, DO IT.”

Marie Elcin: “I’ve committed my Sunday afternoon/evenings to being in the studio, which at the moment is a corner of my bedroom. Since it is in my everyday living space, it’s always in my line of sight reminding and enticing me to work. When I did have a studio space I paid for, I kept track of how many hours I spent there to justify to myself that I wasn’t wasting my money. I find that having at least 2 projects going simultaneously means that I always have something to do. If I finish a project, I don’t leave the studio until I’ve started something new. It’s much easier to come into your space and pick up where you left off. If I have a lot of things that need to be done I’ll make lists to help keep me on track. And finally, I try to apply to several exhibition opportunities throughout the year, because having a deadline is motivating.”

Heather DelGrosso: “I carry around a portfolio almost everywhere I go more recently. One of the folder presentation ones with the plastic sleeves. It’s kind of heavy and a burden and that motivates me to actually use it if I am going to lug it around! The fact that it also isn’t just a normal sketchbook and is a way to showcase finished and successful pieces is a good motivation to continue to develop my work out of the sketch phase. Another habit I have is to take and save photos of everyday things that catch my eye or other people’s art that speaks to me and keep it in a folder on my phone just for art inspirations. It’s a great place to start when I feel like creating but don’t have a fully formed idea yet. Finally, I started an artist page on Facebook to share my latest creations. It keeps me more accountable in my own mind if I haven’t posted in a while and in turn makes me feel accomplished if I have been able to share pieces more frequently.”

Amy Elizabeth: “I make myself draw something every day, even if I only have a small amount of time. It keeps my mind and chops up and if I really like how my thoughts are laid down it becomes a completed piece. For a very long time I struggled with productivity, and over the last four to five years I’ve done this I’ve seen productivity increase and the quality of my work improve.”

Be Kind To Yourself

Lorraine Pulvino Poling:Remind yourself, ‘It doesn’t have to be perfect. ”

Jeri Brown: “I start with the idea of just to spend time in my studio on art, instead of ‘I have to do this I have to do that.’ ” 

Sam Watterson: “Meditation, which helps remove thoughts that stop me making”

Suzanne Kennedy Huff: “I have started considering everything that I do worthwhile now. In the past, if I did a quick sketch, Zentangle or even a little watercolor painting that I thought was insignificant, I would stash it away or throw it away (something I always told my students not to do, yet I wasn’t practicing what I preached). Now I create art journals made from old hard cover books that have been damaged in some way. I now stash all of my little paintings and doodles in a pocket I create in the back of the journal and when I have time I do little mixed media pieces from each page. Now I find that I make more time for these smaller works. When I don’t have a great inspiration for a deep and meaningful painting, I am still being creative and salvaging these little bits and pieces of my creative time. I am more organized in the process therefore I have been encouraged to produce more.”

Lee Darter: “You will always have time for the things that are important to you. So make sure that you place being creative high on the to-do list. Personal art should be up there with drinking water and going to work. If you have a nature that tells you to create you must listen to it. If you go long periods without creating, if you fight against your nature you will become sad, miserable and depressed. Don’t fight your true nature.”

Julie Gallow: “I make it a priority in my day. I let myself get inspired by the media I have on hand. I start with creating painted papers. Then I have them on hand to draw and layer other media on top. I love playing with color, pattern and texture. Often I will grab my sketchbook that I have painted the pages on the day before, a bunch of pens, pencils and markers, and sit down to create while watching TV in the evening! If I need more quiet, I will create in my studio at my table. I have to incorporate it into my day where I can. It’s therapy, meditation, relaxation, me time. Self-care.”

It all starts with being proactive enough to make that first step. Clear your path towards productivity and success by establishing good habits and it doesn’t matter if it takes twenty-one days or twenty-one months–you CAN make steps towards your goals!  Every day is a new opportunity to make changes, to set habits towards reaching your artistic goals. Make the most of it!


Originally published in print, Art Hive Magazine| Issue 21 | SPRING 2017


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