How I balance my time as a working artist

It’s been a while, everyone! As I’ve recovered from Covid (can’t recommend, wouldn’t buy again, zero stars), I’ve thought about a question from one of my wonderful students I got a while back.

Anne asks:I’d love to know how you balance your time as a working artist: I always struggle to balance art-work, art-learning and art-fun! Any tips or insights you might have would be welcomed.”

Here’s a video version of this post:

How I balance my time as a working artist

Answer: First of all, I love these categories, although I can’t always discern between those areas. I often change what a typical day or week looks like for me, I don’t follow a certain concept or routine since it’s very hard to find one that really works for me.

I know many artists have similar difficulties with this, so I hope by sharing how I manage my time this will help others to find a good strategy for themselves.

Balancing work, learning and fun

I don’t have any fixed times or ratios for different kinds of activities, since I often decide spontaneously on a task based on how much energy I have. On some days I feel energized and do way more than what I had planned, and on other days I can’t really do a lot. That is okay, but it also means to be very flexible with my work schedule.

Generally, I always have bigger projects or ideas that I’m working on (these can be commissions, courses, personal projects), and I reserve time for those first.

But when I plan my week, I try to include a little bit of everything: some tasks that are project or work-related (I tend to do those first), and some ideas to let me explore and have a bit of fun, and also something that I want to learn more about. Yes, I sometimes put down my fun activities as tasks, so that I don’t forget about them or push them to the back! That way, I always have an activity ready to pick when I’m not as concentrated or need a bit of space.

I love structure, but I’m very slow at integrating it into my daily life, if that makes sense. Over the years, I’ve only implemented very few “fixed” dates in my week that really work for me (like one certain day for paperwork, or starting with the most important task of the day first).

One aspect about being a self-employed artist is that you always have the feeling you should do more, and produce new work, and fill every moment of your day with art. The ever-present “hustle culture” has seeped into every corner of our work life. I don’t think it’s good for us (or at least not for me). I try to break that conditioning very consciously by allowing myself to be unproductive, to do things simply for fun. I still find it hard to include this into my day (not time-wise, but simply allowing myself), so I make it a point to add it to my to do list. I literally have bullet points on my list in everywhere in my notes that say: take a break, it’s okay to do things slowly. Since I deal with chronic health issues it’s very easy for me to notice when I don’t take these breaks or fall into some kind of productivity trap (“I need to do more”), because I seize to function when I do that. I don’t work very well under pressure and with full schedules, so I try my best to avoid both.

I try to have at least one session a week (1-3 hours) that is reserved for fun: doodling and trying out new things, new tools; and a similar session for learning: studying masters, immersing myself into the life of a certain artist or technique. Since I’ve started to do this, rather than simply work on the next project I had planned, I have gotten much better at my technique, and I’ve gotten a better grasp on what it is I want to do with my art. So simply allowing a little bit of time for exploration and learning has helped me a lot creatively!

So how do I pick these topics? I keep a list of things I want to try out, or learn about, and I keep a list of new techniques I want to get better at, so that when I decide to set aside some time to learn or have fun, I immediately know what I can start with, and my learning is a bit more structured. This has been more important for me than keeping fixed time blocks or any kind of outer structure. Just knowing what it is that I want to do with my art, and knowing what I want to practice has helped a lot.

I also find that guided lectures and online courses are a really great way to include more learning sessions into my week. Someone else has done the heavy lifting of organizing knowledge into small chunks, I can simply follow along. This will not get you there all the way, but it’s a great start. You also need to discover how to learn on your own, without instruction, to get better at your art, but it’s a great start to learn with structured classes.

That’s essentially my system, if you can call it that. I’m sorry I don’t really have a fixed routine to offer to you, or a genius masterplan that you can simply adapt. I too still have the same problems of balancing out work time and play time in my art-making, and very often I don’t think what I’m doing is very structured. But still, I’m trying to do things in the way that works best for me.

I hope this has been a helpful insight into how I structure my work and fun time as a working artist, and maybe some of the strategies will be useful to you. How do you structure your art-making? If you are a working artist, how to you approach balancing your time? Let’s talk about this!

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9 thoughts on “How I balance my time as a working artist”

  1. Thank you so much for sharing! I was just talking about this yesterday and how I am struggling right now with all I want to do and what I a realistically getting done. I always resonate with a kind approach to scheduling (which it seems you have) especially for our creativity so thank you for the reminder. Wishing you a lovely day!

    1. You put it so well – a kind approach to scheduling is exactly what we need, that you for this! At some point I also realized that I need to let go of all of the (most interesting) ideas I have, since it’s much more realistic to focus on a few (still very interesting) things and pursue them with more focus. One lifetime sadly isn’t enough for all that one can creatively imagine.

    2. sí a veces hay que saber relegar muchas cosas, no siempre es todo lo que quieres hacer sino realmente donde puedes llegar. y dentro de lo que supone obligación encontrar un pequeño momento aunque sea que sirva de diversión. un abrazo Julia

  2. I find the GTD approach really helpful. It’s such a good idea to keep a list of things to do. When we have time to sit down and work we often don’t also have energy to define what to do. Without a list (or more!) we always end up dealing with what is loudest in the moment!

    Thank you for all your teachings! You seem like a kind and down to earth person and I enjoy your courses!

    Greetings from Belgium!
    Ema

    1. The GTD approach is so disciplined and granular, I wish I could follow a system like this. But anyway, you’re right that it helps so much to have a list of things written out and not having to think about what to start. Thank you so much Ema, I really appreciate your support! You have lovely art on your site. <3

  3. Excellent! Makes so much sense. I guess I especially like that you “admit” to taking classes. I think it is too easy for the rest of us to think working artists don’t have to do that anymore, but anyone can always learn more. Also your emphasizing that it shouldn’t be all work, no play. Play is often where the next idea comes from. I’m not a morning person so I never could get with what so many working artists were suggesting: the taking care of paperwork and “business” first thing. But then again, I rather hated that part of it anyway so easy to put it off til later in the day. I prefer to be creative early in the day, get my daily walk in after lunch, and take care of the business end if need be after that. When there are deadlines to be met though, doing the work pretty much takes up the day for days at a time. Catch up on other things after deadline is met. Schedules are good to have but should be adjustable.

    1. I’m under the impression that most creative professionals take classes or try out new stuff when they have the time, there’s always something to learn or just to enjoy. At least I get a lot out of that!
      Lol, I could never do my paperwork in the morning, my brain simply doesn’t allow bureaucracy before noon. I too tend to do more creative tasks first, and the boring stuff later when I’m tired anyway. I need to include some walking time around lunch, that’s a great idea! Thank you for sharing your experiences, Sheila! <3

  4. Querida Julia espero que te encuentres repuesta del todo, yo aprovechando que estoy de baja, estrés e hipertensión, he realizado un viaje atrás en tu blog y me he vuelto a enamorar. me encantan, no los quites nunca, son un regalo para la vista y para el alma. me surgen todas las ganas que este verano no he podido desarrollar del todo. gracias. esto no solo es pintar o dibujar mejor o peor, es aprender botánica, anatomía, color, disposición… que sé yo. Es ilusión. Un abrazo, cuídate y sigue haciéndonos soñar.

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