People who know me personally know I have three children whom I educate at home, that I teach German language and art classes outside the home, and I coach weekly youth soccer in the fall. I’m often asked how I have time to paint. The truth is it’s challenging to find the time, especially since the pandemic ended and life has become normal again, but painting is important to me, so I find the time or I make it. I write this as I hope it’s inspiring to any other artists or writers out there who have had an artistic idea they wanted to execute but just didn’t know how to fit it into their schedules.
A daily art routine has been part of my schedule for 11 years now. When my first child was born, I wanted to make sure I kept painting so I wouldn’t lose the skills I had learned, so I set aside an hour every afternoon while she was napping. I kept the baby monitor in the room where I painted to listen for her to wake up. I had given up oil painting when I learned I was expecting her, and decided to focus solely on watercolor, because there are no fumes, and I could leave it at a moment’s notice without much cleanup and return to the painting later. I had grown up painting watercolor at our dining room table, so I knew I could do it anywhere.
I continued this daily routine of painting during nap time throughout my children’s toddler years. Painting was not just work for me, but a way for me to refresh my mind before the evening rush of making dinner and putting the kids to bed. I’m an introvert, like so many artists, so I desperately need time to myself every day to be able to function around people.
Skip to the pandemic. Our weekly schedule of co-op classes twice a week and evening activities was halted. We were at home with each other all day. I instructed the children in their school subjects from 9 am to 3 pm. We weren’t seeing friends, so we entertained each other during our lunch hour, playing theatre games and making each other laugh. I needed my painting time even more during that period, so I would let them watch television for an hour in the afternoons so I could paint and be refreshed. During that year (the Fall of 2020) I landed my solo exhibit. I had painted 5 paintings to apply for it, but would only use 3 of them, and I had a year and a half to paint and sculpt the rest.
As 2021 rolled around, our outside activities started to pick up again, so I needed to adjust my painting schedule to make sure I had enough time to finish all the paintings I had in mind. I was still homeschooling, so I needed to work in my painting time around the time I was teaching. I started waking at 5:00 am every morning to get about 2 hours of painting in before the children awoke. At first it was hard to wake up that early, but then I started to really appreciate my mornings. It was enjoyable watching the sky blush pink and listening to the morning chorus of birds while I sipped coffee, listened to classical music, and painted. Spending these two hours in the morning by myself energized me for exerting my social energy with my kids the rest of the day. Some days I was lucky and got an addition hour or two in the afternoon if everyone finished their school on time.
Of course, I couldn’t get the entire solo exhibit painted in only a year and a half with only 2-3 hours a day. A few times on the weekends my husband took the kids to the park or a party for part of the day and I got 4-5 hours in. Twice I had a friend come over during the week with her child to watch the children while they all played together, and I painted. During the summer of 2021, when the kids were out of school, I painted the entire morning and took them to the outdoor pool for the afternoon. We had a blast that summer at the pool.
I’m sure this sounds exhausting. It was. One can’t continue at this pace without rest. I realized this, so I made sure I slept in until 8:00 am at least once a week, usually on Sundays. I also decided not to do any painting on Sundays, either. If I had time in the afternoon, I spent it outdoors in nature. Being in nature is as important to me as painting, and a vital part of the inspiration for my paintings. Every few weeks when I had finished a painting, I would give myself a few extra days to sleep in until 7:00 am.
Now with that body of work completed and coming up on one year since the solo exhibit, I have thought about my practice of painting 1-2 hours a day and how to keep that going without burning out. It took me a couple months to recover after the solo exhibit was installed. I no longer wake at 5:00 every morning but have found 6:00 a more reasonable time for me. Here are some suggestions based on my experience if anyone wants to try to carve out time in their busy days for art or other activities they find important.
Be consistent. Pick a time to paint or write and do it the same time every day. Knowing you have that time set apart will do wonders for your creativity. Choose a time to work that works for you. Some people prefer to stay up late rather than wake up early.
Through my experience I discovered that I’m most productive if I have a deadline. That can either be an artificial deadline I set for myself, or the date work is due to submit to an exhibit. Without the deadline for having the large body of work due for the exhibit, I wouldn’t have had the motivation to wake up at 5:00 am every morning. In order to stay on task, I also needed smaller deadlines within that 1.5 year timeframe. I figured out how many paintings I needed to have completed a month in order to have enough work to exhibit for the show. Having a bit of a buffer was also helpful, because some days the paintings don’t go as planned, and I would have to let one painting sit for a month or two or more and work on another until I solved the problems of the first.
Make sure to schedule in time for rest during the week and between projects. Rest for me looks like having a day or two to sleep in a few hours (not too long or it messes up your schedule during the week). For me, rest is also spending time in nature. I might take my kids on a nature walk at a park, or go on a bike ride if my husband is off work and can watch the kids for an hour. Just sitting outside on a warm day, sipping a drink and either watching the birds or reading a book can be restful. Find an activity that is not only restful, but also fills up your creative juices.
An artist can’t work without inspiration. Sometimes just playing with paint is enough to inspire you. Once I had artist block, but it was my time to paint, so I turned on one of my favorite composers (J.S. Bach) and painted abstract blocks of color to the music. I’m never going to do anything with that painting (it will probably become an underpainting for something else), but it was enough to get me painting again.
I also suggest finding other artists, podcasts, or books that inspire you. You never know where that inspiration will come from. The things that inspire me (in addition to nature) seem on the surface unrelated to the subject matter I paint.
Find the medium that works best for you practically. At first that was watercolor for me. I later discovered the Masterson Sta-Wet Palette for acrylic paints, and that has been a game changer for me. I can now work with acrylics and drop my work at a moment’s notice without having to toss out my paints. I switch between watercolor and acrylic now, depending on my goals for my painting.
While working on your artistic endeavors, keep your priorities straight. As much as I love art and it is a major part of my life, my priorities are my husband and children. They come first. However, painting also helps me recharge when my social energy is drained as well as explore ideas I don’t get to have in conversation, so I see painting as making me a whole person. Art and family is not exclusive. In fact, now that my children are older, I like to share my love of art with them, and sometimes one or more of them will join me to paint. I still need to keep my mornings to myself, though.