A month-long experiment to find out
a) whether scheduling studio time will help me make more work
b) whether dedicating a day a week to doing my mending will be as fulfilling in reality as it is in my fantasy
c) where the time goes!


Oh the shame

I have been a bad blogger and not done a post for three weeks. On the plus side, this is because I have been in the studio making work…the pre-scheduling has been really helpful and stopped me going “Oh I’ll just paint the deck while the weather’s good”. I still lost a couple of days – had to have an outpatient procedure at short notice, and had to stay home to deal with a domestic drama – but overall I scheduled in seven studio days in April, and managed to do six and a half. And I deferred some paid work, so will have to make up those hours…The group project I was working on did eventually get a name: The Heinrich Event

One thing clear from my prioritising of studio time over organisation is that I still need time to reflect and plan; if I don’t do this I start to get anxious and panicky, with a constant nagging feeling that there is more I should be doing, although making an Important/Urgent matrix has helped a little with prioritising. I still find it hard to work out how something can be both urgent and unimportant (the only thing on that part of my diagram is to darn my gloves – a stitch in time saves nine and all).

Maybe I’m getting a little better at living with the niggle of not being able to do anywhere near the things I think need doing – again, considering how essential it really is to fulfil every idea is helpful here.

What I certainly haven’t done is spend a day a week doing my mending; the mending ended up getting a day and a half. But I live in hope.


Beyond London and into the second week

One of the first things I did last week, on experiencing feelings of panic and tightness when looking at a full April spreadsheet with apparently not enough time off or studio time, was to rejig it, in the hope of changing my mental attitude; it’s hard to be creative from a place of tightness. So I reframed (that word is a good candidate for artist bingo) my ‘research trip to London’ as time off, and colourcoded anything to do with creative activity in pleasing shades of pink or peach. For example, admin – applications, website etc – is a necessary underpinning for creative activity. It’s certainly a more attractive spreadsheet now (maybe I’ll paint it at the end of this) but I still feel anxious. Why? I’m sure I have more studio time available than a lot of people. Though that’s part of the anxiety – why aren’t I as effective and motivated as I perceive other people to be? Really not a helpful question to even be asking, and I suspect my whole creative flow will unblock once I relax a bit more about my current lack of output.

Which leads me on to another mental exercise I’m putting into action: tolerating imperfection. This means leaving things undone at home, and not always keeping working until things are finished and I’m knackered and don’t have time to do anything else, but having a strict 5pm cut-off. I feel sick at the thought. A friend of mine once did a Zen retreat where retreatants were allocated tasks throughout the day; every hour a bell sounded, and retreatants stopped what they were doing, no matter where they were up to, and moved on to the next activity. It sounds fascinating – I always want to get things finished, otherwise I experience a mental discomfort similar to craving a cigarette. Plus, because I feel an internal pressure to get things done as soon as they pop into my head, it makes it hard to prioritise – everything seems both important and urgent. Leaving things undone, even though they’re niggling me, will be an interesting corrective to this habit – I hope – and allow me to learn to set aside some of the non-essential things that get in the way of creative work.

How well am I managing to keep to schedule? Well so far everything has gone to plan, apart from two half days of admin encroaching on my days off. It’s very hard to prioritise relaxing over ‘essential’ admin, but is that just part of a tendency to add more and more tasks to the list while avoiding getting down to the most important and scary stuff – making work? Next week will tell, when I have my precious three days of studio time scheduled in. Already they’re coming under threat, from the need to do some exercise (which I hope will boost my energy and motivation) and to deal with a household vermin infestation I discovered last night at bedtime.

Having just come back from my art binge in London, there are lots of things I want to try out – covering apples in gloss paint to see how they decompose (I’ve done it before with emulsion, it’s very enjoyable and beautiful), experimenting with varnish, thinking about all the beautiful small objects I saw in the Ice Age Art, Schwitters and Duchamp/Rauschenberg/Cage/Johns/Cunningham exhibitions, playing with oil and tempera. My plan is to do what I feel like for a bit, rather than what I feel I ought to be doing, and fool myself into making work that way. Mmm covering apples in gloss and then painting them! And seeing how the patterns change as the apples shrivel! And I’ve just bought some neoliberal classics to grow mushrooms on, am a bit sad that I don’t have time to read them but I need to get the mushrooms going so that they can be drawn at the end of the month. So it looks like that’s tomorrow’s day off turned over to mushroom propagation already…


Can I schedule my way into freedom?

So here it is, an artists talking blog and, I suspect, a sobering experiment on why it is that big chunks of time supposedly available to make work become little titbits of time hemmed in by other necessary and not-so-necessary activities.

This blog came about because I thought I had a lot of time available to get into the studio in April. It’s also a result of reading a recent Oliver Burkeman column on procrastination and Guilt Hour – a scheduled hour every week used by (I can’t remember but I’m almost sure) some kind of new media company, where everyone sits together at a big desk and works on the tasks they feel most guilty about not having completed. The idea is that scheduling the guilt means it is contained, and doesn’t leak out and infect the rest of your week. His extra note is that the things that present the most resistance are usually the most important things, so if you can identify your areas of greatest procrastination you are also identifying your areas of greatest priority.

And on a related note, there is the phenomenon of creative procrastination – constructively avoiding doing what you really need to be getting on with; I have spent today making some long-overdue amendments to my website and starting this blog instead of getting upstairs and playing with my tempera

My granny used to say that she could get everything done if she had unlimited time for a week, and I feel the same. For a long time I’ve wanted to clear my mending pile, and I’ve had a fantasy that if I had the kind of life where I could spend a day a week mending, all would be well with the world. At a recent residency, I wondered about just bringing my mending pile in and seeing how far I got with it over the two weeks, then exhibiting the mends. So, since I’m only due to be working one or two days a week in April, this seemed an ideal opportunity to test my theory, and in theory mending one day a week would leave plenty of time to make other work – not that I don’t regard the mending as part of my practice, and I will of course document it and tweet about every darn like a good 21st century art worker.

Since today was a day I’d told myself I would make work come hell or high water, obviously it was the perfect day to start by planning out my April schedule, check email, find an email that spurred me into sorting out my website, and start this blog. And the schedule is sobering. I’ve colour coded it – yellow for days off, green for paid employment, grey for research (I booked a trip to London some time ago), blue for collaborative time with a group of artists I recently got involved with, red for studio time and peach for mending. And my month is looking like –
5 days off (slacker!)
9 days of paid employment
5 days research trip
1 admin day
5 art group days (we don’t have a name yet…)
2 mending days
and a whopping three whole days in the studio!

So, my task is to find out how closely schedule and reality mesh. It’s not very likely that I’ll get all my admin done in one day, especially if I want to apply for anything at all. I accept that this lack of time even when there should be lots of it is partly down to my choices – to go to London (but could I really miss Ice Age Art and Schwitters and Manet and Cage…?) and to spend a week working collaboratively – which I’m sure will be fruitful. But it is sobering to find, even at the beginning, that my time is so constricted. And helpful to remember that art activity doesn’t begin and end in the studio.

Still, if I manage three days in the studio, it’ll still be more than I managed last month…