Category: diary of a creative professional

Artists and Schedules – Maintaining Creative Flow Without Going Insane

As is usual with any time that I’m forced to sit on my duff with hours of free time, I start thinking of a thousand ways to strategize what I’m going to work on next, how I’m going to improve towards my career goals, the meaning of life, etc.  Gallbladder removal has been a massively introspective and motivating time for me.  The whole year has been, really, as constant road blocks have forced me to slow down and think of my physical and mental health more carefully.

I’ve finally had to admit to myself that my schedule hasn’t been the healthiest.  I have often ended my work days feeling anxious and unfulfilled.  I never seem to get enough done!  I would often find myself working late and fretting, which in turn, worried my partner on multiple levels.  That constant feeling of ‘not getting enough done’ made me unhappy, just as the constant nagging feeling of ‘you should be producing more’ made the times I should have been relaxing with loved ones a nerve-wracking experience. I always wanted to ‘escape’ and slink back to the studio to work because if I could just get one more thing done, I could finish and be at peace and enjoy myself during downtime, guilt free!

Enjoying myself outside of work and even simply doing art for fun became a distant memory.

I never could put my finger on why this always seemed to happen to me until I sat down and wrote an hourly work schedule representing my work habits as they were.  I split my time between leather crafting in the mornings, illustration client commissions after lunch, and finally, the rest of whatever’s leftover of my day, should I finish client work, was spent trying to cram in those precious portfolio pieces and studies that are so important to the long term development of my career.  Broken down, I was only getting a couple hours dedicated to each thing and that’s barely enough to enter any kind of ‘flow’!  I define flow as that creative trance you enter which usually takes me more than two hours to achieve since I have a very particular work space I have to set up, which usually takes some of that precious time to arrange.  I don’t work well in spurts, it seems.  Discovering this about myself has proven so very useful!
The solution?  Schedule myself and train my brain to be satisfied with what gets done in a day.  It helped to start thinking of my leather crafts as a part-time job, which it has become, much to my surprise.  Leather crafts make up a good chunk of my income when art sales are low.  The schedule is looking something like this now:
Monday to Tuesday – Work ONLY on leathercrafts!  That way I can take time with my craft projects and look forward to those days coming later in the week when I can return to my true love, illustration!  I’ve noticed delegating these days for only crafts has actually made me more inspired to do this kind of work because I don’t mentally associate craft-time as ‘the time I take away from doing art and rushing to fill every order before arttime’.  I actually have had time to create new patterns and have some exciting new product lines to release in the near future thanks to the simple switch of days!
Wednesday – I update my website first thing with the rest of the day dedicated to art at the coffee shop.  I noticed my website was constantly falling behind because I had no set time I’d update it, so I’d just forget!  Including website updating on my weekly schedule has helped me to keep it updated, which is important for any Art Directors who might have their eye on me or others who need to see that my site is updated and I am active.  If my website is already up to date, I spend that time posting to other neglected galleries online because goodness knows there’s enough of them!  Behance, FurAffinity, Epilogue.  The list goes on!  As much as I wish I had a personal webmonkey to handle all of my website updates, I’m still only a one-woman show, at the moment!  Forsooth! I’ve even managed to fit in time I actually leave the studio in this schedule!  A little fresh air goes a long way when you start seeing faces in the proverbial yellow wallpaper of your studio walls. 
Thursday to Friday – Glorious 2D art-only days!  I’ve decided to start my art-only days with warm-up exercises, either life drawings or daily prompts (ie. Spitpaint).  Then the rest of the day can be spent in creative flow, rather than split up trying to do a billion different things, which just hasn’t proven conducive to my sense of satisfaction and frankly my productivity as an artist!  Trying to do everything has given me a year in which I’ve not produced much at all, for as much as I scramble and am ‘busy’ all of the time to the point of nervousness when I am not working.  I also know if I don’t make time to do studies, I’ll just skip right to trying to solve the ‘masterpieces’, and that’s a fast ticket to frustration since I’m not stopping to learn what I need to learn to attain the level of Mastery I need for the kind of work I want to be doing.
Saturday and Sunday – I try not to work these days unless I am behind or have a rush deadline.  It is incredibly important to me that I do not work every day of the week!  Everyone needs the downtime and these are days I’d rather be spending time with loved ones.

And there you have it!  My prototype of a schedule.  I’ve tried it for a week already and I must say I’m already feeling ten times less stressed out!  There’s no telling how this schedule will be upturned by conventions, rush orders, and other such things, but I can say from experience thus far that discovering what my tolerance for a creative flow has been a life-changing experience.
So my advice to you and any other freelance creative professionals is to learn what your ‘flow’ threshold is, especially if you’re like me and have to work your art time around other activities.  The excellent book Creative Time and Space: Making Room for Making Art really helped me as far as figuring out how to get the most out of my day.  Artists from all walks of life, married, with kids, full-time, part-time, etc. give their best advice for how not to go insane keeping your ‘creative flow’ strong.

How do you maintain ‘flow’ throughout your day?  Share your tips in comments!

A bit of shameless self-promo before I go. If you do end up getting the book, you can use my Amazon referral link to buy it and give me a nice little earning from your purchase! I’d appreciate it very much and the book is well worth adding to one’s library if you are a creative professional.

Dealing with Bad Habits and Rejection


Here we are a few weeks after IlluXCon and my mind is still buzzing with the possibilities, even as I settle back into the same routine I had before.  Yet now I have realized something.

Here I am back in the same ol’ catch 22 that trapped me into an unhealthy unproductive pattern as before.  To make ends meet, I work small side jobs (mostly leather crafts or independent commissions) and by the time I’m done with that, I’m left with just a few hours at the end of my day to cram in both my portfolio work and my personal work, which usually means choosing one over the other, unless I’m crafty and double-dip the chip, metaphorically speaking.

It’s so very difficult to take time from these activities that bring us income to convince myself working on portfolio pieces instead is going to pay off!  But it needs to be done or I’ll stop and look at the 40-year-old in the mirror and ask myself if I’ll ever accomplish what I want in life by age 50.  Bills still need paying and that’s a problem I have the power to influence as a content creator.

So I’ve been asking myself what is bringing me a step closer to my Mountain?  I’ve been reflecting on that a lot lately.  It’s led me to some simple conclusions.  First, the cycle must be broken!  If I need to work a little later in the day and sacrifice some time with my loved ones, than so be it.  I need to dump my guilt about doing this because my partner believes in my career just as much as I do and my success is his success.  I am the one who brings guilt to the table.  As long as I don’t work late every single day, it will be alright.  If I want to get anywhere with my career, I need that extra push, especially right now when I am so close.  As long as I  know to stop working, should my schedule become unhealthy.  It’s a problem I’ve had in the past and I will have to learn and abide by my limits in this regard for my mental and physical well-being.
Next, I need to start believing that my art is good enough to boost my income.  I stopped submitting to publishers and art reps years ago because I only ever got automatic rejection responses.  I know now that it was because my work was simply not good enough back then and I had no idea how to present my portfolio.  Neither was my work branded for the companies I submitted to!  But now?  I am armed by the knowledge granted from places like Muddy Colors and ArtOrder.

Having peers and respected artists review my portfolio at IlluXCon and tell me that I’m “almost there” has fueled the realization that I only need a little shove to get me where I need to be.  With just a little grease and polish on my work, I will start approaching publishers again.  I will start believing the time I spend on my portfolio is worth the time I take away from short term sales!  It’s a precarious tight-rope act trying to compromise between short-term and long-term goals with a constant fear of failure, that the time spent will be wasted.  The older I get, the more I feel that urgency and the more unsure my feet become!  It’s that self-imposed and societal reinforcement that if you don’t have the American dream by age 30 that you are a failure in life (I am currently 31 years old).  This is bullshit, especially as our society evolves new work patterns and standards of happiness and success in life.

I realize that I need to diversify my income, which would, in turn, help me be able to spend less time scrambling for side jobs and more time planning long term portfolio pieces.  While I have done this with leathercraft, it’s had the side effect of stealing away something I used to do for enjoyment.  Leathercraft was always meant to be my happiness hobby and I would like it to be so again.  Everyone needs that hobby that brings them pure happiness and fun or you are just working. All. of. the. time.  
My first coloring pack is available now!

I’ve been brainstorming many ways to help pad the income between jobs, the first of which is producing digital art items such as coloring book packs, which I plan to roll out more of soon!  I have also been researching how to sell my old work as stock illustration.  The article on revenue streams over at Muddy Colors reminded me of a lot of old plans I never did put in motion.  Time to step up and get things moving again!

With everything buzzing around in my head right now, it’s so easy to feel paralyzed by ALL THE THINGS that need doing!  I find that is where lists help to quantify my goals and make them more achievable.  So here goes!:


– Revise my current portfolio pieces that are salvageable for submission to Fantasy Flight Games, Paizo Publishing, etc. (Kushiel’s Dart, Lotus Dancer, and Dreaming Butterfly).

– Create new work branded for the IPs I want to work with. (Magic the Gathering, Dungeons and Dragons, Shadowrun, Tor, etc.)

– Catch up in Painting Drama. Even getting halfway through this course improved my work so dramatically!
– Create more traditional pieces in my Art Nouveau style, as they seem popular with collectors and I quite enjoy doing them.
– Submit old work to istock.  Might as well extend the value of these paintings!
– Sell off the massive glut of sketches and originals sitting around here doing nothing.  Saying goodbye to my old work is also quite cathartic!
– Get new 2D art commission samples made. The previous ones are years old by now!
– Start approaching small publishers and work my way up. 1000 no’s may equal one yes!
And so it is that I continue towards my Mountain, now armed with the proper gear and a glint in my eye.  No trolley for me, baby. I’m hiking that mother!