You’re recently self-employed, you now have endless hours to pursue your passion project! But if you’re like me, you’ll see many of those hours eaten up by indecision or artistic dilemmas. There’s no art director there to tell you which path to take. So how do you avoid wasting time when barriers arise? I will share an experience that sparked this question for me, and then solutions that have helped me to avoid losing time.
Week one I started strong, following one of the rules for success by doing some ‘deliberate practice.’ In part, this is a system for accelerated improvement which includes setting a specific goal outside of your comfort zone. I challenged myself to paint a color portrait from a black and white photograph. I would need to develop a technique to invent the missing color. After some experimentation, I discovered the best solution was to use Photoshop’s color balance and soft light brush tool to add color to the original image. This modified photograph gave me enough reference to paint a color portrait with a very satisfying result. Huzzah! Now how to create an equally impressive background? I was stuck. As a portrait artist, backgrounds have never been my strong suit and now I had the added pressure of not wanting to ruin my new, prized portrait. I was frustrated by ideas that were either boringly predictable or intriguing but beyond my ability to render. I was way out of my element. After many squandered hours I gave up in frustration. At this point I turned to repeating my newfound technique on a portrait that didn’t require a background. The brush strokes came easily and enjoyably. I was able to rebuild my confidence as an artist. While this deliberate practice had been a partial success, I lamented not making the switch earlier.
The lessons I learned from this experience helped me devise a checklist to avoid wasting time and to develop a productive workflow. It is important to:
- Identify early when you have lost momentum.
- Try to pinpoint the cause.
- Ask if there is a route forward or would you benefit from switching gears?
After reflecting upon these simple questions, I made the following changes to my process.
Identify early: I now work on several portraits at once. This way if I ever get stumped with one piece, I can quickly recognize that feeling and switch to another painting. This has increased my productivity immensely. Typically slow-moving and methodical in my work, I was delighted to be called “prolific” by another artist after making this change.
Pinpoint the cause: When I pinpoint the underlying causes for my frustration, I can devise tactics to move past it. Since I have identified backgrounds as a common roadblock, I have begun incorporating these environmental elements earlier in the painting process. Dealing with this problem child takes plenty of experimentation and I feel more free to take risks when a portrait is incomplete.
Switching gears for inspiration: Einstein’s theory of ‘combinatorial play’ is the idea that one mental channel can be unlocked by engaging another. For example, perhaps I’m floundering with a painting. I decide to try some ‘combinatorial play’ by writing a review of my favorite sculptor Ronita Baranga. By writing, I am absorbed in finding the words to describe why her sculptures are so captivating to me, namely weight, touch, surrealism. I suddenly feel inspired by the idea of evoking a tactile feeling from my flat painting. This experience shows the productive potential of ‘combinatory play’ as well as ‘bisociation,’ or synthesizing ideas from different disciplines. Both of these practices are great ways to find inspiration. So go ahead, set down your project and let creativity reach you on another plane.
There are many obstacles that can halt the process of realizing your vision. Lapse of inspiration, mood, and a poor work structure can negatively impact productivity. These can be overcome when you recognize the issue early, investigate its underlying cause, and choose a course of action –either to move forward, or change gears. Think about your common productivity issues and build a workflow that incorporates solutions to these obstacles.
Are you having a productivity issue? Share in the comments.