Intentional Ignorance: how the artist preserves her studio time

We’re way too busy! Who ever said that technology would make our lives simpler and allow us more leisure time was seriously wrong. Past the laundry machines and the dishwasher, it’s only made our lives more frantic and at this point we’re all racing along at an inhuman pace. But, in the midst of all this madness, the artist is expected to protect her creative time. Yes, it’s true that all our new technology and communication tools have made us only a click away from information and anyone who might need us, and it also means we’re expected to do everything by ourselves and to do it fast. But if I cater to the pressure to do more, how can I keep my energy focused on what matters the most to me – creating artwork?

The orange cat, acrylic, 40″ x 40″

Of course the younger generation has discovered a pretty effective strategy for dealing with the information onslaught. I call it ‘intentional ignorance’. They only reply to texts and emails when and if they feel like it. It’s irritating to the older generation, but I see their point. It’s too much. Too many emails, too many social media posts, too many texts. There’s only so much anyone can do in a day and each of us has to select what deserves our attention. For me, it’s creating my artwork. Everything else, (except for walking my dog, of course), can wait.

Jess and Blair, who run Blogging 4 keeps; an interesting site dedicated to helping would-be-bloggers figure out how to be good bloggers, recently sent a newsletter titled Be More Ignorant Please.   They write about the overwhelming amount of ‘important things’ that we must deal with to be present on the web so we can promote our business. (And yes, it’s subject that concerns artists as much as any other business person.) They say “… allow yourself to be intentionally ignorant on certain things, even if people are telling you that it’s important to be an expert. Pinterest is important. Instagram is important. Email is important. Photography is important. Networking is important. But you can’t do it all, and if you do, you’ll be overwhelmed.”

Last week, a friend of mine generously volunteered to organise the details of an artistic group event. Others in the group had unintentionally neglected that project, perhaps, simply because they put their own priorities ahead of it. This meant that my friend was spending the best and most productive hours of a few days on this project – which also meant she wasn’t in her studio working on her art.

As we talked I realized once again that, for me, my job is to be in my studio creating. Yes, promoting my art on the web is important, yes being available to help organise artistic events is important, yes seeing my friends is important, but none of it is as important as the time I reserve to be in my studio. And I need that time every day for a number of hours.

Cisco on our morning walk in the forest

Some artists give themselves a rigid schedule to make sure this happens. I have a friend who’s in her studio by 8:00 am and doesn’t leave until noon. No matter what. Me, I try to be aware of how much I can stand of each distracting chore. Mornings are best for me, so I get up early. I dedicate the first hour and a half to writing, researching and thinking things through for my various art projects and marketing my work. Then Cisco and I go for our walk where the forest re-centers me and puts me in the right mood for my creative work. By the time we get back, Cisco’s ready for his nap under my work table, and I’m energized and alert, ready to be creative until it’s time to teach my after-school painting classes. Of course some projects will inevitably compromise that schedule, but I’m pretty conscientious about sticking to it.

Art Work Archive recently posted a blog titled How to create more time for your art: a worksheet where they share a handy printable “little exercise in self-reflection that can help you figure out how to gain more time back for your art.” Through a short series of pertinent questions, they encourage us to look at where we spend our time and to question if it is where we really want to spend it.

Our crazy world is frenetic! More than ever we need to discipline ourselves into choosing where we want our focus to be. I want to concentrate on creating inspired works of art. As to the rest? I try to cram what I can into the not-so-productive hours of the day. That often means I don’t get it all done, but I’ve made my peace with that. The funny thing is, though, nobody seems to notice what I don’t get done – or care, for that matter.

The Power to Connect: why an artist should get out of his studio and work with others

In May of 2016 I met with my francophone artist friends at the annual event organized by RAFA (Regroupement Artistique Francophone de l’Alberta). Le Forum du RAFA is a two-day event that has consistently been one of the most inspiring of the year for us. With nourishing discussion panels and activities gathering some of the best artistic minds of Alberta – who also speak French! I look forward to it every year.

It was at this forum that some of us agreed it’s important to stay connected throughout the year to share insights and trade ideas and resources. Five of us, Karen Blanchet , Sabine Lecorre-Morre , Doris Charest,  Daniele Petit, and myself, are self-employed, and managing our careers is no small task. It dawned on us that sharing our tools of the trade and some of the work could fun and beneficial for all of us.

We created an Artist Collective we named DEVENIR. It means ‘to become’ – a name inspired by a poem written by Michel Pleau , a Canadian poet. According to Wikipedia, an artist collective is “an initiative that is the result of a group of artists working together, usually under their own management, towards shared aims. The aims of an artist collective can include almost anything that is relevant to the needs of the artist…” 

For more than a year and a half, the five of us have been meeting on skype once a week at 6:45 in the morning. Why so early? Because it’s the only time that’s almost guaranteed to be open for all of us. Our meetings are organized, with a set structure that includes a template based on Mastermind, a concept developed in 1925 by Napoleon Hill in his book The Law of Success . We each contribute our ideas and concerns and discuss them together at every meeting, an exercise that takes less than an hour.

The most important part of the process is the continuity offered by meeting regularly. It allows us to get to know one another’s art practices, personal habits and aspirations. It means that each of us can receive constructive criticism and encouragement from the other members of the group. Few people are able to clearly identify their own good or bad habits, where they might need a little encouragement and how to realize their limits in terms of overcoming obstacles and finding their own the solutions. Meeting regularly gives all of us a chance to be observed and receive support. So during our meetings, we use a series of affirmations that remind us of the power of the group and of the humble, respectful and trusting attitude we all need to embrace toward one another. We get to understand one another’s goals, it reminds us what we’re trying to achieve and brings us back on track when we stray. Best of all, we’re also there to celebrate our successes.

The quarterly physical meetings are more substantial. That’s when we spend a full day together and dig deeper into subjects that deserve our attention. It’s where we set the plans for collective artwork and exhibition projects. We discuss projects, ideas, share tools and discoveries. We also look at opportunities both for each individual and for the group, and we share the workload related to that. Five people applying to galleries have a compounding effect on our access to professional exposure.

Another important aspect of this process is the accountability factor. Once you have told the group you want to achieve something, it’s a powerful motivator. I don’t know about other people, but for me, my pride kicks in and I have to accomplish whatever I said I would do.

Putting our minds together saves time. Each of us has discovered useful tools, sourced a list of suppliers, assembled a list of galleries, and created our own systems. I use to spend two to four hours before each show building up my list of works and preparing tags. Now, though, I use Karen’s recommendation and it has saved me hours of work. She suggested I try a web tool called Artwork Archive that painlessly manages inventory. Thanks to Karen, I discovered that once I spent the initial setup time entering all my work into their system, (a task that can easily be delegated to a 16-year-old at $12/hour), then I could prepare a show catalogue and the tags to go with it in a matter of minutes.

This short, early morning skype meeting each week has done more for our respective careers than most other endeavours we’ve tried. And, as a bonus, we have a solid group of friends with similar goals and interests. As my mom would say, “They are people who are constant witnesses of your life and can vouch for you. And you can do the same for them.” DEVENIR has helped make life manageable. It multiplies opportunities and renews our focus, dedication and power to dream big.