We’ve all said it: “I’d love to do more art, but I just don’t have the time.”
If that resonates with you, here are a few ways to rectify the situation.
(1) Commit to making time
We do actually have enough time, but generally don’t want to make the necessary sacrifices. That’s a bit unpalatable, but I have to admit it was the truth for me. Maybe it is for you too.
It comes down to how much you want time for art. Once you give it importance, you’ll find the time.
Decades ago my dream was to be a professional artist. I realised that my drawing skills could do with improvement, but the snag was that I had a full time job, and some weeks it included weekend and evening work too. So I moaned about my lack of time but did little to change anything.
Finally I came to my senses, decided my dream had more importance than I was allowing, and committed to drawing for an hour before work. Getting up early is definitely not my forte, but each day I set my alarm and forced myself from the warmth of my bed.
I drew anything – my coffee mug, my hand, pigeons outside the window, sheep in the field opposite, my face, my keys…. Sure enough, my drawing skills improved and I was able to go to work with a sense of pride and achievement, which carried me through the day.
Truth was, I’d always had the time, but had lacked the motivation.
(2) Prioritise your art
“I’ll finish the chores and then I’ll be free to paint.” So how’s that working for you?
I used to think like that, but it just doesn’t work. Chores and paperwork are endless. If you wait to finish everything else, you’ll either never get started, or be exhausted if you do. Paint something while you’re feeling fresh and you’ll have a better result. It will also give you a sense of accomplishment so you’ll feel more motivated to tackle those chores. Win-win.
So decide how much time you’ll give your art, and how much is left for your chores. Set your timer, start your art first, and give it the attention it deserves. Afterwards you can do the chores. Knowing you have a limited time probably means you’ll get more done. see what I mean about a win-win?
(3) Be realistic
I remember a student on one of my workshops who was a carer. She wanted to do art, as it was very therapeutic in her stressful life, but obviously had little time. She felt that any art session should produce an entire painting, but this wasn’t realistic, so consequently she felt frustrated with lots of unfinished work and ended up doing nothing at all.
We worked together to set achievable exercises she could do, all of which could be quick if she only had a short time. Here are a few of them:
- Skyscapes. The sky is hugely variable, and quick to change. Painting a skyscape each day is fun, quick and pays dividends as reference for future paintings. You’ll learn a lot about how clouds are formed and how the light acts on them.
- Line and wash. Limited time to paint a landscape? If it’s local, try a pen sketch one day, and add colour on another occasion. If you’ll only have a single opportunity, make a pen sketch and make colour notes (see below) so you can complete or work up the image when you’re back home.
- Timed drawings. Make the lack of time your friend. Set a timer for 10, 15, 30 minutes and stop drawing when the timer goes. When you have to work quickly, the resulting image is usually more bold and energetic than if you’d had a longer session.
- Play. We learn more from a session of playing with art materials than we do from a completed painting. And it’s fun! See Step Away From The Comfort Zone for more about this topic.
Colour notes are particularly useful when you don’t have time for a full colour sketch.
Place a small patch of colour on your support, and indicate where it belongs on your subject.
Back in the studio, you’ll have reference for a painting of that subject.
(4) Work on small paintings
Take a tip from the painters of 17th – 19th century Europe, who made small sketches outdoors as a means of sharpening their skills and perception. Mostly painted in oil on panel or paper, these paintings were only about A5 or A4 in size and designed to take just an hour or two to complete.
I saw an exhibition of such paintings at the National Gallery in 1999. They were glorious and filled with light and poetic beauty. (The catalogue’s available on eBay: A Brush With Nature by Christopher Riopelle and Xavier Bray).
You don’t have to use oils; acrylic or watercolour would work just as well. Whatever medium you use, the small sketch has a spontaneity and a liveliness often lost in a larger and time consuming studio paintings.
(5) A drawing before breakfast
Eeek! Yes, at first glance that sentence filled me with horror too. (I think I may have been a dormouse in a former life!) Don’t worry, this exercise suits both the early birds and those of us who prefer a little longer to snuggle beneath the covers.
Let me explain. A drawing before breakfast comes courtesy of Mary-Anne Bartlett, tour leader and head of Art Safari. When leading a group, there are those who are raring to go at 6 am and those who would prefer the day to start at 9. So the idea of a drawing before breakfast is that it can be a full-blown masterpiece or just a few lines.
Sometimes a drawing can say as much in two minutes as one done in two hours.
You can adapt the concept to suit your schedule: a drawing before elevenses/ a drawing before lunch/ a drawing before I walk the dog…. Whatever works for you. The important thing is that you make time to draw.
So those are a few ideas to help you make the most of your painting time, however limited it may be.
NB. September is an incredibly busy month for me, so I’m taking a short blog holiday while I catch up with teaching, articles and exhibitions. I’ll be back with you early in October. In the meantime, remember you can catch up with previous blog posts here.