Artists – How do You Organize Your Creativity?

I’m a busy guy. I own and run two galleries, blog and share videos related to the art business, am a husband and father of four, and strive to spend significant time volunteering in my community. I have a lot I’m juggling, so I must stay organized. I have robust systems for my calendaring, task and project management, and communication.

For many years, I’ve been an active student of organizational gurus – well-known authorities, like David Allen, and more obscure experts, including many YouTubers who share tips on being more productive. The knowledge I’ve gained about organization has helped me get a lot done and has allowed me to remain relatively sane.

As I’ve studied, I’ve developed an affinity for exploring and understanding different approaches to organization.  Not everything I learn directly applies to me and my circumstances, but I find people’s attempts to order their lives and activities endlessly fascinating and often helpful.

Working closely with artists, I have enjoyed learning that the stereotypical image of creative people being scattered and unorganized often isn’t true. While there are certainly many artists who enjoy leading a life unencumbered by structure and planning, I have worked with plenty of creative people who are both highly creative and highly organized.

The most successful artists are usually the ones who can strike a balance between creativity and organization. They can be creative when they need to be, but they are also able to be organized and disciplined when it is necessary.

One of the most important things I have learned from working with artists is that creativity is not an all-or-nothing proposition. There are many ways to be creative, and not all of them require a lot of spontaneity or improvisation. Sometimes the most creative ideas come from carefullly planning and executing a vision.

This leads to today’s discussion questions:

How do you organize your creative practice?

How do you organize your time and creativity?

Do you have a structured system, or are you more free-wheeling in your creativity?

How do you balance creating with promoting and selling your art?

What tools have you found most helpful in getting yourself organized?

What do you find most challenging/frustrating about organizing your art practice?

Do you always have a plan for what you’ll be creating next, or is your subject matter spontaneous?

Join the conversation in the comments below.

 

 

About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of the Art Business Academy. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.

24 Comments

  1. As I am between galleries I have numerous paintings in my studio. The hardest thing for me was to find ways to store/hang paintings in my studio. I have wall hanging, shelf placing, and on top of cabinet sitting. My most recent endeavor is to loan out my paintings for a month to friends. They get to select a painting to “babysit” for a month and switch out the following month. Since this is a new concept for me I haven’t as yet charged any fees for my library of paintings. I am hoping to generate sales and interest.
    With more space and less clutter in my studio I feel more organized and less overwhelmed with my paintings.

    1. Hi Carolyn, I would love to know more about your painting library idea and how it works out for you. I checked out your website and found that we share some of the same themes, especially birds. Would you be willing to share some details about your idea with me? I might like to do something like this and I think it could lead to sales as people might enjoy something they ‘babysat’ enough that they’d pay to keep it. You are welcome to call or text me at (313) 588-1542 Congratulations on all those awards, by the way!

      Jan Dale

      1. Hey, Jan! I’m a clay to bronze sculptor who has tried the ‘baby sit’ procedure with mixed results. I’ve sold a couple of sculptures that way, but, most of the time people just enjoy the pieces . The hard part for me is asking for the sale. Before we loan anything, I think we should mention an expectation that they will buy the piece. Oh, and mention to them to show it to their friends in the hope that they may have an interest to buy. We love referrals!

      2. I am still formulating a plan. I had cataract surgery recently and that has slowed me down. I don’t want to rush into this without fully considering every eventuality. I am now polling friends and acquaintances to see if it is indeed a viable endeavor. I have your phone number and if things work out I can contact you.
        Right now I am concentrating on getting my work ready for a local show next month. That means I do not work at warp speed on other projects.

  2. I actually find the ‘organization’ of creativity hard to fathom. When I hit my studio, I am in creative mode. When I wake up in the morning (still in bed) I can be in a creative mode. When I’m driving to town I can be in a creative thinking mode. When speaking with friends I can have creative thoughts alongside chatter. All this leads to the studio.

  3. Hi Folks,

    What works for me is to have a large work, which can be large in scale and/or large in complexity, underway. As it develops I give myself breaks with smaller works in size and complexity. Usually, the latge works take up most of my physical and mental energy. As the large works come to completion, I’ve usually been thinking about the next one and its needs. I find I think a lot about the large works and let the small works just come as they will. This seems to work in terms of my energy. If I have a big show, I’ll do a lot of the heavy lifting early and stop working with lots of time left, and that reassures me I’ll have time for adjustments or new thoughts as they become necessary. Cheers!

  4. How do you organize your creative practice? by painting every day

    How do you organize your time and creativity? I am retired I use all the time I need

    Do you have a structured system, or are you more free-wheeling in your creativity? I use dreams and visions to create my art and place it on canvas

    How do you balance creating with promoting and selling your art?I create and I try to sell what I create,

    What tools have you found most helpful in getting yourself organized? paint brushes time, space etc…

    What do you find most challenging/frustrating about organizing your art practice? not enough money to do what I want to do like start a gallery/studio

    Do you always have a plan for what you’ll be creating next, or is your subject matter spontaneous? mine is spontaneous. Being physically handicapped I always have a plan made everyday

  5. I feel the most frustrating part of creating paintings is the storage they require. Many of my pieces are hung on the walls of my studio but I’m running out of space. I like spending time promoting on social media, but find it takes away from my creative time. While promoting one of my paintings on FB I got scammed, but fortunately the unclaimed painting was sent back to me. That experience has soured me on trying to sell and more pieces.

  6. Organization and time management are actually very complex — and I think each artist must find his own unique way to manage one’s time. This is what works for me – when I’m in the process of creating, and its going somewhere, nothing, absolutely nothing, not even eating or sleeping is allowed to break this flow (and the telephone and emails are never answered), because inspired creating is a very delicate beast which can shatter like glass due to almost any interruption – as long as creative inspiration is flowing, I will ride its wave, until at some point, it will either subside, or race away from you faster than you can surf it- there are times where I’ve had 30-36 hour days where I didn’t eat a meal for more than 12-15 hours, and when I did eat, it was while still working, and I didn’t sleep at all during those 30-36 hours. But when I’m not in that inspired state, absolute discipline and logic is the rule – what must now be done, in what order do I perform any necessary actions – everything becomes like a Swiss watch-works, even including when I will start upon a creative undertaking again (is it just after I accomplish these 3 management tasks, or is it not until 2 days from now, because I know I have another upcoming necessary time managed event in 1 day, which I will miss if I’m on a creative wave and its still running. Part of time organization for me is to plan ways where every necessary undertaking outside of actually creating is taken care of in such a way that I can see an open space coming up, be it in 1 hour, or 1 day or 2 or three, wherein I see no new obligatory time commitments on the horizon at all (or for at least 2-4 days – I’ve never had a single creative wave that lasted for more than 4 days, and those are quite rare, so my time management planning is to guarantee a least a 2 day window will no foreseen commitments at all – and if I begin creating, and if it is going nowhere after 12 hours, which is rare but does happen from time to time, then I end my creative attempts, and resort to a limited period (perhaps 6 hours) of non time critical tasks, none too lengthy, requiring time management again (ie: all of life not including making art, and the management of things such as marketing, portfolio adjustment of my online galleries, investigating new processes or tools within my area of art, making new contacts in the art world, etc). And then I re-enter the creative ocean, to catch another wave, though sometimes a creative inspiration will begin spontaneously just an hour or 2 after the first non-productive period has ended, in which case the non-essential management tasks will be postponed, and creative work will commence again.

    One thing I have found is that upon entering the “creative ocean” I dont just wait for a wave to come, because if you do that often inspiration (waves) will not come – I start “paddling” right away, I start making something, in a sense, anything, just to get moving, and just by doing that, you will suddenly start feeling creative waves, somehow like you’ve summoned then by your actions. It’s an interactive process – if you sit and wait, the water can remain flat all day, if you start paddling, waves will come (or be generated by your efforts)

    I find these alternating periods of managed time, and completely unmanaged time, very refreshing and energizing, and I think they re-enforce each other – I feel completely free in the unmanaged periods to be really inspired, and completely open to discovery; and I feel very in control and on top of things (like a general running an army) in the time managed periods. When I’m in a creative phase, I do not plan, but go with the flow, without knowing where an artwork will lead until I get there. If I need to have a pre-determined outcome for an artwork (ie as in a commissioned/commercial piece where I am fulfilling a clients requirements, then it is planned out during my “organized” time periods, and used as a guideline only during my creative time, but then, if I stray to far away from what the work requires, I put the created work aside, re-plan it during a non-creative time, and start a new creation of what is required – it only takes usually one, but sometimes 2 re-workings for my creative mind to “get the idea” that it should stop straying too far away from what is required, and my inspirations start being in sync with my desired outcome requirements (because my creative mind knows it will have to do it all over again it it gets too far out on a limb, and the last thing creativity wants to endure is repetition, so it starts to “toe the line” on its own.)

    1. Hi Ken
      Thanks for your really wonderful reply to Jason’s questions. Here’s to all the ways we can maximize our creativity – catch the wave – and integrate it into a great quality of life. Wishing you many more great compositions and the space in life to create them all.

  7. What a great discussion! David Allen is a friend, and one of the most important things I learned from his organization teachings is to put the phrase, “I am enjoying” in front of each item I do or plan. Easy when it comes to “going to my studio” “working on my large landscape,” etc… This approach really helps with things like “I am enjoying researching the best giclée print shops” and “I am enjoying planning marketing for the next 6 months.”

    I seem to work best when I have a list of all the things I want and commit to doing, but leave my timing open. I check my list and begin. My schedule is different each day, but I get a lot done this way.

    I’ve also learned not to force myself to finish something before I allow myself to move on…flowing between several projects works well for me. At the same time, when I’m working on something, I give it my full attention. That let’s me get more done, and notice when my energy fades on a particular project.

    Something that also helps is to clean up after each work session. Tools put in place, brushes washed, etc. I take a little time to look at and appreciate what I’ve done, and make a note about where to begin next session. Whether at the easel or desk, this “what’s next” note helps me get right back into it when I return.

    I agree with you, Jason, that all the ways we find to organize and maximize our precious time are fascinating and so personal!

  8. How do you organize your creative practice? I start by 9:30 each day, take a lunch break and work until 2 p.m. in the studio.

    How do you organize your time and creativity? Mornings are painting, interspersed with drawing and organizing the canvases for the next painting in the series. Afternoons are marketing or reading or contacting galleries for a show.

    Do you have a structured system, or are you more free-wheeling in your creativity? The only reveal I can share that might be novel is that when I tire or find something monotonous, I tell myself to hang in there, this could be my best time. And it always is.

    How do you balance creating with promoting and selling your art? I wish I were better at selling my art but it’s about 25% sales promotion and 75% of my time creating.

    What tools have you found most helpful in getting yourself organized?
    I hang large paintings on walls of which I have many and I also show my works in coffee bars, restaurants, wineries and cideries as well as in the gallery that represents my work. I use a calendar and try to estimate how long a piece will take, tracking the hours spent on each one to get closer to my estimated timing.

    What do you find most challenging/frustrating about organizing your art practice? Interruptions, the unexpected kind, medical appointments for me or my husband. Drop in socializing during the day with people who don’t do art.

    Do you always have a plan for what you’ll be creating next, or is your subject matter spontaneous? Yes, and yes but mostly the former. When I have something on the easel, I will take a break in the afternoon to start the next painting, i.e., drawing, colour swatches, so that I usually have 2 things going at once. That prevents me from panicking about what the next project will be. As I generally paint in a series this method is working for me. I always have a long-term plan for a series, i.e., the order in which I will paint them.

  9. Hello. I am a highly organized jewelry maker and designer lately specializing in seed bead jewelry patterns from around the world. I’m preparing my application for first ever submission for art festival due this October. I’m amazed at how busy I am with the designing and doing of stitching beads at this late date but I’m striving for uniqueness and perfection in my presentation.
    My rifts of creativity drive my own innovations and I derive inspiration and ideas from both the seemingly endless colors I get to use and my library of designs. Also I keep my finished pieces close to hand so I can reference them.
    Last year I moved finally from a one bedroom apartment to a two bedroom and it’s been so positive to have room for both living & working at home. So I would add Space to Organization for important considerations for artists.
    My organization makes productive design riffs possible for me. So thankful for my space.

  10. I try to ensure a balance between creative time and the management of what I regard as the distribution side…getting work onto other peoples walls. That’s mostly sales and marketing but also making donations to art organizations and gifts to friends. I’m fortunate not to have to rely on art income but I find it dispiriting to have lots of work in storage so I spend time each week planning to get art in various venues where it might sell, sadly not traditional galleries now but shows, public events, charity auctions, whatever moves it. I use social media to stay in touch with friends of my art and put out regular newsletters. All that takes time but it’s worth it . I regard creativity as a conversation that is completed when it moves another person. I enjoy the process of creating but don’t want to leave a lot of orphan art to my survivors. I’d much prefer to see it valued in my lifetime.

    1. I love your comment, “I regard creativity as a conversation that is completed when it moves another person. ” What a beautiful concept! Thanks so much for sharing it.

  11. I USED to be a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants artist and only produced a few pieces of artwork in any given year. But over the last 3 years, I have learned that my success rises or falls on a consistent daily routine. My day starts at 5am with strong coffee and reading; The Bible, blogs like yours, and writings on whatever skill I happen to be working on. These things help me stay focused. Then I delve into answering emails and messages so I stay connected with fans. I try to limit my time on social media. Since a lot of my fans are on Instagram, that’s where I concentrate.
    Then a warm hug and a morning chat with my spouse, a few household chores, and I’m into the studio. Once there I can jump right into a larger work, spend an hour on a miniature painting, or do a color study to help me warm up. About three hours is my limit before I need to stretch and come back for round two with fresh eyes after an hour of running errands or enjoying a cup of tea with a studio visitor. I have a sketchbook dedicated to mapping out new painting ideas. I like to work in series, so it’s broken into sections, with room for thumbnails. If I get stuck, it’s there like a planner to ensure that I don’t stay stuck for long. I always have it nearby to jot down an idea that comes to me at random moments. Some evenings are reserved for family and friends, some to attend art events. When I’m on a tight deadline, evenings are used for extra studio time. Life happens of course, so this routine does get interrupted,… but my body always knows what time it is and this makes getting back into the creative flow much much easier. The result is that I now produce more in two months than I used to in a year. I’ll just say again that reading your blog regularly has been the biggest influence.

  12. I made the decision a long time ago to continue working while raising my family. That being said it is not easy to find time for everything as Jason said. Because I also made the decision to school my children at home, family life can easily take over and it can be frustrating to not be in the studio, OR to be interrupted constantly. What work best for me is having an excellent planning system and really sticking with it and asking my family to abide by it as well. That being said we can still be spontaneous, but not when I have a deadline. As far as my scheduling goes, certain times of the day are for certain tasks, which means when I’m ready to get to work my mind has already been thinking ahead planning out what direction I want to go with the project I’m working on. I also find it helpful to always have my sketchbook nearby, as Jan said, to quickly sketch ideas if your schedule does get interrupted so that you can go back and pick up on those ideas later. I would encourage artist/parents to keep working and to include their family in their work. I am blessed to have my family as my biggest fans and sources of encouragement.

  13. WOW this community connection is the best thing that has happened to me. I am disabled and taking care of my 27year old granddaughter who has a chronic disease that affects her immune system. To keep her safe, we do not attend crowded functions. I am a people’s person love to attend various events, but I love her more. When we don’t have doctors’ appointments, I create jewelry, paintings or mixed media. I work most every day various lengths of time. I do have several projects unfinished due to interruptions of my thought process. I use my dream time to rethink, reimagine the project.

  14. I usually do my painting late afternoon or in the evening. I have chores to do in the daytime. Being retired, my painting time varies from day to day. The only time I devote time for my art in the daytime is when it is raining. Devoting time for gallery searches and working on my Art Business Academy lessons varies daily, usually in the evenings. I don’t have any set schedule.

  15. 20 hours of studio time per week, plus whatever is required to oil the wheels (sending newsletters, customer correspondence, getting supplies…).

    I am much happier and making a lot more money now that I only produce four products, and keep whatever commissions I get along the same lines. For example, I will still make stained glass window panels as long as they are within my theme and the images will transfer well (some landscapes or certain florals), glass jellyfish lamps or damselflies in different colors as long as they aren’t unnatural looking, or certain 3-D flowers that my early customers want as long as I still have molds for them.

    What was frustrating but no longer is, is that I’d put too much on my list of what I wanted to get done in a work day. I cured this by only putting what I knew was easily accomplishable and whatever beyond that I got done I counted as bonus. I also accepted that things run much more efficiently now, because of all the shortcuts I have found and the experimental years are mostly over, so I no longer feel anxiety about cutting down hours and can now work 20 per week without feeling I am constantly behind schedule.

  16. I have an open caste system. I rely on being spontaneous and yet open to interpret the elements and overall progress of the piece. I am always open to subjective and objective influences. The elements have to be cohesive and make the piece grow, either by sublimation or addition. That is why I only work on one piece at a time and pursue it until I feel, or the painting feels it has come to fruition. While a project is in the research and development stage I gather materials and and make preparations. Sometimes all the pre-work changes and I go in a different direction. My studio is organized so I know where tools and different materials are located so I can access them when I need them in a hurry. At some point in my work a piece can take over and I just follow the momentum.

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