The Discipline it Takes to Create Art

 

“Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.” – Jim Rohn

Over the summer, I’ve had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with my kids. We took several road-trips, and we undertook some home-improvement projects together. My kids range in age from nine to seventeen, and I thoroughly enjoy their company. They are old enough to appreciate the world with avid curiosity, and Carrie and I are having a lot of fun introducing them to new experiences.

Recently, we had a discussion on a profound topic: superpowers. The question was, “if you could have any one superpower, which would it be?” I’m sure this is a discussion every child has had at some point, and my kids began talking about the advantages of various powers: the ability to fly, invisibility, super-strength, super-speed, and so on. Cogent arguments were put forth for each, and then my daughter asked, “which power would you have, dad?”

I thought for a second, and then said, “Discipline. I would like to have super-discipline.” The kids looked at me quizzically – this wasn’t any superpower they had considered before. I went on to explain that it seemed to me that many of the great feats and accomplishments of history were achieved through vision and discipline. The best part of this superpower, I explained, was that it is actually achievable by mere mortals.

My kids rolled there eyes and said it didn’t count. “Lame,” my fourteen-year-old son said. I argued my case a bit more, but finally gave in and said that if they wouldn’t allow discipline as a superpower, I would take the ability to travel through time.

While discipline might not make the cut as a superpower, I would argue that discipline, especially self-discipline, is critical to one’s ability to achieve success in life. The ability to dream big and set goals is important too, but I would argue that without discipline, it’s nearly impossible to achieve anything worthwhile in life.

I feel this is especially true for artists. I marvel at an artist’s ability to get into the studio and work persistently toward his or her vision. An artist, it seems to me, must have an incredible drive to work day after day through difficult circumstances. It takes real discipline.

But what is discipline, and how does one acquire it?

Google’s dictionary defines self-discipline as “the ability to control one’s feelings and overcome one’s weaknesses; the ability to pursue what one thinks is right despite temptations to abandon it.” This seems like a great start, but how does one obtain this ability? How are the temptations overcome?

Over the years, I’ve spend a lot of time trying to cultivate self-discipline. It hasn’t been easy. I have aspired to do many things – build a successful art gallery business, create a strong family, and publish an engaging blog :-), to name a few. I’ve discovered that each of these goals is hard to achieve, and that there are many temptations to abandon those goals. I’ve worked very hard to develop discipline to work toward my goals. I’ve also learned that, for me, it isn’t enough to tell myself that I just need to be more disciplined. I struggle to remain focussed and am easily distractible.

I hope that some of what I’ve discovered about self-discipline will help you in your creative process. Before I share what I’ve learned, however, allow me to share what I heard from readers about discipline.

How Discipline Affects the Artistic Process

Several weeks ago, in preparation for writing my article about the hard work of creating, I asked readers how they feel discipline (or lack of discipline) affects their work. Their comments gave me an idea of the importance and challenges of maintaining discipline in the studio. Here is a sampling of the comments:

Discipline involves getting set up and prepared to paint. Lack of discipline affects my work by allowing household chores, gardening, caring for pets or obligations to friends to consume all of my time. To be able to paint, an artist must be selfish with their time.

Kim Blitho – Matong, Australia

 

If I am disciplined – setting aside frequent work days and following through on them – I get plenty of artwork done and I think my technical skills improve. There are times I can’t do this, and I feel my work suffers if I am more sporadic in my approach.

Lori Bradley – New Bedford, MA

 

My disipline with my art never lacks. Sixteen, eighteen hour days are not uncommon. If I’m not painting I’m working all the other areas that go along with producing art and selling..I love the challenge and have never not wanted to do it.

Mike Palmer – Jackson, MI

 

Discipline is key in creating and producing any form of artwork or design. One must be disciplined with their time, energy and focus.

Bentley Buran – Santa Monica, CA

 

I am not a social painter, I am more comfortable working alone, listening to CDs or Pandora. This discipline helps me to concentrate on what I need to do to be successful at art. I often meet with other artists after work and we share ideas and help each other. I feel that my schedule helps keep me focused, and I have the freedom to rearrange the routine if I feel it is important

Jenny Lankford – Marshall Texas

 

Discipline is everything. Without it, I find it very hard to stay organized and be creative. Structure and organization clear my head and give me the breathing space I need to be artistic.

Emily Randolph – Phoenix, AZ

 

I’m a reasonably disciplined person – I think it helps but it’s not everything. Showing up and just starting is worth a lot. Once you get started, it’s like eating potatoes chips, you can just stop with one – you keep going.

Cindy Wagner – Huntsville, AL

Techniques that Have Helped in My Development of Discipline

These comments reflect my experience with discipline as well. While developing discipline is a long process, I’ve found four key approaches that have helped me become more disciplined.

Routine

First and foremost, I’ve learned how important it is for me to have a routine and, as much as possible to stick to it. Life is crazy, and there are always a myriad of activities that need to be done. I find that if I’m not careful, I can easily spend all of my time stamping out fires and never working toward my goals.

It’s even harder for me to concentrate if my weekly schedule devolves into chaos. I’ve created a daily routine that allows me to get to work early and focus on my big projects first. I try to rise at the same time every morning, I leave for work at the same time, and I block out regular time each day to work on certain projects. When I’m in my routine it’s much easier to work in a focussed way. I never have to wonder what I should be working on at any given time – my routine tells me.

I’m very reluctant to allow intrusions into my routine.

I know many artists struggle to create a routine because they have to juggle full-time jobs, family responsibilities and other priorities before they can get into the studio. I would argue that even if there are only a few hours a week available to create, it’s best if you can make those hours into a routine, and then protect that routine with all your power.

Eliminate Distractions

The time that we do have to work and create is even more fragile today because of the myriad of distractions that are ever-present. Electronic devices are powerful tools, but they are also powerful distractions. If at all possible, I would urge you to turn off your phone while you work, or at the very least, silence your notifications. Every time you pause to see what’s happening on Facebook or to respond to an email, you lose momentum and your precious creative time slips away.

Work on One Thing at a Time

I’ve learned that if I want to accomplish something, I have to concentrate on it. While writing this post, for example, I’m not also trying to develop a new marketing plan or rehanging the gallery. All of those things are important, but I’ve learned that when I start a task, I need to stick to it until it’s finished, and then move on to the next. I would far rather finish one job, than start three and not complete any.

Make a List

I find that having a to-do list helps me keep my focus. The act of writing down my tasks helps me feel I’m in control of them, and it also assures me that I won’t forget to do anything. I discipline myself to never do anything that pops into my head right when it occurs to me. I put it in my to-do list so that I can make sure I’m completing the tasks of highest priority first.

 

How Have You Developed Discipline?

What have you done to cultivate discipline in the studio. How do you motivate yourself to stay on track? What are the challenges you face in maintaining discipline? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

Starving to Successful

StSBookSHave you always wondered what it takes to show your work in galleries? Is your work being seen by qualified collectors?

In his Amazon.com best-selling book, Xanadu Gallery owner Jason Horejs shares insights gained over a life-time in the art business.

Learn more and order today.

2015-01-07 14_43_10-CSS Button Generator

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 ARTsala. 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. Connect with Jason on Facebook

33 Comments

  1. Prayer and meditation lead to discipline for me. When I feel scattered I just have to de-clutter my mind, which leads to de-cluttering my work space and re-committing to my goals as an artist and business person who must make a living from my art, my writing and other activities that allow me to continue to do my work unimpeded. It’s a continuing challenge that I welcome, even though I am far from perfect at being “disciplined.” I’m human. I love pleasure. I’d rather go out to eat, hang with my friends, try on clothes and watch anything that can distract me entertainingly on Netflix, etc. But I also have to work with others to improve my websites, my social media marketing, my contacts, and improve my work by making art daily, consistently. As an artist, I want to throw it all away and start new all the time. A certain amount of chaos and drama are necessary for an artist. We thrive on it. Discipline reigns it in, centers, balances, focuses, enhances and finally satisfies like nothing else. It’s like exercise: who looks forward to it? But when you’ve finished a workout you feel fantastic. When I’ve written down my daily work goals and straightened my work space, worked with my graphic designer and SEO consultants for two hours on improving my website and other marketing/media goals – I feel fantastic. Now, I am going eat some ice cream. That wasn’t on my “to do” list but I know it will taste…fantastic, lol. Nobody’s perfect at being disciplined. Let yourself off the hook now and then.

  2. I had been an illustrator for 30+ years working for every major ad agency and magazine publisher in the country. In that time I had never missed a deadline.

    To do that I had developed a ‘perseverance gene’ that occasionally meant missing family functions or staying up through the night to finish a client’s job. That little voice in your head that is relentless.

    When I retired from that career to pursue fine art, that discipline is still there and holds me in good stead while I work to finish my own art.

  3. I guess it’s not good to have ADHD AND be an artist.
    When I had a mural business, which is basically working for others, I had no problem scheduling and getting my work finished. But now that I am solely working on my own art, it is difficult to Blick my time. I get distracted with ”other” things very easily and find it difficult to stick to the blocked time frame everyday that I put on my calendar. When I am creating for a client, I always find the time. Umm?

  4. As a journalist for 34 years, meeting deadlines became second nature to me. As a full-time artist, that discipline to finish on or ahead of time still rules. In art, I have learned to apply high standards and to take time to improve a painting, giving myself more time to critique the work in progress. Having more than one painting going and each in different stages allows me to work in a steady, yet exciting way.

  5. I like to take stock of where I am – what’s done, what needs to be done, what I don’t know what to do with. I write it down in my artist’s sketchbook. I also try to save one easy task for the first one of the next day

  6. Every year I choose a word that will be my focus word that year…this year my word was discipline. It’s not a coincidence that I would start in the Art business Academy in late January! I’m a pretty disciplined person in general, but it’s been challenging to apply that in my attempts to really build my art business. Like many of you, I have a job, although part time, the scheduled days change every week and sometimes the hours also. I also have household chores, help watch my grandson several days a month, etc. A couple of things I’ve been putting into practice are helping:
    #1 getting up earlier in order to paint 1-2 hours before going to work. It seems when I plan for after work, my motivation can easily be overcome by fatigue.
    #2 going to bed earlier (in order to accomplish #1)
    #3 using my breaks at work to catch up on blogs such as this one
    #4 listening to pod casts for the ABA while commuting
    #5 really looking at my schedule before I agree to anything…learning when to say yes and when to say no
    #6 when painting, my phone stays out of earshot
    #7 writing down my intentions for the next day before going to sleep and then reviewing them first thing in the morning
    #8 keeping a list and prioritizing the things on the list
    I could keep going…I’ve spent the last six months really thinking about this topic and working on it. It’s really key to accomplishing my goals!

  7. Discipline is important, but for me perseverance is the most important skill. I may work diligently all week on a new sculpture that requires designing new techniques (I’m working with a newly developed clay). Only to discover I have to start over from scratch. OK, not from scratch, I learn with every failure. Discipline got me through many years of employment, but creating art takes more than discipline. Sometimes you just have to know when to stop, think about the process and where you are going with it?

  8. Perhaps the most amazing skill that precedes discipline is the way successful people give it such great importance in their lives. After watching the Genius series on TV, I saw the drive for discipline by both Picasso and Einstine.

  9. As usual this is a thoughtful aporizch to an important topic for the arts and any business venture,

    I would add a dash of research and focus, so as to better channel the discipline,

    It took a couple of years to stay focused and have the disciple to write
    our book, Internet Marketing Defined.
    On retrospect the discipline was mandatory.

  10. I do a yoga class every other day which helps my posture and my mind. Also on the other day I do a little at home. I read from a teacher that coming to the mat can sometimes be the hardest thing. Same as getting to the easel. The mind can be so tricky and it is good learning to know its ways . What helps start me up is to read some art history for half hour or so after my breakfast. We stand on the shoulders of giants and all that. This is a habit now ~ then I just get crunching as no one else is going to do these pictures for me. Once I am on it; well it just sort of flows ~ it is a joy really and I just carry on. In a little world of my own. This way I do about 40 hours a week and steadily progress. Some paintings took years to do from what I have read, so do some of mine~ especially the ones involving lots of glazing. Some don’t take so long. Best ones are worth waiting for so I try not to think about time too much . If I try to do more my eyes are strained so I just try to pace myself resting them regular. There is talk about getting a work life balance and the body likes regular. When I was working in the real world we all used to clock watch and be thinking of the next break. When we do our own thing it is funny how I have to be disciplined to actually step away from the picture and have a break! Nutty really. But it is so absorbing ~almost like getting lost in flow. I think I have learnt discipline and diligence through working various jobs in the past. I have had plenty of people to thank who have helped in training and instilled the enthusiasm that needs to go with it. The hardest thing seems to be to get out there and sell them, networking and putting myself about. That is an art in itself.

  11. Regular exercise helps me to maintain my discipline. I make plans about my artistic work schedule whilst running & swimming. Discipline has to be worked at but just like anything else we practice, we can always make improvements. I have recently returned from an all expenses paid for trip to the West Indies by my Art-Promoter to promote my Artwork. This is a huge reward for my discipline…

  12. Discipline is easy for me. When I have design in mind, it might take a while to figure it out. I have to separate left brain from right brain. Seems that right brain creates a new piece. Not always easy. Takes some time. It works. I have to be patience.

  13. Goals, and deadlines toward those goals, are essential for me. Once set, you just have to fill in the blanks, so to speak. Of course, some mid-goal deadlines will be more difficult to achieve than others. That is why I like to have several goals to work towards–if I get stuck on one, I can let my subconscious work on it, while working towards another goal. Works for me!

  14. I have so many ideas that I don’t even have to think what to work on, this allows me a choice of ‘what I am in the mood for. My difficulty comes with routine, I have odd sleeping hours so I tend to wake up when I wake up in order to get some sleep. However, I am very disciplined. I get to the studio every day and I work at home too. I am just about to attack the marketing side of my work so that is daunting but I am pacing myself, I have researched what needs doing and I prepare myself in advance. I don’t know if it is an artist/creative thing but I have never had any problems working towards a goal with my art. Emotionally and personally … yes but with my work no. I also have things to listen to in the studio, it is a priority because I found that when I don’t listen to stimulating things my mind wonder and I tend to get depressed or feel frustrated. I now download podcasts in advance and I have a studio routine as well. I get there, make tea, set my laptop up, start.

  15. My son at a job interview when asked to name a good quality he has he said “I’ll show up every day.” I think that is key in being an artist too; show up and make art. (he got the job by the way).
    Another key point for me is to believe in myself. I think that was lacking for most of my life. The confidence that I could make something good enough, getting frustrated too easily, and giving up. Now there is more of a perseverance and a drive to do better and learn from mistakes.

    1. If you have no training, except trial and error, installing yourself in an art center where MBA’s are everywhere, it’s very hard to ‘believe in yourself.’ Develop tunnel vision and don’t mentally compare your work to those around you.

  16. I completely abandoned any thoughts of discipline in my painting. I paint when I feel the need to paint, as I drink when I am thirsty. I do not depend upon my art for my income, so for I do it for the pleasure of doing it, and for the satisfaction of the result. In this way I rarely feel any pressure in making art, and am free to enjoy each piece as it becomes, and for what it becomes.

  17. Self discipline is essential if I take making art as seriously as I did my old 9 to 5 job. As a self employed person, I now keep unusual hours but normally manage to get in at least five or six hours of studio time each day, then a few more hours devoted to marketing, writing blog posts and updating my web site. I try to keep distractions to a minimum while I’m in the studio but it’s difficult. I’ll listen to music while I work with no problems staying focused, but it’s the phone ringing that drives me crazy. I’d turn off the ringer if I didn’t need to remain accessible to an elderly parent and others who rely on me for assistance. When I’m working on an important or especially challenging project, I have to work alone. The same goes for when I’m working on developing a new technique. I tend to save small or less important projects for times when I have visitors in the studio. But probably the most important measure I take to stay focused and on track is avoiding engaging in social media until I leave the studio at the end if the day. Otherwise it gobbles up huge amounts of precious time. If there’s one area where having strong self discipline comes in really handy, it’s saying no to Facebook, email, texting, etc. intruding on studio time!

  18. Only disagree with ‘work on one thing at a time’. While one painting is ‘resting’ I work on another. When one painting begins to be too much because it’s at the fine detail stage, I switch to one needing big bold broad work. The trick for me is having just a few paintings at different stages.

    All the others apply: I’m still battling with ‘distractions’, it’s my main area of weakness.

    An additional one: The most powerful aid to my productivity has been identifying clear quantified targets and regularly reviewing them. The review is the really important bit, keeping me focussed and motivated. If I drift, it soon refocusses me and if other things interrupt my routine, it helps me get back on track.

  19. This is a wonderful article! Thank you very much. For most of my 71 years, I have dreamed of being a great artist, but living and all the things that are in my life, have always gotten in the way. I have new hope after reading your blog and the comments that followed.

  20. The Discipline “of motivation” is an art and something that just has to be practiced. Along with the good time management strategies as you suggest, I have found that sometimes being completely spontaneous or having a day of simply slowing down and doing nothing can help. Maybe for creatives discipline emerges alongside their artwork in very creative ways.

  21. Being disciplined; I find it hard to simply apply it to one ‘category’ like art. I’m a fairly disciplined person. I do what my conscious tells me I’m suppose to do, how I was raised. I have household chores, I care for my pet and husband. I pray to God, I’m responsible to my part-time employer. I pay my bills on time. I follow family obligations for graduations and other family gatherings. This does take up a lot of my time. But these are important in my life. And so is art. I fill in my mornings and evenings with my art interests, mostly reading and researching various types of information from art business to art techniques. But I find it hard to schedule regular time for actual painting. I’m hoping to get to worked out eventually. I just haven’t found the right schedule that works for me yet. Funny, after writing and re-reading this, I see the time I allot for actual painting is afternoons. Perhaps I should switch that to mornings. Do it first, so that it doesn’t get bumped by other obligations.

    1. It’s hard to schedule time for painting when you have a full time job and other responsibilities. I try to paint 3 evenings during the week and spend at least 4 hours in my studio on Saturdays. I always feel good when I accomplish something but it is a challenge to stay motivated when you have constant interruptions and other responsibilities.

  22. I just get into the studio every day whether I feel like it or not. It’s my job. On good days I paint on the tough days I organize. There is always something to do.

  23. Being of retirement age and restarting my art career has helped me to be more organized. I have to organize most of my life, (fun should be carefree). I don’t have a car so bike riding, walking and busing take organizing because anything involving travel takes a lot of planning. I also volunteer and take care of grandsons. If I keep my paperwork, cleaning, cooking, shopping, etc organized with lists and things all kept in their place it makes it easier for me to keep up and get the time I need in my studio. Also cleaning up my studio after or before I begin work really helps my mind to be more focused. If chaos happens, and it does, I do what’s most calling to me and then address the chaos.

  24. This is tough- there was a teacher workshop I participated in decades ago. Part of it was 4 mental processing areas and the rest was Multiple Intelligences. Linear – Non Linear were 2 elements. the second set escapes me. All I can remember is that everyone but me on the staff was decidedly linear. With Multiple Intelligences mine settled into three categories which were Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic. Again- quite afield from the typical teacher profile (and the approach our schools take to teaching-learning and testing).
    As an artist, I have always taken on ideas and then found the medium to express the idea best. That really does not make for a consistency in the broader scope of things economic (sales, galleries, etc) but it has served me well in some significant projects.
    I have tried, since seriously getting into an art career mentality, to build a routine. But my mind is wayward and reining it in sometimes almost impossible when ideas are flowing. I was pretty good with the Ideal Week until the past 6 months where household and health changed. Physical Therapy and household now occupy 4 mornings and some afternoons and of course the mental attitude and ability has shifted focus as well.
    I’m considering lining up some sub-contractors and a High School student from up the street as a “studio assistant”. (I pay him a small stipend and he gets hands on experience as a bonus). This might help productivity but it doesn’t fix what I see as a discipline deficit. Lists of never-fail ideas have never worked this far.
    What I’m kind of looking for now is a non-linear approach to a pragmatic organizational discipline or process.

  25. I worked for.35 years as an architect and learned very quickly to gather.all the info I could and then start drawing what I knew and then keep adding info to the drawings on a daily basis. It was a process that allowed me to meet deadlines. I have internalized this process into doing my art and looking for ways to exhibit my art. Both require constant processing, review and work.

  26. For me, it’s much easier to be focused and disciplined during non-summer months. What I’d love to find out is how other artists create boundaries and remain disciplined during summer months – my busiest time as an artist – when I’m painting for large fall exhibits.

    Summer always includes vacation time with family – filling the soul and giving me a break from the studio. However, it’s the other two and a half months when friends fly in from overseas and around the country, others are free from school schedules, the weather’s great – and also perceive that I’m also more free to get together.

    Throughout the year I keep regular daytime studio hours – with social get-together’s grand-baby time and golf to early evening hours. However, during the summer many friends plan get together’s that require travel, preparation and happen during the day – big time eaters. For example – dear friends fly in from overseas once a year for a couple of weeks and they need to spend time. Working in the evenings to make up studio time after a long day isn’t always possible. Am I alone working through this? How do others handle this dilemma?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *