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Incremental Art-Making

Painting in short increments can solve your Not Enough Time to Make Art quandary. I talk about this in my free course Six Tips to Paint More, and I live by, and believe in this approach.

When you’re just starting out, knowing how much time you need to make some art can be a guess, or a preconceived falsehood. If all you have is 20 minutes here, and 40 minutes there, take those slots, and make something in them.

I’ve marked the dates I worked on the watercolor in this post in the captions below. I started in November and finished in January, over a hopscotch of short sessions on a lap desk, on the couch, in the evenings, just before bed.

There were no all-afternoon painting sessions waiting for me on that holiday-strewn path of the calendar. I kidnapped short sessions, and enjoyed the heck out of my episodic time, painting a watercolor of a boy in a chair reading books, before I changed into jammies and slipped into bed. You can do this too. Pinky-promise.

Using the grid method, sketching shapes, one square at a time, while sitting on the couch (Nov 20)
Once the shapes are placed inside each square, adding shading and refining subtle curves and anatomy (Nov 22)
Still working on the couch in the evenings – adding books to the shelves, and altering details from the reference photo (Nov 23)

Take Your Time

Many of us say “I don’t have time for art.” Perhaps we should alter that mantra to “I haven’t taken time for art.” Untouched art supplies will never chase you down the hall to tap on your shoulder for attention. We don’t “get” time for art. We have to “take” time for art.

It’s a wholly different mindset, and it puts you squarely in the driver seat, steering the artist’s car. Letting yourself believe (and say) you haven’t got time for art is misleading. Are you waiting for someone to give you more time? We all have the same hours on every clock, all over the world. What we fill the hours with is worth examining.

Life is busy, and if you find it more “relaxing” to surf the net or watch television, can I urge you to give art-making a try for just 25% of those sessions? Taking is more assertive than waiting to have. Taking insists that you own this endeavor, and you’re in control of how you spend your snippets of downtime.

I am guilty of emptying the dishwasher, and doing one last load of laundry before I can make art. A deeply set program is stuck in my engine room, insisting I finish the drudgery before I get rewarded with art-fun. I wrestle with that lopsided hierarchy every. single. day.

If your attempts at regular creative sessions are fraught with time management issues, read Srini Rao on the Profound Power of Knowing How You Spend Your Time.

watercolor in process - a portrait of a boy - painted in mini sessions to add more art to each week
Back on the couch, just before bedtime – adding the first washes of watercolor in light, transparent glazes (Nov 25)
Laying in more layers of watercolor to create some depth and shadows around the figure (Nov 28)

Let’s Pause this Regularly Scheduled Program

In between this phase of the watercolor portrait (above), and the next image (below), I painted the portrait from this post in December, in the same mini-sessions on the couch during the evenings.

This is a good example of why it’s wise to have several watercolor block pads and sketchbooks handy in your art supply tote bag, so you can zig-zag through those urgently-inspired painting ideas, and then loop back to finish the one you started a few weeks ago.

Caveat: If you’re just starting out, it might be best to stay with a single painting all the way through till it’s finished. Especially if acknowledgments and attaboys are hard to come by in your own repertoire of self critiques.

Even if you don’t like the final art, you can (and should) at least congratulate your efforts at finishing. Really. We need encouragement to stay in this, and if all you ever tell yourself is that you fell short of the goal, why would you ever want to return to painting? Shush your naysayer with a pat on the back, and stay in the game.

Baby steps forward. Give yourself the advice you’d give to a child just starting out at anything. You get better with practice. Lots and lots of practice. Never mind the wishes for a masterpiece. Do you think Misty Copeland acquired her skills by dancing once every couple of weeks? Just paint.

a watercolor after three weeks of mini painting sessions - proof that you can make more art in mini time slots
Almost three weeks later – adding more watercolor to the books and shelves, and a suggestion of plant shapes in the window behind the figure (January 17)

Distract the Bull while I Paint

In response to the mention of audiobooks on my instagram feed, here are three (below) that I recently listened to and enjoyed immensely. (Today, I just started this one.) Do you listen to books while you work?

If any of your book selections are working to keep art supplies in your hands, and eyes averted from surfing the net – because you can’t wait to hear more of your book – share the titles in the comments.

Books are magical atmospheric mood enhancers. They will take you to Kent, England to stroll through an old castle, while you’re standing in your kitchen, laying some washes onto a new watercolor, or sitting on the couch, gridding a drawing.

Audiobooks also wave a red flag to distract the Bull of your critic, and your self consciousness, so you can paint in a more relaxed way. It’s the best kind of trickery. Here’s a link to a free audiobook if you want to give it a go.

Thanks for stopping by today, and I’ll see you in the next post,


P.S. If you’re new, hi there! C’mon in. You’re welcome to subscribe (free) so each new post will land in your inbox. Sign up for that here.

Mango Reading Chair 16×12 watercolor on paper (available here)
find more time to make art
Have you signed up for this free mini course? I used to be a masterful art procrastinator, but no more! If you’re trying to get back to your art supplies, I have six little tips for you here.

Art Quote

Happiness in life is not a given, it must be seized.

~Kate Morton, The Distant Hours

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15 thoughts on “Finding More Time to Paint”

  1. Judy Langhoff

    As usual, your comments hit the nail on the head! I will take your suggestion and take time for art…not make time for art. That one word did it for me–take! I look forward to your insights every time…you’ve inspired me continually and I thank you for it. You always know what I’m thinking and what issue I’m dealing in this adventure. I did have one question on your painting…did you use watercolor over your detailed pencil sketch? I always am keeping the pencil details of the grid copy to a minimum–maybe I should be putting in more details in pencil before painting. Suggestions?

    1. Hi Judy, I’m glad this post resonated with you, and I really hope the phrasing about time + art sticks, and leads to more creative sessions throughout the week. On my pencil drawing and watercolor, I leave the pencil there, and just paint over it. Give it a twirl and see what you think. 🙂

  2. Sharon Hammer

    Thanks for your encouraging words, Gail. Speaking of non-representational, your post of Pirkko’s paintings blew me away, filled me with awe at what people can create. If we ALL spent time on art of some kind, we’d have less need for war and politics.

  3. Sharon Hammer

    This is off-topic, but my friend google was no help! I love pastels and have used them in conjunction with acrylics. Problem: I can’t draw. This is less of a problem with paint. I am not an artist, obviously, but I get so much joy from painting. Is there hope for me with pastels?

    1. Hi Sharon, Unless you’re trying to create realistic or illustrative works, perhaps you don’t need to draw? I believe you can draw, but that’s just how I roll. 🙂 There are pastel artists who will swoon your eyes into squinty grins with their non-representational works! So yes, use pastels, and acrylics, and oil-sticks, and water-soluble graphite, and, and… play with all of it. Your sentence “I get so much joy from painting” belies your statement. You are indeed an artist.

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