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Questions of restrictions, blockages & creative practice

Alysn Midgelow-Marsden loves quotes by people who are much better at articulating ideas than she is, and this Toni Morrison quote has been a long-time mantra for her when she considers how to combine creative work and the rest of her life:

“We are traditionally rather proud of ourselves for having slipped creative work in there between the domestic chores and obligations. I'm not sure we deserve such big A-pluses for all that.”

Organising Time and Space Alysn previously ran a gallery/art space which employed eight staff, her children were at ages which required many hours of parenting, and she taught freelance, wrote for a magazine and was developing her art practice – which she found exciting, invigorating and productive. More recently she chose to simplify her roles and give much more time to being in the studio, fondly expecting that this would lead to a more beautiful life pattern, but actually found the transition long, painful and almost depressing. It turns out that without deadlines or organisation (maybe because of years of working with tight time schedules and demands) that she realised that she is a master procrastinator. “All of our lives have competing elements and there are many times when the non-creative activities have to be prioritised, that is just the way it is. But it can also become a habit, especially when the studio is also at home, to feel that the house must be tidy, domestic chores complete, paperwork out of the way etc., before you can put your artists hat on”. This scenario is not uncommon for those who have a creative practice. Finding the “space” to create. It doesn’t necessarily follow that if you have time in your studio available to you that the time spent there will be a creatively productive one. Often artists will find themselves unable to be ‘in the zone’ within a timeframe that they have available which can be frustrating.

Philippa Stichbury says that the lack of large blocks of time, especially to work on bigger projects in an uninterrupted manner when all thoughts can be concentrated on the task at hand, is a rarity now that she is balancing managing their organic egg farm with her creative practice. “When I do have a bit of time here and there, I often think that it is not worth starting as I won’t get much done”. Balancing family life with a productive creative practice is also a challenge that many of our Network members struggle with, Jo-ann Farnell explained “I have one 10 year old with a horse, and a husband who just had a kidney removed. Art is struggling to get in there somewhere”. While Karena de Pont says, “I enjoy doing lots of things, but I find making art the most challenging and so can easily put that last on my ‘things to do’ list for any given week so I am most creatively productive when I have a deadline to work towards". Meeting deadlines works well for Ursula Christel too, “My art making is 90% thinking, and 10% making. The 90% is all the slow mind prep – the researching of concepts and materials; the planning, exploring ideas, visualising the work/project. The 10% of actual art-making happens at the end in a frantic burst of activity to meet the deadline! A bit of pressure is really good for me. Housework doesn’t feature on my to-do list, but volunteer activities can eat into my art-making time, so I have to be very diligent with planning and time-management". Alysn Midgelow-Marsden explained her system which seems to be working for her at the moment. “In order to prepare a clear head and have time for creating, I allow a day a week to devote to paperwork – accounts/applications etc., I currently use another day teaching regular classes and a day devoted to house and garden maintenance (reluctantly usually but necessary). Then I aim to spend the rest of the week in the studio for as long as possible. Being ‘forced’ by Covid to spend longer than had been usual in the studio has really helped me to understand on a deep level how important the attitude of ‘turning up for work’ is for developing a creative practise. Blocking out time in my diary, having a board which physically has a line drawn through it saying ‘studio’ or ‘accounts’ helps me to stick to my plan and remember that creative practice is my ‘work’ and not something to slot in around other things. Within my studio time I block out ‘experimental days’, ‘production days’, ‘workshop sample development days’. Of course, many days and weeks don’t go exactly to plan for many reasons, but still for me having some sort of a plan is helpful”. She also finds it helpful to have a separate space for creative work which she doesn’t use for paperwork, and which is separated from the domestic environment. For others that might be a separate studio space at home or rented studio space or created through virtual separation by dividing time into blocks.

It's important for Yvonne Gray to have her own creative space where all her art supplies are in easy reach and having her music playing in the background. “Having a separate studio has helped my art practice immensely so that most days I can spend time in it, then can leave everything as is, shut the door and come back next time”.

There is a difficulty and perhaps feelings of guilt or embarrassment for many artists that much of our working time is not financially productive. We can’t often say that for ‘x’ number of hours we have earned ‘y’ dollars. The number of hours we can allow ourselves to devote to our creative practice will vary for each of us and will change over time. At least be aware of this and patient with yourself and your circumstances, then seize and appreciate the times in which you can concentrate on creative practice. Peter Mansfield identifies with this “What stops me is having other commitments around family responsibilities. So, I guess it’s about allocating time. I’m retired and you’d think that use of free time as not an issue, but I consider myself lucky to be able to allocate about 25 creative hours a week at the moment. Lack of money to fully concentrate on my artwork is also an inhibitor. When I actually sell something or gain recognition from my peers that acknowledgement gives me impetus to continue creating a larger body of work”. Look for Part 2: The Creative Practice is next month’s newsletter where Managing Disturbance to your creative flow and Avoiding Creative Blocks is discussed.

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