What Makes Creative Structure?

by Laureen on February 6, 2013


A walk at the end of the day

It didn’t start out as a creative structure thing. It started out like feeling I wasn’t setting reasonable goals. And now it’s become the way my workday unfolds. Who knew?

I decided to spend Mondays in the studio. All day. Start in the morning, keep going until the day is over. Not even that hard, once you decide on it. After one good Monday, I should have been hallelujah-ing. Instead, after one good Monday I was deflated and disappointed. Why? Because in my heart, I’d had kind of an idea I’d get a week’s worth of art made in that one day. And while bending the laws of time and space may seem like the real deal, it isn’t actually going to happen. I wanted to celebrate what I accomplished, not be disappointed by what I didn’t. So I started practicing a different way of making plans.

It’s taken some working out, and there are still bugs. But now, instead of my day’s goals looking like this:

  • Tackle the never-ending giant to-do list full of gallery, workshops, future projects, teaching, free-lance work, and trying to make and keep friends; fit some art in there somewhere; go to bed way too late and worn out and frustrated,

they look like this:

  • Two hours in the studio;
  • One hour with my UMUC online students;
  • One hour on this week’s blog post;
  • Go for a walk.

I’ve discovered that four hours of real creative work in a day is a day. If this was my corporate job, I’d never get more than four hours of creative project time in a day. I’d be talking to people or emailing them (communicating), going to meetings or coffee (participating in workplace culture), putting out fires (responding to events), and generally being part of a group. In fact, this wouldn’t be a bad thing. It answers the human desire to touch base. And I need to allow myself the same. I need to answer email, talk to artists on the phone, pay attention to the freelance work that pays the bills, take part in a couple of creators’ groups online that I belong to and get a lot out of, and transition between projects. Four hours real creative work in a day is a day.

I like the structure. I’ve learned to set a timer. I’ve learned that when it goes off, I don’t say, “Oh, if I just keep going I can finish this and all the other things I can think of.” I’ve learned that when the time is up, I take a break (communicate, participate in workplace culture, respond to events), and then I reset it for the next time-based goal. I don’t feel like the clock runs my day. I feel like I regularly get to celebrate meeting my goals. “Hey, an hour on bookkeeping. Yay for me!”

The best parts? I’m painting every day. I have results to show for the time I spend on all these projects. I’m painting every day. There are more chances to give myself high fives. I’m painting every day. In the afternoon I go out and see what the world looks like. I’m painting every day.

It has turned into an structure that makes art and also makes a life. Creative structure. Who knew?

What creative structure allows you to make both art and your life?

PS — Know someone else who might enjoy this? Pass it on!

The blog is a series of posts from one artist/art gallery owner’s life in her community in one of Canada’s most beautiful and remote wilderness regions. I hope you will find yourself and your spirit reflected in it.


Teresa Gagne February 7, 2013 at 8:35 am

Thanks Laureen. This is just what I needed this morning.
May you be well, happy and live with ease.
fond regards,

Laureen February 7, 2013 at 8:42 am

Thank you! And may I say the same back to you? All of it.

Elaine February 7, 2013 at 8:51 am

My days look a little like that too! I learned that I accomplish much more if I do a chunk every day instead of doing giant servings on random days. Sort of like compound interest takes time but wow! it makes a lot in the end.

Laureen February 7, 2013 at 9:25 am

I love the idea of compound interest. On days when the total output doesn’t look so significant, I will hold that thought! Thanks for being here.

Erin February 7, 2013 at 12:50 pm

Ooh, Laureen, I love this post. What a beautiful distillation of lessons learned.

This, in particular, spoke to me: “If this was my corporate job, I’d never get more than four hours of creative project time in day.” I’ve always seen networking and communicating and all of that as stuff I have to do on TOP of my actual work, but it’s not. Like you say, it’s part of more traditional jobs. So why isn’t it part of my less traditional one?

It’s also so difficult for me to stop when time’s up. It’s always “I’ll just finish this page,” which turns into starting a whole new task because I forget I was supposed to stop. And though it feels productive while I’m doing it, I’m not sure it’s actually the best thing for me.

Laureen February 7, 2013 at 1:40 pm

I know. I do. It feels like there’s never enough time, and then it feels like you’re always behind, which leads to being more behind. And on. I’m still experimenting with this structure, and I’m not perfect at it. But I’m making art every day 🙂

Thanks for your kind words!

Denise February 7, 2013 at 4:58 pm

Wonderful. I need to paint everyday, and I’m not. So, it’s inspiring to hear from people who do. I agree with the 4 hours thing. When I do get to work, I like 2 hours, break, then 2 hours. And fill in with the communication you mentioned. The walk.. I don’t do.. but, I’ll give it a try.. sounds real nice, actually! 😀

Laureen February 7, 2013 at 5:41 pm

Lovely to have you along for the walk. And of course, for the studio time 🙂 Thanks for commenting.

Maryann Didriksen February 7, 2013 at 5:52 pm

Your blog made me feel like I am on the right track. I moved from a busy shared studio to home studio and I am working toward a new routine, Thanks for your insights.

Laureen February 7, 2013 at 5:57 pm

I’m so pleased you found it helpful! Thanks for commenting.

Michael Roberts February 8, 2013 at 7:56 am

Coming from the corporate culture side, I can definitely agree that you wouldn’t get more than 4 hours of creative time. In fact, it’s pretty rare that I get that much time to focus like that at work.

I’ve had similar experiences as yours when taking a full day to create. I just don’t have enough to keep producing for that much time all at once. It’s the daily creating that helps me actually achieve what I’m working towards.

Great post!

Laureen February 8, 2013 at 8:48 am

Michael, thanks for this perspective on work and life in real time. “It’s the daily creating that helps me actually achieve what I’m working towards.” Wonderful words!

Hermina Joldersma December 5, 2013 at 11:03 pm

Thanks, Laureen – posts like this one are both inspiring and reassuring. I love reading them, here in Yellowknife!

Laureen December 6, 2013 at 8:46 am

Great to have you reading along! It’s terribly cold in the Grasslands today: -31C/-24F as the sun comes up, and a 40 below wind chill. Good day for the creative side to be given free rein!

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