When I entered into college as a freshman with a degree in art, I was nowhere close to where I needed to be in studio discipline. In fact, I was quite clueless. It’s easy to chalk it up to playing a sport, traveling nearly every weekend, and wanting to just enjoy the college experience. But I learned it was something that had to be trained for, just as you train and practice in sports.
At the beginning, I found it difficult to stay in the art building. It felt empty and isolated, while all the friends I had made through volleyball were on the outside, doing their work together. I guess I had some serious FOMO (before I even knew what that meant).
It was daunting to stare at that large white canvas looming before me, practically swallowing my insecure self whole. I was intimidated, to say the least. And because of this fear, it often took the wake up call of a deadline days or hours away. I either had no sleep or a couple of hours of sleep the night before each critique freshman year. And yes, it was my own doing.
I fell into better studio discipline when art became a solace. When sports weren’t working out great, when I was injured and hobbling around on crutches or a walking boot, when I was without company, when friends were busy doing their thing. All of a sudden, art was like a warm embrace. I could sit in the quiet and think, reflect. It kept me busy and focused on the task at hand. It was often times of loneliness that pushed me into those little gray walled spaces.
I soon realized the outcome that quantity time spent in the studio, living with my art, made an impact. There were days where it was natural, that enticing pull, but plenty of days came hard. Some days are nothing but frustrating and defeating. Some days I would rather just tear it to shreds. But you fight through those days the best that you can. And then there’s always tomorrow.
Later on in my college career, my studio became my home. I quit sports my senior year to focus on what I became so dearly passionate about (and I was done living half my career in a walking boot). I was creating work I believed in and I was working toward goals that continued calling out to me. But of course, there were still days I had to force myself into the space. I had to dig deep for that motivation.
If I only chose to work on art or writing when I felt inspired, I’m not sure how much would ever be accomplished. I would probably have twenty more unfinished projects lying around that never got touched again. I would not have made the discoveries I did. The true epiphanies have come when I wanted to give up, only to push through and receive a breakthrough. The capstone work from college I continue to pursue today, came long after a meltdown of tears.
Keep the ideas flowing. I have little pocketbooks and scraps of paper all over the place. I am jotting down ideas in the middle of drives (from the passenger seat), right when I wake up, during of coffee shop shifts, while watching a movie, you name it. The ideas are important. Keep notes.
Nowadays, I have a list of the projects I am going to work on for the day. I learned the power of a stopwatch. Sit down and spend an hour on this drawing. Complete this part of my collage. Research for thirty minutes. Setting specific goals is motivating and feels much less daunting when broken up.
The other trick I’ve learned for creating is that I need to work on multiple projects. I can’t stare at the same piece all day, or I will mentally go crazy. I split up my tasks between writing and art, usually working on six to ten pieces at a time. They’re all in different stages and this keeps my mind fresh. Some are in the research phase, some are in the navigating and beginning stages, and some are simply being fine-tuned. This helps keep the excitement and flow of creativity.
Find what it is that truly makes those creative ideas gush. For me, I find it outside. When I ran cross country in college, I would have new art pieces and essay topics rushing through my mind every day during practice. There was something about that blood pumping and the fresh air and all those miles of open sky and cornfields. Today, I find inspiration in hiking, rock climbing, backpacking, road trips, and my work in the mountains at camp. I can’t simply sit indoors in a studio space forever. I have to get out and explore. I have to live my life and live out my passions. And while I’m out there, I am craving to express all that I have seen and done and experienced.
Navigating my way through studio discipline has been one of the most important lessons for me as an artist, and one I will no doubt continue navigating without ceasing. It is that balance between seeking what inspires me and then expressing what is simply crying out within you. It’s waking up knowing: there’s work to be done.