Making Art A Habit
I got a comment on an old video of mine asking if I’d made any videos on productivity and how to overcome laziness as an artist. It turns I’ve made several videos on these topics, which I directed the commenter to. Here's my playlist of them if you're interested. But, anyway, I don't mind making another post.
I find that the best way to overcome laziness is to make what you want to do into a habit. For example, before the pandemic, I would get on the bus and go to a mall, that had a branch of my gym in it, and workout in the morning. In a very short amount of time, I didn’t have to muster the motivation to do this, because it was part of my routine. I even continued working out during the pandemic, even though I wasn’t going to a gym, because I’d already cemented the habit.
I’m going to share three tips for developing a painting and drawing habit, the first two of which are inspired by the book Atomic Habits by James Clear. The first is the two minute rule.
The Two Minute Rule
Instead of telling yourself you’re going to sit down and paint for an hour, pick a habit that takes two minutes, or less, to complete. This may mean you don’t even paint. You might just set up your paints and brushes.
Now if that’s all you end up doing, fine. You’ve completed the habit. But, you might find that once you see your paints and brushes set up, it feels natural to start painting. Before I had a place dedicated to painting, I would just tell myself I’m going to set my stuff up, set up my camera, set up my paints, everything. I wouldn’t even think about what I was going to paint. But once everything was set up, it was so easy at that point to just start painting.
Now, when you’ve gotten to the point where setting up your paints and brushes no longer takes an effort, you might add another two minute or less habit on top of it. You might put some paint out onto your palette and just make a few strokes on the paper or canvas. If you’re drawing, you might draw some lines or scribbles on the paper. Remember, what you make here doesn’t have to impress anyone. You don’t even have to like it. This is just to get in the habit of making art. Writers swear by the two crappy pages a day rule to keep up their writing habit and we artists have to have our equivalent. I really believe if you actually start painting though, you’ll want to continue beyond two minutes.
The second tip is habit stacking. That just means you take a habit that you already do and tell yourself that after you complete this habit, or during it, if that’s convenient, you’re going to paint. For example, you might decide every evening after dinner, I will paint, or when I get home from work, I’ll paint.
I personally find habit stacking an easier way to remain consistent with a habit than trying to do it at a certain time everyday, but if painting at the same time every day works for you, then do it that way.
Make It Part Of Your Morning Routine
That brings me to my last tip, which is to incorporate it into your morning. A piece of advice commonly given is if you have a goal, to carve out time in your morning routine to do something that gets you further towards that goal. For example, someone who wanted to be a writer might sit down at their computer and write a couple pages before they go to their 9-5 job. If you want to improve your painting, maybe even get to the point where you’re doing it for a living, then getting up a little bit earlier and painting for just ten, twenty minutes before work maybe just what you need. To make things easy on yourself, set up your work area than night before, just like if you were going to go for a run, you’d put your work out clothes and shoes by the bed.
On the note of setting your stuff up the night before, I'd like to mention another version of the two minute rule and that's that any habit you want to do shouldn't take longer than two minutes to start, ie, remove as much friction between you and it as possible. For example, I remember Youtuber Thomas Frank saying that he kept his guitar out of the box because it made it super easy to pick it up and start practicing. The best advice I give for someone who wants to start painting or drawing regularly is have a special place to keep maybe a sketchbook and pencil. Don't have them behind or underneath something. That way, when it's time to do art, you can just grab them and get started.
You could combine this tip with the last one by doing it after a morning habit you already do, like making your bed or making your coffee. Or you could combine it with the first tip and just paint for two minutes in the morning and call it done.
Choose your painting time based on when you have the most energy. If you’re a morning person, don't tell yourself you'll paint in the evening after work. If you tell yourself you’re going to paint at a time when you’re not naturally energetic, you won’t be consistent and consistency in developing a habit is essential.
This brings me to the most important part of this whole video and that’s that when it the time comes that you’ve set aside for your painting, you need to paint. Whether or not you feel like it. Whether or not you’re inspired. Like I said at the beginning, what you make during these sessions doesn’t have to impress anyone. If you just take your brush and move it across the paper for a few strokes, that’s fine. As long as you do something.
The two minute habit tip is for if you have zero motivation and you’re dragging your heels. Just commit to setting up your art supplies or something similar. You could spend two minutes looking up art classes or tutorials online.
Habit stacking and morning routine are for when you feel motivated and excited to do art, but can’t seem to find the time to. I hope that helps.
On June 29, I went on Pixabay and looked for pictures of storm clouds for the Halloween painting I’m planning. I found some with bits of orange that I think are very fitting. The clouds are going to be behind a crow and a pumpkin for a painting I’m doing for Halloween. Here's a doodle of clouds I did.
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Painter of portraits and wildlife