Do Not Disturb...Artist at Work

By Karen Baker

The topic of a recent e-mail started me thinking about a common problem among most artists. The message was from a friend, telling me how pleased she was to be showing her artwork in a high-end gallery. She’d already made quite a few sales. “It’s extremely exciting,” she wrote. “Now, I just need more time to paint!”

I was not only happy for her good fortune, but equally sympathetic toward her predicament. Indeed, every surviving artist I know, myself included, has had the same realization that success always brings new circumstances to deal with. However, if we are to continue to move forward, we must recognize and embrace those pivotal moments as opportunities for positive change.

These days, we live and work in a fast-paced society, filled to overflowing with opportunities and activities that often distract us from our goals and purposes rather than adding value or benefit. Having enough time to do the things we need to do, or simply want to do, seems to be a challenge for many people, but perhaps more so for the fine artist since it is a vital component of creative expression.

For myself, creating original artwork isn’t something I can rush. It has to be done in stages, from exploring ideas and applying paint, to framing and the final presentation. All of this takes time, especially when I add business tasks to the equation.

In the early stages of an artistic career, as budding artists, we’re mainly focused on creating art. We are unaware of the extended demands of the profession until our career starts gaining momentum and the following scenario plays out: Our work is accepted into shows; we win prizes; galleries want to represent us; sales start coming in. Except, now we’re also occupied with developing and promoting the emerging “artist persona” as well as exploring marketing ideas. Before we know it, painting sessions with the Muse have dwindled down to a precious commodity, and we are left trying to figure out how to juggle an already full schedule just to have more time to paint.

Even as we reach higher levels of success, when the business details increase, the extra time we need to facilitate them usually doesn’t. So, how do we effectively keep the balance between our first love—painting—and the necessary business-end of making art? The key word here is “balance,” so I don’t think the answer lies in becoming expert multi-taskers. Rather, we need to be more aware of what we can periodically omit from our activities, art-related or otherwise, and still accomplish what we desire. Each artist must arrive at his or her own solutions, discovering through shared and personal experiences what works best to bring about the necessary results.

I remember seasons in my own career when I was similarly challenged to keep up with the demands for new inventory. A part of me naturally resisted the added pressure, yet in the process of resolving those issues, I received some of my most valuable insights. I realized the necessary solutions were more clear to me when I stepped back from the immediate situation to view the big picture objectively. This led me to refocus on the original vision I had for my life and to reevaluate what was presently important in reaching my goals. In so doing, I not only grew as an artist, but I learned to manage my time more wisely.

From the reservoir of practical strategies I developed over the years, here are three “time-savers” that still work well for me in my daily routine.

1 I prefer to choose “great” opportunities over merely good ones. This means I’m highly selective about what I commit to, seeking the “best” possible outcome over mediocre ones. An advantage to this approach is that by eliminating what I decide are less important activities, I save valuable time which I can then apply to working on my art. Granted, I’ve probably dismissed some potentially interesting and meaningful projects, but since I know I can’t do everything, in the long run I’m a happier and healthier person—in mind, body, and soul.

2 Because I love networking with other artists, I’m often lured into the “volunteer” spotlight by art organizations. Therefore, I’ve trained myself to say “yes” to only one volunteer project at a time—no exceptions! I believe it’s important to help fellow artists in any way I can, but again, I don’t want my coveted painting sessions used up by too many outside activities.

3 When I’m painting and I don’t want to be interrupted, especially with phone calls, I simply tell people, “I’m working. I’ll get back to you later.” And that is all I say, not “I’m painting” or even “I’m working in the studio.” Without elaborating, people get the clear message I’m not to be disturbed. It was a while before I figured out why that statement was so effective. I believe it lets people know I’m serious because I take my self seriously. The time I spend creating art is important to me. It’s my livelihood, and when I set firm standards and boundaries within my profession and workplace, people respect that.

Years ago, a wise and talented art teacher taught me the importance of self-preservation for the working artist. He was very successful in the art world, not just because he was a great artist but because he was dedicated to painting every day, and he lived simply. The way he approached his work showed me that creative people are not special in the sense that they are above others but that they “see” things differently in this life. He knew his art was a gift to be shared, perhaps to help create a greater sensitivity in the viewer to what is all around us and often overlooked. Sacrifice, then, becomes a pleasure—especially when it’s wrapped in the joys of painting.

Karen Baker CPS, PSA, is a landscape and floral artist who also teaches the art of pastel painting and the creative process. Her work will soon be appearing in the new publication Art Buzz--2008 Collection. She is a member of many pastel societies, including the Vermont Pastel Society, the Southwest Florida Pastel Society, and the Pastel Society of Tampa Bay. She also holds signature membership with the Connecticut Pastel Society and the Pastel Society of America. Karen is represented by galleries in New England, Delaware, and Florida. To learn more about this artist, visit