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Compartmentalizing Your Art

by Keith Bond on 1/16/2012 9:14:00 AM

This article is by Keith Bond, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews.  You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.



Not so long ago, I needed to prepare a canvas.  I got out the roll of linen, scissors, and other supplies.  As I was laying things out, I glanced over at a painting on my easel that was partially done.  This painting had a few areas that were frustrating me.  Analyzing it for a few minutes got a few ideas brewing in my mind.  This reminded me of an image I had seen in one of my art books.  So I got it off my shelf to see how that artist handled a similar problem.  I began looking through the book, page by page, getting inspired and excited – and distracted by other, unrelated images.  A casual glance at the essay in the book distracted me even more.  Soon, I was lost into philosophizing about art.  I went to grab a water bottle (or maybe a soda) and sat down on my chair to read.  But as I went to sit down, I saw the canvas roll on the floor, with the other supplies strewn about.  Somewhere in that ordeal, I think I even started thumbing through a few photos and plein air studies – getting ideas for yet another painting.


I had not gotten much done that morning. 


Recently, a friend of mine (Jake Gaedtke) and I were visiting at his studio.  I was impressed with how he compartmentalizes different aspects of his art.  He has his studio – where he focuses on creating.  In a separate building, adjacent to his garage, is his workshop where he prepares canvases, frames his art, and does packing and shipping.  In his home, he has his office to take care of all the business side of things.  Each is separated, yet only a few yards (meters for those who prefer metric), apart.


What a great idea, I thought. 


Jake went on to share some things he learned about Walt Disney.  Disney’s animation studio was divided into Creator, Realist, and Critic.  Each is essential to the creative process.  But they must each be separated to enable full attention to the task at hand, without the distraction of the others.  Brilliant!


As I went back to my studio, I realized that I don’t compartmentalize the different aspects of my art very well.  I do have my computer and office at home (I rent a space for my studio), but it was out of necessity rather than intentionally separating the two.  But aside from that, my creating space is mingled with my workshop where I prepare canvas, do framing, shipping, etc.  I need to create a division so that I can do better at staying focused – especially while creating.


How do you compartmentalize your art – or do you?


Best Wishes,

Keith Bond


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Topics: FineArtViews | inspiration | Keith Bond 

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Maria Soto Robbins
Very thought inspiring post, Keith. I struggle all the time with compartmentalizing tasks relating to my art. Distractions are everywhere. In my case, due to space constraints, it's easy to get side-tracked, just as you describe. I look forward to reading what others recommend.

Susan Holland

I read yesterday about a mute autistic boy who had to have someone touch his elbows to stay on task. They didn't know he could read until they taught him to type...and he could only type with a hand on his elbow. He is quite literate and very intelligent, turns out! The focus tool was the key. Many of us have a touch of autistic-like distractability. We are learning that many of our most creative artists and inventors had a variant of such traits.

The influence of a person or group can be a help. Even a weekly event with colleagues can affect focus in a good way. I like to think of it as an activity that creates a current that carries a task. The community is more important than we artists sometimes like to think!

whitney peckman
Compartmentalizing is a fantastic concept and could easily become reality for artists working at home. However, for those of us who work while on the road for a substantial period of the year, it presents a serious challenge. The challenge, it seems to me, is well worth attempting and I say this as I have just finished setting up for a ten week show ( in AZ and am scrambling looking for where my tools are now - the van, the trailer, the studio, the apt? Where are my paints, what show deadlines are coming up - written on a calendar I cannot find (because I still use the old paper kind - I know...get out of the dark ages). So, to combat this confusion for ten weeks, I compartmentalize by hours in the day. For instance, I know that from 10-6 every day I am in my "studio" space at the show both working AND talking with clients, so that means that I plan my meals at night, exercise early in the morning, organize my work day the night before, re-organize my work space and assess my work progress when the show closes at 6, take care of follow up and business tasks in the evening. If it sounds like there is no time for anything but work, that is the case. But my best success has been in the years that I have stuck religiously to this schedule (and this is my 16th year at this show).

Margie Guyot
Prioritizing is the key. When faced with a list of to-do's, I weed through, asking "which task is CRITICAL right now?" vs "what can wait until later?".

It helps to write all art deadlines (including pick-ups) onto a calendar. Refer to it every morning. Make a list -- and prioritize!

Sharon Weaver
Maybe compartmentalizing what you do it is largely in your head. I have worked out of my home for years and am very productive doing this but there are many who have problems with this concept. Somehow the thought is that your home is where you unwind and relax from work so they can't get motivated in the home. These people need to have outside offices, studios and spaces designated for work. It is just a different mind set.

Robert Sloan
I don't have the space to physically compartmentalize my art. I live and work in one room for the most part. Packing supplies are in the same room as painting supplies and the same computer is used for photo references, hanging out on forums or writing my novels.

I do some broad compartmentalizing by outside cues. If I'm listening to music, I'm writing fiction. If I've got the television going or a movie on the computer (usually in a reduced screen) then I'm drawing and painting. Packing and shipping is usually done with the TV background since those are more physical than writing novels.

Shipping off or posting writing is done by email or by browser. I'll write it and then post it where it's going or email it to a publisher for consideration. So that's all within the computer. If I had space for more than one computer I might dedicate one machine to writing activities and the other to art activities - heck with that kind of money, I'd get myself a Macbook for the art computer since Apple is still ahead on graphics. With possibly a third computer set up and dedicated to playing games.

It was convenient when I had a second older computer set up for playing games because sometimes while painting or writing, I take a break and play a little to relax and get past a stuck point. It has to be an old familiar game that doesn't demand much concentration but is just enough to let my unconscious solve the problem of what's the next sentence or stroke. It can be hilarious - pausing a game after only a few seconds of play can make the game go slow, but that was the point of playing it.

So I compartmentalize by activity and try to keep the materials and tools for everything in my reach. With mobility problems, I'm more productive the more of my tools don't take my getting up from the armchair to use.

Jan Brieger-Scranton
My studio is in a small room, about 9x11, off the master bedroom. Everything is in there, computer and business takes up one corner. Opposite that corner is my easel and paints, in another corner is my assemblage, and the last one holds my jewelry supplies.

Painting is what takes number one place, when I'm waiting for a glaze or passage to dry, I make jewelry, or package things on their way out of the studio. I take one day a month and prime any and all canvases so their ready to paint and one day to do business stuff. I don't know that it's compartmentalizing but it works for me...=)

Donald Fox
A list of priorities can certainly be useful if one stays on task. For me that takes discipline, both to make the list and then follow through. Also, I have different areas of the studio designated for specific tasks. This helps but is no guarantee that I won't distract myself with a good idea\inspiration that calls to be acted upon.

Lorna Allan
What a great idea and I for one am easily distracted unless I have deadlines to work to. This is also very timely as I am working toward our summer shows and also have a large commission to do and a very short time for these. I am sure this will be most helpful.
Thank you for your helpful insights.

Susan Holland
Wouldn't it be nice if tech folks were as active making low-cost accounting utilities for artists (and other busy folks) as they are in making low-cost websites?

I, for one, would be so happy to just send all my paperwork to the online accountant and have it come out the other end all done and ready to be submitted to the IRS.

Is there somewhere that a fairly road-worn artist could go where she could just make stuff and forget about all that other stuff?


I bought a whole house to create my art. the 3 bedrooms are created as one frame room. another is a spray room with extractors to remove the dust out of the air and UV lamps to accelarate the drying time one is the stocking room and office. Then the actual living room is where the action is and where i teach privately. Then outside i have a shed where my compressors and oxygen acetylene tanks are with plasm cutters nbvending machines and welding post. I have lots of concrete around the house for welding and constructing my statues. Also a kiln and blacksmith kiln to manupilate steel. It has to be like this other wise a too big mess to work. The garden gives me time to relax and store my RV vehicle and double axle trailer to transport my art to art fairs.

veronique aniel
How true...Reading your description of how things happen sounded so familiar. To compartmentalize is a great idea, however we cannot be but what we are as artists. This ability to make connections between ideas and things that we see is what makes us creative, so yes it is an ongoing stuggle but how lucky we are to be who we are! This is not to say that some planning and organizing is not useful and necessary...Thank you for a stimulating article.

George De Chiara
Interesting idea Keith. I'm in the process of moving my studio to a larger room and will be giving this a lot of thought over the next few days/weeks as I get the new space ready. This was actually one of the problems with my old studio. I didn't have things very well organized or compartmentalized in any way. When one project finished, like preparing to ship a painting, there would be a mess where I usually set up a still life or put my palette. That would then have to be cleaned up before I could paint. In my new space I want to have a dedicated area for shipping, painting and business tasks. I'd also like to have a spot to just sit and think, look at books and sketch ideas.

Dan Goldstein
there is clearly a balance with respect to compartmentalizing and integrating aspects of our creative life. I tip over on the scale in favor of random integration. I generally find I am ready to tackle some particular aspect of my work - be that the actual creation, the marketing, general organization, etc. When I am losing patience for something I recognize that as an indication of having reached a point of diminishing returns. Acknowledging that enables me to move into another activity where I have some patience and energy to apply. The overall effect is slow but steady and quality progress on all fronts.

Robert Sloan
Another way that I compartmentalize would be hard for nondisabled people to apply. I live with chronic fatigue and chronic pain along with some severe mobility limits. I can't schedule ahead to know I will be able to function five days a week. Most of the time I can guarantee that I won't have five functional days in the week.

So I decide at the top of the day based on what I'm physically capable of on that day what I'll try to accomplish. Usually I'll manage at least that first thing I decide to do. If something with a deadline really needs to be done, I'll swallow the damage and push myself to do it.

Going out when my back hurts is a guarantee of at least one or two days staying in to rest up, at worst most recently it led to 15 days staying in with zero art or anything else. That effort can sometimes accomplish a lot though.

On days when I can function mentally but not physically, when it's my back and bad hip acting up but the chronic stuff is controlled, I'll paint small works and do some of the filing and planning and other computer stuff. I'll gather the supplies for more ambitious paintings and keep them in reach for the day I've got the energy to work on it.

On bad days I try to at least say hello to my sketchbook and get in a two minute gesture sketch. That habit's done a lot to improve my art. As it improves, my prices go up and eventually I'm sure it won't matter how few days a month I can work.

But till then I schedule writing for sit-still days and art for more energy days and things that take going out for the best days, all seized on impulse as I find out what the weather did to my joints that day.


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