Creative Productivity

Creative productivity: There are two kinds of tasks – the urgent ones and important ones. But how do you confront that with Creativity?

  1. Creative Productivity Tips
  2. Make more time for art
  3. Overcome the blank canvas paralysis
  4. How to make more art
  5. Make art work
  6. Food and creativity
  7. Creativity vs productivity
Mo Li Very Private Gallery

by Mo Li – Last updated: May 4, 2019 at 7:03 am

Creative Productivity Tips for Artists

There are plenty of those tips lists related to productivity. I list them with our own approach related to art. It will be a basis for further analysis in the next chapters.

#1: 8-hour routine

Routine may sound a bit boring but you can’t just go with the flow. Artist job is just like any job, except you are your own boss. You have to be there 9 to 5 if you have an office job, right? Make sure you dedicate at least 8 hours a day to your art and stick to a routine that works best for you.

#2: Plan out

Use a calendar or weekly planners to plan your week in advance. To-do list for each day could be a good idea. Nothing is more satisfying to see the boxes get ticked away.

#3: Avoid distractions

Make sure you have a certain period of time, like 9h to 12h without phone calls, emails, visitors. Save the best time of your day for your creative process.

#4: Associate an hour

Sometimes you need to complete a task which you are reluctant to do. For example, you don’t like social media but you need to promote your work. Associate a certain hour (like 10 o’clock) with writing an Instagram post. It will become a habit in no time.

#5: Associate actions

Associating an action that is more enjoyable than another, which can help you execute both at once. For example, I work on photo retouch in front of my computer for hours, and I have a bad posture. If I can associate a coffee or a tea, with standing up and stretch out.

#6: Associate locations

For example, you would do exercise in the gym, shower in the bathroom, and cook in the kitchen. By entering the kitchen, you are not only feeling like cooking but also have all the tools laid out for you. Set up your studio space according to your tasks so it’s more organized and optimized.

#7: Mind the gap

Sometimes between each layer of paint, you have some short period of time here and there. Assign small tasks to fill the gap so you can get more things done in the meanwhile.

“Without doubt quality is better than quantity, but quality can be discussed ad infinitum, while the quantity, it is indisputable”
-Michel Tournier ‘Le Miroir des idées’

#8: Urgent VS Important

There is a time management theory called the ‘Eisenhower Matrix’. It divides all the tasks into 4 categories: the ‘urgent and important’, ‘not urgent but important’, ‘urgent and not important’, and ‘not urgent, not important’. We tend to attend the urgent ones first, especially when you receive a phone call saying: ‘we need you to do this now.’ Make sure you prioritize what’s important and urgent, delete what’s not urgent or important.

#9: Outsource

You can’t do everything on your own. If you can not afford to hire a full-time assistant, just outsource some tasks such as photographing your art. However, don’t outsource something you have no idea, because you could be tricked. It’s a good idea to learn how to do it yourself at least in theory.

#10: Take a break

Sometimes even if you enjoy your work very much, you need to take a break from it, so you can work better. You can set a time table for relaxing, such as weekends or evenings, or public holidays. On those days, you don’t work.

#11: Renovate

Being a productive artist means you can produce artworks fairly quickly. It could also mean you are pouring out your creative juice. It would be a good idea to bring something new to the table. Renovation here doesn’t mean you actually renovate your art studio, which could also be a good idea. You can take a break, visit a new city and learn a new language, just to do something different.

#12: Self-appraisal

Last but not least, don’t forget to evaluate your productivity. Your hard work might not be paid off immediately, but you need some more immediate gratification. Every once in a while, do a recap and appraisal. Reward yourself if you think you have done well. For example, a nice meal, a weekend trip if you have reached your goals. So you are more motivated to keep the good work.

How to make time for art?

No matter if you are rich or poor, old or young, one thing we have in common: we all have 24 hours a day! Many artists find it hard to make time for art when they have many other responsibilities. ‘No time for art?’ Time management then! It’s key to a creative and successful career.

Here are 4 ways how I save time and make time for creative works:

#1: Passive income

Many artists have to keep a part-time job or even a day job just to sustain the cost of living. If you give 8 hours a day to an employer, of course, you don’t have time for art. Solution? Try to build a passive income. There are commonly three kinds of passive income:

  • (1) Property,
  • (2) intellectual property,
  • (3) financial products.

Through passive income, you can sustain yourself while freeing most of your time.

Interesting investments

If you are a dedicated artist, likely you don’t know about the stock market. There are still many things you can invest in as an artist. You can rent a large studio space and sublet it to other like-minded artists. This way, you are making money, getting to know interesting people, make get a free studio space to yourself. It can lead to many interesting projects, like the Factory of Andy Warhol.

#2: Automation

I know many people would set timers on their coffee maker, washing machine and other kinds of appliances. Some people are paying for a fixed meal delivery so they don’t have to think about making food (although this one I think it’s more outsource but many people still think it’s automation because of the tendency of drone delivery). It saves time, and free your brain bandwidth. You don’t have to constantly think about ‘I need to make coffee, to cook, to water the plants’.

Automation software

You can also use automation software (such as IFTTT) to re-post an Instagram post to Facebook. It’s like a virtual assistant doing things for you in the background. The best part of automation as an artist is that people don’t think that you (hence, an artist) would automate. Likely they would think you are behind the computer doing all these.

“The principle of ‘success breeds success’ or ‘cumulative advantage’. The phenomenon is comparable to the economic or financial rule: ‘the richer you are, the easier to get even richer’. One can interpret this as follows for the case study: there is always a probability that an artist with no ‘Venus’-work in the past will create a first one. If this first ‘Venus’-work has success, the greater probability will be that the artist will produce another ‘Venus’-work and so on; if, however, this first work is a failure or has no success, the artist will probably not create a second ‘Venus’- work.”
– K. Bender (Twitter: bender_k)

#3: Outsource

Maybe you have a negative image of outsourcing, like a sweatshop, child worker, slavery in a remote developing country. We outsource more than we think we do, and most of the times it’s positive. By sending your kids to school, you are outsourcing the education of your kids to a school. Just make sure you choose the right provider for the task.

Hiring

You can hire a web designer, social media manager, photographer, copywriter… My favourite service would be a $5 proofreading service on Fiverr. As you can hear, I am not native to English, Spanish, or French. With $5, I can create a flawless social media post re-written by a native speaker, based on my own writings. I will drop a referral link below, so you can get the $5 gift credit. *This is not a sponsored video.

#4: Course

Nowadays you can learn everything on the Internet. The information is free and inexhaustive. However, paying someone to teach you a certain skill can really save your time. Yes, you are buying time and you are investing in the best tool and best team, that is yourself. OK, now it sounds a little sad. If you feel really lonely in your project like a Solopreneur (it’s a thing!), then it’s a good idea to find yourself a mentor. So you avoid all the time lost in trials and errors.

That’s all my tips and tricks on how to save time and make time for your art.

Overcome the blank canvas paralysis?

I am sure you are familiar with the Writer’s Block or the Blank Canvas Paralysis, a problem all kinds of creative people face no matter if you are a writer, a musician or a painter. A condition, primarily associated with writing, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work, or experiences a creative slowdown. The condition ranges from difficulty in coming up with original ideas to being unable to produce work for years.

Just start trick

My personal experience tells me that there are many different dimensions to the writer’s block: to start a new work, to continue working, and to re-start working after a long time. Many artists told me that they face fear and self-double after staring into the white canvas before starting a new work. One trick is to just put a stroke or a splash of colors, or make a random background. The key is to break the emptiness of the white space. You can always paint over later, it won’t ruin your canvas. (Except for watercolor which rises a bit the difficulty)

10 minutes climax

My father is a writer and I had also been writing screenplays and poems. What I find the most difficult for writers, is how to develop the story. To start it’s not as difficult as painting, but the problem comes later. The modern Hollywood way of writing stories is very fixed. You need to push for the climax in the last 10 minutes of your story. This is when a writer has the most difficulties.

The big picture

My screenwriting professor’s method is to write a one-page story outline and go back to the outline constantly. This way I know where I am and where I am going. It’s all about the ‘big picture’. I know some artists would draft a mockup on Photoshop before picking up the brush, to remind yourself what is the result you wish to achieve.

 

“We live in a world where objects are held at a higher value than people. Images of reality have more merit than reality itself. This mindset is shifting the worth we give to one another, and the worth we in-turn give ourselves as a behavioral and psychological byproduct. A disposable society has gone too far.“
-Kit King @kit_king

Re-start less, Go-on

Do you have the moments when you go back to the gym after a month holiday? I feel that restarting a project is way more difficult than starting a new project. You have the emotional burdens of the past and you have the uncertainties of the future.

Social challenge

Have you heard of daily drawing challenge? Basically, this challenge is about drawing something every single day without interruption. You can let your family and friends know, or join an online community of artists. You declare in public that you would do this challenge (or any other challenge in this matter) and if you fail you would… Invite everyone to an expensive dinner, or bet $1000. The key is, the stacks must be high. Use the support of family and friends to get over the difficult start, and establish a good habit of making art.

How to make more art?

How to make more art? The first answer could be: spend more time! But is it the best way? I know a handful of artists who are dedicating already 40-50 hours a week to their art, but the amount of work they produce is not enough to support their families. If they could make more art, they can access more opportunities and live better lives.

Here are some of my own take on how to make more art:

#1: Invest in better tools

Having professional tools is definitely a key to getting the job done faster, especially ‘faster tools’. For example, I was on my Macbook Air for a year while I was studying because I need to carry it all day with heavy books. It was slowing me down at work so I invested in a MacBook Pro. Now when I make a video and edit large files, it’s a lot faster. How to get the money? Start saving, quit smoking and keep on working!

#2: Make more copies

I don’t mean copy other people’s work! I mean make more copies of your own art. In France there is the 12 copy law, indicating you can produce 12 exactly same visual design of an artwork, and still considered original. Make 12 copies then!

 

“I learned so much about art from watching a kid draw. Kids don’t call it art when they’re throwing things around, drawing—they’re just doing stuff.”
-John Baldessari
Interviewmag by David Salle
Photo: Franziska Wagner
Artwork: “Self-Portrait (with Brain Cloud)”

#3: Make smaller pieces

How many pieces do you make a month? Cut the size half, can you double the number? This is a bit tricky. Many artists told me that making a smaller work is more difficult than making large works because of their techniques. I think in most of the cases you can produce more pieces if you reduce the size. But smaller works allows you to sell cheaper, meaning more people can afford it. They are also great for smaller homes.

#4: Find faster techniques

Faster techniques are not bad techniques. I know some painter would switch from oil painting to acrylic painting so they can get to the next layer faster. I know others use a projector to find proportions, which is a technique with more dispute. Hey, if you are desperate to make more works, you do what you can if you are not hurting anyone.

#5: Make art everywhere

By using a smaller tool such as an iPad or a smartphone, or even just a small journal, you can make art anywhere. Carry your new drawing kit with you so you can make art on the go. Because you are on the go, you are forced to adapt to faster techniques.

Make art work

Important players

Yesterday I attended an event called ‘Make Art Work, art at the age of disruption’. It’s composed of 2-panel discussions, each 90 minutes long. After 4 hours of sitting in the conference hall, I had a mixed feeling: On the positive side, I felt lucky to be surrounded by important players in the art world, including the direction of ARCO and museum directors, foundation managers, and private collectors. On the negative side, I felt sad for the fact that during 3hour intensive talk, no one has mentioned artists, the most crucial player in the production of art. All they talked about was the collection, economy, art market.

Power and capacity

Fair enough, I came to a conference hosted by a business school and people here make serious business. It’s not boho after work party. But the fact that artists are not invited to these kinds of conferences and not even mentioned, made me feel uneasy. Like if artists are sweatshop child labor in a developing country. Actually, I doubt if any panelists at the conference can paint.

Gallery owners

Carlos Urroz, the director of ARCO, mentioned that he thought nowadays gallery were becoming more like agents. But I am having the opposite opinion: I think gallery owners are more like resellers, a distanced partner, that’s why more and more artists need agents. Why reseller? You have more than one resellers, actually the more the better. But you work with exclusively one agent. Why this matter? I will mention below.

 

“There are people who have greater power to judge what art is and what is not, which does not mean that they have a greater capacity to do so. You have the capacity; the power is given to you. Not always the most capable are those who have the power to decide on something”
-Blanca Pons-Sorolla
-marialeonstyle.com

Huawei metaphor

In another way, it’s like Huawei. Huawei overtook Ericsson in 2012 as the largest telecommunications equipment manufacturer in the world and overtook Apple in 2018 as the second-largest manufacturer of smartphones in the world. When it was just a producer of phone switches in 1987, it was not important. The moment Huawei made its own brand, as an independent innovator, that’s when the world knows its name. Now Huawei takes market shares from Samsung and Apple and gets invited to play at the big boys’ table. I believe artists can learn from major manufacturers from the world and see which strategies you can use in your art business.

Full rejection isn’t a good choice

If you are an artist and you are not happy with this situation, then you can do two things: get a business degree and become a manager of major museums or foundations so you can become one of them, but do better. Or you can make your own brand and become the ‘Huawei’ of artists, and leave your own mark in the art world. Of course, you can just complain about how unfair things are!

Creative Constipation

When I first heard the term ‘creative constipation’, I laughed. It depicts the ‘writers block’ in a perfect picture. This time I will take a completely different approach, that is to align your body with your mind.

Food has a direct impact on creative productivity

Most of the time, when we don’t feel good in our body, we don’t feel good in our mind. So if you want to be productive and feeling great, you need to work on your ‘creative bowel movement’.

Step #1: Keep a clean diet

My ideal diet would be no sugar, no milk, and no gluten. Sugar is an addiction and makes you vulnerable to all kinds of health issues like obesity and diabetes. Also, make sure you don’t have to buy food or drinks with added sugar. Milk is unnecessary in our diet. Human is the only animal that drinks milk about milk-drinking age and drinks the milk of another animal. If you really enjoy milk, try soy milk and oat milk, they are healthier than animal milk. When I mention no gluten, in fact, it is minimizing industrialized processed food. If you can, eliminate bread and pasta, instead, eat rice and potatoes.

 

“Food has a direct impact on our cognitive performance, which is why a poor decision at lunch can derail an entire afternoon. Most of us know much of this intuitively, yet we don’t always make smart decisions about our diet. In part, it’s because we’re at our lowest point in both energy and self-control when deciding what to eat. French fries and mozzarella sticks are a lot more appetizing when you’re mentally drained. The first is to make your eating decisions before you get hungry.”
-Ron Friedman – Harvard Business School

Step #2: Drink water

We all know drinking 8 glasses of water, or 2L water daily is a good practice. If you don’t like drinking water, you can drink infusion, tea or coffee. Just make sure you don’t drink more than two cups of coffee daily. Properly hydrating is a key to a healthy life. It also allows you to sweat after a nice workout, which is our last step.

Step #3: Exercise

There are different kinds of sport, from a low intensive sport like walking in a park to high intensive like Crossfit. Whatever works for you. Go to the gym or do other kinds of sport twice a week, or do a small workout using App every day, just keep it a habit!

I am sure if you can follow these 3 steps every day for at least a month, you will see improvements in your health and positive results in your productivity. Better bowel movement makes better creative flow! Don’t give up too early, your work will be paid back in the long run.

Creativity vs Productivity

On our Instagram, there is one person gave a statement: ‘Being productive kills creativity!’ This statement I have to say, although sometimes could be true, but it’s not necessarily true.

What’s the difference between creative and productive?

I think you can say, someone is productive only when he produces. If he doesn’t produce, he could not be called productive. But if he is creative, even though he doesn’t create, he can still be creative.

Creativity is who you are

It is a part of your personality and quality. Like if I am a female, even if I don’t become a mother, I am still female. But productive is a state, a description of a certain moment, like being pregnant. Maybe she is not pregnant today, but she can be pregnant next month.

 

“Unless you tell someone that you’re going to do a thing a specific way, the standard for that thing only has to be as high as you set for yourself”
-D’Angelo Wallace

What is a market failure

Yes, market failure! This has to go all the way back to over a year ago, I was having this conversation with a professor in class during my MBA study. He was trying to explain a simple concept called the agent cost. An agent is a middleman who helps farmers to get their products to the city. In the art world, it would be art dealers. Then he talked about market demand. The agent tells the farmer what the customers want and need, so they can grow the right products. I asked the professor, what if the farmer says, screw the market demand, I grow what I want? The professor answered me: ‘It’s a market failure.’

The art market is mostly a market failure

It was one of these ‘aha’ moments for me. So the art market is mostly a market failure. I told an artist, please paint a colored background, not black background, some collectors are asking for red. The artist told me: ‘Screw you, I do what I want!’

Productivity and creativity

You see, we talk about productivity and creativity, but when we talk about it outside of the market, it’s all just hobby. What’s the matter, you do what you enjoy, hang the art at your home, enjoy your life. If you want to have a market share, then all your productivity and creativity must serve your market niche. You need to dominate your market, whatever it is.

Working as an artist

As an entrepreneur, what is the pain point of your customer? What problem are you trying to solve? They can tell you. Ask an artist, I am not sure if he can tell you. He can say, I am trying to express as an artist. Fine, I am paying people to solve my problem.

Creativity here means, can you come up with innovative ways to solve your customer problem? Productivity means, can you constantly produce works of art that fill the market and raise the bar.

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