Frequently Asked Questions :: Making Use of Studio Time



{my studio work table in October 2012}

Hi friends! I’m back today with another installment of Frequently Asked Questions. Before I get to today’s question, I wanted also to let you know that yesterday I was profiled on Design*Sponge’s Biz Ladies series. I answer lots of questions about starting, building and sustaining my small art & illustration business. You can check it out here!


Okay, back to today’s question. Recently I’ve been getting emails from people asking about one thing in particular: how do I make the best use of studio time? I think this challenge is especially formidable when we don’t have a paying client job that forces us to the studio or kitchen table to work. In other words, how do we motivate ourselves to get to the studio when the purpose is simply to make new work and not necessarily to finish a deadline? And then, once we are there, how do we use the time efficiently?

Note: for many people their “studio” is their kitchen table or the desk in their living room. What I’m really talking about here is working, whether you have a studio outside your house or not!

On getting yourself to the studio:

+Create a personal challenge or daily/weekly project. Do you respond well to parameters and structure? Do you enjoy a personal challenge? Start a “drawing a day” project or “a new medium a week” — or something unique that gets you making new work on a regular basis. Collection a Day 2010, 365 Days of Hand Lettering, and The Reconstructionists are all personal projects that have forced me to create on a regularly. And while none of them paid initially, they all led to more work in the end and in a couple of cases, book deals. The key for me was not just doing the daily practice, but sharing it publicly on the internet. That held me accountable and increased my visibility as an artist (which leads to more work).

+Make set studio hours. Often when we are self employed, we lose the structure in our day that we may once have had when we had a job. So until we find a good routine, we may feel lost or overwhelmed about how to organize our time. When I was first starting out as an illustrator I didn’t have much paying client work yet, so getting myself to the studio was hard. It seemed like I prioritized everything before getting to the studio — even going to the gym! So one solution to that was to set “studio hours” that I adhered to every day or every week. Once I set them up, I went to my studio during those hours to make new work whether I had a deadline or not. Here’s the crux of it: treat getting to the studio and working on your portfolio like you would a job.

+Find something that inspires you and use it to stimulate a new body of work. Jack London once said, “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” There are always things that interest us. In fact, many of us have interests that keep us up at night reading or scouring the internet. For example, for years I’ve been obsessed with Nordic culture and landscape. Since 2011 I’ve used that personal interest to make over 40 new pieces of personal work (paintings and drawings based on my obsession). Over time, these pieces have led to fine art sales, gallery shows and illustration work. Use your passions to drive your work.

+Get goals around building your online portfolio. Your online portfolio is one of the most important reflections of who you are as an artist or illustrator. Use building and perfecting your portfolio as a way to motivate yourself to make new work. The stronger your portfolio, the more work you will get. Set goals around strengthening sections of your portfolio and use studio time to work on meeting those goals. Are there specific kinds of illustration jobs you’d like to get? Make work that reflects your interest in those jobs.

On using time efficiently once you are in your studio:

+Turn off the internet and your smart phone. Need I say more?

+Set your alarm to take regular breaks so that you don’t burn out too early in the day

+Bring food, water and snacks. Stay nourished.

+Bring headphones and music or podcasts that help you keep your head down and your hand drawing.

+Set small goals for what to accomplish each day.