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Art & a Busy Schedule: Finding Time to Make Art

Julie Sharpe

Finding time to do art has never been an easy task for me. Since I was in middle school, I’ve had to juggle multiple extracurriculars:music lessons, tennis practice, and test prep. I’d managed to make art in middle school because my schedule didn’t seem that busy. However, my schedule was more cramped than ever my junior year of high school. During that school year, I had to balance:

-Three hour-long instrument lessons each week (violin, classical piano, and jazz piano

-Studying for 2 IB exam

-Tennis practice in the fall (10 hours per week)

-Practicing for violin and piano music contests (2 competitions in the fall and spring)

-Being tutored for SAT math (3 hours each week)

-Taking a practice SAT math exam every week (1.5 hours each week)

-Preparing college entrance portfolio pieces

-International Baccalaureate studio art pieces

-Figure drawing each week (3 hours)

-Online gym class (3 hours of exercise with heart beat above 115)

-Homework for all my classes

Many of my activities suffered as I tried to get through each week. I never practiced enough for my violin and piano lessons, and my teachers were constantly frustrated. One time, my piano teacher threw my books across the floor and yelled at me because I wasn’t prepared for a competition.

I studied for the SAT for hours each week, but I frequently stayed up past 1 AM to do so. My GPA remained high, but I was never able to spend time with my friends or family, and the stress and lack of sleep made me irritable. Throughout the year, I averaged about five hours of sleep on a weekday. I spent all of my weekends studying, working on my portfolio, and practicing piano and violin.

Although I was able to produce artwork, I had to scale back on the type of projects I was doing.  Over the summer, I had begun a series of life-size collages that involved countless hours of research. During the school year, I scaled back and worked on a small paper-cut illustration series instead. If I had stayed with that life size collage series during the school year, I would have only been able to produce one piece every couple of months. I don’t want to discourage anyone from pursuing a project; however, it’s important to be able to face the reality of how many hours you actually have, and to adjust your projects accordingly.  

I also began to draw comics and illustrations to express my thoughts about everyday life in my sketchbook. These comics and illustrations became a sort of coping mechanism to deal with all the stress I had. I wasn’t allowed to be creative in many parts of my life, so I needed something where I could express myself (observational drawing sometimes felt too restrictive, hence why the comics increased). However, I still found time to draw at least one object, person, or scene from direct observation several times each week. So, while it was still possible to draw from observation, it was more difficult for me when I had less time.

If you have a busy schedule but want to be sure that you continue making art, here are a few tips:

1. Write everything down.

Use a planner or notebook to write down everything you have to do. This might seem tedious, but it helps you stay organized and prioritize important tasks. This system has helped stay on top of things throughout the school year because a visual reminder is always better than promising to myself that I’ll do a task later.

2. Choose what not to do.

The reality is that you won’t have time for everything and that some of your activities are going to suffer. If you choose what you value most, it’ll make you happiest in the long run. For example, I know that I want to become an artist, so if I only have two hours before I go to sleep, I’ll use that time to make art instead of practice violin. Although I love both, making art is ultimately what I want to do for the rest of my life. However, I’ll add that you shouldn’t sacrifice sleep to the point where it becomes unhealthy. Make sure you know what your limits are!

3. Don’t try to multitask.

Watching TV while drawing, while doing math homework is not productive – it’s distracting and will cause the quality of your work to suffer. Focusing on one task at a time is actually a lot more efficient! It’s important for everyone to figure out which routines work for them on a consistent basis – for example, I only listen to music when I have an established task I’m working on – I don’t listen to anything while I’m setting up or brainstorming because it tends to distract me.

4. Be aware of your social media usage.

Social media is a huge time waster in my life. Everyday, I’m bombarded with notifications about my friends’ status updates and photos. I also have art accounts and personal accounts for both Instagram and Facebook, so getting distracted is extremely easy. When I have a lot of upcoming deadlines I set website blockers on my computer so that I can’t check social media for a designated amount of time. I also download apps that monitor my social media usage, so that I know how much time I’m spending. If I see that I’ve spent several hours on Facebook or Instagram, it really motivates me to start working so that I don’t waste my life away on my phone.

5. If you want to change any habit, start very slowly.

Creating time saving strategies can make you feel good, but it’s really hard to dramatically change your lifestyle all at once. Even adopting one small habit can be difficult. Therefore, I like to implement a new habit over a week to give me time to adjust. Leave room for failure too – it’s pretty much impossible to commit to a task everyday. It’s important to not feel ashamed when you inevitably slip up now and then.

6. Keep a sketchbook.

A sketchbook can be a great way to document your feelings in a visual way. I have a lot of mental clutter, and I like to express my feelings by drawing what’s going on in my head. Some of the things I think about are political/social events, school gossip, my family, my own emotional state, and future art projects.

If I’m feeling stressed, sometimes I’ll take crayola markers and scribble for a while in my sketchbook. I draw characters based on the stressors I have in my life. If I’m feeling down, I’ll personify what’s making me sad or stressed by drawing it. Your work in your sketchbook doesn’t have to be pretty, as long as it’s serving your needs, that’s what matters!

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