Balancing Art, Life and Marketing Series
Every year seems to go faster. And when time seems to go faster, sometimes things collide.
Do you ever wonder how you’ll get everything done and have some time left over for art – or yourself?
A few months ago Pat, a talented painter with a young family, called me:
“I can’t schedule any new art shows or accept commissions with deadlines because every time I do, I get blindsided by something unexpected at home. Today the dog took off chasing a squirrel while the kids were taking her for a walk. My son held on for dear life because he was afraid I’d be mad if he lost the dog. She dragged him down the gravel driveway and now the poor kid has a slew of stones stuck in a pair of nastily skinned knees. I was on my way to the art store when I got the call – so I obviously went back home - but what if it had been an opening? He and the dog are handling this better than I am!”
When you are an artist and a parent, the lines between roles of creative person and creative problem-solver tend to blur.
And what about a job, being a caregiver for parents or grandchildren, maybe some community volunteering and (fill in the rest of your list here …)?
It’s tough wearing so many hats.
How do you do it all without feeling like you won’t please everyone?
Answer: You won’t. You make the best choice at the time.
When Pat makes a promise to deliver paintings to a collector or a show, she can’t simply shrug off her commitment once she’s given her word.
But she can’t leave her son crying in the driveway for a couple of hours until she gets home.
People depend on her but in this case her choice is clear. Her son needs her now and the art store can wait until later.
Does that mean that Pat has to give up her art dreams until her kids are grown?
No, but it means that Murphy’s Law applies: “If anything can go wrong, it will!”
That sounds pessimistic, but it’s actually realistic.
Murphy was often misunderstood. A more accurate version: “If anything can go wrong, it will – so be ready in case it does!” (And when you have a back-up plan, chances are you won’t need one.)
Murphy’s point is to expect the unexpected.
In the middle of a "typical family day"(if there is such a thing), often all you can do is to try to keep up, let alone anticipate problems and expect to handle them with ease.
Things don’t always go wrong, but odds are they won't go according to plan.
So what can you do?
1. Schedule Non-Negotiable Commitments First
Whatever you ignore is sure to become the source of a time crunch. Best to mark on your calendar all those times when art takes second or third place. Remember to add extra time around each command performance.
Pat wants to do more group shows next year. At this rate, she can do a maximum of six if she paints all year, but there’s the summer when the kids are off and Thanksgiving and Christmas when family visits. That takes it down to four shows.
Pat’s flexibility lies in the size and scope of her art. She decides to do some smaller works for three shows, an Open Studio for work on hand, and increase her commission work with clients who are not in a rush.
2. Give Yourself Breathing Space Around Deadlines
Build in a buffer time zone around your deadlines so that when the unexpected happens, you can accommodate the interruptions. If all goes well and you don’t need the buffer, at the very least you won’t be as frazzled. At best, you might even have a bit of free time.
Pat wants to exhibit five mid-sized paintings in a group show that takes place in four months. She can normally do one mid-sized painting in about ten hours, spread out the over four or five days that she paints each week.
Pat’s work is museum wrapped on pre-stretched canvas, which saves time as there’s no framing involved. She also buys her supplies ahead of time, and has extra tubes of her favorite colors. She needs at least five weeks of fifty painting hours to complete five pieces. She decided to allow eight weeks to be on the safe side, especially because of her family commitments in the next little while.
3. Have Back-Up Plans (and Back-Ups for Your Back-Ups)
So you’ve allowed for all the "must do" art and family commitments. If you doubled the time around your deadlines, and you have extra work on hand in case you get behind in painting time, what else can you do?
Borrow a page from technology – have back ups for your back up. I have an external hard drive to automatically back up my desktop computer. I also have a portable hard drive that I use to back up manually. And I transfer that back up to my laptop. And I have online back up. You’d think that would be enough? Most times it is. But every once in a while, one of the back-ups goes AWOL.
Pat still worried about what would happen if she was at a reception and she got a call from the new babysitter that there was a problem at home.
It’s not usual to tell people at your opening reception that you have to leave. And that you’re not sure if you’ll be back because the kids just called and one of them is really sick after eating the whole jar of cookies.
Pat’s husband is happy to monitor cookie intake when he’s not travelling but it’s hard to predict when he’ll be away. Their regular babysitter is a good back up but she has kids of her own. While they don’t like to depend too heavily on their parents, there are four grandparents available who are willing to be “on call.”
Many of my clients with small children don’t have this built in support, so they only do group shows where the other artists can pitch in if they have to leave.
So how is Pat doing these days?
Her family still comes first but we’re working on her exhibit plans for next year and building in other ways that will help her to breathe more easily as she shares her life with her family and art lovers.
When your family role collides with your art career, expecting the unexpected, building in extra time, making room for fixed plans and having back-ups are not brand new ideas. These are common sense, but in the middle of living a full life, these coping strategies are easy to forget.
So the trick is to make common sense into common practice.
If you could use a bit of help juggling multiple roles and responsibilities, add a bit more balance to your life now. Grab a cup of coffee, tea or water and click here to find out if Balancing Art, Life and Marketing is made for you. (There are nine spots left for this launch and three of those get lots of extras.)