In the Studio · On Creativity - Art, Jewelry, Writing · On Design & Art

On Giving Up on Creativity in Small Fragments of Time

This week is only slightly less frantic than last — as I write, I’m heading to the studio for what will be my longest stint in the past couple of weeks.

Some of what’s been in my way is personal life bullshit, and some of it is a time-sucking-but-hopefully-good-investment-professional-project, but in any event: not much concentrated creative productivity has been happening here.

As I discussed last week, I’ve been thinking about ways to work against my preferences, and to be more creative in the fragments of time that I do have.

My first thought was that I could do some of the “thinking work” of jewelry design outside of the studio. Like, say, on the subway.

I tried this the other day by writing a series of questions and answers in my Evernote journal:  

Finalize design for tiny stacking bracelets.  (But what does this mean? How do I do that?) 

Well, I have to decide if I am making them as stacking bracelets or as an ambivalence necklace. (And/or should I make and stamp more tiny copper strips to have options on hand for both?) 

Both, but I’ll complete the bracelets first, so next steps are cutting chain, attaching the strips via wire wrapping. Deciding on a clasp. Fabricating clasp if necessary. Soldering. 

Efficiency gold star for me, right? I felt great about this clarity, and resolved I would forevermore maintain a list of questions about current projects to consider in odd times.

Except for that I didn’t actually didn’t do any of the things I decided on in advance, because when I got to the studio, and looked at everything, I realized I didn’t like the chain or the crystal I had on hand. Thinking about the project wasn’t the same as handling the materials. I’m a tactile designer, decisions made in the abstract aren’t so useful to me. (I finished them this week instead, ta da.)

So I changed the terms of my experiment. Instead of trying to be more creative in short periods of time, I now plan to lengthen my small creative fragments of time as much as possible. In other words, I need to minimize what is getting in between me and my studio time.

Reality, an inventory

The first step to increased efficiency is figuring out the exact current situation. A lot of my time is going into the administrative end of my business right now, so I’ve been tracking how long these tasks take. And let me tell you: it all takes much longer than I’d have guessed. 

For example, today I planned to pop a couple of new pieces up on my new site and Etsy. I’d already written a draft of the copy yesterday – I need different text for both sites – so I figured this would take about a half hour, tops.
Well. It took a little over an hour, because for one thing, I’d failed to draft all of the info I needed and I had to write it on the spot. And for another, it just plain took me longer to fill in all the fields correctly, especially on my new site. 

So, I made a checklist for myself of info I need for these listings — some of which I can jot down in the studio– and created a couple of templates, which will make the whole thing move faster in the future. 

Also, I’ll budget more time for this in the future. For me, lot of this is about expectations. I’m frustrated that I’m not in the studio RIGHT NOW, since I planned to be there a half hour ago. I feel like this time is stolen from me, when of course I basically stole it from myself.

Streamline set up and clean up as much as possible. 

The visual arts, in general, require more set up and break down time. They don’t lend themselves as well to creativity in stolen fragments of time as writing does. For example, when I’m making enamels, it takes time for the kiln to heat up, to wash the enamels, to prepare the metal–  and none of this can be done in advance. And since  I have a shared studio space, I can’t leave a mess at the end of the day. Which I wouldn’t want to do anyway.

I’ve been working on minimizing my set-up and clean-up for a while now. One very low-tech tool I’ve found helpful is a studio map.

It’s not much to look at, but it indicates exactly where, in each cabinet and on each shelf, I keep my supplies. This minimizes the time I spend on mad supply searches, and makes clean up at the end of the day a snap. (Before I made this map, I was just shoving things into cabinets and hoping they’d stay shut. Which they often wouldn’t. Avalanches are not efficient.)

Also, I clean my workspace in a certain order, so I don’t forget important things, like turning offthe torch for the night — which involves bleeding the lines. It was a real time waster to return to the studio on the freezing cold night I forgot to do this.

Finally, I’ve come up with ways to keep supplies together for projects AND put them away. I use a tray that initially came into my life from the supermarket, where it originally held grapes. It’s the right size, things don’t slide around on its foam surface, and it nests very well.

Finishing isn’t the goal necessarily 

Although I do want to minimize my short studio stints in favor of longer ones, I do have to concede that good comes from those shorter work bursts. On the day I realized I couldn’t work on my tiny stacking bracelets, I ended up working on something else — brass pendants I started in the Fall and left fallow . I completed three necklaces rather quickly.

Cheerful conclusion: maybe it’s moving the ball forward that counts, not the length of the work session. String enough short work sessions together, and at some point, projects will get completed. It’s Van Gogh’s quote that I mentioned last week — great things happening from small things brought together over time.

The trick, it seems to me, is not to let the slow pace of progress drive you insane. 


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