I have a dayjob meeting today but it is the kind of dayjob project that is a bit more flexible than the usual since it's a consultancy rather than a full project (research design/ implementation/ report). As consultant I engage primarily in discussions, make reviews on existing data, and make guidelines on how to do things based on my expertise.
Hence I do not expect it (I hope) to be as demanding as the recent dayjob projects. It was very demanding during the first few weeks (way back in December and January) because we were establishing the basics of things but now we are in the tweaking/finetuning stage.
In any case, the whole point is that after all the various toil and labour I am now owed THREE paychecks and I have the mind to take the whole of May off from dayjob duty while I wait to get paid and also to give myself time to fully recover from everything (including the recent flu and its remnant of a cough that has rendered me literally speechless.) I'm getting one paycheck today and that should tide me over for next month. I'll use it to reclaim some studio time and shop time.
As for shop time -- everything is free shipping at my Etsy shop until May 31 so do drop by and something magical might find you.
Five things on my priority list today and for the next few weeks:
1) Finish the Sketchbook Project and send off by courier on or before April 30.
2) Update the Art Portfolio and send to BGC Art Mart to complete my application and maybe still get a slot for the May setup.
3) Update and promote the Etsy sale. I'll be adding notecards and postcards this week, plus notebooks with hand-painted covers. Also thinking of extending it into an open studio sale kind of thing.
4) Launch my Commissions page and start accepting projects (as well as start and complete existing commissions).
5) Make that crucial step in changing my freelance/work status -- I'll start the process to be a properly registered artist under my own name with an official receipt and unify all freelance work under it.
The Sketchbook Project is making progress but I still feel a 50-50 chance of not making it to the deadline.
Regardless of whether I get to send it off of not, I am quite happy with how it's turning out. I've been wanting to explore the use of watercolor graphite and this was the perfect time to experiment since it does not bleed as much as watercolour, dries fast, and has a distinct character from sumi ink. I think I'll have a series of separate work with this medium and style later on.
My health has been a bit poorly because my rest keeps getting interrupted -- dayjob tasks, meetings, even house chores and errands. I seriously need a full vacation away from any form of duty except the ones required by my creative practice. I have neglected my creative practice far too long as it is. It, too, needs a full recovery and time to do its own work.
I'll close this post with a show-off of artworks from 2015 VS 2018. I like seeing how I am changing and getting better, no matter how small, no matter that until now not so many people "get" it, no matter that I am still more invisible than not.
A friend shared this link from The New York Times, I read the article, and was moved to write down my own case on the matter.
The matter of being a full-time artist versus being one with a dayjob has been a rather delicate issue. Especially if one is still in the beginning stages, and have not gained enough patrons, supporters, and buyers to be able to sustain a good number of hours for studio work. There will always be those who will force the "be practical", "be realistic", "be reasonable" argument which has somehow always rubbed me the wrong way. There will always be those who will insist to just focus on the money, regardless of the how and the implications of performing the work that made that money (oh, I just helped sell products that will dump more tons of plastic waste into the ocean... and also convinced people that buying processed is better than the trouble of buying natural).
I believe the trick here, for my case, which is what I have been trying to master, is finding the kind of dayjob that will complement the artist, until such time that indeed the art is able to fully support a decent living, or the dayjob is an enhancer rather than a disruption. Mine is very similar to the example of James Dickey -- "I was selling my soul to the devil all day...and trying to buy it back at night." -- except that I could never quite buy it back and the interest has been compounding 😱 Equally apt is Stephen Dunn's description of how his work affects his poetry "a zero-sum universe in which the moon gobbles up the sun’s radiance." I would like to have a dayjob to ease the pressure of income from my art-making but I want a dayjob that can play and pay fair -- unfortunately in a developing country one does have to sell a soul to even earn minimum wage. 😅
My dream job is to work in a library, a book shop, or a book publishing company. Many years ago I had that in my hand. It was two roads diverging and I was fresh out of college. The other path led to the dayjob I am doing now. But I listened to "be practical", "be realistic", "be reasonable". Also, being young, I was carried away by "be cool and glamorous" (which had fine print conditions no one ever pointed out).
So here I am. Years later I've found myself on a similar diverging path and took the one less traveled by, albeit with so much baggage now everything is wrought with delays, detours, and doubling back. But I like to believe that I am at least finally moving towards where I was supposed to go. I will win my soul back yet, whole and alive and true.
And all I can offer you at this point is a sedate photo of my workspace where I toiled for almost seven hours straight sustained primarily by water and ginger mints because I did not dare take a break and give any of my selves the chance to pull the plug on my energy flow.
Before I left this morning I prepared a small bundle of art materials thinking that maybe I could make small drawing during short breaks but in the end I decided not to take breaks because any of my selves could steal the rest of me away and then there would have been no progress on the report.
The report is not yet finished but I have figured out a good portion of the knotty bits especially for one section which will be a template for the next section. Most of the work today was composition and layout, and stitching data together so they sort of flow into a logical narrative. That takes time, and lots of brain energy, especially since I'm wired for forests and gardens and it's hard to write with heart.
I'll work again tomorrow morning, and then on Sunday morning. I'll leave the afternoons free or else I'll go mad.
...I'm checking back in at the coworking space tomorrow because being Friday my selves can get particularly tricky and not let me work.
Today I made good progress. Next time I'll be more firm about using the coworking space and check in early. Maybe I can even negotiate a weekly rate or something. Then I can just bring a packed lunch to save on meals. Today I brought my own tea cup and tea leaves. I'll bring them again tomorrow.
The task I have to do is really more of the writing part, and that can be tedious because all the supporting data have to be put in just so to make everything flow towards the recommendations. As always, I underestimated how much time it takes, and today I thought I'd get to finish a whole section. I guess I'm no longer as fast as I used to be. Maybe also because my heart drags heavily.
Anyway, one full day tomorrow -- I will TRY to check in by 8AM and out as late as I can, as near closing time of 8PM as possible. I wish I could buy myself a nice dinner but funds are low and there are April bills to pay in a couple of weeks.
Let's look at some bright spots : these were delivered today. They're second-hand and very cheap.
I got home at around eight and after dinner I thought I'd have strength to paint or maybe work on the Sketchbook. But I only have enough wits to write something in my journal and then to bed.
This post is primarily an answer to a question that was asked of me.
It is not the first time I have been asked this question. In the past few years that I have embraced my art-making and story-making I have received incredulous reactions to my "productivity". The question is usually how am I able to make the time to make?
Last week I read a post by Joanne Harris on Twitter that basically sums it up:
Joanne even had another related post on how she gave up house chores and in the process she had a messy house but 18 novels.
It will vary with each person. Even for the same person, it can vary on what you can give up at a given moment. It's not just one thing. Maybe one or more major things and then a lot of little things that make up a day.
When I decided I want to be an artist it was a life decision. I was just two years into freelancing and still received employment offers because of my dayjob skills. But my desire to be an artist is a soul call that outweighed the call of financial stability and security. I gave up more than one dayjob opportunity. I stuck to being freelance. When I have dayjob projects I screen them for value in terms of money and time and energy. Even if it will pay me a lot (and they rarely even pay enough), if it will cost me too much recovery time because of the intensity of mental, physical, and emotional demands, I say no. (The saying no part is very hard. I believe one has to literally reach a certain age to be able to do it well.)
I gave up an old lifestyle and status that were largely based on the expectations of others. I became clear on what really mattered to me on a day-to-day basis. I overhauled my way of faith and trusting in the Universe (or God, or whichever belief system you subscribe to goes here). I redefined every rule I ever learned or lived by ever since I became an adult.
I gave up people and relationships. I kept those that are truly alive and that keep me authentically alive. This meant less obligations, less duties. And if I would really rather stay in on a weekend than go out for a meal (or even attend a reunion) I don't get judged or guilted.
I gave up traveling, and a lot of big-ticket spending. I have been working on zeroing all debts. I gave up the things that would keep me in debt (credit cards, home loans). This meant I don't have to work so much and for so long for a lot of money. This meant I can use time to make art. I still want to travel but I want to do it for the right reasons and with means that are true to the path I have taken.
I gave up "shopping" and "retail therapy". I buy what I need when I need it and I pay in cash. I still indulge from time to time but these are meaningful (and eventually useful) indulgences. Like books and art materials. Like a nourishing delicious meal. I've trimmed my closet and accessories to essentials that I get to wear every week and also feel and look good in. I have hopped off the trend train long ago. I buy items that will last as long as possible. I repair as much as I can. I buy local and from small business as often as possible to help out others who are like me. I also realised I don't need as much retail therapy when I am making art.
My dayjob work is very taxing mentally, physically, and emotionally. The nature of the work I do for money goes against many of my own values but I am also breadwinner for the household (parents and sibling) so I still have to compromise a lot. When I have a dayjob project there is a battle that goes on. The dayjob spirit tends to choke the creative spirit so I often need recovery days. I have been trying to find a good "balance" for the past six years but I have yet to find one that works more than once.
What's working for me now whenever I have a dayjob project:
It may also help to mention that I am very much an introvert. I don't have very active social circles or activities. I don't spend a lot of time chatting online either. My social media is mainly for sharing and creating content. I limit my online interaction and engage only when necessary. In real life I go out with friends less often than once a month. My own parents and sister are introverts so on weekends we also tend to be in our own spaces and get together about once or twice a month for half a day each. So all supposed "social" hours are instead put into creative time. That could also be a variable.
It's a bit funny because I often feel I am not as productive as I should be. I do Asian drama marathons as well as reading marathons (but I have to say, these do a lot to inspire my art-making). I spend time doing nothing -- when everything just goes blank and empty and needs to take a long pause. I like my sleep, taking my eight hours' worth at night and naps in the afternoon. I have my totally lazy days when I let go of all attempts at being productive.
My Instagram sometimes looks like I have an ideal life but I scrape by day to day. The not-too-hidden price of my creative productivity is also the occasional panic on whether I will meet next month's rent. Every year I think about taking back one of the biggest things I gave up -- the monthly security of a regular paycheck. It has been eight years so far.
I hope this post helps. :)
I have started on the Sketchbook Project. But I have also braced myself for the possibility of not being able to complete it on time.
Yesterday I started on a "strict" implementation of a plan to be able to to do, well, everything. The first good thing is that the dayjob project has a decent timetable for once, so I am able to manage it better. What I've done is this:
- I assigned the morning, which is my most productive, awake, and alert time of day, to getting dayjob matters done. This can extend up to two hours after lunch.
- The rest of the afternoon is assigned to studio work, with priority on the "shoulds" such as shop orders, commissions, and shop admin. The Sketchbook Project falls here because it has a deadline set by someone else.
- The evening, if I still have the energy for it, or if I am particularly inspired, is for personal creative works such as the storymaking (painting and/or writing). If I am too tired but really moved to create, I make space in the very early morning before I start on the dayjob (The key is to get the dayjob started within the morning because I can get more done in two-three morning hours than if I spend a whole afternoon and evening on it.)
There was a lot I was not able to do, but also a lot I got done. But I have to acknowledge that there is still too much I need to do in a day. Yet I have to make it a daily practice to challenge the dominance of the dayjob in defining my days.
Today I am supposed to do two specific dayjob tasks and then stop when they're done, and leave the next step for tomorrow. Since I woke up later than hoped (I had a bit of insomnia), I may have to extend the dayjob hours into the mid-afternoon, but still have the late afternoon (and daylight) to do studio work.
My body clock is very sensitive to the dayshifts so I have to pay attention. If I keep pushing myself out of my natural rhythms I only weaken myself further. This is not about comfort zones. This is about listening to my body and making sure I am in the best condition to do what I need to do. I am not a young person in my twenties. I have to take care of myself.
Yesterday I dealt with a handful of dayjob tasks that took all morning. After lunch I fixed my calendar for the week, moving schedules about in an attempt to estimate my own energy supply, budgets, and patience. The point is not to let myself spend time nor money nor energy unnecessarily. So listening to myself is crucial for the minute-by-minute decision on what to do next. Forcing to get a task done when my brain has shut down, or when I am thoroughly blocked in one way or another, is a waste of effort. (This is why I hate unreasonable deadlines.)
There are studio tasks that are as important as getting the dayjob done and yesterday I was able to hit multiple targets with a single stone. A warm-up that is also a project getting done that is also a long overdue token that is also how the wildforest finally extended one of its infinite hands to meet me halfway.
I have two more drawings to finish this afternoon, after the dayjob tasks. Then it's another attempt to draft the drawing for a commission. Then it's going back to the Sketchbook Project and maybe finish a page for progress.
I am optimistic I'll do even better than yesterday. I have to be.
There is a long, quite demanding, dayjob project that begins on Friday. This week has been broken up with hours allotted for its preparation.
But since October I have been learning, finally, the better tricks to protect my creative practice. I slip and flounder from time to time but it helps a lot to know that there are invisible hands ready to pull me back.
One trick is to match project with project. It seems obvious but often I treat creative work as a formless, over-flexible, open-ended task compared to the structured, defined, purposive design of a dayjob project. No wonder the latter can easily run over and overwhelm the former with its sharp edges and hard bullet points of objectives.
In other words I need to give some "structure" as well to my creative work. Nothing formal or constricting to the natural flow and rhythm of creativity, but something that will direct and steer the practice towards tangible output, and then applying some level of target "quality" to that output. This is probably something that applies to someone who has been working on a creative practice for a bit of time, someone who has already gained a clear understanding and acceptance that a creative practice is essential to his or her daily life. Also someone who has a good inkling of the types of creative work he or she wants to pursue or explore.
I discovered that when I define my creative work into "projects", I am better able to finish something. I am able to make a concrete list of actions and tasks that I can tick off at the end of a day and feel satisfied about. It does not matter if it is a small task such as "prime the canvas" or "paint the background" or "refill the paint palette". When I look at my list I see my creative practice getting done side-by-side with dayjob duty. It is not pushed aside or postponed, or de-prioritised.
The overall goal in defining the creative project is to have clear pockets of action that I can jump into given the time available to me. I have more than one creative project defined so there is always something that I can do real work on. (The time when I come up with ideas and inspiration and refill my creative well is a separate activity in itself and I find that for me, it is not the best counterbalance to dayjob work -- I will write about this in another post.)
Creative Project #1:
I am going to make paintings on these small circles of canvas -- I used 5-inch diameter embroidery hoops as frames.
The idea is a word that inspires or triggers a positive action or thought, set against a brightly patterned background. I started with "believe".
Next I'm thinking "create", "love", "become"...
Each finished piece goes into the "exhibit line" -- this project contributes to a bigger project of building up the pieces for my creative exhibit which I plan to realise next year.
Creative Project #2:
To practice both my calligraphy and poem-writing, I picked up on this random practice of doing both on small square pieces of memo pad. Now from random I decided to turn it into a proper practice.
The finished pieces can then feed bigger projects: transforming them into bigger calligraphy painting pieces, or making them part of a poetry book collection --- oh wait, what about greeting or message cards, as certain lovely ladies have suggested?
Notice that these projects are generally small-scale -- with tasks broken down and doable in fifteen to twenty minutes (making the time is a basic assumption here -- when one commits to a creative life one commits to making time even if it is only fifteen minutes). Convenient enough to slip in during dayjob work breaks (like when I am writing reports). These are the creative projects I have currently defined to match against upcoming dayjob work. I will continue to design new ones so I can have options while maintaining forward movement.
These projects are supplemented by a daily-page practice which serves as an additional anchor into creativity. I will post my tricks for that next.
It is Monday and I woke up feeling well. I was in bed early last night because I still get tired easily from the week-long overtime work. But I got eight hours of sleep so I'm good.
Started off the very early morning (6-ish) with coffee and going through my idea book for what to draw and paint. Then I did emails, and monthly transactions for the accountant, and other small but necessary steps to get quite a number of things moving in one direction or another.
By 9:45AM I was leaving the house for a morning meeting (dayjob work), and it lasted until lunch. I had lunch in the same cafe where the meeting was and I stayed on for a couple more hours to sketch. I completed three new sketches for painting later on.
I also dug out older drawings that I never got the chance to paint when the dayjob projects started to move.
I am not entirely certain what I am rushing towards but I have that tiny core of ripe urgency inside me that is telling me to paint, paint, paint, and to have a body of work ready.
Ready for what? There is the Watercolour Fair on Saturday for which I have much less than I need to fully prepare for. There is the budding idea in my head of just setting up my own small art sale online and at a cafe one Saturday in early December. There is the magical chance that someone, somehow, shows up and asks to either buy all of my paintings (at a very good price) or feature them in an exhibit that will put them on demand (well, one can dream).
But the point is, none of those will happen if there are no paintings to show on hand. New ones. Bigger ones. Continuing to push the known borders of my imagined subjects and their worlds.
So I just listen to that inner song and paint. Show up in front of the canvas or paper. Show up. See. Create.
Poor sleep last night because I have been worrying too much. I'm currently engaged in a day-job project that is on an extremely rushed schedule and I am working with another supplier for the first time. I have no previous reference on how reliable the supplier is on projects like this one. With the time constraints, there is very little room, if any at all, to remedy any failures. I can only hope and pray to the gods.
Meanwhile I am plotting out my own side of the work -- calculating and allotting hours from now until the 6th of November when the project will be concluded. The important thing is to ensure that there will still be creative hours, and that there will be enough mental and physical energy to make use of those hours productively.
I make a big deal of the hours because I have come to the point when missing out on creative practice for any period of time brings on a kind of depression, lethargy, and overall demotivation from life. I also suffer from an unpredictable standstill state that puts on hold any forward progress on my creative journey.
How do I make it work?
I try to keep Mondays as light and free as possible. A heavy Monday can set a heavy mood for the rest of the week. Today I have made a list of very specific small tasks that will keep my day-job projects moving but without eating up too much creative time. I also use the "timespace" to get a feel of how the week will likely flow -- slowing my Monday allows me to gain a proper perspective on the workload. It is difficult to do this when I start Monday rushing around. I have to set the pace today, and I have to start it the moment I get up from bed.
Monday mornings therefore are rituals of transition from the weekend to the working week. Coffee and daily pages. Mind-sweeping with my Wunderlist. Updating my planner. Emails are checked only after I have felt myself settle into the day (usually between 9-10AM). By then I have better control of my thoughts and emotions, and I am less likely to be affected by the urgencies of everyone else. I would have established for myself a solid stance for the day, and thus for the rest of the week.
One thing I learned (the long hard way) when I started working freelance is that the world will not fall apart if I take my time to do things with more care. It sounds easy, obvious, and sensible but I came from a lifestyle and mindset that valued now, now, now no matter what. But these days I will not compromise the quality of my work nor the quality of my life on any project that will not respect the time needed to do things with care (or respect the time I need to take care of myself while I do the work). So far, I still have clients who are willing to work with my terms so I must not be wholly unreasonable.
There are regressions and failures from time to time, when old work habits take over and wreak havoc. The recovery time I need afterwards is too high a price to pay. But I have been getting better at managing my time between creative work and day-job work but it has been a very, very long process. Unlearning and learning. Trials and tests. Experiments. Occasional trips back to square one. This last quarter of the year is one big test as I juggle two day-job projects before the year ends, simultaneous with creative commitments : October Creativity Bootcamp, NaNoWriMo, the Watercolour Art Fair, commission works, and keeping the website alive and active. If I succeed without descending into the usual depths of hell then I may have finally cracked my formula for 2016.
Wish me luck.