Every artist who makes it far enough past the “hobby” stage of an art career will typically have a set of practices that are specific, clear and focused. I’ve found a few such things that consistently work when I have to commit to doing creative work of any kind. Creative work is deep work, often an extremely fragile endeavor, a spell that can be broken by the smallest of distraction. Getting into a state of flow usually takes a significant investment of time and concentration before you can disconnect—from the remembered voices of friends, family, movies, tv shows, social media and the rest of everyday life—to swim inward and listen to the silence.
It's dangerous to start without a few specific things in place: it's easy to burn through cash and time in studio rent, materials and therapy bills by not optimizing for the work. After much trial and error, I've learned to plan adequately for the journey with own routines and rituals that work in a couple of different ways. When I begin, they are a signal to the unconscious to prepare for creative work ahead. The habits and routines are confirmation that the coast is clear, that all parties are ready to proceed.
The first thing I do is a clean-up, not only for the work space, but around my life in general. Cleaning the home and studio is straightforward: everything that needs to be put back in its proper place—or disposed—is visible and unambiguous. I plan for those moments when—deep in creative work—I might start to wonder if I paid the bill, picked up the milk, whatever. This is a good time to take care of the shelf that needed to go up, or a hinge needs oiling. Procrastinating? Possibly. Or more just a ritual that creative people have to go through to get to the important stuff. These are small things that occasionally threaten to become bigger in my mind once I’ve started to settle into a groove. So I get them out of the way or commit to postponing them.
Stock up on the things I will need to get through the entire process. With digital media, there’s not much to consider—software is already bought (although sometimes I might have to locate old files). When I am making paintings or drawings however, not being able to find the right brush, or not having the three comfortable t-shirts on hand to cycle through over the 2-3 day period is something to manage, so I avoid the possibility of disappointment and disruption by taking care of this ahead of time.
As above, this is in addition to my journals: I like to keep reference material for the pictures I'm going to make. Printouts of my own reference photography, my own notes, magazines, drawings, inspirational writings and other pieces that I want to absorb and work with along the way.
Getting clear with everything outside the creative work is the beginning of the heavy lifting in creative work. Preparation is everything: it is much more reassuring to start work when I have diligently followed a particular set of routines.
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
Preparation and strict adherence to the order of phases is key to ensuring that all of my routines play out straightforwardly. Managing the time and priorities before and after these creative work periods makes all the difference. If I have less to manage in the beginning, I can reset faster when life intervenes. As I talk to other artists and designers, I come across more and more interesting information about how they go about their processes. Anticipating obstacles is part of the process. The quality of their processes depend on the hours they keep, the hours they sleep, their household priorities, jobs, and even the weather.
Everyone has their own way of managing their life and work, some rituals are a lot more labored and time-consuming, some significantly less. The rituals are there to ensure that any creative person, no matter their temperament, can show up consistently to do the work, and use that time and energy optimally.