Thursday, 22 December 2011

Motivational Tips for Artists | Watercolour Illustrations

Quit your dilly-dallying! How to Push Through Distractions When Doing Self-Initiated Work

Producing self initiated work can be extremely difficult. For one, theres no time limit. There's no client at the end of the phone waiting for roughs, no printers ready to go to print, no reputation on the line. The hardest thing is to make a promise to yourself and stick to it. Hence, I suppose, why so many new year resolutions are broken, and why people can live their whole lives trapped in unhappy situations - because they haven't been able to make that promise to themselves to do the work and make that change.

ProCATinator. Don't do it.

The important thing, when setting yourself some work to do, is to write yourself a brief just as a client would- detailing the process, the purpose and a deadline for your project. If you want to get really serious, you could even email it to yourself, but, you know, thats only if you're really struggling with motivation. Your brief to yourself is important, you should know exactly what the outcome will be (for example, a book cover) and how much time you intend to give yourself to do it. Theres no point floundering, thinking "I really MUST do some work" and half-heartedly reaching for your sketchbook. If you know you need to improve your portfolio - you need a solid plan of action.

Of course, there are other ways to produce self-initated work. Remember that amazingly inspired evening you had churning out perfect portraits for your portfolio? There are moments in every artists life when an idea or a certain way of working will just come to you. Should you feel that moment bubbling, it's best you make your excuses and run - sprint - home to your desk and work.

Sometimes though, thats not how the world works, and you may be unable to capture inspiration or transport it to your desk. Sometimes you only have a certain window of time to challenge yourself.

That brings me onto the second hardest thing about self initiated work: pressure. You've got a day off work, you've got up early, you've fantasised about painting all week, and you slowly approach your desk... Two hours later, you find yourself on the 257th photo on a school friend's Facebook profile, and you haven't touched your paint pad. You may have discovered your friend's boyfriend has the weirdest nose you've ever seen, but you've also lost two hours that you could have been working.


Look at your brief. Take a few deep breaths. And know your plan of action.

Other tips I find useful, when you find your mouse straying to a social networking site:

  • Listen to an audiobook. Both absorbing and entertaining, a good audio book will keep you at your desk for a lot longer before you'll need a break.
  • Time yourself. Give yourself hourly tasks, set your stop watch, and see how much you can achieve. It's important to know how fast you can physically work for this tip to be beneficial, in order to not get discouraged when a task doesn't get completed.
  • Take breaks. Just as it's important to use time efficiently, it's necessary to take a step back and look at what you've doing. Is it on the right track? Good, carry on. 
  • Be reasonable. If you're really pushing yourself, but the work just isn't coming, or you're having a bad day or you're feeling stressed, accept that maybe today isn't your day. It can be discouraging to carry on and feel that you've achieved nothing. It's ok to give yourself a break, afterall, you were the one who set the brief in the first place! You could use the day to collect inspiration, or to work on the promotion side of things.

I hope you find this useful! Admittedly, this was a post to remind myself how to work, as well as all my lovely readers. As always, feedback is warmly received. How do you keep motivated to produce your own work? Do you have a specific work environment in order to create?


  1. Another great post! I did find it very useful indeed. And I think I should really take some of the advices you have noted here. I am always getting either too distracted by Facebook and Twitter or too inspired by other people's work and spend the whole day looking at their blogs and websites when I could in fact be doing my own thing.

    I like the idea of writing a brief. I think that is the one thing that is lacking in my life.

  2. Thank you thank you! I love that this applies to your photography musings too! I feel useful :)

  3. holly, i love your blog! (and your work, of course) all your posts recently feel like you are talking about ME! this one is especially useful, i always faff when it comes to doing personal projects ... i am meant to be doing one now but instead i'm reading your blog! ha! i'm definitely going to seek out some audio books, never thought of that before!
    and great idea to write your own briefs, i usually just give myself a word as a starting point for a project but it would be so much easier if i gave myself a bit more to work from... so thanks! have a fab christmas X

  4. This is very timely as the LAST thing I want to do tonight is go down to the studio to work! I find that having music on is very helpful, to keep me jamming at my workdesk-the time flys by.

  5. Great post! I often time myself on a day off so that I can fit in smaller less satisfactory tasks too that I know I need to get done. I'm still a terrible procrastinator though!

  6. AnonymousMay 25, 2015

    I can't believe I'm only reading this now! Your post certainly describes how I approach my work. It's really frustrating, realizing that you just spent countless hours surfing the net rather than painting. I'm happy that I've found these tips. Very useful for aspiring illustrators like me.

    I super love your works btw, especially your food illustrations. You're one of the artists that I really look up to :)