The Art of Focus

Before I became an artist I was a full-time photographer – also art, just a different genre!  I loved photographing weddings and enjoyed the adrenaline rush of being in the moment and capturing the emotions and smiles.  But the wedding was just the starting point and the real work was the hours spent behind a screen to edit and sort and prepare the images.  I quickly found that just working tired my mind quickly and I would soon struggle to really focus on the job at hand.

In a way this certainly prepared me for being an artist – I had to develop ways to occupy my mind while enabling myself to create.  You almost have to actively seek ‘the zone’ in which you relax into your art and the hours slip away almost unnoticed.  We all have different tactics, and so I decided to put the question to our very own prestigious Artsavingsclub Brand Ambassadors…

Our Illustration Guy – Christi:

Christi on Focus
Christi’s illustration

Working from a home studio, like I do, can get pretty isolated.  For me, it’s incredibly important to have ‘background noise’ at all times to keep my mind stimulated while my hands do the work.  Music plays a big role in the work that I do, and while I absolutely love listening to music while I work, I also don’t want to only listen to music in fear of ruining my favourite albums through overplaying them.  I usually start the work-day with music to get me in the groove, but have a tendency to switch to playing dialogue-heavy movies, documentaries, and/or audiobooks in the background to keep me focussed and to help break the silence.  Discovering documentaries that I find particularly inspiring or motivational is a huge bonus, such as “The Life and Art of Jim Lee” documentary, which often finds its way into my playlist – it never gets old!  YouTube is also a great resource filled with awesome presentations and recorded lectures by professional designers and illustrators that also feature quite often.  Every day is different through, and my ‘background noise’ for the day is often dictated by the type of work that needs to be done.  All of that aside, I also often make use of the Pomodoro technique to help stop myself from burning out throughout the day – apps like FlowTimer and Bear Focus Timer are essential for this.  In a nutshell it involves 25 minute work intervals, separated by short 5 minute breaks to keep your your mind stay focussed on the task at hand.

The Paint Pro – Malcolm:

Malcolm on Focus
Malcolm’s painting

Getting into focus is a ritual process that does evolve over time.  For years it was important for me to paint every day.  So this meant getting in front of the easel no matter what.  Pushing through the bad moods too.  Once the first few paint strokes are flowing focus kicks in and the meditative quality of creating sustains you. Picasso said inspiration finds you when you are already working.  This is true.  Over time my approach has changed.  Now I prepare mind and body in advance.  Take a morning walk.  Calm the mind.  Think about why I want to paint the next painting.  When I have my ideas in place I can start making art.  The flow begins before I pick up a brush.  Environment is important too.  My studio must be comfortable, sunny (so that the natural light is warm) and peaceful.  I get typical procrastination traps out of the way like snacking and so on.  My dog settles down on her blanket.  I put on music to keep the energy going.  This could be classics, blues, jazz or rock. Whatever grabs me at the time.  Turn off the cellphone’s sound.  Then start with intention.  I like to work quickly with bold strokes.  This means short periods of concentration filled with large brushwork.  If all goes well a small painting is nicely established within an hour.  If so I will put it aside to finish later that day or over the next few days.  I will then start another painting.  Same process.  In this way I can manage two or three paintings a week that I am happy with.

The Pencil Nerd – Henriëtte:

I’ve decided to be really honest here and while I would love to paint a picture of a serene artist completely in touch with her work, it would be a blatant lie!  I’m a mom and a wife and an artist and blog coordinator here at Artsavingsclub, and with all of these roles come a set of responsibilities.  My phone is probably my biggest nemesis with what feels like a bombardment of a bazillion WhatsApps from school groups each day – each sport, each grade, each class, the debate team…  There is no alternative for me than putting the phone on silent and hoping the world doesn’t expire in the meantime!  To this end I have downloaded an app called ‘Forest’ which reminds me to leave my phone alone for a set time interval.  Its not a failsafe, but its a gentle reminder to focus on the art at hand.  Afternoons are also usually a challenge as I am driving to school and back for the school activities and as we stay on a farm, its usually not a quick trip.  In between its homework and studying.  I attempt to schedule my admin duties during the afternoons as I can take my laptop wherever I go and work from there.  Many of these blogposts have been done while waiting in the car at school!

Henriette on Focus
Henriëtte’s sketch

My mornings start early and I luckily have a supportive husband who understands the importance of me being able to sit down and work consistently.  I can easily concentrate for two or three hours while listening to audiobooks and often will even forget to eat!  Audiobooks really work for me as can just listen without looking up at all and I even find myself wanting to sit down and draw so I can hear the rest of the story!  I do love a good documentary too, but have found that I still want to look up at the screen from time to time and therefor prefer podcasts to movies these days.  I have come to realise that I’m a morning person and therefor I make sure mornings are as productive as they can be.  Being an artist is hard work and as with any other ‘job’ it needs dedication and perserverance and a commitment to work a set amount of hours each day.  I can only focus when I know my family and their priorities are taken care of, and therefor I consciously schedule time for it.  In my life its not so much a case of trying to focus, as managing distractions!

My biggest hurdle is often the frantic feeling bordering on hyperventilating when I know I have commission deadlines and the world seems to conspire to work against my best efforts.  Its in those moments that I struggle to concentrate even when I have an hour or two to really work.  My mind is then my biggest enemy and I have to fight the urge to rush through something that doesn’t allow rushing.  In those moments I listen to calming music – I simply adore Spotify for this.  Spotify is a free app offering extensive lists of mood music and have a whole folder dedicated to focus.  These playlists cover everything from more zen instrumentals to quiet folk music.

I really hope this post has helped you a little if you are struggling to just sit down and get your art mojo going.  Chatting to our Brand Ambassadors always energises and inspires me and I am grateful for the time taken to answer my question.  Thanks guys!

Now back to work – let me get my focus on!

Leave a Reply