Five Ideas for The Twenty-Minute Artist

A couple months ago I visited my friend Lisa Kokin to spend time in her studio with her latest creations, which took weeks and months to make. She had asked me to write an essay for her exhibit catalogue called Panacea Plus, which contained her artwork made out of discarded self-help books. During our conversation about the art she said that a majority of self-help titles contain numbers: ten days to a better this, twelve steps to a better that; five easy whatevers, etc.

This reminded me that I once purchased a book called, The Twenty-Minute Gardener (Addendum: I believe it was actually The Low Maintenance Garden). It assured me that if I pulled up weeds for twenty minutes a day I could take command of my yard. I tried it for awhile, and the claims proved to be true. The key was not to let it get out of control or to a state that would require large blocks of time to fix it. Now, sometimes I want to weed, but I just can't seem to do it.

Obviously, since I let it go, I don't really want to weed. What happens is that I use the time to make art or write instead, because that is what I really want to do. If you look at what you actually do when you have twenty minutes, that will tell you what you want to do. Someone once told me she wanted to write a novel. I asked why she didn't. She said she needed to clear off her desk, and she wasn't going to have time to do that until the spring. It seemed to me that she imagined that she wanted to write a novel, or she intended to write it, but she didn't really want to do it.

She was right that having a specific place to do the task is important. Having a place where you can leave things out is even better. If the tools and materials are accessible, you will be more likely to get back to the project in your spare twenty minutes.

If you really want to write or make art, you must commit to it. If your supplies are visible and accessible, then it will be easier to use your time to create and not to take out and put away again.

In the spirit of the self-help books, here are Five Ideas for The Twenty-Minute Artist:

  1. Gather your supplies and tools in a clear plastic bin and put them where you can see them.
  2. If you paint or work wet or messy, get a vinyl tablecloth and store it in your supply box so you can cover any table and get to work right away.
  3. If you haven't started writing, purchase a plain notebook (not a fancy blank book) and carry it with you; put it by your bed, and write in it every day until you are accustomed to writing large quantities (and without editing).
  4. If you already write, pick one or two places to go where you always do your writing. (I prefer libraries or a quiet room with a window; you might write better in a café or listening to music.)
  5. Twenty minutes of practice isn't really enough time, but it is a good start. After you've got yourself going, try increasing the time to an hour a day. (This works for stretching and walking as well!)

As my neighbor says, "You've got to live life in the cracks." Happy New Year.