Regardless of preferred medium, many artists don’t make art full time. And finding a nice balance between having a job while also being an artist can be easier than one might think. Just ask artist and doctor, Jacob Aguiar. Aguiar commutes almost two hours a day to see patients at a busy naturopathic medical clinic four times per week — while spending an additional half day doing paperwork and prepping for more patients. However, for the past few years, he has also been teaching pastel classes and workshops.
“I’ve gotten in the habit of going around the room and having folks introduce themselves,” says Aguiar. “A pattern that I very quickly recognized is that, like me, most pastelists have a job on the side.”
Realizing he was not alone in the desire to successfully manage work and art, Aguiar wanted to share the techniques he has gathered over the years as a way to maximize his time spent making art.
“These techniques began as a way for me to balance my hectic work and personal life, while maintaining an active artistic life,” explains Aguiar. “If you asked my wife, she’d call me obsessive, but I like to think I’m passionate. And that passion has driven me to implement these techniques regularly.”
Below, Aguiar shares his tips for finding harmony between your day job and your art.
1. Do 20- to 30-minute timed studies, without prep work
Most of the time, I try to be a good boy and do my notans and values studies prior to painting; however, in a time crunch, I realized these preparatory stages were enough of an obstacle to prevent me from painting at all. It seemed like it was “all or nothing.” I needed at least a four-hour chunk of time to paint.
Now, I still do notans for larger pieces. But if I only have an hour or hour and a half, I’ll try to squeeze in two or three timed studies working no larger than 6 x 9 inches. Often these little gems are 4 x 6 or 5 x 7. I tend to lean toward simple compositions that don’t require complex drawing when doing these timed studies.
2. Always have a palette and painting gear ready to go
I have a large Heilman pastel box, as well as a box with complete sets of Nupastels and Cretacolor hard pastels broken in thirds, that live in my car. I also keep in my car my travel easel and everything I need to complete a painting as well.
I’ve even gone so far as to store a Holbein watercolor kit with an Arches watercolor paper block in one of my drawers at work. I’ve found that the thought of spending even 10 to 15 minutes to collect my painting gear is enough to prevent me from painting.
By removing the gear-preparation obstacle, I’ll paint at work during a lunch break, or on my commute home if a scene is compelling enough. I often pick up dinner at the local market and then drive straight to one of my favorite marshes. My wife and dog will sometimes meet me there for a family dinner. Which leads to my next tip.
3. Keep painting clothes in the car
When I’m finished at the office, I can change out of work clothes and into my painting gear. This allows me to bypass driving home right after work, and removing the temptation to stay inside watching Netflix or Hulu.
4. Learn to love what’s local
It’s easy to be enamored with spectacular scenes like the Grand Canyon or the cliffs and crashing waves of Big Sur, yet many of us live in more modest locales. Painting what’s right outside your back door (or just down the street) is a great way to maximize limited time.
I’m “that guy” who sets up his easel and paints the birches in a neighbor’s yard or a garage with beautiful morning light striking it.
5. Teach or join a class
This point was key for me. Last winter I began teaching a regular Saturday morning class at a local studio. Knowing that I’d be starting the class with a demonstration, I wasn’t comfortable not having painted since the previous Monday.
I’d start to paint on Thursday and Friday nights as warm-ups to the class. There’s nothing like a little fear of demo failure to motivate mid-week painting.
6. Set goals and clear intentions
This is the most important technique I implement in every aspect of my life. This allows me to grow continually as a husband, friend, artist and doctor. It has motivated me to paint on a regular basis, and has allowed me to find modest success in doing so. Some books that may inspire you as they have inspired me are Five (Compendium, Inc., 2009) and Write It Down, Make It Happen.
Writing down your goals activates a part of the brain that then allows you to recognize how even minor events can assist you in reaching your goals. Since my sophomore year of high school, I’ve been the odd person who loves to set goals and see them come to fruition.
I attribute many of the successes I’ve had in life to the inarguable benefit of establishing very clear and definite goals and intentions. Don’t forget: In order for a goal to move you to action, it should be at least a tad scary!
I hope this advice helps you establish a more consistent painting practice while maintaining your day job. None of this is rocket science, yet seeing ideas that have proven helpful for someone else may be enough to motivate you to take action.