Time Spent Working, Breaks, and Attention Span vs Art
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Thread: Time Spent Working, Breaks, and Attention Span vs Art

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    Icon Time Spent Working, Breaks, and Attention Span vs Art

    Okay so, I have this little problem. I have long called myself an artist, and I make art. Sometimes I even get some money for it. However, I really want to push myself a little harder, and to accomplish more original pieces, since so many artists don't have that luxury and I do! And I know even freelance/ independent artists need to work a great deal of hours during the week to be successful and I understand that. Likewise, I know that relatively few great pieces have been accomplished in a very short period of time. Compound that with the fact that I want my art to improve exponentially more than it does now, and you have one frustrated chick... because of the following:

    My problem is that I find my attention span too short to sit down and work for six to eight hours straight on a piece- and short breaks don't cut it either. It's not that I dislike what I'm doing, it's just that I'm not stimulated by rendering all the little details in my piece, and mentally, I get extremely bored. I start daydreaming, lose focus, make mistakes, and often get sidetracked doing something else for hours because I got out of what I was supposed to be doing. My upper reservoir of attention span is approximately four hours, but more commonly, I can only work for an hour or two at a time. I'm wholly enamored with the creative process, sketching and putting down new ideas for pictures, but really battle with finishing things to the degree of detail I think is necessary. Has anyone else conquered a problem like this, or do you have suggestions?

    I'm considering that I might begin using a timer, and every hour or so, even if I don't feel bored yet, stop to do a sketch or study, or two, for up to another hour, stopping when I feel as though I've gotten the little nagging ideas onto paper, and then returning to working on the piece I'm detailing. It's just an idea, though, and I don't know if I'd make any more progress on individual pieces this way. I mean eight hours of work, of which four hours are sketches, is still only giving me an upper attention span of four hours for a single piece. Then again, it could get me working at my upper levels of attention span more often, which would result in more work. I'd also have a lot of unfinished sketches and cool ideas, which might frustrate me, but eeh, that's better than me farting off to play a video game, isn't it?

    Sorry if this is a little wordy. I just think this discussion could be relevant to more than myself, and that it'd be good to hear the mental and organizational methods by which others get themselves to sit and do the "99% perspiration" end of art.

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    You must learn discipline. Yeah, after 4 hours it becomes boring, even if you are the most passionate artist ever. Here the amateur and the hobbyist like me will most likely stop and have 5 hours break. But the professional can't afford that much time. He must continue even if he doesn't "feel like it" else he can't buy food for dinner.

    Art is art...but it's also a profession, and your profession won't always be supper funny and interesting. The average work day for most professions is 8 hours + 30 min/1h break in the middle. By the end of these 8 hours everything will be annoying, but it's something you must do, else your boss will fire you. Freelance is good, because you can't be fired, but it's bad because there's none to teach you discipline.

    The best way to learn professional discipline is by imagining freelance is like every other profession. Wake up an 07:00, drink your coffee, take a shower, read your newspaper and in 08:00 imagine that your work day has begin. For the next 4 hours you must draw/paint whatever. You can go to the toilet, drink a glass of water, but if you are away more than 5 min your boss will notice and won't be happy. At 12:00 take a break for another coffee and sandwich or whatever. Draw a sketch if you want or if it's possible go outside for a walk. At 13:00 you must return to your "office" and even if don't feel like it you must draw for the next 4 hours. At 17:00 your work day is over, prepare your dinner, watch your favorite tv show and get in bed early, because the next morning you must be ready to begin at 08:00 again.

    Since there's not really a boss to watch out for you it's up to you to make sure you are not slacking. Every time you feel like you want to stop and go watch tv, imagine that your boss enters in the room with cruel smile on his face and asks you how it is going. If you are surgeon you can't say "I don't feel like completing this operation, maybe i should leave it like that and start another one".

    Hope this helps somehow

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    or find a way to shorten the time you need to finish a piece.
    i doubt every object in the work needs the same amount of attention, so it might work as well if you only render the points you want to focus attention full, and keep the rest a little bit less finished. I think that might even be more interesting then render everythnig maximally.

    its not so strange you get bored, and if you get bored thats usually a sign you are doing something you dont really like, and then its time to find a way to avoid that without losing quality.

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    Ritalin. Hehe!!

    I have times where I can't sit still or can't concentrate, but I think that's normal for a man, depending on how long it has been. Hehe!!

    Sometimes this can be caused by coffee or just not having had time to slow down a little.

    Chill, put on some music, open a beer.

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    Scetchbook: View the exhibitionist's stuff.
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    I generally use a timer, that I set on 45:15 minutes, where 45 are work without opening any im/web-browsers/rss-reader, whatever, and 15 minutes is a break from all painting work.

    Start scheduling and write down a list of what you've done for a day, keep it around for a week and constantly look there -
    you'll be surprised by how much faster your work gets done.

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    four random crashes, three broken brushes, two system hangups & one corrupted workspace
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    When you gotta meet a deadline, then you're often going to have to keep plugging away on something even if it's not what you feel like working on at the moment. (I know for me if I'm working on something that I'm really into, I can go for hours and hours without realizing it. But quite often I'll be working on a project and wishing I was working on something else instead, and then it's hard to stay focussed.)

    One thing that helps me is setting a goal for total work time in the day. I tell myself I need to get at least eight hours of work done every day, and then track my time whenever I work. If I take a break for an hour, then I need to make it up with another hour of work. (The eight hours may get spread out over the day, but I try to get them done one way or another.)

    Another thing that sometimes helps me is having music playlists that I'm only allowed to listen to when I'm working. This gives me an incentive to do my work - if I want to listen to my favorite music, I gotta work!

    Setting a regular work schedule helps a lot of people, too - set aside a time of day when you're officially "at work" for eight hours, with an hour lunch break, and stick to it. Make it your job. Maybe even get dressed for it, and set aside a dedicated work space to make it more official.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ikken View Post
    I generally use a timer, that I set on 45:15 minutes, where 45 are work without opening any im/web-browsers/rss-reader, whatever, and 15 minutes is a break from all painting work.
    Seconding this, I do it with 35 minutes concentrated work and 5 -10 minutes breaks for stretching. Every 2- 3 hours I get out of the room and take a short walk.

    Another thing that sometimes helps me is having music playlists that I'm only allowed to listen to when I'm working.
    I do that with audio books - cliffffhangers


    I also divided my day into 4 hours morning work and 4 hours night work - in the morning I do boring work like painting details or inking lines but also writing mails. At night I do creative work, rough sketches.

    I just took a break to post this.
    But sometimes I also draw stuff
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    Do whatever works for you. Just be aware that, in a professional context, sometimes you just have to produce X amount of work in X amount of time, like it or not (and it has to be good work, too). As Chuck Close says, "inspiration is for amateurs."

    Last edited by Elwell; May 14th, 2010 at 12:16 PM.

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    Elwell: that is one hell of a quote! So inspiring!!!!

    You can talk the talk, but can you walk the walk?

    My Sketchbook: http://conceptart.org/forums/showthread.php?t=164393

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    You could always work on more than one piece at a time and limit the time allowed on each, that way you'll be gagging to get back to it the next day.


    I didn't think it was possible to be called an artist when you have nothing to say. It's like being a writer who publishes individual words as books and expects to be praised for it.
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    Suffer the pain of discipline or suffer the pain of regret.

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    I do greatly appreciate the calls to discipline, but they're unnecessary, as I think the nature of my post was in the vein of how to develop discipline in the first place. You don't teach a man to fish by telling him "Go fish". You show him how to thread a hook and put on proper bait.

    But hey thanks to everyone! I really like the comments by those I thanked. Ikken, working on a pretty short schedule (although I can't say this tack would be effective for me, I think it'd probably just distract me for too long). QueenGwenevere and Kiera's suggestions of special playlist and audiobooks !!!! are amazing. I'd never thought of that at all. Totally the kind of ideas I'm looking for. A'many thanks so far.

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    But you do develop the discipline to go fishing, by going fishing, not by reading posts about going fishing.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chef Zomagic View Post
    I do greatly appreciate the calls to discipline, but they're unnecessary, as I think the nature of my post was in the vein of how to develop discipline in the first place. You don't teach a man to fish by telling him "Go fish". You show him how to thread a hook and put on proper bait.

    But hey thanks to everyone! I really like the comments by those I thanked. Ikken, working on a pretty short schedule (although I can't say this tack would be effective for me, I think it'd probably just distract me for too long). QueenGwenevere and Kiera's suggestions of special playlist and audiobooks !!!! are amazing. I'd never thought of that at all. Totally the kind of ideas I'm looking for. A'many thanks so far.
    You're right. One can't learn discipline on their own because it is a trained skill. Like you, I used to be very good at discipline years ago and focused on my work with such detail. These days, it has been a challenge and I'm trying to regain that level of discipline and re-direct myself back on the right track. EDIT: I'm somewhat in the same boat as you're in.

    But your situation sounds like either you have anxiety or have some form of ADHD (adult deficit hyperactive disorder). You might want to look into it and get that under control. Or if it's not ADHD, it might be you're easily distracted?

    These days, I go fencing (yes, as in swords) once a week in class and just bought myself a rowing machine for home use to exercise and may have to take Tai Chi soon for the summer since fencing season ends by then. Fencing is a discipline for me to stay in shape and to get the technique of blade and footwork down. Plus, dueling's a lot of fun.

    You need to balance your art at home and getting yourself out of the house. Don't be a hermit working slavishly at your studio because that sense of isolation will drive you mad without any social contact. But your idea of using a timer is not a bad idea.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Pilgrim1099 View Post
    You're right. One can't learn discipline on their own because it is a trained skill. Like you, I used to be very good at discipline years ago and focused on my work with such detail. These days, it has been a challenge and I'm trying to regain that level of discipline and re-direct myself back on the right track. EDIT: I'm somewhat in the same boat as you're in.

    But your situation sounds like either you have anxiety or have some form of ADHD (adult deficit hyperactive disorder). You might want to look into it and get that under control. Or if it's not ADHD, it might be you're easily distracted?

    These days, I go fencing (yes, as in swords) once a week in class and just bought myself a rowing machine for home use to exercise and may have to take Tai Chi soon for the summer since fencing season ends by then. Fencing is a discipline for me to stay in shape and to get the technique of blade and footwork down. Plus, dueling's a lot of fun.

    You need to balance your art at home and getting yourself out of the house. Don't be a hermit working slavishly at your studio because that sense of isolation will drive you mad without any social contact. But your idea of using a timer is not a bad idea.
    Huh, I do have general anxiety. I was not aware that that could affect one's attention span. I'll go read up on that, ty.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chef Zomagic View Post
    Huh, I do have general anxiety. I was not aware that that could affect one's attention span. I'll go read up on that, ty.
    No problem, Chef. It's probably anxiety but if it's something more than that, I recommend this book at:

    http://www.amazon.com/Da-Vinci-Metho.../dp/0977486001

    It's titled the Da Vinci Method which I have a copy of and it's excellent reading. The author does raise some interesting points about distractable creatives. It's not an end all be all book but at least, it does provide a good sense of direction.

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    I think that there are at least two more possibilities here besides "learning discipline".

    One: rotate between several jobs each day. Don't give yourself enough time with each one to get bored. If you spend three hours on one painting, three hours on another, and then sketch some, you won't have enough time with each one to get bored.

    Drawback: you'll need several different pictures to work on, and an ability to switch between them. Also, it's hard to pull it off with a tight deadline.

    Two: find ways to work faster. Technical tricks, learning to balance the detail level, learning to fool the eye into seeing more than you put in, etc. - and just plain training for speed. You'll accomplish more in less time and so avoid some chances to get bored.

    Drawback: can take a while till you get significant improvement in speed.

    There is also three: learn to enjoy the process, all parts of it, even the "boring" ones.

    Last edited by arenhaus; June 5th, 2010 at 03:56 AM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by arenhaus View Post
    There is also three: learn to enjoy the process, all parts of it, even the "boring" ones.
    I don't think that's 100% possible with everything... Some things involve a certain amount of inevitable boring grunt-work. (Gessoing canvases; scanning and cleaning linework; fixing anchor points in Flash; filling in flats for comic-style coloring... all that kind of thing. Tedious stuff that's not actually drawing or painting but needs to get done to finish the job.)

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    A very interesting Thread. I think a lot of people in general not just artists struggle with this. And like everything else in this world; there isn't just one answer to the problem.

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    I suggest reading "Flow" for how to make boring tasks fun: http://www.amazon.com/Flow-Psycholog...4053258&sr=8-1

    and chapter 8 of the 50th law http://www.amazon.com/dp/006177460X on how to shut up and put in the work.

    "You have some large goal that you wish to achieve in your life, something you feel that you are destined to create. If you reach that goal, it will bring you far greater satisfaction than the evanescent thrills that come from outside diversions. To get there you will have to learn a craft – educate yourself and develop the proper skills. All human activities involve a process of mastery. You must learn the various steps and procedures involved, proceeding to higher and higher levels of proficiency. This requires discipline and tenacity – the ability to withstand repetitive activity, slowness, and the anxiety that comes with such a challenge.”


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    I really dislike the general advice like the idealistic "go draw" since most artists who gave advice already have a steady level of drawing and discipline and since most of the advice is just common sense.. I like the practical advice a lot more-
    please, post some more tips how you make the process even more comfortable and enjoyable, how to keep the focus longer and how to make the boring tasks a bit more interesting.

    I just took a break to post this.
    But sometimes I also draw stuff
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    *gasp* So I'm not the only one with that problem :')

    I have that problem too. I quit going to the art studio in hopes that I can make the same epic art that I do there at home. Unfortunately I wasn't successful and decided to go back since my skills were declining. I've gotten too dependent on the art studio...

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    I find that after I havn't done a big work in a while I have to get "fit" again, like a long distance athlete has to train before doing a marathon.

    I know this sounds like another one of those "just practice and you'll get it eventually" answers that we all hate, but sadly it's the truth. Good news is that it does get easier the more you do it (well atleast it does for me)

    Just find your rythm.

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    I have a problem with a chronic lack of motivation. I love art, I love doing it and I love that I can do it for a job, but I'm nowhere near the level I feel I should be at. I'm riding on pure talent, not actual hard work. If I could do the hard work... dang. I'm improving however.

    I basically have your problem. The issue here is that discipline is a catch 22 situation - you can't sit down and be disciplined unless you're disciplined enough already to discipline yourself to be disciplined. You can't "just do it" because your lack of the ability to just do it is exactly the problem! In short, discipline cannot be gained without discipline.

    This is what's helped me however: you do have a little discipline. Like a muscle, it grows with exercise. So here's what you do. When you're getting bored, you force yourself to do five more minutes. Just five more. It's easy to discipline yourself to do five minutes even if you're a super lazy person like me. By the end of that five minutes you may well be on a roll again, but you have to stop. Force yourself to stop. Every time you discipline yourself to do something small like this that is within your capacity to make yourself do, you grow that muscle. Soon you can easily force yourself to do ten minutes more. Then half an hour. Then one hour... etc. Remember also to force yourself to take breaks, I do that every hour or every half hour if I'm having a bad day, but I always make sure I get back to it.

    That's been key for me. Add to that things like writing down a schedule - the mere act of looking at it is often enough to get you going. Add rewards, once you have the discipline in small things to be able to deprive yourself of something (internet, music...) until you've achieved a time or work result target. Etc. etc.

    Hope that helps

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    Quote Originally Posted by ijacobs9 View Post
    I know this sounds like another one of those "just practice and you'll get it eventually" answers that we all hate, but sadly it's the truth. Good news is that it does get easier the more you do it (well atleast it does for me)
    Quoted for truth.

    You just have to force yourself to go through that pain. It gets easier every time, until it becomes a habit. Quit whining about tricks for discipline, there are none, otherwise success would be common.

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    Karmazon there is no instant fix, but there are certainly things you can do to make it easier. May as well do them if you're struggling.

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    Quote Originally Posted by vijil View Post
    Karmazon there is no instant fix, but there are certainly things you can do to make it easier. May as well do them if you're struggling.
    Certainly, but you already know the things that make it easier for you. Listening to favorite music, or audiobooks, doing it at a certain time of the day etc. No one else knows what things make it easier for you. Besides that it's 5% pleasure and 50% pain, no tricks.

    I don't know if you lift weights, but a core idea of bodybuilding is something called progressive overload. Your body will adapt over the long run to any stimulus you subject it to. Therefore, to get bigger or stronger, you must regularly progress the load, e.g. lift heavier weight. I like the comparison of discipline to a muscle because I find it true in my experience. And with discipline you must use the principle of progressive overload too. If you only have an attention span of an hour, push yourself to work for 2 hours for a week or two. Your mind will adapt, and when it does, push yourself to work for 3 hours, and so on, until you reach your desired load and then it turns into a habit which you do automatically.

    Last edited by karmazon; May 17th, 2010 at 09:13 PM.
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    That's pretty much what my first post was about.

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    Quote Originally Posted by vijil View Post
    That's pretty much what my first post was about.
    Goddamnit, I thought I was being witty.

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    Quote Originally Posted by karmazon View Post
    Certainly, but you already know the things that make it easier for you. Listening to favorite music, or audiobooks, doing it at a certain time of the day etc. No one else knows what things make it easier for you. Besides that it's 5% pleasure and 50% pain, no tricks.

    I don't know if you lift weights, but a core idea of bodybuilding is something called progressive overload. Your body will adapt over the long run to any stimulus you subject it to. Therefore, to get bigger or stronger, you must regularly progress the load, e.g. lift heavier weight. I like the comparison of discipline to a muscle because I find it true in my experience. And with discipline you must use the principle of progressive overload too. If you only have an attention span of an hour, push yourself to work for 2 hours for a week or two. Your mind will adapt, and when it does, push yourself to work for 3 hours, and so on, until you reach your desired load and then it turns into a habit which you do automatically.
    I like that comparison. I've been working a lot more, though in sporadic bursts, since this thread, and feeling less stressed doing it.

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