How I Tricked Myself into Making Art Again

Being an artist takes time. And I don’t have much. After spending the day managing materials, cleaning my classroom, building a creative curriculum, and living my life, I struggle to prioritize making my own artwork.

But how can I preach what I don’t practice? The Studio Habits of Mind tell us artists persevere and develop their craft. I tell frustrated artists creative thinking is born from struggle and isn’t a magical “aha moment.” Yet, when I go home at night, I drive my million-mile commute and am lucky to get in some exercise and dinner before plopping down in front of the TV or a good book.

Honestly, that’s fine most of the time. But sometimes, when I tell people I’m an art teacher, they ask, “Oh, what kind of art do you make?” and I realize it’s been six months since I’ve made anything!

If this also happens to you, try making art like your students. Here’s how.

clay stamps

Give yourself an “Art Block.”

Having recently had one of these “Am-I-an-artist-who-doesn’t-make-art?” moments, I decided I needed to find a way to break the streak. While brainstorming ideas of how to kick my butt into gear, I mused, “My students are so lucky to have 45 minutes a week where someone forces them to make art…”

Well, this was new. I had never thought of 45 minutes as a lot of time until I realized zero minutes is way less. What if I set aside 45 minutes a week to make something? Not only would this get me making art each week, but what better way to reflect on my students’ art experience than to mirror it?

timer with supplies

De-stress setup and cleanup.

I sometimes joke that my job is 95% cleaning crew. When my students make art their cleanup takes only five to seven minutes and they’re on their way. In order to get myself making art, I either needed to hire a cleanup crew or make setup and cleanup stress-free. I started with a set of pan watercolors, some tiny brushes and some small pieces of nice watercolor paper. I love working with clay and making sculptures but the setup and cleanup just aren’t reasonable on a Wednesday night. I chose high-quality materials so even though not all of my pieces came out amazing, the process felt luxurious and would keep me coming back.

The best part was the cleanup took less than five minutes! This is really what I needed to get me back into “maker mode” without getting overwhelmed.

art space

Sign up for a class.

After a few weeks of doing simple self-directed art projects, I decided it would benefit me to have a teacher giving me some guidelines. After all, I was trying to make art like one of my students.

My 45-minute time limit was about to be demolished, but the Art of Ed Studio: Ceramics class was calling my name. I promised myself that no matter what I would try and keep my making process as short as possible.

The work I created during the ceramics class ended up reflecting my natural, go-with-the-flow style, instead of looking overworked like some of my previous pieces. When I rolled out a slab that was much too thin, I decided to use it instead of rolling it back up and starting over. I let glazes mix and drip into one another creating unexpected outcomes. My work ended up looking delicate, fragile, and organic.

Since I wasn’t afraid of making mistakes, the experiment I thought was going to crash and burn helped me persevere through challenges knowing I couldn’t turn back. It was unbelievably freeing as an artist and it helped me see how my 45-minute classes may be helping students do the same. I also was able to see how much work I was able to complete in 45 minutes, so my expectations for my students and the work examples I created better reflected my students’ time constraints.

By giving myself a time limit, I began to let simple mistakes and imperfections become what drove my creativity. I hadn’t felt this free to make art in a really long time… and I’m talking like as far back as I can remember. I was embarrassed to show what I had made but I reminded myself the people on the other side of the screen were struggling with the same time restrictions, job responsibilities, and insecurity. That’s why taking classes with other art teachers is so great!

By walking a mile in my students’ shoes, I was able to reconnect with my inner artist. I can better understand my students’ struggles and better celebrate my students’ successes. I think that’s well worth the 45 minutes!

Do you suffer from “I’m-an-artist-who-doesn’t-make-art” syndrome?

What have you found helps you make art?

Kelly Phillips

Kelly teaches elementary TAB in Hopkinton, MA . She strives to create an environment where all students can become independent, self-directed risk-takers.

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  • Patti

    Hi Kelly – what a GREAT article! It rings so true. I stare at a painting I started 2 years ago in my classroom every. single. day. I have just the finishing details left but I never seem to ‘find’ time. Marking, cleaning, creating lessons and handouts, running to the art store, setting up displays, making samples, meeting with students, admin, parents,… the list is endless. I keep thinking I’ll make art when I retire but we shouldn’t have to wait that long. Art teachers need to make time for us to grow creatively – and be an inspiration for our students too. Thanks! :)

    • Kelly Phillips

      Thanks Patti! I feel your struggle. We shouldn’t have to wait until we retire to be artists!

      Good luck with the painting!

  • Frances Rice

    This article is so authentically honest, and it’s helpful to know I’m not the only one that struggles with being a facilitator that used to be a creator. More recently I have been able to make art along with my students occasionally, and that sure is fun, and inspiring to do more outside of school. I like your suggestions for ways to encourage your own art making after work!

    • Kelly Phillips

      Thanks so much, Frances! It’s equally nice to know I’m not alone in my feelings about being a creator vs being a facilitator for my kids. So many people on FB talked about making art along with your kids and I’ve not really tried that before, so I’m excited to experiment with that soon!

      Keep on making!!!!

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