I Meant(or) To Do That

Fresh off the phone from a strategy call with my fabulous business coach and I’m marveling at how fortunate I am to have had mentors and coaches involved in the development of my art practice.  What would my practice have been like without the input from these fabulous, talented women?  Frankly, I’d rather not think about it.

The Examined Practice

My first experience working with a mentor was in 2006 with mid-career, Vancouver-based artist Haruko Okano.  I wasn’t actively looking for a mentor at the time but a cohort of mine, artist Sharon Kallis, got it in her head that Haruko had much to share regarding sustainable living as an artist.  Sharon approached Haruko and asked if she would consider mentoring.  Shortly after, a small group of us were beta-testing a mentorship program with Haruko.

It was an intense experience involving much inward reflection, analyzing and charting how I spent my time, and drafting and breaking down a detailed 5 year plan.  I learned a massive amount about myself and my practice and was able to make some big shifts based on the individual and group work.  I’m so grateful that Haruko shared her knowledge with the four emerging artists that were in the group, but I’ve always felt I never really caught the wind under my wings to soar – I was somewhat distracted, navigating through a very difficult patch in my personal life.

A Consistent Practice

In 2011 I decided to enroll in a four-month mentorship program with California-based artist, Michele Théberge.  Michele’s program, titled The Mindful Artist, focused on building a regular, goal-based, sustainable studio practice and was exactly what I needed to push me out of a persistent studio depression.  This second mentorship also called for reflection, but included other practical exercises like organizing and purging your dedicated art-making space, making decisions to either finish or discard old works-in-progress, and digitally formatting your artwork for submissions, the web, and other applications.  Michele shared not only the story of her personal struggles, but was very generous in sharing the many resources that she developed and collected along the way to building her sustainable practice.

Studio Purge 2011

Studio purge inspired by The Mindful Artist mentorship, 2011.

My big take-away from the Mindful Artist was the “make art 15 minutes a day” exercise.  Michele believes that even if you feel you don’t have time to create in your life, making the effort to go to your studio (your desk, your wall!) and creating for even just 15 minutes a day allows you to make big progress within your practice.

In my case, finding time wasn’t the problem – I had made the time by quitting my day job – getting into the studio and getting started was the issue.  My to-do lists always had “studio” on them, but somehow I often reached the end of the day and hadn’t spent any time creating.  As each day went by sans studio it became easier and easier to push “studio” to the bottom of the list, which made it harder and harder to make art!

Practice Priorities: What You Want Versus How You Act

By coming to terms with what I wanted my priorities to be versus what they appeared to be by how I structured my day, I made some shifts and started to put the importance of my studio practice above all else (the laundry, the housecleaning, the interwebs – ah, the perils of having a live/work studio!). “Studio, 15 minutes” topped each day’s to-do list; after breakfast the first thing I would do would be to go into the studio and sit down with the intent to work for 15 minutes.

I discovered that once I got going I would almost always work for an hour or more.  While this may not seem like much, it was super significant at the time – I went from zero hours in the studio per week to 7-10 hours per week.  Once I had carved out a consistent studio presence I increased the hours to meet my goal of 15 creating hours per week during non-deadline times.

[If you try this, you’ll see for yourself firsthand just how much you can actually get done in 15 minutes – it’s surprising.  I’ve also found that promising myself 15 minutes in the studio after supper also turns into an hour or more, so if mornings won’t work for you try working after your evening meal…and then reward yourself with some bad TV ;-)]

Practicing Better Business

In January of 2013 I started working with business coach Leah Goard and I’m loving the different perspective she is bringing to my practice.  I have to admit that I had some initial doubts.  Would a business strategy fit my practice?  It would, of course – my doubts were more a reflection of the fear that my practice wouldn’t fit a business strategy!  It’s only been a few short months since I started the Define, Design, Align program but the shifts -and the speed at which they are happening – is incredible.

Having external input and guidance from someone who’s been there, done that has had such a positive impact on my life and my practice – I’m immensely grateful for the first-rate experiences I’ve had.  If you are struggling or blocked in your practice, I highly recommend taking action.  Instead of floundering or staying stuck on a plateau, consider working with a quality mentor or coach – it may be one of the best investments you ever make in yourself.

Have you ever worked with a mentor or coach?  If yes, how did it help in your development?  If not, how do you think you could benefit by working with a mentor or coach?  Please feel welcome to share your experience in the  comments below.

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