Mid Week Studio Peek

I’ve been so excited lately as I make progress on the bats that I’m procrastinating on other aspects of my practice, just so I can spend a few more hours a day creating.

Detail of a couple hundred faces on my work table.

Discovering that I am still excited about the project after grunting away at it for 6 months is encouraging (there was a while when I wondered if I would survive the tedium and burnout of making hands).

Six months, in the grand scheme of things, is nothing.  Plenty of artists spend years – even decades – seeing projects through to completion.  Compared to them, my latest sculptural piece is a flash-fry in the studio.  But working on a project of this scale and scope is completely new to me and I was concerned when, a few months ago, I felt my inspiration for the project slipping.

As I’m negotiating my way through this unfamiliar process I’m realizing what it takes to stay focused and emotionally attached to a work that I won’t see completed for another year.  Like the moon in the sky, motivation and inspiration during a long-term project will wax and wane.  Sometimes it will be entirely visible in the forefront, sometimes it will be almost wholly shadowed and hanging on by a fingernail.

The key to working on a long-term project that requires many repetitive tasks?  You must find your flow/limit balance.

In my experience, the more often you repeat a task the more efficient you become at it.  Not only do you become faster at it, your execution of the task becomes better – you improve in both speed and skill.  If I were to make each figure whole one-by-one before moving on to the next it would take me much longer to complete the project than the way I’m working now – like a factory machine in full flow, completing bulk portions of the figures in assembly-line fashion.

There is a point, however, when the machine performing the repetitive task (aka, my body) threatens to break down.  Too much of the same motion results in burning back and neck pain, stiff hands, cramped fingers, and – maybe the most crucial of all – a faltering attitude.  To avoid the breakdown – and possibly a trip to my physio – I switch things up; stop the flow of one task and replace it with another.

On a microcosm level this means splitting studio work into portions that are punctuated by non-studio tasks (walking the dog, household tasks, computer work).

Macrocosmically it means taking a leave of absence from that particular studio task, a hiatus where I’ll switch to performing a task that has a higher satisfaction quotient attached to it.  Personally, higher SQ is generally ascribed to a task where I can see quick progress, i.e. prepping heads for 500 figures takes a fraction of the time that it takes to prep hands/feet for 500 figures, so for me, making heads has a higher SQ.

Trimmed, pinned, and ready to sew.

I think monitoring flow/limit and alternating high SQ tasks with lower SQ tasks will help to keep my attitude keen over the next 12 months as I slowly and surely make progress on my 1,000 bats.

Do you work on long-term projects?  What have you learned from the process – what strategies do you use to keep yourself inspired and motivated from beginning to end?  Please share your experience in the comments.

One Response to “Mid Week Studio Peek”

  1. David Gowman says:

    Aliens are stalking youuuuuuu!!!!
    Just kidding.
    I have the luxury of producing an endless series of small shows that will, when I am dead, be seen as my larger work. Certainly the product continues to develop into a larger and more complex (and hopefully better) work. When the ennuie comes to claim me, I respond by doing something totally unrelated, like flintknapping, until the feelings of worthlessness overwhelm me and I return to that thing I’m supposed to be doing.