Anna Hergert, Art & Design

Tending to the Important Work

End of Days, Elaine Quehl, 2012

It’s time for the June guest blogger contribution. Today I welcome Elaine Quehl from Ottawa. Elaine is a sought after teacher and lecturer. When she is not traveling she is devoted to her studio practice. Elaine is sharing with us her experiences and proven tips on how to stay focused while maximizing creative time!


Do you often find it hard to focus on your art because there is so much else going on in your life?  Do you find that you complete everything on your “to do” list, but leave the important matter of spending time in your studio until you have an empty “to do” list?  I am writing from personal experience here as I sometimes feel like the most easily distracted person when I know that list is calling out to me.

As a traveling teacher, who spends at least three months of the year away from home, that “to do” list can be pretty long when I am home.  If you hold down a full-time job unrelated to your art and have family responsibilities, you may have even more items on your list!  It is always easier to tend to the day-to-day matters on the list because we know how to do these things!  For example, I know how to do the laundry, shop for groceries, update my blog, and prepare teaching contracts, but creating art is a lot more complicated and presents new challenges at every turn.  No wonder we leave it until last!

The chance that we will find our “to do” list empty very often is pretty much nil.  Life is always going to be happening, and if we are going to be artists, we need to learn to create “in the middle of things” (a term coined by Creativity Coach Eric Maisel).  One trick that works for me from time to time is to keep a notepad with me while I’m in the studio.  When nagging thoughts of something I must remember to do plague me, I jot them on the pad so I can let them go without the worry that I will forget them.  This frees up a lot of mental energy and allows me to get back to my art.

Another problem of a busy life is that we lose the momentum when we haven’t been in the studio for a while.  The longer we stay away from the studio, the harder it is to come back.  It is best if we can make a habit of it and keep in touch with our work.  That might be as simple as a 15 minute period to connect with ideas in our sketch book, to flip through our inspirational photos, or to just touch our materials or resume a bit of work on an unfinished piece.  This may be all it takes to reignite the passion.

A number of years ago, before I became a full-time artist and teacher, I had a day job in a part of Ottawa that contains many lovely little cafes.  I started to make a habit of going to one of these cafes with my sketchbook almost every lunch hour for several months.  I was pretty productive during that period, saw some growth in my work, and found myself more motivated to be in my studio in the evening and on weekends.  I was always carrying my art with me in my heart and mind throughout the day as well, as a result of that little check in at lunch.

I find it very easy to lose momentum when I’m away from home for a week or two teaching.  Lately I’ve been trying to build a little down time into my teaching trips if I’m away from home for more than a few days.  That provides an opportunity to keep in touch with my creative work and keep it alive, making it easier to resume studio work when I get home.  On a recent trip I spent half a day playing with designs and sketching during a day off.  When I got home I started in on one of the designs quite quickly without the usual struggle.  You might try a similar idea by scheduling time in your calendar one or two evenings a week.

Finding the quiet to get in touch with our creative selves can present a challenge, especially when we have demanding jobs.  When there is no time for quiet reflection and introspection, it can be much harder to hear the voice that needs to be expressed.

Being short of time can also cause us a lot of anxiety about our art.  If we only have an hour we have to make time count, and we don’t dare waste that precious time making something that doesn’t live up to our expectations.  This pressure is surely the road to procrastination and avoidance of the studio.  We need to remember that even if our work disappoints, as it will from time to time for all of us, that time is not wasted because we will learn from the work, whether it is successful or not.  We have to take the risk.

When you have those short periods in the studio, congratulate yourself for your dedication and discipline.  Even if it wasn’t a successful hour, do not let negative self talk into your life.  Remember there are no “mistakes” in art, only practice, learning opportunities, and creative opportunities. We need to pay attention to what we say to ourselves because it can drive us from the studio and make it all the harder to come back again.  Negative self talk is a huge creativity killer!

Finally, I want to close with a radical thought suggested by Creativity Coach, Eric Maisel.  How many times have you dropped what you are doing to go do something fun, to help someone out, to bear some responsibility?  How about one day giving consideration to just dropping everything to spend time in the studio?  One day I’m going to try this one myself.


Thank you, Elaine! I am sure many of the blog followers can relate to your experience and wise suggestions. Your article has provided a reality check for me… I can’t wait to see what others have to say. Feel free to comment below!


This entry was published on June 14, 2012 at 5:20 am. It’s filed under Art, Design, Guest Blogger and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

14 thoughts on “Tending to the Important Work

  1. Pingback: Celebrating a Fellow Canadian Artist and Teacher’s Success: Elaine Quehl is on the Cover! | Anna Hergert, Art & Design

  2. Joyce on said:

    Hey there Elaine…and Anna too ! Nice to find you here and especially with all the great suggestions . I think the problem with women in general , artists or not, is that we over-fill ALL our time and then wonder why we wear out ! Also, I think prioities come into the equation. If our art is something inside us that cries out to be done , as important to us as breathing, connects us to our very heart and soul, it will not be denied ! We must schedule ample time for this part of us to speak into our work . That being said, procrastination is no stranger to me either ! Be kind to yourselves !


  3. Heather on said:

    Thanks Elaine for the reminder to find time to create amongst everything else life throws us. I think I’ll have to leave a sketch book at the office so I can be creative over lunch.


  4. Linda Dirkson on said:

    Elaine, those words were meant for me today! I have just had two weeks of company and a family wedding which kept me out of my sewing space while I have a piece I needed to be working on. I will not panic and get back at it today!!


  5. Susan Easton on said:

    This is a writing related quote, but I think it applies to any creative form: “Housework is what gets done when the writing is completed.” Unknown


  6. ginger scott on said:

    What a nice piece of inspiration to “do”! Thank you Elaine. We can try to put our art and creativity at the top of our “to do” lists!


    • Glad you found the article inspirational Ginger. Sure, if our art is as important to us as we say it is, then we need to give it the priority it deserves. I can be the Queen of Procrastination at times, but I know a large part about it is because art is harder than the other things I have to do.


  7. Dawn Sare on said:

    The photo of Elaine’s End of Days has me fascinated! I love its simplicity and flow. I am inspired to do a “close up” piece like this. I am sure I have many photos that could be jumping off points.

    I am retired and have more time for art than I used to. Elaine’s post reminds me to make better use of that time.


    • Shirley Ryning on said:

      Thank you Elaine, Your comments about the struggle and lack of focus really applied to me, so I am going to try to be intentional about staying in art. For example I am going to pack my sketch book with me and not come home till something is in it. Where I am at right now art does not come to me as easily as preparing a meal or laundry.
      Thanks for the prod to keep at it.


    • Thank you Dawn. I am learning that simplicity can be beautiful.


      • Shirley, these comments apply to everyone who is an artist. It is all part of the process, the things we all struggle with. Best thing with the sketchbook is to not get too attached to outcome. I can really put off my sketchbook work if I think what I’m going to be doing there has to be a masterpiece. It doesn’t. It is all practice. Elaine


Share your thoughts...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: