Why you shouldn’t make art every day: focusing on this (instead) changed my life.

People often say you should make art every day. But what if I told you that’s not exactly true? What if, instead, you should set a minimum expectation for making art?

Hey there! 👋 I’m Carrie. Here on Artist Strong, I help self-taught artists with home studios who feel stuck with their art move from wondering what’s next to confidently expressing themselves through unique, original art. To date, thousands have joined the community.

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I know this may sound a bit backwards, I mean, how can a minimum help you show up and make more art? Well. Let’s talk about it. Because it does exactly that.

Before having a child, I was smug. I managed my time well, met many expectations (both my own and others’), and even maintained a social life while working a full-time job and creating art on the side. I remember a fellow teacher, who was also a mother, marveling at how I always had home-cooked food for lunch every day and even planned my meals.

Ha. Ha. Ha. Apparently, I needed some humbling with a dash of humility thrown in for good measure.

I did it all and felt like I could handle anything. Then I had a baby in March 2020. We had just moved across town (and before that, between countries), so we knew NO ONE. Our closest family was a two-day drive away.

It was a blast.

I watched other online art teachers and entrepreneurs celebrate the influx of people open to online learning while I became a milk supply for my little human and couldn’t sleep, even when I had occasional opportunities to sleep.

Needless to say, I could barely find time for art. I could barely find time to shower! There were times when this really had me feeling down, but I found surprising comfort in a book called Atomic Habits by James Clear*. In an early chapter, he talks about something he calls working on your 1%. In his research on people who achieve success (however they define it), they are more likely to show up every day and work on something that would bring them 1% closer to their goals.

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I asked myself, what’s my 1% for my art this week? And all of a sudden, I had the comfort of knowing: (1) I was accomplishing something for my art, even if it was only something small, and (2) this was a proven practice that helped people create success in their lives. I literally cried with relief when I realized I could do that.

I took this as an opportunity to simplify. I pulled out my set of Prismacolor colored pencils I’ve been using on and off for 20 years (no joke) and put away the acrylic paint. I got out my embroidery work and set up my studio in the dining room so I could pop in and use these tools whenever I had a moment.

Something inside me shifted. When I had wrist surgery on my dominant hand, I again asked myself, what’s my 1%? I decided to draw in a small sketchbook with my left hand while I worked on repairing my right one. Some nights it meant two minutes because I was so frustrated with my limited dexterity. Other nights it ended up being more like 15 minutes. Now I have both: a lovely little sketchbook documenting my learning journey and the ability to use both hands when I draw and paint.

This concept of a daily minimum has truly changed my life. When I’m learning something new, I consider the repeated state of frustration and discomfort I’ll be experiencing and create a daily (near-daily) time minimum. It allows me to keep momentum but also take breaks when my head hurts from exploring a new material.

✨ Ready to set your own minimum art expectations and make consistent progress? Tell me about what you’d like to do more of when it comes to your art in the comments below.

For years, I encouraged students to get into a routine of making art with a daily commitment of 15 minutes. Samantha Bennett joined me on the blog years ago and recommended a 15-minute time commitment to goals and tasks plaguing artists. She was referring more to organizing ourselves, but the idea struck me as a great starting point for artists trying to show up more to make their art.

But I kept finding, even with a 15-minute daily goal of making art, artists would give up on the idea. Myself included. Because if I missed even ONE day, I felt like I’d failed at my promise to myself and couldn’t bring myself to show up the next day, knowing I’d already failed at my commitment to myself.

Lots of people set bigger goals for themselves that include hours of daily studio time. And think about it: if your goal is 2 hours of art a day and you “only” make 1 hour 45 minutes of work, are you going to be proud of showing up or are you going to feel like you failed at meeting your expectations?

We set ourselves up to fail.

After reading Atomic Habits, my expectations adjusted. Now I tell people I make art most days and try to have a minimum time of 15 minutes. It sounds simple, but doing this means (1) I have flexibility on the days my life is filled with kid snot or whatever other family crisis sucks up my “free” time and (2) that feeling of “failing” when I miss a day is something I’ve mostly shed.

Side note: Clear also suggests you never miss two days in a row because two misses can lead to a loss of momentum.

A coaching client confided in me,

“It seems like it is very difficult to fully understand the value of doing something creative every day, even a small thing, until you do it. And I say this as someone for whom developing a (mostly) daily practice has been a primary goal for years. You can cognitively understand that the little things add up and still not ‘get it’. It is definitely bigger than the sum of the parts.”

When people talk about making art every day, I think we all get this idea in our heads of sitting in a beautifully lit studio full of room for our supplies and effortlessly making art for hours. And when we start showing up and it’s not all stars and sunshine (not to mention we don’t have hours every day to give to our art), we feel like we’re doing it wrong.

My studio is currently a giant pile of magazine cutouts scattered everywhere with the smell of scented glue sticks filling my room. The cotton candy scent is especially nasty.

This is why I titled this today what I did: you shouldn’t make art every day. You should create a minimum expectation for your art that is possible for the life you lead. AND when you make more than that 15 minutes, or whatever it is, give yourself a high-five. You can and will go above and beyond your minimum; that’s the whole point. You will be amazed at how much progress you make in your learning, specific works, and more.

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Self-Taught to Self-Confident walks you through building strong foundations to draw and paint whatever you want so you can confidently build a practice to show up regularly for your art and begin to explore what you want to say. You will create a series of artworks that reflect your unique style that you can share (and maybe even sell). Hop on a call with me to see if you’re a good fit and walk away with a clear plan for your art today.

When you feel overwhelmed, when life is throwing A LOT your way, and anytime you have other priorities (like family, for example), ask yourself: what’s my 1% for my art this week?

Embracing the concept of a daily minimum has transformed my approach to art and life. It’s not about the pressure to create masterpieces every day, but about showing up consistently, even in small ways. By setting achievable goals and allowing flexibility, we can foster a sustainable and fulfilling art practice. So, the next time life feels overwhelming, remember to ask yourself: what’s my 1% for my art this week? Celebrate every small step, and watch as those tiny efforts compound into significant progress. Keep creating, keep growing, and most importantly, remember you deserve to spend time on something you care about.

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Proudly call yourself an artist.

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