Productivity for Artists: 3 Simple Changes to Make More Art

3 Simple Changes to Make More Art. Christine Nishiyama, Might Could Studios.

The other day I realized something: I’m drawing more now than I ever have in my entire life. More than in middle school when I was obsessed with copying Pokemon and Sailor Moon. More than in college when I had less worries and responsibilities. Even more than when my biggest freelance client was in the UK and I was done with work each day by noon.

That realization got me thinking: What changed to allow me to draw more? Where did this more extreme motivation to draw come from? Why does it feel easier and more enjoyable to draw now?

I’ve come up with three changes that led me to making more art:

  1. Large chunks of alone time
  2. A dedicated drawing space
  3. Experimenting with new materials and tools

3 Simple Changes to Make More Art. Christine Nishiyama, Might Could Studios.

Large Chunks of Alone Time

In 1994 Cheryl Strayed hiked 1100 miles alone on the Pacific Crest Trail. Spending so many days alone out in wilderness led to change her perspective of aloneness:

“Alone had always felt like an actual place to me, as if it weren’t a state of being, but rather a room where I could retreat to be who I really was. Alone wasn’t a room anymore, but the whole wide world, and now I was alone in that world, occupying it in a way I never had before.”
Cheryl Strayed

You want to go be alone now, don’t you? We need alone time not to burrow into ourselves, but to move past our Self. And I think moving past our Self—our thoughts, our worries, our needs, our wants—that’s when exploration is possible, fresh ideas come to you, and art is made.

Giving yourself large chunks of alone time will give you the opportunity to dive deep like this. It’s fun to draw and make stuff with other people, but you also need that alone time to really incubate your thoughts and ideas and be open to new, experimental thoughts and ideas. My art making really ramped up when I was able to have long periods of time at home when no one else was at home. It gave me the chance to focus and get sucked in, without interruptions or distractions.

But don’t give yourself too much alone time. For one, you’ll probably get lonely and stir crazy. But also, it’s good to know you have a limited amount of alone time. This constraint will make you use the time you have, instead of relying on having it whenever you want.

If it’s hard for you to get alone time in your home, advocate for yourself! Try telling the people around you that you’re going to focus on something for a while and would appreciate them giving you some time to work. Since I’ve been focusing on using my alone time for creative time—and wearing big, puffy headphones to emulate it when I can’t have alone time—the amount of drawing I’ve done has shot up.

3 Simple Changes to Make More Art. Christine Nishiyama, Might Could Studios.

A Dedicated Drawing Space

Since I began working on my own, I’ve had two desks: my Work Desk, for working, and my Drawing Desk, for drawing. The only things allowed on my drawing desk are: pencils, pens, markers, paper, sketchbooks, iPad Pro (for drawing only), and books.

Since having this dedicated Drawing Desk, I’ve been drawing more than ever. Some sort of mental shift happens in my brain when I move from my Work Desk to my Drawing Desk. My brain is like, “Ok, I know exactly where we are right now, and I know exactly what we’re supposed to do right now—let’s draw!”

Another perk is that I don’t have to clean up my desk when I’m done drawing now, or set it up when I want to draw. Before, I had to clear off space for my sketchbook at my desk, and afterwards I had to put away my sketchbook or I wouldn’t have room to do anything else at my desk. But now, I can leave everything out and pick up right where I left off when I’m ready. Seeing the drawings and sketchbook and sprawled out markers on the drawing desk also reminds me I should draw and lures me back in.

If you can, I highly recommend having a dedicated drawing space, away from where you do your other work. I’ve been drawing for umpteen years, and have just now done it, but it really does make a difference. And it doesn’t have to be an entire desk—claim your corner of the house or mark that old coffee table as your artistic territory!

3 Simple Changes to Make More Art. Christine Nishiyama, Might Could Studios.

Experimenting with New Tools and Materials

The final change that led to me make more art was experimenting with new tools and materials. For a while, I was drawing only in pencil, as I had fallen in love with it, and thought it was my artistic thing, part of my artistic style. But since then I’ve realized that style goes much deeper than a tool. Your style can and will be applied to whatever tool is in your hand—the tool doesn’t dictate the style.

But the tool can hint at new directions your style can go. Which is exciting and glorious. Every few months for the past year, I’ve gotten obsessed with a new tool. And every time I became obsessed with the new tool, I had a new motivation to draw and a whole new sense of fun!

My tool exploration so far has gone from Pencil → Wacom Tablet → iPad Pro → Copic Markers → Tombow Brush Pens → Posca Pens → ?

And this isn’t to say I stopped using those other tools. Each tool gets added to my toolbox, as I learn what each can do and when each is most appropriate. With each tool, my style and confidence grows as I learn more about the innate patterns and quirks of my style that carry over from tool to tool.

Because in the end, all of those tools are just that—tools. They aren’t what’s making the art. You are. And I am. So it doesn’t matter what tool you use, you can still come through. I’ve found that using new tools allows me to loosen up in my work and experiment and explore new ways to draw, while also recognizing those commonalities that carry over.

I highly recommend not getting married to one tool or art medium. If you love watercolor or Photoshop, that’s great! You don’t have to give it up! But once in a while, try sketching with a big, fat crayon or making a mess with charcoal, just to see what happens.

These three changes might not be life-changing for every artist, but they worked wonders for me, and I’ve been drawing more than ever.

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” ~Pablo Picasso



Thanks for reading!

I love hearing about your experiences too! Are there any things you do that encourage you to make more art? Comment below to let me know! :)



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8 Responses

  1. Great article Christine, it’s right on the money! Setting aside a dedicated space for painting has allowed me to paint more, and consistently. Where I used to park my dinner plate, now reside plastic sheets, tubes of acrylic, brushes, and canvases. I still doodle a bit during lunch and my commutes (when there’s a free seat), but the brush has been my latest tool of choice when I get home. It used to be pencil and then occasional spurts creating digitally (Wacom tablet, then my little Cintiq). For me, all the possibilities of digital end up slowing me down, not to mention the software interfaces and memory lag. Painting on a canvas is my happy medium now, with constraints I have welcomed with open arms. Hours fly by unnoticed and my mind is so much more at ease/peace these days.

    And I’ll be reading that Ann Powers article next, thanks again Christine!

    1. So glad you enjoyed it, Robert! I agree that drawing digitally is totally different than analog. I do a lot of my final artwork on my iPad, but all exploratory work is done in pen/maker in my sketchbook. I’m the same as you—I need the constraints! Digital gives you too much slack with being able to undo each stroke. I need the mistakes to find new things! Thanks for sharing! :)

  2. So good article Christine and well written! Making space for my art was game changing for me too and you describe it very well!!Although time alone with myself is a luxury i can t have this period of my life ..(with a day job and a baby) ..having a particular desk for my art has given me the opportunity for some art to be born..even if it is only for 15 minutes … some days! Plus ..the art waiting on the desk , invites you for more art or gives you more ideas ..for the final artwork.
    Thank you for sharing these thoughts! It made me feel connected with all of the creators hanging out there….

  3. I’m glad I’m not the only one that needs a separate desk! And I totally agree about the exposed art inviting you in! I’m so glad you enjoyed the article—your and other’s comments make me feel more connected to other creators out there too! :D

  4. Great article! I always struggle with my productivity—I see other artists who are so much more prolific than I have ever been and wonder how they do it! I’m going to try out the dedicated drawing desk idea—that sounds like it might really help.

    Oh, also just wanted to say: iPad Pro!! I’m actually “in love” with mine. It’s the never-ending sketchbook of my dreams!

    1. I definitely feel that way sometimes too! It’s easy to get discouraged by how much other people are doing. But each person is different, and has a different way of doing things. I think it’s important to not be too hard on yourself, do what you can and make what you can! Even if it’s just a quick 10 minute drawing! The dedicated desk really did help me. And yes! The iPad Pro is awesome! It was definitely an instigator to me drawing more too. It’s so easy to just pick it up and open a page, and it feels so much less daunting than a blank piece of paper. I’m glad you enjoy it too! :)

  5. Good article. It was a wake up for me. I’ve been frustrated because I seem to have less and less art class time. This opened my eyes to the why. I suddenly have less alone time and with a lifestyle shift I lost my drawing space. Now that these problems have been pointed out maybe I can find a way to take steps to fix the problems. Thanks so much, Christine.

    1. Just wanna say Thanks for the articles. Timing is everything and your weekly exercises have helped me put a big push on to find my style. Loving it. Going to try and keep it up though I know that things change constantly in life so I won’t get upset if I have to break for a bit. Just wanted you to know I’m with you!

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