Let’s Talk About… Balancing Your Art Practice with Full-Time Work
Our “Let’s Talk About” series will focus on a different topic each month with artists or professionals from various backgrounds and specialties.
Working a day job is necessary for many artists in order to pay the bills and maintain a creative practice. It is not easy to find a balance between taking time for yourself and your art while working hard to make ends meet. To gain better insight into what that balance can look like, we chatted with artist and arts administrator Megan Press about what balance means for her work and art.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your art practice.
Approaching sculpture as a mode or activity is key to my practice as is the element of play. I explore the ways in which a collection of objects (readily discarded, bought or found) can function as substitutes for human forms, as architectural structures and discrete objects. Through a method of bundling, layering and arranging I combine locally sourced materials with remnants of past works. The fluidity of this process allows for moments where materials butt up against one another and present a kind of voice and with it a form of identity, one that is always shifting.
Q: What is your favourite time of the day to work on your art practice?
I’m easily the most motivated in the morning but it really depends on when I get that creative urge to start making. Back when I was in Graduate School I was not a fan of having to stop in the middle when the ideas were flowing and I was very much in the process of creating something. I much preferred starting and stopping only when it was time to step away and come back with fresh eyes.
Q: Do you reserve time for making art in your schedule, or does it happen more organically when the inspiration strikes you?
It’s been an ongoing challenge for me to reserve time in my schedule for making art. I am in awe of the artists I know who have the self discipline to plan for making work and who continue to execute their plan on a daily and/or weekly basis. I know for some of those artists, working within a specific set of parameters or guidelines really works. In the past I’ve challenged myself to try creating something each day even if it’s not for the end product but rather for the simple fact that I’d be making something. But the truth is I’ve never been able to stick to it, especially if I wasn’t feeling inspired during the time I would allocate to making. My creative ideas flow when I feel energized about making work, and that can sometimes be after a long period of not making. While I still don’t feel settled with that fact, it’s where I am at right now and that’s okay with me.
Q: Have you ever had a brilliant idea while sitting in a long meeting? What do you do when creative inspiration strikes but you’re at work?
There have definitely been times in a meeting or during a conversation with a coworker where an idea comes to mind and I immediately want to hold on to it for later. Over the years I’ve tried to capture these ideas in different ways and, I’ll be honest, not all of them worked. Only recently when I accepted the fact that for me work and art do not need to be separated did I realize that neither did the tools I use. Having one notebook or journal that is full of both my work “to-do lists” and my running “ideas list” is completely okay. In fact, having a place to collect creative ideas as they happen helps me keep my focus and get right back to the task at hand. It also feels good to keep a record of your ideas so that even when you’re not “making” work regularly you can still see your progress.
Q: Do you think it’s important to keep work and art separate? Is there any way that one can inspire the other?
I’ve been very fortunate to have built a career in arts management and administration and while my “job” isn’t to create works of art I’m often around creative people or contributing towards creative initiatives or projects that enable others to be creative. For me, I found that when I stopped thinking that my art practice as something that was meant to be separate, or rather something I did in my spare time, I felt less guilty about the time I would allocate to one over the other. I had to accept that while I may not be making work while I am “at work” I can still find the excitement or energy in the projects I am contributing towards during my 9-5. I’m always learning from the artists I come in contact with and discovering new resources that I can apply to my practice when I’m not “at work”. A big reason why I feel that the two are intertwined is that I’ve really taken advantage of the professional development opportunities that are available to me through work and I’ve made a conscious effort to include some of my goals as an artist in my annual development plan with my Manager. Aside from attending workshops, I’ve written in goals that are mutually beneficial such as to complete a residency or participate in an exhibition through which I can expand my network and stay up to date on standard practices and procedures. There are so many welcomed overlaps between the work that I do during my 9 – 5. I find it easier to do the work that I do because I understand the creative process and I can relate to the people I encounter while I am working.
Q: Does working 9-5 in arts administration and being an artist leave room for you to be motivated to create art? Do you ever feel unmotivated to make art after being around it all day?
Carving out the time and space to create work for me is the hardest part and something I’ve struggled with on and off again since becoming an arts administrator. I’ve had to be patient with myself and change the way I think about my practice. It certainly comes in waves, sometimes I can really focus on making work because I have the motivation; other days I’m just okay with the creative thoughts I’ve had that day or the projects I’ve contributed towards while at work. Right now, so long as I am exercising my creativity in some form throughout each day, even if it’s just in a conversation or discussion, I still feel like I am putting in the work to continue to grow both in my career and as an artist.
Q: After a long day/week/month at work, how do you stay motivated to keep your art practice up?
Last year a group of artist friends and I have decided that we would meet monthly and that at each gathering we would either create something or share reading material, talk about recent projects, calls for submission, etc. Having a group to hold you accountable and to accept you wherever you might be at with your practice is really helpful. It continues to motivate me and gives me inspiration. It’s also just really great to have a network that “gets it” and will continue to push you when you need a nudge. I’ve also been very fortunate to meet a lot of artists and creative practitioners at work in the organizations I’ve been with and because I have shared my personal practice with them if ever an opportunity comes up or a new artist that I might be interested in is discovered, they share it with me which I love. I can’t express how valuable having a professional network and building a creative community can be.
Q: What are the tools, systems or rituals that you use to help keep you on track with your art practice?
Record your ideas in one place, find others who will hold you accountable, begin each year with a list of personal goals related to your practice and check in with yourself each month to see where you are at with your list. And when you find that list or personal promise to yourself doesn’t pan out, build it in to your 9 -5 professional development plan if you have one and if it makes sense to do so. For me that was one way of making sure I stayed on track. Lastly, accept that not every year will be as productive as the last because you are growing and your focus will shift from time to time. The years that I’ve changed roles at work or was starting a new job altogether I found it harder to make work. Sometimes getting sidetracked for a little while is okay.
Q: Everyone needs time to chill out and unwind. How do you fit in personal downtime while trying to balance work and art?
I’ve made my practice what I do during my personal downtime, that’s how I choose to spend my “me” time.
Q: What advice would you give to someone who wants to prioritize their practice but needs a 9-5 job to pay the bills?
While you may not be “making work” during the 9 – 5, consider taking a job where you will have access to resources, get to expand your network and use your creative skills in some other way. I know, easier said than done! I get that. Another approach would be to talk about your practice at work and find that person who might also have a creative practice or who you can bounce ideas off. It’ll keep you motivated to do the work when you finish your 9 -5.
Q: Where can people find your artwork?
You can follow me on Instagram at @megan.press.
Q: What is your favourite quote/mantra that helps you feel inspired?
A friend once told me to “Trust your process”. It helps remind me that my practice is a part of me and even at times when it feels like I’ve abandoned it, it’s never gone and I’ll keep going back to it.