Tilling Ideas

I was chatting with a couple of artist buddies earlier this week and one of the things that came up was the havoc that summer can wreak on devoted studio time. Considering our drawn-out Vermont winters, paired with an elongated mud season, there isn’t any question that being outside during this very limited time of sun and warmth becomes a priority. In addition to a host of other outdoor activities, most folks I know have a garden to tend. So it’s no surprise that, despite the days being longer, July and August pose an even greater challenge than usual for squeezing in everything one wants to accomplish.


Garden Study 1     © 2016 Elizabeth Fram                                                                                   There is one section of my garden that has been blowing me away this year. The plants are so lush and, at certain times of day, the light catches their diversity of color so beautifully. These little studies don’t begin to do the sight justice, but it’s a true pleasure to be outside with my paintbox, learning as I practice, immersed in the color and shapes.

This certainly isn’t a new or unique problem and doesn’t only occur at this time of year. When my kids were little, it became something of a quest to try to figure out how to carve more time into my schedule so I could be in the studio most days — or let’s face it, to try to carve out any time to be in the studio most days. The theories and advice surrounding ‘productivity’ which have become so prevalent in articles and on blogs now, just weren’t as easily accessible then. I did my best to make it up as I went along.


Garden Study 2     ©2016 Elizabeth Fram

I was so excited to find the book A Question of Balance: Artists and Writers on Motherhood by Judith Pierce Rosenberg, which at least let me know I wasn’t alone in trying to devise a way to squeeze creative time in with the myriad of daily chores I had to cover. But truthfully, I found the book pretty discouraging because it seemed that those who were most successful, were so because they had hired a full-time nanny, or had a spouse who covered all bases on the home front, neither of which was a consideration for me. The most valuable wisdom lay between the lines in what a minority of those interviewed wrote: it all comes down to compromise, commitment, and some good old-fashioned ingenuity. There is no magic bullet.

One of my friends from the aforementioned conversation said that although she is spending long hours moving earth and pulling weeds these days, she is still thinking about her art and working through ideas while she’s in the garden. She may not be in her studio, but she is creatively active nevertheless. Her point reminded me of Adam Grant’s TEDtalk  “The Surprising habits of Original Thinkers” which touches upon the fact that moderate procrastination can foster greater innovation and better creative solutions. To be fair, having an overflowing schedule that keeps you away from the studio isn’t quite the same as procrastination, but Grant’s theory offers a positive way to frame the frustration you may be feeling when you aren’t able to put in as much active studio time as you wish, highlighting that having time to consider and develop ideas can provide a more successful outcome. And it’s quite likely that the interruption from her usual schedule will provide a fresh perspective that will make for positive progress once she can get back to the studio more regularly.


Garden Study 3     ©2016 Elizabeth Fram

For what it’s worth, another solution which has been very successful for me is one that I learned from Cal Newport of Study Hacks Blog. (I’ve mentioned him before; he is the guy who champions the idea of “deep work” in order to make concrete strides with what he calls “knowledge” work.) Newport asserts that scheduling is key. Don’t just add an item (i.e. studio time) to your to-do list, schedule it. It’s a rare day that everything on one’s list gets checked off, but with a designated time-slot on your calendar, priorities will get done.

Please leave a comment with your solutions for tackling this common dilemma. Thanks!

12 thoughts on “Tilling Ideas

    1. ehwfram Post author

      Hahaha! I can only imagine your schedule John. I think of your studio as the world-at-large & figure you’re brain is always in “work” mode…

  1. Pam Druhen

    I especially like Garden Study 3…lovely textures. I have a million ideas “at work”, but not much studio time going on. For me the “thinking time” or more like “dwelling time” will result in an increase in productivity and an increase in “innovation” (if there is any such thing really).

    1. ehwfram Post author

      I think it’s true for many of us that the thought process is always going on under the surface – especially during those times when life’s other commitments take precedence.

  2. Marya Lwoe

    You mention Cal Newport’s “Deep Work” book ….I am currently reading it, based on a recommendation in one of your prior blogs, and find it amazingly compelling. As you said,, there is no magic bullet, no single way to solve this issue of “finding time” for deep, focused, concentrated work…whether of the knowledge-based type or artistic type. But Newport suggests several equally productive approaches, based on one’s situation and also one’s particular personality. I recommend the book myself…..

    And I agree with another of your blog-readers…I love that third garden scene!

  3. Liz Snell

    I find that I change focus with the seasons. In high summer like this I want to be printing on paper and/or fabric with leaves and flowers. A different way to make an image, and one I can’t do in winter because it requires juicy leaves.
    It’s cool that your studies have shifted from drawings in black & white to the lushness of summer colors, too… Maybe there are seasons for more pencil & seasons for more paint.
    I’m thinking ahead to my travel art kit for Michigan trip soon.. and wondering about painting the same Lake MI scenes I paint every year.. there is a satisfaction to returning to loved places (such as our gardens!) and exploring how they appear right now.. xo

    1. ehwfram Post author

      Your valuable observations are always so much appreciated Liz! I’m beginning to settle into the comfort of revisiting subjects & I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts on the subject after you return from MI.

  4. Almuth

    Your honesty about there being no magic bullet to solve the problem of balancing one’s chores with one’s time in the studio is refreshing. Thank you for all your thoughtful words and reassuring suggestions. The lovely watercolors and stitchery you are doing are in themselves a great encouragement!

    1. ehwfram Post author

      Such kind words Almuth; thank you! It’s an issue we all contend with and I think it’s important to acknowledge that point so that we can encourage each other.

  5. Roz Daniels

    Such perfect timing, Betsy. I’ve been discussing the same topic with friends for weeks, but you express it so much better than I. This year I’m doing better than ever before at just relaxing about the dilemma. I found the back and forth in my head so tiring (“My gardens are just too big”, “I’ll never catch up with the weeds.”) that I’m continuing to work on the acceptance of “I really love being in the garden and it’s a choice I make in these months.”
    But as you say, it’s important to keep eyes open in the process. Yesterday morning after my daily Japanese Beetle chase, the sun lit up the raindrops on the dill heads until they looked magical. I grabbed my camera and worked and worked to try and capture the joy of the sparkling heads. The photos were terrible and I tossed them all. BUT I had noticed and I had extended the time of noticing. And afterwards I began slicing into some fabric for the first time in weeks. It felt great to touch cloth again and to be able to mark on my daily calendar that I made some fiber progress.

    1. ehwfram Post author

      What a great reflection — and solution Roz…a beautiful example of straddling the fence, so to speak. With a bit of thought, I really think it’s possible for us to weave all these parts of ourselves together — such that the various interests overlap and work in tandem, rather than fighting separately for attention. We just have to keep at it.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *