Sunday, March 23, 2014

Slow Down Sunday Weekly Review: A Day In the Life of an Artist- Lessons Learned on The Road

Slow Down Sunday Weekly Review: A recap of my weekly activities in and out of the studio to give you a glimpse behind the scenes, both the highs and the lows, of the life of an artist- well at least this artist- Crystal Neubauer.

"Ten Thousand Miles" 6" x 6" collage by Crystal Neubauer
It has been one of those weeks- so busy- but at the end of it, hard to recount exactly what I did all week.

  • Monday and Tuesday were writing days, blog, book, new offerings on the RocketHub campaign and an e-newsletter.
  • Wednesday and Thursday were studio days. I now have nine 10"x10" collages, two 12"x24" collages, and one 24" x 24" collage all pieced together and glued; and now just waiting for the next step in my process, mark-making.
  • Friday I took the day off and enjoyed the morning meeting friends for coffee.
  • Saturday I took off on a road trip to visit family and today I am wiped out from it all, sitting here reflecting on some observations I had while making the 3 hour drive home. 
You might not always know exactly what's around the corner, but you at least need to know what direction your heading.
Driving mile after mile on long stretches of highway, especially after a long day of family visits and late night chats, I easily lost track of exactly where I was. A few times I even panicked a bit and wondered if I had somehow gotten turned around. I sometimes joke that if you could open my husbands head, you would see a brain with the grooves laid out in a map-like grid, he has an innate sense of direction. My brain, on the other hand, would be a mass of colorful swirls and shiny things with nooks and crannies and zig-zags that lead nowhere. My compass is not just permanently broken, but seems to have been misplaced altogether. I have been known to get turned around coming home from the grocery store a time or two, but handily enough, on this trip, there are interstate signs at regular intervals to let me know that I am still heading in the right direction. 

The fact of the matter is there are weeks, like the one I just had, that seem to stretch out in front of me with endless tasks to accomplish and I can wind up at the end of it feeling quite lost. Did I spend too much time working on the wrong project? Did I somehow make a wrong turn somewhere?

I have found that the most effective way for me to stay on task and not feel lost or overwhelmed is by using the calendar and note apps on my ipad. As soon as I make a commitment I put it in my electronic calendar, setting alarms for specific tasks if I need to and then I make a list of the steps I need to do in order to accomplish that thing. When I start to feel anxious about my work load, I can pull out my list and my calendar and double check my progress to be sure I'm still heading in the right direction.

For a steadier ride, keep Your eyes on the road ahead of you.
The drive from my hometown to where I live now requires that I drive the crazy interstates around Chicago, and though I've lived up in this area for nearly 15 years now, sometimes driving in four lanes of traffic zipping around at lightning speed can be dizzying. A few times today, I found myself watching the car next to me as I started to pass and feeling a little shaky and unsteady at the wheel. Inevitably when this happens, I have to remind myself to put my eyes back on the road in front of me, and when I do, I feel myself regaining control and relaxing my grip on the wheel.

How often do we look at another artist and let it shake our confidence in our own abilities? I know when I have a specific goal, and I manage to keep my sights on that goal, my working time in the studio is so much more effective then it is when I spend time looking at what other artists are accomplishing. This is in no way saying that I'm not happy for others, or cheering them on when I see my friends and colleagues achieving their goals too. But when my focus is on what they are doing and not on the road in front of me I am risking a major crash.

It's not a race, set the pace you are comfortable with.
I don't like to use the cruise control in the car, so I have to check my speedometer frequently when I drive. When I get too absorbed in listening to the podcasts or music I've brought for the trip, and forget to pay attention to my speed, I wind matching the pace of the cars around me instead of sticking to the speed I've determined I'm comfortable driving. Or worse, I find myself passing every car on the road without realizing how fast I'm going. 

The life of an artist is not a race. Set the pace you are comfortable with and stick to it. This is a good reason to use the calendar app as well. Map out your goals for a few months, twelve months, and five year periods with clear steps to meet those goals along the way. The only person you should be comparing yourself to as you work is you. Do you feel off? Get the calendar out and check your progress. Or maybe it is time to speed up or slow down if you constantly feel out of sync. Unlike driving a car, nobody's going to give you a ticket for going too fast if you've decided you are ready to shift into high gear.

Drive in the right lane. 
This isn't about which side of the road to drive on, but getting in the lane that is appropriate for your speed. When my dad was teaching me to drive he would always warn me that the slow cars were as dangerous as the fast cars if they were driving in the wrong lane. 

So you've chosen to take the meandering route to accomplish your goals? You want time to read the paper and head out on artist dates and poke around a good antique mall without fear that you are blowing a major deadline? That's A-okay. But don't resent another artist because she doesn't do these things and winds up accomplishing twice as much as you perceive you do. We are all wired differently. I've finally come to understand that my type A friends would be just as uncomfortable with the amount of down time I need to manage my days as I would be if I tried to match their pace. This, again, is a matter of keeping our eyes and focus in the right place. Be okay with who you are, and just as importantly, be okay with the fact that others are differently wired than you.

Don't fall asleep at the wheel.
Okay, so I didn't have to learn this one the hard way to know it is important. If you're tired don't drive. I left yesterday morning to drive down to connect with my family and head over to the nursing home to see my grandmother, who is not expected to be with us much longer. It was an emotional day, both from the pain of knowing it may have been the last time I would ever hold her hand, to reconnecting with cousins and aunts and uncles under these circumstances. It is only a three hour drive, but I knew better then to attempt to come back home last night. I knew I would be exhausted and I didn't want to be worried about what time I needed to leave to get on the road. I wanted to be fully present to the experience of this special time with my family.

When I was in Seattle a few weeks ago, I walked the gallery floor and was enthralled at seeing my work hanging in such a beautiful space. Though there were a few glitches with the installation of my work and I was disappointed in a few minor things that didn't happen the way I expected, I knew that this time was fleeting and I didn't want to waste it focusing on the wrong things. I wanted to be fully awake and present for each moment on opening night, to fully experience and allow myself to enjoy this precious time. I guess, this point too, is about focusing on the right things, in the right way.

So there you have it; Eyes up front. Set your own pace. Stay on the right track.
And most importantly- this is your one precious life. Be fully awake for it!


  1. Crystal, this is good. Really good. Very comprehensive. With the internet, social media, etc. you can pretty much look left and right and see what hundreds of people are doing with their careers, art, life. In a way, it has taken a lot of the reality away, and it feels like everything is speeding past. Sometimes, I wish things were like they used to be...the world...a little smaller, slower. Truth is, we only have to just step off of the roller coaster, to get the sanity and speed back to where we want it. Good words, Life and Art Teacher! Thanks...Laura

    1. It is so easy to say these things, but I still get caught up in it sometimes. I have to remind myself often - which must be why it was on my mind.
      Thanks for the comment Laura!

  2. Just what I need to read today...thanks Honey!!!

    1. I'm so glad to hear it. Thanks for stopping by the blog Laura!

  3. Great post! I often struggle comparing myself/work with other artists so thanks for the reminder that it's ok to travel my own road at my own pace. Cheers, Glenda

    1. Cheers to you Glenda. And thanks for stopping by!

  4. This is remarkable - and very timely for me. Thank you for sharing your journey - I love road trips!

    1. I think I need to start adding a few more of them to my calendar Susan. It is good to get away and remember the important things in life.
      Thanks for stopping by!

  5. such great observations, Crystal!
    Eyes on the roaattending to our journey!