I'm still trying to find a new rhythm to the way that I work. Since this year began, I intended on taking a moderated sabbatical of sorts. This has been a fantasy of mine, to be able to spend a year to pursue those projects that I've dreamt about. But then I hear life calling (or is it my landlords?) and I a begin to see the ephemeral nature of my thoughts.
I've been working non-stop for the past several weeks, and have tried to find a way to manage my time. I have two days of continuing ed courses per week, as well as five hours (per week) interning for a fashion designer. This adds up to fourteen hours a week, plus the one day a week when I teach at SVA, results in a total of seventeen hours (on the low end) of work done outside of freelance illustration, on a weekly basis. And I insist that this is a low end figure because it doesn't include over-time, and the time spent on homework.
I spend the rest of the time illustrating.
It seems somewhat dizzying of me to have chosen to take on all of this, and I have to admit that twice last week, I threw my arms in the air and announced to some God of Work that, "I've given up!" But it was only temporary, and fortunately my boyfriend was there to bring me back to earth.
It's a strange feeling to want so many things, but then realize the limits of what can be possible in the moment. I've spent years, and continue to, trying to prove to others, to clients, to an audience, and to myself that I am capable of doing certain types of projects, and that I am "the man" for the job. And, although I do receive a steady flow of work, there are moments when I want more.
This can be taken in two ways:
1) that I'm either driven, or
2) that I'm ungrateful.
Yes, I'd say that it's definitely the former: like many people, I work very hard, and I'm also incredibly passionate about my work, regardless of the discipline. If I love and enjoy the process of doing something, I invest much of my myself in it. That said, I do admit to the latter as well, that sometimes when I speak about work, about art making, that I sound ungrateful. But I believe these feelings arise from a place of exhaustion that is oftentimes coupled with working so fiercely, creating a guise of ingratitude, pessimism, or boredom.
So now, I have a better sense of what my limits are.
I posted several months ago about an article that I read in The New York Times Business section, that highlighted Dominic Orr, the CEO of Aruba Networks, a wireless network company. He spoke about the importance of coming close to failure (at a task) because it reveals the limits of a person, so that when these moments occur again, then s/he can improve and overcome it.
Recently, I've been learning more about focus, humility, gratitude, and where my priorities lay.
Since I graduated from art college, I have always tried to create a kind of studio practice that I enjoy. Being an illustrator allows me to do the one thing that I love, which is to draw, and to make things, and so, I want to keep this intact and protect it from things that might threaten it, such as exhaustion and a false sense of ingratitude which sometimes inspires me to sway my attention towards the heavens and holler again, at the Gods of Work.
My rhythm nowadays, is this:
I go to sleep quite early, no longer spending hours, on nights and weekends, hanging out. I don't drink alcohol anymore, and rarely go to bars, clubs or lounges. I honour my seven or eight hours of sleep per night, but understand that there will be those times when I will get much fewer than that. I wake up very early in the morning, and oftentimes arrive to the studio before 8:00am so that I can begin work. I still like to spend at least 8-10 hours per day in the studio, so waking up early allows me to do all of this... for now. I admit, that I do sound like an old man, but this is the way that I've chosen to approach my career in hopes that longevity will reward me. Working hard and playing hard doesn't make sense for me anymore, instead it just makes me feel as though I'm running in the same spot, and there were many times in the past, when I started to feel the floor creak beneath me.
I know, I know... this new rhythm that I described sounds a bit bland -- that it's purely about work... but I don't see it that way because of the way that I've divided up my time, and how I've chosen to focus my attention on things that matter most to me in my life.
The hours that I spend working nowadays, is much more productive. I schedule in time for lunch, and dinner, and breaks, going to the gym, and try to leave the studio at a reasonable hour. And despite the fact that there are, and will continue to be, moments when things feel overwhelming and out-of-control (ala two weeks ago when I spent 35 hours working on Saturday and Sunday!) this does come with the territory of freelancing, which I've accepted and understand.
And, so today, I throw my arms up and say, "Thank you" to the Gods of Work.
* the image above, entitled, "Flower Watching in Spring," was done for The Washington Post, Art Director: Tan Ly, wtih calligraphy by Ai Tatebayashi.