Need to start this post off with a huge disclaimer: I haven’t been the best at work/life balance in the past. Actually, there have been seasons in my life (as I expect with most artists) where I have been terrible. There have been times where I have taken on too much work in order to provide for my family and move my career forward. But it was never worth it, because it just took me away from my family, and I apologize for that. Even now, when I have a much better handle on schedule, my kids tell me from time to time that they don’t think it’s fair to me that I “have” to work late at night, instead of watching TV or going to bed. They are great kids, but more about that below.
Lately, I’ve been thinking more and more about work/life balance. I’ve read up on it, and listened to some good podcasts about it (3 Point Perspectives, in particular, did a great episode on it). When I was younger, it didn’t really matter. At that point, you’re barely even responsible for yourself, let alone any other relationship, so it’s no big deal to spend all day on artwork and projects in class (high school to college to film school), then go home and just spend the rest of the night drawing or painting or watching Fraiser reruns or whatever. However, now that I’m 35 and have hit my 1/3 life crisis, I’ve discovered that work/life balance is the biggest issue facing adult artists, hobbiests, crafters, writers, and anyone with creative interests. How are we supposed to focus on getting all the great stuff out of our heads and into the world and, you know, have a life?
I’m a single dad (and I’ll be approaching this subject from that point of view), so maintaining a healthy work/life balance is especially important for me. That’s because, right now (since my kids are 7 and 5), the “life” part of the balance is making sure everyone is fed, clean, clothed, rested, not fighting over whose R2D2 that is, and where they need to be at all times… me included. So let’s look at what a normal day of the week looks like for me.
Weekdays start when my alarm goes off at 6 a.m. This is all dependent on if I haven’t been kicked awake by a groggy kid sneaking into my bed before the alarm. Once I’ve fought myself awake, I do some light exercise (pushups, curls, crunches, etc.), make coffee, read a chapter in the Bible, and get myself ready for the day. I don’t want to gloss over two of those points (and no, one of them is not “make coffee” to all you people reading this blog while wearing some kitchy meme-worthy shirt about the importance of coffee in your life). For artists, maybe more so than for everyone else, exercise is crazy important, because our jobs and interests generally call for us to sit, hunch, and/or do repetitive motions all day. So, do not skip moving your muscles around and stretching. This seems really obvious, but I can think of two times in the last five years where I have thrown my lower back out just because I’ve been sitting at a computer working for too long, and I’m relatively young and healthy, so you’re definitely going to get screwed up too. Also, the Bible reading. Whether you’re religious or not, study, prayer, and meditation are incredibly useful tools for aligning your heart, soul, and mine. I strongly recommend.
Alright, it’s 6:30 a.m., and hopefully I have both my hair combed and my pants on, because it’s time to wake up the kids. Neither are what I would call morning people (especially my son), so I carry each to their respective bathrooms where their clothes are waiting for them, kiss them on the heads, tell them something intentionally annoyingly chipper/motivational, and go make breakfast. At this point in the morning, we enter the “herding cats phase” as my kids tend to constantly forget what to do to get ready for school unless they are constantly reminded. By 7:20 a.m., we’re all ready to go (give or take my son’s hair being combed, as he is a little boy, and has not fully bought in that this is something that should actually happen every day), and we leave the apartment, get in the car, and do school drop off.
Now, you might be saying to yourself, “This is supposed to be about work/life balance, and all this guy is talking about is Life.” You are correct, but not how you think you are. I intentionally start the day off only with the Life part of the divide, to serve as a reminder that that’s the part that is infinitely more important. Family is more important, relationships are more important, so if I have some work to do in the morning, then I wake up between 5 and 5:30 to get it out of the way before it can impact Life.
Okay, the kids are safely in the hands of the Texas public school system, so now Work begins, and I’m usually in the office between 7:45 a.m. and 4:45 p.m. Monday through Friday. I play the part of Lead Graphic Designer for my day job, an actual creatively rewarding job that allows me to mix in illustration, video, motion, and animation throughout the many projects I touch on a daily basis. But the best perk during this season is that I work with people and in culture that respects the need for a healthy life, and I have great flexibility in schedule to be there for my kids. Sick kid and I need to work remote? Done. Emergency or meeting at the school and I need to cut out quick to attend? It ain’t no thing. Easier said than done, but I suggest every artist, until you have the ideal, dream job, when all you do is draw monsters or sculpt miniture cacti all day (or whatever you’re thing is), to get a job like this, because flexibility with kids is best thing you could ask for.
Case in point, last week I was able to chaperone Teddy’s field trip and do Reading Buddies with Omi (which is an every Thursday thing). Thing is, these Life vacations are only possible when you have Work locked down, and you have the faith of your co-workers that you’re gonna get everything done. Most artists suck at deadlines (I won’t use “creatives” because I find that term is always used when explaining why an adult can’t get things done in time, balance a checkbook, or tie their shoes). Sometimes, I suck at deadlines, and I always suck at routine. So I’ve learned in the last year that I need to schedule my day out into chunks, sometimes down to 30 minute blocks, to assure that I get all my priorities done. I use the app Todoist because it’s synced between my phone and work and home computers, and I plan out my projects, chores, and family time each day. It’s kinda my robot secretary. Okay, I’m just going to call it that from now on.
Okay, back to Work. When I’m at work, I’m at work. I stick to my list as best as I can, prepare for and attend my meetings, and knock out all my planned projects. I’ve found that, in conjunction with Todoist, that timing my work is super helpful. I use the app Be Focused for that, and I have it set to work intensely for 50 minutes, then take a 10 minute break to get up, move around (again EXERCISE, kids), and check emails and texts. Rinse and repeat. Before I know it, it’s about 5 p.m., I’ve been machine-level productive, and it’s time to pick up the kids from after school care.
We’re back squarely into Life now, from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. In the past, I’ve let Work bleed into this time, and it’s always been a disaster. What happens every time is that the kids and I lose patience with each other, stuff around the home doesn’t get done, and the work ends up sucking anyway. No – just focus on Life now. During this time (which I’ve already sketched out in Todoist as soon as I got to work in the morning), I make dinner, maintenance clean the kitchen and living areas (while the kids are supposed to pick up their rooms – hahaha), do bathtime, make lunches and pick out clothes for the next day, and watch TV or do an activity, and read together. The only Work that I allow to exist in this space is Inktober drawing, because Teddy and Omi do that with me.
By 8:30 p.m. the kids are in bed and totally, not faking-it asleep. Now the final block of Work for the day can start, and it’s the stuff I’ve been dying to do all day. This isn’t day job stuff, but freelance graphic art or logo work, or personal projects, designed to push my illustration career forward, or just for fun (in a perfect world, it’s both). I’ve found that doing digital artwork on week nights is better than traditional media, since there’s no clean up involved. I’ll listen to music or an audio book while working until about 10:30 p.m. (unless I’m on an deadline or get sucked into something, then all bets are off and 1 a.m. is on the table). At that point Work can stop, and I focus on some Life just for me, usually a little TV or reading, before knocking out so everything can start again at 6 a.m.
Weekends are totally different, and by design. On the weekends that the kids are with me, Saturdays are for weekly chores and family time (parks, swimming, etc.), with only a some project work mixed in. Sundays are completely set aside for Life, with church in the morning and time with the kids to play and relax the rest of the day. My brother’s family also lives in town, so we hang out with them on the weekends sometimes too. On weekends that the kids are staying with their mom, I have Friday night blocked off for personal time (dating, movies, dinner out, etc.), and Saturday/Sundays for big traditional artwork projects. That’s when I’ll get complicated stuff drawn and inked, and if I want to do a painting or sculpture, I’ll do it during this time, because I can focus for long periods of time without having stuffed animals thrown at my head.
So, that was way longer than I planned. You might be asking, why so much detail? Well, for some of you, you’re generally interested in what my days look like, but mostly it’s because I can answer in that much detail. And that’s only because I made figuring out my work/life balance problems a priority. Because I know how everything breaks down in so much detail, I’m able to volunteer regularly at my kids’ school, mentor a 7th grader on Fridays, take my kids to ballet practice every week, be there for the people who I care the most about at the drop of a hat, and still get a ton of work done in the office and at home. Basically, what I’ve figured out after a lot of trial and error, is that by focusing on God, my family, and my health first, the artwork takes care of itself, and I’m way more productive in quantity and quality.
- Still waiting on a client to release the products associated with two huge poster/t-shirt designs I’ve finished. I’m extremely proud of them, and can’t wait to share them here and on social. Once released I’ll do a deep dive into the full project, and share the design process.
- Just found out yesterday that official fan art can be sold on Teepublic for Adventure Time and Venture Brothers, two of my favorite animated shows of all time! This is great, because I was planning on doing big illustration projects for each property already, and now I’ll also be making Flat Pop collections for each over the next month to sell.
- In December, my kids and I discovered “Gravity Falls,” and it quickly became our favorite shared TV show. So, I’ve decided to create a multimedia collection of fan art pieces around the show, including small sculptures, Flat Pops, a poster design, and entries in my new Redrawn series. So look out for those projects to start popping up in the coming weeks and months.
- What is Redrawn, you ask? It’s a brand new series of paintings that I’ve wanted to start for a long time, in which I invision classic characters from animation in my traditional illustration style. The first was “Little White Lie” which was recently shown at the “For the Love of Artists” exhibition at the Kettle Art Gallery.