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Art and Sacrifice – Must an Artist Drop Other Interests?

This week, I respond to a question about creative focus: when we want to move forward, should we focus on doing one thing and abandon other creative activities, like crafting?

Art and sacrifice - an illustration by Paivi Eerola
We have many identities, but some of them are more important than others. An illustration from 2019.

I got the idea for this blog post from an interesting discussion that is running in my community Bloom and Fly.

The discussion started when a member wrote:

I find that I have an interest in, perhaps, too many creative pursuits. I enjoy sketching, making journals, watercolors, acrylics, crafting, etc. I have observed that artists with a specific focus and dedication seem to be more successful and just plain good at what they do.

Of course, if one focuses on one ability, the hope is a gain in creative skills. Practice for purpose. So, should we know that in order to be very good at something, we must sacrifice other interests? Any thoughts?

I find that I have an interest in, perhaps, too many creative pursuits. I enjoy sketching, making journals, watercolors, acrylics, crafting, etc. I have observed that artists with a specific focus and dedication seem to be more successful and just plain good at what they do. Of course, if one focuses on one ability, the hope is a gain in creative skills. Practice for purpose. So, should we know that in order to be very good at something, we must sacrifice other interests? Any thoughts?

Here’s my answer!

Sacrificing a Hobby? What’s Your Priority?

When you want to move forward, the essential question about every activity is: “Is this activity for relaxation or for moving forward” so, “Is this hobby or work?”

Having many hobbies is a good thing. I am a professional artist, and I love my many hobbies. For example, I quilt, scrapbook, make cards, spin yarn, knit, and cross stitch. I don’t do everything every week, but I do these regularly in my spare time, mainly in the late evenings and weekends. If I learn new things in my hobbies, it’s nice, but it’s not why I do them. I do them for relaxation, to keep the balance in life, and to stay healthy.

Improv quilting as a hobby. Quilting and other crafts can be relaxing for an artist too.
I have a separate Instagram account @paivipeony for my quilting hobby, just to make sure that I remember to quilt once in a while.
My official Instagram account is @peonyandparakeet, and there, I only share art-related stuff.
Separating your hobbies from your work is essential when you want to see your artistry more clearer.

I also have two beagles that need quite a lot of exercise and lots of house plants that need care. Like my other hobbies, they have never been things that I would sacrifice to become a better artist. I would find it very difficult to lead a happy life focused on art-making only.

But when you want to move forward in visual art, you need to redefine creativity and art.

For many people, a simple quilt is a work of art, a sign of creativity. I get that. But when you want to move forward in art, you need to raise the bar and stop treating every activity as if it would require creativity.

Browsing a scrapbook. The crafting supplies should be separate from art supplies when you want to become an artist.

For example, if you don’t want to become a professional scrapbooker, decide that scrapbooking is not a creative activity for you. Yes, you learn self-expression and design from it, but treat it as a side bonus and define the meaning of the hobby differently. For example, I scrapbook because I want to get reminded of the good things that happen in real life – that everything is not about my imagination, but real life matters too. I want to take photos and get an outside view of my life. My paper crafting happens in a different space than art-making and with a different set of tools.

I don’t publish my paper crafting projects alongside my art. Sharing my art is work, and paper crafting is a hobby that’s reserved just for me. When I shop for crafting products, I am a consumer who enjoys buying pretty stuff. When I shop for art supplies, it’s much more serious. I check the pigments and the other quality factors and don’t feel like a shopper at all.

The results of my hobbies are not brilliant, but I reserve my critical eye for my art. If I someday do not enjoy the hobby, I just stop and do something else. That’s ok because it’s not my work.

Where Does Your Best Energy Go?

I save my best energy for creating art. It’s my priority and my work.

Oil painting in progress. By Paivi Eerola. Read her article on art and sacrifice.

Many days are difficult, but that’s ok. I don’t expect to enjoy every moment. Even if I sometimes fiercely hate what I do, I will continue because, in the long run, it enables things that I want to accomplish in life.

Of course, like in every job, changes are needed if every single day is agony. But in general, I don’t expect things to go easily and effortlessly. I show up every weekday and create productions, not just single projects. Productions are, for example, a series of paintings that I will be exhibiting or a course that I will be launching. I try to think about my work as a series of things, not just single things that I throw to the world. I commit from three months to one year and don’t expect results immediately.

Series is always a big risk. Many classes have not sold as I expected them to, but some have been surprisingly successful. The same has happened with paintings. But the more I think of my work as a continuum or a curated collection, the more potential impact there is.

That’s also why I want to encourage you to make art journals, make a series of drawings to fill boxes of joy, and even take classes to commit to several projects.

Box of Joy by Paivi Eerola. Even filling a small box can be making a series of art.
Box of Joy: A tiny box can hold a world that you draw and then open to us.

Sacrificing Techniques: Drawing or Painting, Watercolors or Acrylics?

When you want to move forward in art, the most important question is not about the technique. It’s more important to consider what things you want to offer the world. If you think about this blog, would you really want me to focus on one technique, one theme, or one subject? And still, I have a clear focus that defines my offerings: I want people to get connected with their imagination.

Thus, when I fill my journals, it doesn’t make me feel less artist than if I make big oil paintings. My intention is the same – to inspire you to reach that inner child and use your imagination. Journal pages get published in my blog or classes and encourage you to create and imagine, and when someone buys a painting, it takes his or her mind from the wall to a different world.

Hand-drawn art and art classes by Paivi Eerola.

In the work-oriented mindset, you don’t just create for yourself but build a path to serve others. This path can, of course, begin from your own enjoyment, but the longer you want to go, the more it will also involve others.

When you see artists focusing on what they do, remember that they are mindful of how they serve you. Their life can include all kinds of things and activities; they just don’t show that to you. You don’t need to sacrifice your other hobbies; you only need to stop thinking of art as something that you do only for yourself.

This, however, doesn’t mean that you would do art only for the sake of pleasing others. When you are at the beginning of an artist’s journey, you are not conscious of how you can serve people the best way yet. You need to create more art, grow your skills, listen to yourself, and regularly show up to the world. I have found my path by updating this blog, which is now over 10 years old. So I thank you for helping me find my mission as an artist!

“Great, But I Don’t Want Art to Be Work for Me!”

Of course, we can have goals in our hobbies too, and many times the development begins as a hobby. But isn’t it so that when we set goals, they include secret dreams? Being aware of these hidden thoughts and facing how much work it will require is a part of the artist’s journey. And yes, some sacrifice is then needed.

If I think about myself, becoming an artist has required more passion and work than I thought. For example, getting over rejections has been hard but necessary. When everyone said “no,” it was difficult to see the potential “yes” in my work.

Preparing for my first solo show last year.

But life is short, and this is what I have ever wanted to accomplish in this life. And now, I even see a new horizon and want to accomplish more. Again, it feels overwhelming, but I know that if I treat it as work – as my priority, I will have a chance. I will write more about that in the near future!

Art and Sacrifice – What Do You Hope to Accomplish?

This is my counter question to the original one. What does being successful in art mean to you?

I also like this question: “How does success appear in your environment?” It’s like a mini question that leads to the big one. For example, imagine how your home looks when you have accomplished what you hope to do. How have you organized the supplies? What’s on your walls? What is the overall style and atmosphere? Even – where do you live then?

Any thoughts? Please leave a comment!

10 thoughts on “Art and Sacrifice – Must an Artist Drop Other Interests?

  1. Thank you Paivi, for a great blog post, I agree with everything you wrote!
    All the different fields of arts and crafts we learn and play in eventually feed eachother, meet in some way, even if not phisically and help us evolve as artists.
    I also agree that technique is not the main hurdle in creating art, it’s finding your self expression. I think that for about 20 years I haven’t painted or drawn “because I didn’t know what to draw”. How stupid was that. But it’s easy to say so now, my circumstances and state of mind were different and also today so much information is readily available online to help reveal the possibilities in art making. I am sure taking your classes in pencil coloring helped me improve in other mediums as well, both in technique and in self expression, although the latter is still an enormous mountain to dig out, and I’m still only scratching the surface…..

    1. Thanks so much, Pazit! I also had a big break before I got interested in art again, but when art calls, it’s very difficult to resist it!

  2. Life IS short! A friend died unexpectedly yesterday. So even if I never make it to my goal I want to try. I’m still trying to understand my goals and myself , this makes me feel uncomfortable. I will keep moving forward , it is the least I can do and the most . I guess moving forward is everything.

    1. Wendy, I am so sorry you have lost another friend. In saying goodbye, we also remember so much we shared with those friends. It does bring our own lives back into focus. You are so aware that our spirits must grow, in creativity, in self awareness , in reflection, and in so many ways. Some people simply do not open up to any of that. And, by being aware, by acting on your introspection, you will always be moving forward. That uncomfortable feeling is probably very healthy.

    2. Life truly is short, I am sorry for your loss. Wendy, those kind of reminders have made me make big changes in my life for art. And when moving forward, unfortunately the uncomfortable feelings are necessary.

  3. Päivi, on the whole I think I agree with you. You wrote, ‘I want people to get connected with their imagination.’ Imagination is everything, where art (and indeed craft) are concerned. To me, creativity breeds creativity.

    Wendy, I too am sorry for your sudden loss. I broke up a relationship very suddenly. (Threw him into a frying pan and turned up the heat. WHOOSH! He disappeared in flames but will NOT return as a Phoenix!) Even so, the breakup itself was traumatic, and I feel for you.

    Everybody, thank you for your thoughts. I learn a lot from this blog, and Päivi’s group. Until my left arm has healed from shoulder to fingertips (self-diagnosed as cervical radiculopathy – I’m awaiting a home visit from a physiotherapist), and until my doctor finally gets a move on and prescribes me a prescription for heart failure that actually works (!), I can’t draw. That doesn’t stop me from being creative, though. Typing is painful and I’m not working on the book I hope to illustrate, but I’m doing a lot of singing and humming (gently, because of breathlessness) and collecting ‘Oldies but Goldies’ on my mobile phone. Bliss … Just me, housebound with my creativity and calls/visits/messages from my TRUE friends. (That Phoenix just waved at me. The gall! He’s got some nerve, that Phoenix! But he’s inspired another burst of … er … unmentionable creativity.)

  4. This is a lovely post. Your words, Paivi, speak volumes. Wendy I am sorry to hear of the loss. I do agree with Cathy and Paivi that the uncomfortable feelings are probably healthy…most initiations (when we learn and shift and grow) are uncomfortable for a while. It can be tough, this growing thing. I think that is why some choose to NOT grow! LOL
    Paivi, I discovered over these years that for the most part I am not interested in art as work. I was a photographer once and doing it professionally sort of ruined the thrill of taking photos as my art. I “burned out” and for years barely took any photos for myself. I call it the “invisible time”.
    So now I do most of my art as my way to interact playfully with the world. I do it for my fun. I have fun organizing my ever growing stash of materials…trying to let go of the guilt of yet another fun goodie I bought, and just enjoying all the parts of making things. I have fun learning new techniques and trying new materials. I explore and don’t worry if the results doesn’t look like what the pros do. It’s a mind-set and perspective about what I am creating. I learned that I hated having pressure on me to make things a certain way, amount, or by a certain time.
    I do take a few things to a shop where the proprietor offered to sell them only if I want…greeting cards are like mini art pieces and fun to make. I sell a few. Mostly I just make all sorts of things as I please…and my space does look like a scattered DaVinci type room, with various creations all over the place…just as you said to me when I first took Exploring Artist, Paivi! I love learning to NOT pressure myself to do a certain thing a certain way. I have accepted that I am not likely to be an expert in anything, but will have a blast playing with all the fabulous materials. I’m learning to have fun. Learning joy.
    Not all of us are meant to be professional at our art, and I absolutely adore seeing (hearing, reading…) works from those who are pros. It is obvious when someone does put the time and effort in.
    Thanks for your beautiful art, Paivi. It is such a pleasure seeing how far you have come and I can’t wait to see where it takes you! I loved this article. It reminded me of the Exploring class I took with you. Sending you love and hugs!

    1. Thank you for your comment, Carla! I wanted to write a post like this because many see artists’ work only as play. It has required so much more from me to move forward and will require more from anyone who wants to. It’s good to recognize how far you want to go. It seems that you have found a peace there.

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