5 Ways Art Teachers Can Balance Teaching and Creating Art
Whether you teach painting, drama, music, creative writing, or anything else in the arts, it’s sometimes difficult to find time for your own artistic pursuits. Art teachers spend so much time and energy teaching art to their students that there may not be much left over for their own work. But your work as an artist is valuable to both you and your students. It keeps your creativity sharp and fuels your passion for the subject.
Fortunately, there are ways for artist-educators to carve out time for their art. From crafting a well-structured schedule to harnessing inspiration in the classroom, we explore five ways you can integrate teaching art and your own personal practice of making art.
5 Ways to Balance Making and Teaching Art
Most people teach the arts because they love their subject and want to pass that passion on to students. It makes sense that most art teachers are creatives themselves. In the short term, you might not mind setting aside your personal projects to focus on your students. But do that for too long and you may lose your creative spark.
It’s important to make time for your own art, so the educator and the artist in you are equally nourished.
Teaching is not the same as doing. It’s important to make time for your own art, as well. The strategies listed here can help you find time to paint, draw, act, write, dance, make music, or pursue whatever art form lights you up.
1. Schedule Time to Make Art a Habit
We all have daily routines and regular habits. These predictable actions help us feel in control of our environment, grow our sense of confidence, and reduce stress. In fact, routines can improve cognitive function and help us be more creative.
How to do it: Start by writing down your typical daily schedule. Then, find blocks of time to dedicate to your own artwork. This is not class prep time. It’s time dedicated specifically to you and your work.
Schedule these blocks however they will work best and most realistically for you. You may be able to write or sketch in a 15-minute block. Projects with more setup, like glass blowing, may need longer chunks of time. Find what works for your art and your schedule. Then get it on the calendar.
Now here’s the most important part! You must honor that time just as you would if you were teaching a class. By treating your artistic practice with the same level of commitment and discipline that you bring to teaching art, you can find time for your own projects.
Useful resource: The book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work shares the daily routines of 161 creative minds—including Picasso and Warhol—if you need some inspiration!
But what happens if you look at your calendar and really can’t find a free 15 minutes for yourself? Tip 2 can help with that.
2. Outsource and Simplify Other Parts of Life
There are inescapable realities to being an art teacher. You have to plan lessons, provide student feedback, and manage course logistics. Things get even more complicated if you’re running your own business as an art instructor. Add to that your personal and family responsibilities, and it’s easy to see why your art sometimes gets pushed aside.
If you’re overscheduled, it’s time to identify places where you can outsource, streamline, or simplify.
How to do it: Make a list of everything you need to do regularly. This might make you feel overwhelmed, but push through. It’s about to get less scary. Next, highlight everything that you hate doing, don’t want to do anymore, or wish would just magically take care of itself.
Then, examine each highlighted item on your list. Ask yourself: is this something that really needs to get done? If so, is there a way I can outsource, automate, or otherwise simplify this task?
You’re a creative person. Use that creativity here. You might choose to invest in course registration software that automates the process, get your family to help with more household chores, or quit the nonprofit board that’s sapping your energy.
Useful resource: If this list exercise reveals that you have a real time problem, try the book Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Everyday. It offers 87 different tactics to help you make time for what really matters (and that includes your art!).
3. Work When Your Students Work
Just as new mothers are told to sleep when the baby sleeps, it’s possible for you to work when your students work. This is especially true for more advanced classes when students are comfortable working independently and need less instructor guidance. You may not be able to work on your 10-foot-tall assemblage sculpture in the classroom, but focus on what you can do. Sketching, small-scale models, and other planning elements might be more manageable.
How to do it: Have a plan for what you’ll work on while your students are working. Make sure you have all the materials you will need. Then, let students know that you’re going to be working but they are welcome to ask for help if needed. When you work on your own projects during class, you serve as a living example for students.
You might even integrate your own creative projects into your teaching curriculum to show students how you work and what techniques you use.
For example, if you’re playing with oil painting techniques in your own work and your students are learning about oil painting, you might work on your own canvas during class to show them scumbling, alla prima, and underpainting.
Useful resource: If you’re at a loss for what to work on, pick up a copy of You Are an Artist: Assignments to Spark Creation by Sarah Urist Green. This book includes more than 50 creative prompts, many of which you could use in your classroom. Green also has an interesting YouTube Channel called The Art Assignment that includes interesting prompts (“Make a Book With Meat”), introductions to artists, and presents a “case” for why different art styles are worth exploring.
4. Connect With an Artists’ Community
Being connected with a network of like-minded artists and educators is invaluable for artists who teach. Collaborative projects and art communities provide opportunities to network, share ideas, lend support, and spark creative genius. By connecting with fellow artists, artist-educators can find encouragement and accountability to fuel their own creative pursuits.
How to do it: Start by checking out local Facebook and Meetup events to look for local artist groups. Teaching Artists Guild is an active practitioner-led community. If you don’t find anything, consider starting your own group or connecting with like-minded artists online. Reddit is a great place to find people from all over the world who share your interests.
You might even explore the option of an artist residency. These special events offer opportunities to spend some time focused solely on creating art. Residencies don’t have to be long—they can be a long weekend, or even a single day—so you can schedule them around your teaching commitments.
If attending a residency isn’t possible, consider a DIY residency. Spend a few nights at an Airbnb or ask a fellow artist if they’re willing to share their workspace with you for a day or two. This offers you both a chance to connect and work on your own projects.
Useful resource: You can use this residency search tool from artistcommunities.org to look for experiences that meet your needs. Artist and gallery director Jess Todd also offers a useful guide for how to plan your own DIY artist residency.
5. Talk to Your Students About Making Time for Artistic Work
When teaching art, you can instruct your students on more than just artistic techniques. Think about what your students are learning from your behavior. Have an honest conversation about the challenges of balancing work and art. It may be something your students struggle with too.
How to do it: Ask students how they make time for their creative pursuits. Teach them techniques to protect their boundaries. Share some of the resources we’ve included here and ask students to bring their own ideas to class.
Your students are looking to you to teach them how to be artists while also juggling the other demands of daily life. Make sure you’re giving them a realistic image.
Useful resource: A workbook like From Chaos to Creativity Workbook: Building a Productivity System for Artists and Writers can help both you and your students make time for artistic work.
Teaching art while pursuing your own personal artistic endeavors is undoubtedly a delicate balancing act. But the balance can be struck.
With the right resources and mindset, you can still practice your craft while teaching art.
At CourseStorm, we simplify the lives of teachers and program directors with our online course registration and payment processing platform. Students can sign up, pay, and manage their enrollments while you’re busy working on your own projects. Contact us to learn more or start your free trial today.
Nic is skilled in scaling start-up edtech and education organizations to growth-stage success through innovative marketing. A former journalist and copywriter, Nic holds a postgraduate certificate in digital and print publishing from Columbia University School of Journalism's publishing course.