10 ways to make art in less than an hour

Find that extra hour or two in the day that belongs to nobody else but you and make it productive. Put the hours in, do it for long enough, and magical, life-transforming things happen eventually.

-Hugh MacLeod, from Ignore Everybody: And 39 Other Keys to Creativity

It’s summer now, and these slower days bring pool bags filled with watermelon, vacations, wet bathing suits, and lots of  children. And we love to be with them, to have less structure, to do the pool and the beach and the lazy days thing. But we can’t help but wander into the still, quiet places of our imaginations. We can’t help but long for shreds of alone sometimes.

We tend to think we have to have weeks to re-charge, endless open days to plan and prepare, a retreat to re-center and re-focus. Those things will help, for sure. And if you get them, soak them up and roll around in the blessing of them. But most of us don’t have the luxury of wide open days or weekend retreats on any type of regular basis.

So what’s the alternative? Never write the book? Never plan the proposal? Never paint the living room? Ignore the artist voice?

What do we do when all the time we get is in whatever drops are leftover after wringing out the day? I wouldn’t write this if I didn’t believe it, but Hugh McLeod is right: magic happens when we take those drops and begin to fill the bucket. Or in his words, put the hours in, keep doing it, and magic happens. At first the bucket looks empty and I’m tempted to think nothing is happening. But that would be a mistake, because every drop saved is one drop closer to full. Here are some ways to fill the bucket in less than an hour.

Find the drops from your wrung-out day. Launch a relentless pursuit of the art.

Write for 30 minutes. It is not a waste of time.

Take a walk with your camera and see what you can find.

Dare to believe you have something to say but remember it’s because He said it first.

Sit in the quiet just because. A lot more may happen there than you might think.

Savor the moments to talk through the dreams, to sift through the disappointment, to pray for the miracle.

Do the work you love when the early morning lifts up her head with a smile and a high-pitched song.

Sit at the table and make your art when the evening sky fills up the yard right outside your window.

Don’t do it because you have to. Do it because you can.

Then? Open wide your eyes and see what happens. It may be the littlest things that change a life, and the magic is in the details.


  1. says

    Yep, I relate to the “sit in the quiet just because” idea. That’s me, completely. I love to sit and think while I’m sitting at a coffee shop and semi-watching people walk by. Ever since you started this art/creativity series, I’ve been giving myself that intentional space to create more often. I actually referred a life coaching client to your blog as she works to involve her creativity into her life and ministry more. Thanks for the wisdom and inspiration!

  2. says

    I’m a huge fan of just sitting too. My place of choice is usually in my garden, but I find anywhere near nature works best for me (even just next to a tree!).

    You really have to let yourself be though, as it’s very easy to let the buzz of your mind force you back to ‘doing’. Often through guilt, but eveyone deserves (and owes) themselves that little time every day. Take it, then you’ll feel the magic.

  3. says

    so encouraging. it does feel like there isn’t much left over in the day. very little time for me. and i’m okay with that. i love being mom and wife and sister and friend first. but the art….oh how i love the art. thank you for this gentle nudge in the right direction. to refocus. plan. make the most of the leftover.

  4. says

    My son is with his grandparents this week and I am finding that I get much more done in the small bits of time that I can grab here and there when my son is with me, than I am getting done in the large blocks of time I have right now when he is not with me. I have a new appreciation for little bits of time.

    • says

      I do that, too! Somehow I am more productive when I know my time is limited. Those large amounts of time are often better for rest than productivity. At least, for me. Glad I’m not the only one!

  5. Kelley says

    Emily, Thank you for the grace you breathe into my life! Please keep making art, you have encouraged and blessed others far more than you will ever know by living your life with eye’s open. Thank you!

  6. says

    Yes! Exactly. Thank you perfectly expressing the idea that we all have an opportunity to create. Love the picture of drops in a bucket. A friend gave me the advice to use naptime not for cleaning up or being on my computer but to do something I enjoyed: reading, cross-stitching, crocheting, etc. When my children woke up I was so much more fulfilled and happy. Thank you for more ideas on how to make creativity happen in my day.

    • says

      You’re welcome, Heather! And good advice from your friend. Although for those of us who write, being on the computer IS our art. I just have to make sure I’m writing and not mindlessly clicking. That’s the challenge.

  7. Kelly says

    Thank you for this…these words on this day. I went to bed last night totally doubting my ability to do the art I so want/need to do. Understanding a new camera, understanding photoshop, understanding wordpress.org..all the technology “help” seems to be stealing the time away from the art itself. Too much to learn. Today I will “open my eyes wide and see what happens.”
    Thank you for always being the cheerleader for the artists.

  8. says

    Good encouragement! Summer is both wonderful and wearying, so I love your words about seeing the value in the little drops after the wrung out day. For us mamas, we need to embrace the small, precious bits of time we can find and remember this is a season. Thank you, Emily!

  9. says

    now to better use those little quiet moments.. that’s my trouble, being so exhausted I fall asleep the second things quiet down, lol. Love the post! Thank you!

  10. says

    Emily– YAY! This post makes me cheer– I find when this is my perspective, I actually make more art and live more artfully than during the school year when I seem to have more of that “ideal” creating time.

    Well said!

  11. says

    Oh, yes, Emily! It’s so easy to fall into a trap of thinking that a bucket can be filled only by a gushing stream, forgetting that even a gusher is composed of single drops of water. I’m going to try to take your advice to heart today. I may only have time for a few drops, but if I can just catch those drops, eventually my bucket will be filled! YES!

  12. says

    “Launch a relentless pursuit of the art.”

    mmm… I love this.

    This makes me think of Alece Ronzino’s “One Word” (http://gritandglory.com) – her word is “look” or “seek” – something having to do with opening your eyes to the world around you… this list SO reminds me of that … like taking your camera on a walk and seeing what you can find. Love it!

  13. says

    I love the metaphor of drops in the bucket. I have a painting I am trying to get working on and I told myself I was only allowed a certain amt of time on the computer today. 😉 I may have to start setting an alarm to help myself. Thank you so much for singing this song over us…….

  14. says

    I love your reminders here — your heart reaching out to us to not forget that we are not who were are designed to be unless we create. And each moment — even the small moments — are significant. I love how you express it: “At first the bucket looks empty and I’m tempted to think nothing is happening. But that would be a mistake, because every drop saved is one drop closer to full.” Thank you so much for this truth and encouragement.

  15. says

    I keep reminding myself that summer is almost over for us. I need to get to those things I put off until summer. Thanks for making me realize I need to start plugging away a little at a time instead of trying to string days together to get something done.

  16. says

    I needed this! I love your bucket/drops analogy! I have been so overwhelmed looking at “the bucket”. This gives me some hope and some energy to start putting in the little drops.

  17. says

    wonderful encouragement. Just read today by Jeff Goings this line, “Real writers don’t write for recognition.
    They don’t do it for fame, accolades, or notoriety. They do it because they cannot not write.”

    and I love the buckets and drops image.

    well written post that will linger in my heart

  18. says

    So, you really ARE a mind-reader. I thought I had 45 minutes yesterday, which seemed not-quite-worth-it. But I snatched them up and they dwindled down to 25, but I didn’t let them go and in those 25 minutes a miracle happened. Well, that’s an over-statement. But the light bulb went on and I fixed chapter two and read it to Cory last night and he said, “I’m getting really excited for your book.” And I fell asleep with a smile.

  19. says

    Dare to believe you have something to say but remember it’s because He said it first.

    Believing this is such a struggle for me!!! I read and study God’s Word and long to teach it, but I always feel like I’m just stating the obvious.
    I’m trying to write a blog post a day as my art. In all honesty, it’s your posts that have given me the courage to try. Thank you.

  20. says

    These are all fantastic–and so encouraging. The biggest takeaway for me today is “Dare to believe you have something to say but remember it’s because he said it first.”

  21. says

    I’m with you a hundred percent! Think of it in terms of people: would I not bother spending any time with my husband if I couldn’t spend an entire day with him? No! I squeeze time in where I can, and make it quality no matter how short!

  22. says

    Thanks to this inspiration/kick to the pants (in a gentle way, of course!), I took my 30 minute lunch break at work to do some writing. I did my best to keep myself focused and just WRITE – no editing, no over-thinking. It was immensely satisfying! I’ve been beating myself up a lot lately for a lack of discipline when it comes to my writing. While more structure is probably needed and a good thing, it’s also refreshing to realize that even when I’m filling in the spaces of my day, I’m still making progress.

  23. says

    Quality post here! I needed this reminder to get me out and about from my regular day to day rat race life! Thanks a bunch for the great ideas. :)

  24. says

    So beautifully said! Too often I find myself feeling guilty for sneaking a few minutes to sit and read, write or just think…. but its in those small times that my soul is recharged and I feel I am closer to my dreams. Thanks for the “permission” to sit a spell.

  25. says

    Thank you for this wonderful and meaningful post. You really hit the spot. This is helpful, this will keep the readers reminded about the importance of little things.

  26. says

    Excellent advice, Emily. Whenever my former writing students used to whine that they really, really wanted to be “a writer” but had no time to write, I would remind them that we all have 24 hours in a day. There will never be more than that. Those who truly want to write/draw/paint/read/sew/whatever will find a way to do so. It’s all about priorities. Sometimes we have to sacrifice our favorite show or an afternoon of shopping on the altar of creativity.

  27. says

    This is so often what I feel with a baby in the house, but you’re right, all we must do is use the little time we do have and let God do the rest with the gift he’s given us!

  28. says

    This post makes me want to sing. And this line? “Savor the moments to talk through the dreams, to sift through the disappointment, to pray for the miracle.” I think you wrote it just for me. : )

  29. susan says

    In all of life’s blessings & trials, you are a blessing. I think I actually took a long deep breath….i know my heart rate went where it’s supposed to be. I read it three times, calmer every time. Thank you.

  30. says

    “Dare to believe you have something to say but remember it’s because He said it first.”

    Emily: You wrote these words just for me! (or so it seems ) And he probably did say it first, but I just didn’t hear/wasn’t listening.


  31. says

    Yes, Emily, Yes! [oh, do I sound like Meg Ryan?]. I remember hearing Anne Lamott talk in Omaha several years ago. She told us to write for 30 minutes in whatever slice of timewe could find. She suggested we skip the evening news a few nights a week and use that sliver of time to write. And you know what? That’s what I did. That’s just about when I started writing. (I didn’t watch the news, but I did begin to skip a night of HGTV!). I began with only one night a week, for an hour or so. And then I worked in a couple early mornings at 5:30. And pretty soon I was writing while the spagetti water boiled. And eventually I wrote a whole book that way! It took me 2.5 years in sliver-of-time increments. It can be done!

    I am so inspired by this post, can you tell?!

  32. says

    This is such a great idea. Thank you for posting this. Sometimes summer periods can seem even more hectic than the rest of the year. Some people take on summer courses or internships. Parents often have to drive their kids to and from summer camps or sports programs. Taking a few minutes out of each day to pursue a passion or just relax is something everyone should do. This should especially be done by those who use all their time working around the rest of their family’s schedules. Thanks!

  33. says

    Love this post today. My life is full of those seemingly little moments and you are completely right, if I use them, I can accomplish such good things!!

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