My Work

The Dreaded Deadline – And Why I Need It

Deadlines. Not something we associate with artistic practice. Not in the idealistic, visionary artist sense, anyway. But they are something of a reality. If you are a commercial artist or maker, you will know the importance of these time constraints.

Does an Artist Need Deadlines?

But what of the casual artist? Surely they have the privilege of all the time in the world to create and perfect whatever they are working on, right? Yet, while this open, infinitesimal creative path may be the ideal for some, there is also the chance that it can lead to numerous detours down routes of procrastination. Or a splintering of ideas. Perhaps you reach a fork in the road and decide that the ultimate goal you are pursuing can wait while you explore the untrodden path. You have all the time in the world, right? What harm can a quick diversion do?

Well, if we are being honest with ourselves, quite a lot! Ok, maybe that is an exaggeration. Harm is perhaps the wrong word. Creative exploration is not a bad thing. It’s something I actively encourage! But so often, these creative side lines are an exercise in procrastination; a way of putting off the work that needs to be done. At least, for me they are. The result is that I have lots of ideas, techniques, and processes that I have picked up along the way, but not necessarily the finished products to show for it.

Why I Need a Deadline…

That is, however, unless I have a deadline to adhere to. The sense of finality to a project. Perhaps the dangling sword of failure above my head is needed.

It is something that is reflected in most of my working life, so perhaps this is something that others do not feel as acutely. But I thrive when there is a deadline to work to. An end point. A line in the sand. Maybe it is part of my need as a recovering perfectionist to get things right. As all reasonable people know, perfection is a fallacy. A cruel and unrelenting ideal that will plague anyone who likes to do a good job on anything they are working on.

I read recently that a good artist knows when to stop. That is what sets them apart, not the weeks, months, or years of hard work, but knowing the point at which a work is ‘complete’. That is not to say the work is ‘perfect’. That is inconceivable. Just that the artist has reached their destination with this particular work.

When to Finish?

It is a difficult thing to know, and something that is only truly achieved through years of experience and self-critique. Have you ever worked on a piece that you have fallen in love with (as the narcissist within the creator often will) only to have gained too much confidence and then added a mark too many, an extra splash of unnecessary colour? You know it’s wrong, and you instantly regret it. And there it was, you missed the signs telling you to stop.

So perhaps having your hands forced by a deadline isn’t always a bad thing. For me it certainly applies a certain element of focus to the work at hand. It allows you to plan a definite schedule to work to; if I want to complete this I must do this task, etc.

It is about creating self-awareness as an artist. Getting to know how you like to work. From my school days I have been a deadline junkie, and I have to admit to the undergrad students I teach now that I didn’t even start the majority of my undergrad essays until less than twenty-four hours to the deadline (don’t ask me how I passed!?!). Sure, that approach has changed now; I couldn’t have completed an MA or a PhD with such carefree attitudes towards the work. But it is as though I has an instinctual knowledge of how long a project will take me and then plan to the deadline accordingly.

Keeping Your Own Deadlines

So deadlines, they are an important factor for me to work to. But, and here’s the big snag, setting your own deadlines is an entirely different game. Give me someone else relying on the work and I am there, one-hundred percent the job will be done, and done to a high-standard. My own deadlines, however, they are a little easier to break…

So, what to do? Well, the solution I have come to is to find a way to set personal project deadlines with an external source. For example, I have written before about quilting and I genuinely find the patchwork element to be a therapeutic endeavour. This left me with a large patch-work completed over the last several years. But I have to admit, that although I had all these lovely visions of curling up on the sofa with my cosy patch-work quilt, actually doing the work to get it there was not happening with any haste.

So, after several years of visiting the quilt show with myself and my aunts pledging to enter ‘next year’. I have finally taken the plunge. My quilt is entered into this year’s Festival of Quilts! What does that mean? Well, I have just under two months to complete quilting my project.

Is that feasible? Absolutely! Would I have felt the impetus to complete this project without this deadline? Perhaps not (if the last few years are anything to go by!).

What it means is that I have a creative focus. Yes, there are some other projects I am working on (including two other quilts…), but this one takes priority. It must. This work has been promised to be delivered on time and completed, and it will be.

So, over the next month or so, I will be stitching away. Perhaps a few needles will be broken in the process… But it will be worth it. The project will be completed, and all because of a much needed deadline.

So how do you work? Can you work without set deadlines? Or are you a slave to them like me? Let me know in the comments. And if you are at this year’s Festival of Quilts, check out my entry into the First Quilt category.

Leave a Reply