There are only certain people that relate to my work and that goes for any work. That’s really important for me to remember in order to continue doing what I need to do.—Elana Kundell
Elana Kundell is a painter, teacher, and odd-job hustler. Her artwork can be found in collections around the world and has been exhibited in venues including the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in LA, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) Artists Gallery, the Sundance Film Festival in Utah and galleries in the United States and Korea. She lives in the Los Angeles area.
What time do you get up?
Usually between 7 and 8 a.m.
What time do you go to sleep?
Usually 11:30 p.m. -12 a.m. Two a.m. every so often when I’m researching and excited (lit from the computer screen/current events/project). I’m strong on the full eight hours and am trying for good sleep hygiene these days.
Is your creative work your full-time job?
This is an interesting question. My main gig is in my studio, but it seems to include so much that has so little to do with painting itself. Besides the business of art, I teach students privately in my studio and am always hustling to supplement with small gigs on the side (helping my friends with their rental property, supporting other artists with writing, consulting and design work, photographing others’ artwork, office work and then some). In fact, I am seeking stable part-time work.
Do you wait for inspiration before you begin or do you begin regardless of inspiration?
I really fluctuate between these two. I often begin in different media (watercolor, drawing, writing, movement, anything) just to keep the hand-eye-heart connection strong. But I admit that I usually don’t get into the really meaty work in oil unless:
- I have a motivating deadline (show, studio visit) or accountability on a specific project
- I have really good momentum and no schedule impediments (which usually builds from many consecutive hours in the studio, multiple days a week for a few weeks)
- OR occasionally if the urge is so strong from inspiration by nature, other art forms or ideas that I find myself in prostration (in love and devotion) at my easel.
Sometimes I have to call friends to renew my motivation and get over the sedentary lull.
How many hours a day, on average, do you do your creative work?
15 minutes – 5 hours. My new daily practice assures at least 15 minutes (plus morning pages for 15 minutes). In other words, most weeks it vacillates between all and nothing – bare minimum and binge painting, with occasional one-hour pockets of “I’ve got to finish this painting for this project or inquiry.” I spend possibly 3 hours in the studio for every hour that I create when I’m not in momentum. During this time, I’m cleaning, thinking, looking, prepping, reading, listening to healthy living or Creative Live webinars – and yes, answering emails.
At what point are you done for the day?
When I get hungry, have another appointment or find myself on the comfy studio couch for way too long.
Do you work primarily in the morning, afternoon, or evening?
I love working in the morning but I mainly get the big chunks of time in the afternoon -evening. My optimal times are 10 a.m.- 1 p.m. and 4 – 7:30ish p.m.
Do you have a daily routine for your creative work?
Yes, just began a new morning routine with a minimum of 15 min visual practice (at home).
How does it start?
The home morning practice begins with a cup of warm water, morning pages, meditation & breathwork, and sometimes a little stretching. Essential oil, sometimes a candle. My watercolors are laying on the floor so then I go to it.
The studio practice is not as routine but usually starts with turning on music, a deep breath and all sorts of mixed media on paper, plus intermittent writing.
How does it end?
Home practice – with me running for the shower, panicking that I’ll be late for my student or an appointment because I got lost in watercolor… At the studio, it ends with me cleaning my brushes and often spreading extra paint onto a small piece of paper or panel, with a last look at the piece i worked on (which often results in a little more painting and then more clean-up, etc).
How has your creative process changed over the years?
I used to go into the studio in the afternoon and stay up until 3 or as late as 5 am. Then I would take a break for a day and do it again, especially when on deadline. There was little sense of self-care and I got sick more often.
I have always had difficulty with a daily routine, but it’s improving. I have really softened how I talk to myself about it and today it’s more important that I love myself through some “crappy art experiments” – than force myself into pseudo-perfection at the risk of my health. I say “crappy” with affection. I need to know that I can fail well and often – that what I focus on grows, that I can only solve painting problems by painting (because I am a Thinker! and have to be reminded). Today I have greater faith in the process itself and not the daily results – it’s by no accident that my creative practice is linked up with my spiritual practice.
Do you have a dedicated work space?
Yes, a beautiful well-lit shared studio in a former 1st grade classroom – part of Studio Channel Islands in Camarillo (with a nice gallery space in the auditorium and about 35-40 artists in the other classrooms of the former elementary school).
If yes, do you have anything in your work space to encourage creativity?
I turn most of my paintings around so as not to be influenced by them in the visual field while I work. Everything is game and I find myself porous. But I definitely set up the space for irresistible, inevitable engagement. I have three tables and two easels (plus two palettes). One table is covered in pastels, ink, pencils, charcoal and all sorts of goodies. It’s ready to go and I use it for students as well. My oil paints are spread atop a long glass palette in all their glorious colors. My art books are in there and I have posters of past shows on one wall behind me, which helps me to feel professional when I forget.
I have a new poster coming in – an original screen print made by a student of pop artist Corita Kent – it’s great.
How do you stay focused in a world of the internet, social media, interruptions, and other distractions?
I don’t! I stray and come back. I have to turn my phone off. I often forget to do so. I have to call friends to remind me of the urgency and focus. Sometimes I spend hours on the couch doing other work. I wonder if I should let go of the couch, but it’s so comfortable – a good metaphor for comfort vs. risk.
It is SO much easier to do work for others or knee-jerk respond to the world— it is instantly validating, feels purposeful, provides quick feedback. Artmaking involves so much unknown. Ambiguity. Experimentation. Isolation sometimes. Conversation with my darker parts. It’s long and slow, even with its quick moments.
Honestly, it helps me to make sure I get adequate exercise, sleep, self-care, meditation and nutrition – these things really keep my ADD at bay and keep up my energy. But it is a daily struggle to shut out the “shoulds,” turn off the news, let go of that call for entry, refrain from letting other plans usurp painting time, stop flirting with my studio practice by socializing with other artists and prioritize my true work (play).
How do you maintain your creative energy?
Small amounts of healthy food, walks and getting outside to stretch and breathe, veggie juice.
The food balance is important – too much and I end up on the couch. Naps are also a bit perilous – I am better off leaving the studio and returning later than losing momentum with a nap. But I definitely do take those naps on long days – I just find they are not as productive.
Breaks are vital when I am on deadline – letting it go completely for a little while before returning.
What other activities do you engage in to encourage your creativity outside of your creative work time?
One of the best ways to stimulate my creativity is to talk with other artists and experience other art forms. Exercise and reading (books, art blogs and research) are also really important. There is nothing like travel for revving up my creativity, as long as I am able to dedicate lots of time when I return – it always brings in new perspective and excitement. But it has to balance out with the period of interruption.
The deeper stuff...To listen to the conversation with Elana on The Creativity Habit podcast:
Every Monday a new interview.Conversations about art, creativity, and courage.