Carefully Considered Things

by Diane E. Kraus

Stealing Hours

I’m going to have WordPress post this on Monday for me though I’m writing it on Sunday, because it’s not an April Fool’s Day joke. REALLY. It’s not!

I’ve decided to start getting up at 5AM.


March passed by way too fast for me.  And my schedule, which had been working for months, fell apart. Partly because I had work I really wanted to get done and I made the decision to just work on it and get it done. For anyone who follows me on various social networks, you probably noticed the decline of daily posts of portraits and so forth. It was all sacrificed for progress, really!


Well, I did this pastel, another doggie for the same client as Seamus. I’m really getting to enjoy pastels again – they are so much like painting, but without all the hassle of paint.


That brindle coat was a little difficult to do with pastels, but came through allright in the end!  Also, I absolutely love paws.

The other piece I finished was another World of Warcraft fanart commission. I keep pushing these more and more because I’d like to use them to build my portfolio.  This one was insanely detailed, but it was fun to stretch my still-life object-rendering skills.




I have no idea how many hours went into that, and that’s part of the problem!  My workflow has gotten seriously disjointed and drawn out lately.  I think it’s something just about every creative person working in their home has to deal with: there’s so many distractions, it’s so easy to “cheat”; and even when you have something you really want to focus on your brain just seems fried by simply pushing it to focus so consistently through all the distractions.

I had the house to myself a few days last week, so I took the opportunity for a little mini-retreat productivity-analysis time. With the daily routine thrown out the window, I first totally relaxed and wound down, realizing how stressed out I had gotten from my rigid schedule. No matter how well-meaning a schedule is, if you’re totally worn out its not going to help much. I can set aside a specific three hours to work on a specific project, but it still could mean looking at lolcats every five minutes. And that doesn’t get much of anything done!

So I ended up spending a day studying productivity at various websites. The two big things I learned? Do what’s best for yourself, and be bold experimenting with what might end up being best for yourself. But you have to try. You have to do things, change things – sometimes drastically – in order to get the results needed for personal success. It doesn’t matter if you’re learning to be an artist or trying to live healthier or just want to be more relaxed and have less stress in your life. You have to be brazen, and you have to try.

In my notes, I wrote down “BRAZEN” in big capital letters. I like that word. It feels like it could kick some ass.

Sometimes you need a little ass-kicking.

I have always had a reputation for being a late-sleeping night owl. When I was younger I’d regularly stay up until 3, and 4 was sometimes a possibility. I did a lot of writing and drawing late at night, or just relaxing and watching TV or movies or playing video games. And I’d sleep until 9 or 10, if I could. I definitely would on the weekends! School, of course, always put a crimp in my style, and once I really started working – especially painting and needing daylight to paint in – I gradually pushed my wake-up time back farther and farther. I’ve been strict with myself since November or so and have been rising at 7:30 throughout the week. It’s helped me get a ton more done, but not quite enough.

My saving grace is an odd old memory I have going back to when I was in middle school. I can’t quite pinpoint the age or the year, but it was around the time “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” was a top 10 hit. Oh, come on now, let’s all sing along:



I remember so well waking up to this song piping out of my little alarm clock at 6AM. Either “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” or Kylie Minogue’s “The Loco-Motion”. Looking at Wikipedia, it must’ve been 1988 or 1989. So I was… ten. Wow.

That probably explains why I have such positive memories of waking up in the cold dark morning to these silly songs. Maybe I was excited about fifth grade. Maybe I’d just gotten an alarm clock of my own. Maybe I just liked the songs (I still love pop songs!) But that positive memory comes back to me now and then, and I’ve always wondered if it’s possible to enjoy the early morning hours like I once did.

Well, I could set an alarm for 5AM with some of my favorite music. Which I did.

And then I stole two and a half hours out of the night.

I get up at five, get a cup of tea and a bowl of yogurt and granola, and sit down and start to draw. My brain is apparently okay with this, and, in fact, in my past two days of testing has thought it a pretty great idea. It loves listening to my favorite songs and drawing. The rest of me just follows along. And it’s so perfectly quiet and still and isolated, and my only distraction is the two cats who are convinced my being awake must mean food is due momentarily. I’m sure after a while they’ll calm down about that. I hope.

These precious two and a half hours are being sanctioned for DIFFICULT work. Every artist has a different process, but I find there’s two stages to any drawing or painting: Stage One, the composition and drawing and rough draft, and Stage Two, the rendering and polishing. Stage One can be insanely difficult. I want to kill people who interrupt me when I’m doing Stage One work. But once that rough draft is down, I’m happy to pick at it off and on throughout the day and get it done in sections.

5AM is Stage One time. It’s also learning and studying and practice drawing and painting time. It’s not for the tedious finishing work, but the difficult starting work. And it’s such a perfect time for it. My brain just keeps telling me “Thank you.” And I think in that mindset I will take roughs farther which will make finishing less tedious and more straightforward.

Getting that done, I can take the rest of the day much more easily, working on finishing a picture throughout the rest of the day while still having time to do other things without feeling totally bound to a rigid schedule. I do have to take a nap and have set aside time for that, the same mid-afternoon hours that I usually feel sleepy during anyway. So when I’m tired, I sleep. Then I wake up and do some more.

I have no idea if it will continue to work and totally revolutionize my process and productivity. I know the getting up early thing has worked for a large number of creative types and really does make a lot of sense. Putting tasks down on my calendar this week, I was blown away by what seemed possible. We’ll see how it works, for better or for worse. At least it’s trying something new instead of continuing to wear myself down with what I was doing!

It’s not always practical to steal hours from the night, but they are there for the taking. And there really is something… sanctified about those hours before dawn. Something so still and close and isolated. I think I had missed them, in a way, and certainly, being designated “not a morning person” for so long I never thought I could steal them back.

Things can always change.


  1. This is a great idea. I am going to start tomorrow, and dedicate these new hours to a project I had hoped to have finished at the end of December 2011.

    • dekraus

      April 3, 2012 at 10:34 pm

      I wish you luck with it! I’m getting used to feeling a little sleepy all day, but boy are those first three hours unique and wonderful for getting things done. Let me know how it goes for you!

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