In search of balance

I’ve juggled work-work and fun-work (aka mosaics) long enough to know my standard response to a mosaic event: (1) be trucking along, office work by day, picking away at mosaics at night and on weekends in a fairly fluid, no-pressure sort of way, (2) attend a mosaic class or conference, (3) come back all excited and have my head in the clouds for a week or so, and (4) settle back into my normal non-routine of getting into the studio as time and energy permit.

Well, something’s different this time. Since coming back from my first SAMA, I’ve been unusually fired up and that head-in-the-clouds feeling hasn’t gone away yet, even a month later. And with this shift, I found myself falling into a pretty unhealthy routine. I would daydream at work, then come home and hastily prepare some dinner and inhale it at a very embarrassing pace, and then dive right into the studio and stay up far too late for a work night. I felt anxious and frantic—not at all normal for me—and any time that I wasn’t in the studio felt like wasted time. It wasn’t good mentally; I was feeling resentful and scattered and wasn’t truly present in most non-mosaic situations. And it wasn’t good physically, especially because the first thing that always gets sacrificed for me is exercise (and I know for a fact that I work better—I pay better attention and I can sit for longer at my work table—if I am active).

I knew it was an unsustainable pace, especially if I added other non-work commitments and not neglecting my family and friends (and dog) into the mix. So I turned my thoughts to finding some sort of routine and self-imposed rules / structure that would help me balance it all.

While it’s still a work in progress, here’s what seems to be working for me at this point:

  • I’ve allocated days for me (where I work in the studio) and days for others. The studio days, conveniently, correspond with when R is away teaching in Montreal, so the only one being neglected is poor Dexter. In addition, I am trying to be realistic about what I can accomplish during my studio days. Sunday afternoons / evenings are the longest stretch of time I get to spend in there. They are glorious. But Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights? I get maybe three hours at best, or, as I have come to measure a weekday work session: one batch of thinset. I mix up a set quantity (1 ice cream scoop) and when it’s gone, it’s gone. That’s the rule.
  • I am maximizing and repurposing chunks of “unproductive” time.
    • My usual ~2km, 25-minute walk home from work? Well, now I run it once or twice a week and I stretch it to 5km, and I still get home at about the same time but with some exercise under my belt and a clearer head.
    • That 10-minute slaking time for thinset? Why, it’s just the perfect amount of time to do up the dinner dishes and put together my lunch for the next day.
  • I try to cook good meals in advance on my non-studio days.
  • I take an hour for dinner and watch one episode of some show or another while I eat and have my coffee. Yes, I know, tisk tisk for eating in front of the TV, but hey, R isn’t there and Dex is a terrible dinner conversationalist, plus that little bit of TV gives my head some time to gently switch gears (and Dex gets some cuddles out of it, which he appreciates).
He's great for snuggles, but can't hold up his end of a conversation
He’s great for snuggles, but can’t hold up his end of a conversation

This is the solution that I have come up with so far. It’s still being tweaked as I find new strategies to be even more efficient with my time, but thus far I can tell you that I am feeling less pressure and guilt and a whole lot healthier and happier. The drive is still there. Very much so. But it is being tempered by my recognition and acceptance of what I can realistically accomplish in the time I have and is being channelled through this new routine.

I know there are many of us who work day jobs and do mosaic on the side. I would love to hear about other people’s strategies for balancing it all in the comments if you want to share!


I made mosaics on the side while working as a librarian for about 5 years, before my library was closed and my employer laid me off. I was fortunate to be part time, and had Wednesdays off, which allowed a longer stretch in the studio. I admire your ability to recast your routine – and take care of yourself. I did not like my library job, and a lot of my energy went into wishing I was somewhere else. Adjusting your routines according to what contributes to your focus and health will serve you well. When I lost my job, it was hard for me to figure out a routine for doing mosaics full time, since I struggled with routines in general! Even when you are a full time artist, there are administrative aspects of the business that cut into studio time, though I have discovered I enjoy the business part much more than I expected to.

Thanks for sharing your experience, Margaret—always interesting to hear other people’s perspectives. It’s true, there will always be responsibilities that take you away from the studio, even if you’re a full-time artist.

‘I was feeling resentful and scattered and wasnt truely present in most non-mosaic situations.’ YES! Bang on. That’s exactly how I often feel. Thank you for this and for sharing your ways of finding the right balance. I have different things to juggle and my way of eaking out as much mosaic time as possible is to walk the dog while everyone else is asleep (in the pitch dark when it’s winter), to cook to a tried and tested formula which everyone seems moderately happy with and to do my mosaic social networking/blogging when the house is full so that I dont lose a second of silence and concentration that could be devoted to mosaics themselves. By the way, I am totally in love with your Twitter cover photo. Have I somehow missed the full original?

Ah yes, I am very familiar with family time doing double duty as social media / web work time… :-)

Funny, the Twitter cover photo is of an old mosaic, the first one I did as I was transitioning away from stained glass. It’s based on an old map of the Mississippi River and all the various paths it has carved through the landscape over time:

Let me know what you think!

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