Artist block and burnout are two sides of the same dreadful coin. The fine line between them is an artist’s paradise, where art gets done smoothly, ideas come together quickly, and we sleep easily when the day is done.
While my reality is often more messy than that blissful Utopia, there are some bits of self-care that I like to keep in mind, and it can at least help smooth out the edges.
I’m an insomniac and have problems with anxiety and depression. Things aren’t always pretty. I have panic attacks. I try very hard to stay grounded (Studio Puppy Dublin helps a lot) and managing my mental health is a daily thing. Making a conscious effort to practice self-care is vital not only to my creative practice, but living a healthy life over-all.
I believe we’ve all heard the saying “pay yourself first” with regard to financial health, and really, the same applies with creativity. Take care of yourself and nurture your own creative wellbeing to add to your stock of inspiration and energy that you can then pour into your craft.
But how to do it? There are a lot of blog posts, articles and general advice running around about self-care that include things like
Take a fancy bath
Treat yourself to some chocolate
Buy something small for yourself
Generally, treat yourself! You deserve it!
While I have no doubt that these can do something to make you feel good, they don’t specifically address my needs as an artist.
Let's get down to it!
With help from some other creative souls out there, I’ve come up with a list of ways to take care of your artistic well-being.
Learn with intention
Take some time to expand and hone the tools in your creative toolbox. The more you know how to do, with more precision, the better equipped you are to express your ideas.
How to go about it? I find tutorials on YouTube and make a small piece of art testing out and practicing a new skill based on instruction. There are also a metric ton of classes and books out there, and I’ve used those as well with a lot of success.
Switch things up
Stagnation is the enemy of creativity. Do you paint? Try sculpture. Do you work with vibrant colors? Try black and white. Work big, or try going small. Use a medium you’ve never touched before, and just play, see what you get out of it. Do a Bob Ross tutorial, architectural model, jewelry, collage, make prints with potatoes…get messy, and let go of it being perfect. Shock your artistic system, and you never know what you’ll get from it!
Experience new things (museum, etc)
Life and art inform one another. If you live in a vacuum (i.e. your art corner) you will eventually run into a wall where OOPS you need to recharge in order to find inspiration! Get out and experience things!
Stand up, get out of the studio, and experience something you find inspiring. Go for a walk, visit a natural history museum, listen to live music… There’s so much out there that can fuel our creative energy. I like to go to local museums (of any sort, but especially if there are skulls) and find something to love about every exhibit. Whether it’s the delicate curves of bone, fine pinstriping on old cars or just standing in awe of the work that went into settling the land that makes up my city, these displays always offer something of interest!
Experience other art first-hand. There’s nothing like seeing art up close. Interacting with your local art scene can lead to sparks of inspiration and new connections, and I count walking through an exhibit as exercise. Try seeing if there are art walks, First Friday shows or free days at your local galleries. Go for a walk and sketch the public murals around town. Go to an open studio and chat with the artist, see a play, listen to the community band. You became an artist because you love art, right? Make it’s appreciation part of your routine.
Don’t force your art. If you’re having trouble or not sure where to go with it, walk away. Don’t look at it for a couple hours, a couple days… and come back to it with fresh eyes. I work on multiple pieces at once so that I can give each painting ( and my eyes) some time to breath in between layers.
Massage and exercise your hands and wrists. We USE these suckers, and they need some love, too. I thoroughly appreciate when a friend massages my hands, but I’ve learned to do it for myself too.
exercise/take care of your body
Eat something that’s good for you. Exercise. You know, take care of yourself. The better you feel, and the more energy you have, the more you can pour into your art.
Whether you carry a sketchbook with you or doodle on scraps of paper, draw and sketch. Observe the world around you and record it. It keeps your artistic muscles loose and ready to go, and you never know what will inspire you. I sketch first thing in the morning most days, and it’s been so nice to ease into my day.
Love your process
Learn to appreciate the parts of your process that aren’t so fun. My own process is messy, and I always hit a point where I feel like I ruined whatever I’m working on. I had to finally accept that this is part of my process, and something I should be celebrating. Now every time I hit that point, I walk away and take a minute to be excited about it. It means I’m nearly done!
Create an atmosphere that you find inspiring. Do you dream of a white-walled studio? Paint the walls with a fresh coat, or set up a whitewashed board to hang your works-in-progress on. Collect some house plants if you’re inspired by greenery (you can grow a number for free by taking cuttings of a friend’s plant--with permission of course.) Light candles, hang posters of things that inspire you, light some incense. Music, lighting, and tidying up can help create an atmosphere that’s conducive to creative moments.
Practice a positive mindset, and taking your art seriously. Using the phrase “I am an artist” when talking about what you do, even if it’s part-time or as a hobby is EMPOWERING and can lead to opportunities.
Make personal art
For some artists, this is a luxury. I do a lot of art for other people, and every now and then I just have to bust out a painting of a skull or other such nonsense, simply because I LIKE it. I usually make these small, because it’s also rewarding to finish something in one sitting, especially if I’ve been working on the same big painting for a while.
The secret: make self care your new norm
Living a balanced creative life really comes down to building these bits of self-care into your regular routine, so that they become second nature. Hopefully we never get to the point of burnout or complete art block, but when we do, at least we have some tactics at hand to help combat it.
I hope you see something here that carches your eye! If you have other tips for how to nurture creativity, please share in a comment-- I'd love to hear them! :)