This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….” For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines, and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.
Do it every day.
The people I know who are in the best physical shape they can be, exercise daily. They do something every day.
And the artists I know who are the most creative and most productive do their art every day. They make something every day.
Let’s pursue the exercise metaphor:
Healthy people exercise every day. Or as nearly as they can.
They mix it up. They run alternate days, and bike in between.
They vary the intensity of the activities. High-intensity workouts with something less “pounding” in between. Yoga, for example, or Pilates (which is strenuous but not high impact.)
They vary the type of exercise. Gym workouts. Walking and Tai Chi. Swimming.
They make accommodations for the season. They run more in the more temperate seasons and swim (indoors in New Hampshire!) in the winter.
They accommodate for injuries. When I couldn’t do martial arts after knee surgery, I walked and swam. Now I walk and gym. Hopefully, back to Tai Chi soon!
People who exercise regularly get creative about how to get a daily workout in. Because they’ve learned something important about exercise:
Once you stop, it’s really, really hard to get started again.
I’ve had to come back after several major injuries. The first time, after a debilitating knee injury, it took almost ten years to get back in the saddle again with martial arts. Going to class and not being able to do the things I used to do easily was humiliating. My pride and my frustration got in the way.
I finally found a way to ease myself back into hard workouts by joining an independent women’s gym. After a year, I was able to try martial arts again.
When I injured myself again a few years ago, it only took me about four months to get back into a routine again. It was just as frustrating and humiliating. But I didn’t give up. I learned to find some way of maintaining my routine by alternate exercise, modifying my movements, and doing extra strength work.
What’s really insidious are the people who try to cajole you into “taking it easy.”
“Come on!” they wheedle. “It won’t hurt you to miss a day!”
Well, no. It doesn’t hurt to miss a day–at first.
But it’s so easy for one missed day to turn into two or three missed days. Soon you’re looking for excuses–“I’m really too busy to exercise today. I’ll work twice as hard tomorrow!”
Skipping exercise only makes coming back that much harder.
We do the same thing with our art, when we make a habit of skipping our studio time….with the same devastating results.
Life sometimes gets in the way of our best intentions. When we are devastated by loss, by illness and injuries, by financial setbacks, by a job loss or move, often the first thing we abandon is the very thing that gives us the energy, the power, to deal with it: Our art.
Our artistic nature is like a muscle. It needs to be exercised regularly, too.
Yes, sometimes we need to compensate for overwork/injury with rest and recuperation: We need to allow time for our “artistic well” to refill.
But too much time away from our studio means we have unplugged ourselves from our source of power.
When an artist tells me they are struggling, that life is clobbering them, that they feel sad about their art, the only advice I can’t stop myself from giving them is this:
Go make your art.
And like our physical workouts, when we hit a wall in life, sometimes we just need to mix it up a little. It’s good to try new things. It may help to take a class to develop our techniques or expand our vision.
Sometimes we need to vary the intensity–alternating lighter art (short fun projects) for serious art (the stuff we pour our soul into).
Sometimes we need to warm up first, doing quick, easy tasks to warm up the right side of our brain before settling into our long “flow” work periods. Sketching out new ideas. Restocking our materials: Paint. Tools. Frames. Meeting up for an artist support group!
Sometimes we are fortunate enough to have leisurely, long periods of time to work on our art. Other times, we’re lucky if we can grab fifteen minutes. But those fifteen minutes may be crucial to us keeping up that habit of daily work.
I’ve learned the hard way that this means actually touching the things that involve what you DO with your art. The days I spend putting together show applications, or doing press releases, or doing banking, or shipping orders, are related to my art business. But they are not my art. It’s too easy to think you are “doing your art” when you are actually “taking care of business”. After all, you have to make art in order to have a business selling and promoting it.
Learning to say “no” to the constant interruptions and distractions from doing my art may be the most valuable lesson I learn this year. On one hand, this year drained me of many things: Hope. Enthusiasm. Joy. I felt overwhelmed with exhaustion. I felt “too tired” to go to my studio.
On the other hand, once I forced myself to get back to my studio, all of those sad feelings lessened. Softened. It got easier and easier to go. And finally, my daily habit was restored.
And that restored me to my artistic self. It restored me to my creative self. It restored me to my best self, the person I choose to be in the world.*
Sometimes I would do one step in my process. Sometimes a sketch. Sometimes it simply meant washing an old wooden box.
Some days, all I could do was wash ONE BOX.
But then that box was cleaned. It could be sanded. And then it could be waxed. And then….
Other days, it was just putting something IN a box.
It could hold one of my artifacts. It could hang on a wall. It can go into my inventory.
It can be admired. And sold. And go to its new home, with someone who loves it.
But all the days I did “just one thing” added up, and helped me over the rough parts.
Go to the studio and make something.
Make a decision about subject, or color. Pull some fabric pieces. Create a study for a larger piece. Make a bead you will use in a later project. Do one more step in that project you’re working on–polishing a piece, pulling the bead selection for that new necklace, a sketch for that next quilt.
Put your hands on your art. Pick up your tools and materials.
Enjoy the way they make you feel.
Do it today.
*Er….not finished yet, though. I’m still a work in progress!