IT’S ALL ABOUT ME- BEING CREATIVE WITH SELF-CARE.
Earlier this year I spent several days standing with my art and talking to people, at my first (and probably only) art fair. It was one of the most exhausting things I’ve ever done- although it didn’t help that I had a bad throat virus at the time to boot. More recently I’ve been dealing with the loss and guilt associated with finding a new home for mum in a care home, and with other factors (overworked husband, new dog, beloved son moving out and of course the shortening hours of daylight) it’s taking its toll on my normally positive outlook and has caused me to think again about the constant need to Look After Myself.
We artists, we’re a sensitive lot- generally. If you are inclined towards introversion too, as I am, you’ll know that being amongst strangers in a noisy, bright environment can be especially exhausting. I’m also an empath and tend to pick up on other people’s states even before they enter the room. Whether it’s an art fair or a nursing home, chaotic, unfamiliar environments can be really challenging.
Generally, we are one-person businesses- or juggling our creative exploits alongside a main job. Both are hard. The upside of being your own boss is that you can be creative in making your own decisions about how you manage your time and space – and one thing I’ve learnt to do (the hard way) is to take time off when I need it in a way that nourishes me- whether its a half hour or a few weeks. A change is as good as a rest, as my Gran used to say.
Acknowledging the peaks and troughs in my energy levels and ability to cope with life is important not just for keeping sane but to be able to continue to stay well and stay in ‘flow’. Respecting a period of flat-out effort of whatever sort by intentionally resting before, during and after not only helps me prepare for the next round of creating but ensures that the rest of life’s commitments can be handled well too.
This kind of self-care can be experienced daily, or seasonally- a few minutes to breathe in an hours-long session of painting, or a few weeks at a more meditative pace after intense weeks of preparing for a show. It’s all about the daily habits as much as a monthly massage or the holiday of a lifetime.
This often depends on a change of mindset- from the scarcity of time and energy which feeds into my background defaults of anxiety, victimhood and perfectionism- to one of abundance and gratitude. There is time for everything, and good enough is good enough. This mindset feels soothing and calming, and it feels good to be grateful for the possibilities that lie ahead, whilst not going all out to chase them.
Talking of mindset, let’s deal with those other monsters under the bed of the creative life- imposter syndrome, self-belief, comparisonitis, perfectionism, guilt… Working on these more psychological aspects of my creative practice has been even more important than learning how to mix colour or how to use my camera on manual mode. Time spent working on these areas is an essential component of my self-care and has paid dividends in all areas of my life. My advice is this; invest in yourself, as the greatest gift you can give yourself.
The biggest treat for me is an artist date. It might appear like a busman’s holiday, but an afternoon spent in a gallery or a bookshop or on a photographic treasure hunt can shore me up for days. Artist dates nurture your mind and feed your soul, and if walking and spending time in the outdoors is involved it can strengthen your body too. Writing, reading and sketching are all ways of exercising that eye-hand-mind connection and building strength in both directions. I journal haphazardly but the erratic nature of my journaling practice- by which I interact with and process thoughts and emotions- is none the less critical to my wellbeing. An added bonus is that the practice of writing down seemingly random thoughts often gives rise to surprising revelations and associations which often find their way into my paintings in some way. And I’ve just realised I use my blog to process life’s curveballs and enjoy the creative process with words instead of images for a change.
I have a go-to creative activity for those days when the brain is in shut down- I have a bag of scraps, a glue stick and pair of scissors so that anytime, anywhere, I can simply play with colour, shape and texture in a limited way which is both healing and nurturing. And have even sparked new ideas and possibilities that have got me working again. Using my iPhone on walks to capture the micro-landscapes of bark, roots, rocks and seed heads is meditative and takes me away from rumination and overthinking.
Think sideways when it comes to artist dates. If you photograph- draw. If you paint, knit. If you sing.. dance!
Another self-care practice that I’ve been devoted to, but none the less is often the first to fall away when things get tough, is yoga. For me, it’s a moving meditation and mindfulness practice. It reminds me to breathe- a simple but fundamental necessity for life, you’ll agree! Mindful movement, in walking or yoga, helps me notice- the way I talk to myself; discomfort, the tiredness, the triggers that set me off. My reactions to my environment. Through mindfulness, I can notice, and let the thoughts pass.
I’ve never been one for team sports, exercising for the sake of it and, let’s face it, sweating, but as time has advanced I have come to realise two things; exercise makes me feel good, and secondly, it can even be enjoyable. Who knew! After several wasted and expensive gym memberships I’ve learnt that I enjoy two activities which fall loosely under the ‘sporty’ heading; walking in nature, and yoga. I’ve learnt at last the joy of nurturing my body. I attend the local yoga studio for classes a couple of times a week and practise at home and have committed to walking 1000 miles this year, boots on.
My environment matters greatly to me, and I’m super sensitive to sensory discomfort- the wrong sort of noise- light- smells… I’ve learnt to change my environment when necessary, either temporarily or permanently. It might be working outside for a spell, or finding a quiet corner in a coffee shop. Sometimes it might even be under a duvet… This is adapting your environment on a micro-scale. Many of us feel very differently in different parts of the world; some are urbanites; others feel it near the ocean, or in the beechwood.
The most extreme example of this is my awareness of how differently my creativity manifests itself in Cornwall, leading to a two-year search for a Cornish bolthole for me to run away to and replenish. (Update on this coming soon- another source of stress!)
We all know that sleep and creativity are closely linked. There is new research to suggest that the different phases of sleep offer the brain an opportunity to cycle through a process of abstracting concepts and then a stage for linking concepts together. If we compromise the quality of our sleep we risk missing the possibility of our unconscious brain making random and delightful connections. This is something I do struggle with, despite this and the many other compelling reasons to prioritise my sleep. Must.Try.Harder. And drinking water, too- another healthy habit that it seems all too easy to forget.
Sometimes it’s necessary to be uncreative and to disconnect entirely- though it’s hard when your work and your very being are so connected. (I find a good Netflix box set helps. ) This deliberate kind of rest is important not only to allow a complete winding down but also allows the body and mind to prepare for the next stage of the creative cycle.
Creativity coach and psychologist Eric Maisel says “When you free neurons from their usual grip on small thoughts — ten worries, fifteen errands, and so on — and get to reclaim them.. you experience a ‘pregnant emptiness’ which is actually your whole mind, now recovered, readying itself to create.”
He adds, “The ‘quieting’ serves the ‘exploding’ of the creative encounter that follows. Creating is not an energy-neutral state: it is a high energy state, with, at its healthiest, enthusiasm and not anxiety driving its engine.”
Knowing that this cyclical nature of our lives, especially for women, is key to self-care and honouring our creative spirit. I grew up in a busy, ‘doing’ household and the concept of deliberate rest and the concept of “Bella Cosa far Niente” – Italian for “Idleness is nice employment” – was one of adulthood’s more pleasing revelations for me.
By the same measure, it’s a treat to sometimes take a social media break- a relief from the tyranny of the tiny screen, from comparison, and the relentless sensory stimulation of those endless, colourful squares.
One of the other revelations of mature adulthood is knowing when to connect with my community and when to sit out, whether online or in real life. And this includes setting firm boundaries that you know will be supported by those who are the energy ‘radiators’, not the ‘drainers’. And if my boundaries aren’t respected, well then…. it’s time to be ruthless! Honestly, a few years ago I would have died rather than upset anyone by not meeting their demands. But my current self-care package makes no allowance for those who choose not to respect my own needs. I’m not being selfish, it’s a basic survival tactic. It’s knowing what makes me thrive, rather than survive. What situations energise me, and which deplete me.
Finally, I’ve made sure my values and goals are clear. Doing the ‘right’ work is probably the biggest step I’ve made towards my own self-care. I’ve ditched the sales and social media gurus and their talk of marketing funnels and Facebook ads. I choose not to do anything now that doesn’t align with my core values and goals or that feels like striving rather than working with at least a degree of ease. I’ll leave teaching workshops to those who can do it way better than me; I’ve turned off my podcast notifications so I’m am free to dive deeper into my painting practice without distraction.
Our creativity is our gift and it’s our duty to share it with the world. It needs tending and nurturing to bring to fruition. The cumulative effect of all those tiny self-caring habits can build to support our creativity and allow us to thrive.
Now, as the rain lashes down, I’m off to curl up with a book.
Look after yourself x