Happy New Year to all! As we kick off 2017 with the warm fuzzies and tons of hope, resolutions are the subject of the month. What do resolutions mean for the artist/designer?
First, let’s consider an analogy. One of the usual resolutions on a standard list is “getting into shape” or “losing weight.” From my own years of experience as a gym rat, I know that January is the busiest time of the month at the gym. However, by mid-March, the crowds have dissipated and the gym traffic is down. What happened to all of those people who were seeking change? What happened to all of those bright shiny hopes and dreams about fitting into that sleek cocktail dress or surprising everyone at that class reunion…or just simply feeling better?
I don’t think this is a question of willpower. I think it’s a matter of self-knowledge and setting attainable goals. Reflecting on my own gym rat years, I was in the best shape of my life, but I did it by sacrificing several other quality of life issues across the board. In fact, gym time was one of the few things I did well. My social life was nonexistent (I’m not even sure I knew what “downtime” meant), my relationship with food was suffering (an iceberg wedge with fat free ranch is NOT a nutritious meal), and my quality of sleep was severely lacking. I was out of balance.
In my work as an artist/designer/professor, I’ve had the same lopsided thing happen at different points in my life. I’ve had a five-year period of time where I didn’t touch a canvas or pencil or even try to attempt my own personal work. I’ve also tipped into doing so much personal work that I ignored the client-based studio and my own self-promotion.
Now, I (mostly) know my limits. I also know when to press those limits for a project or work of art. Massive amounts of growth can happen spiritually, mentally and physically when you press and exceed your limits. However, if you exceed those limits on a regular basis, you might be setting yourself up for burnout, which can be a very ugly scenario. It’s ok to overload yourself, but you must be prepared to take a period of rest and recuperation and apply a little self-care. Since I’m an introvert, my self-care time translates differently than extroverts (by which I seem to be surrounded everywhere except home), so I’ve had to do some serious soul-searching to figure out what works and what does not. I’ve also applied a few lessons from years of mountain bike racing and training to my recuperation tactics.
In the end, you’ve got to develop your own toolbox for maintaining your quality of work and getting the rest you need…in order to maintain the quality of work. Sound circular? It is.
Personally, I’ve set a goal of two or three shows a year and a few freelance clients a year, in addition to my full-time teaching load. I had to make some hard edits at the end of 2016 to make everything “play well” together in my schedule. One of the hardest edits I had to make was dropping off of my local cycling team and not renewing my USA Cycling racing license. This sounds minor, but the license had a life of its own. My recovering gym rat sensibilities needed the hard workout, and my introverted artist side loved the meditative recharge time in the woods. I renewed it for ten years and have really enjoyed some of the crazy mountain bike racing events I’ve done. However, I realized that several areas of my life were suffering and I needed that time for the studio, family, and rest. My studio work requires long and unbroken numbers of hours, with no Facebook and few mobile phone interruptions, in order to research, create work and learn software. I also realized that while racing and riding has been fun, I didn’t need a license or a team to get outside and recharge. So, in the end, I rearranged the puzzle pieces and now ride my mountain bike for fun. I started this change in October. I’ve already noticed a benefit in life and in the studio.
I encourage you this year to study yourself and set attainable goals, but know when to smash forward through something that looks impossible. Have an awesome 2017!
“As Emmanuel, Cardinal Suhard says, ‘To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda, nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery. It means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.'”
~ Madeleine L’Engle
Quiet by Susan Cain
This is a lifesaver of a book for introverts seeking tools to survive and thrive like an extrovert. Thanks and XOXOX to Barb for recommending this life-changing read.
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
Although this book gets overlooked because of its popularity, it is full of tools to protect and enhance your creativity. The instructions on guarding against and (sometimes) eliminating Crazymakers from your life are golden, as well as the concept of writing Morning Pages.
Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L’Engle
This book is invaluable for the author’s insights. It reads like a long, fireside (or, in this case, pond-side) chat with another creative human being.
The Company They Keep: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein as Writers in Community by Diana Pavlav Glyer
This book is a stunning read. It dives into the creative habits, critique methods and friendship of the Inklings. Many lessons here for visual artists, much like Madeleine L’Engle’s book. There’s also an illustrated version by the same author with art by James A. Owen called Bandersnatch. I don’t have that one…yet.