Overcome Creative Burnout and Art Block, Part Two
Building a Resilient Creative Practice
by Chelsea Lang
In our last blog post, we discussed the various factors that can get in the way of our painting practice, from painting in isolation to bridging the gap between our skills and our goals. Now, let’s talk about tactics and practices to help build resilience in your creative practice, help prevent burnout, and help you get back on track if this is something you’re dealing with.
First, I’d ask what support structures you have in place. Who helps inspire you? What routines keep you in a great mood? Who can you talk to when you’re having a rough time? These aren’t crutches, but systems that help you rebound more quickly and relapse less often.
Next I’d ask what coping skills have you developed? Here are some examples of the coping skills I’ve found most helpful, but if you have something that works great for you and isn’t on the list, I hope you’ll post them in the comments.
The first two are ‘morning pages’ and ‘artist dates’ from Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way,” which is a fantastic resource to help you get to creating if you’re having trouble. Her book describes morning pages as three pages of stream of consciousness writing that you engage in to start your day, or at least before you begin your creative practice.
There are no rules for what to write in your morning pages; the idea is that writing about whatever comes to mind helps you to free up your mind, work through creative problems that are keeping you stuck, or release anxieties that are holding you back. As a result, there is no ‘wrong’ topic to include. My morning pages sometimes have me work through a plan for a painting, but more often than not my morning pages look more like a to-do list, so I can trust that I’ll circle back to important items after my painting session and I can focus until then on the creative task at hand.
Next, artist dates are all about putting time aside to feed your creativity and provide inspiration. They might look like dating an afternoon to see a new exhibit at an art museum, or drive out to the coast to recharge and paint plein air. But they are first and foremost about creating time that is meant to nourish your imagination.
If you’re looking for more, here are some additional practices related to improving and maintaining your mental health:
Work with a therapist
Engage in physical activity
Eat nourishing foods and drink plenty of water
Surround yourself with people who inspire you
Create a daily gratitude practice
Reflect on why painting and creativity is important to you
When we aren’t faring well emotionally, asking ourselves to continue creating isn’t always fair or productive. So investing in your general well-being may be the most important step you take to get back on track creatively.
You don’t need to do all of these things to help create burnout resilience. But the more tools you have in the toolbox, the better. The reality is that anyone you see who is an absolutely amazing painter has probably made more failed paintings than you ever have. So, don’t think that getting better relieves you of the anxiety around not being good enough — it doesn’t. Start practicing these things now so that they don’t trip you up down the road.
Alright, so what about the painting practice itself? To take the pressure off, try creating studies instead of finished pieces. They are low-stakes ways to just feel like you’ve DONE something and build forward momentum, and can include anatomy studies, master copies, plein air pieces, or experiments with a new technique or medium where the focus is on exploration instead of mastery.
And if you need an extra push, do what you can to make your studio relaxing and fun. Listen to podcasts or audiobooks, or your favorite music. Open a window, or light a candle, or opt for some aromatherapy. The first step to getting back into your creative practice is getting back into the studio, so we want to make that as inviting as possible.
And finally, you can make intentional space to inspire yourself, such as scheduling artist dates, exploring galleries or the web for new artists whose work you love, watching documentaries about creative people, surrounding yourself with other forms of creativity that inspire you (like movies or music), and keeping a notebook that is a dedicated space to nurture inspiration.
Chelsea Lang is an alla prima painter specializing in portraiture and helping alla prima painters to reach their goals. Her work, as well as other videos on creativity, goal setting for painters, and overcoming burnout can be found at https://youtube.com/c/chelsealang.
Shattered-Earth’s Graph of the ‘Art Cycle’: https://www.deviantart.com/shattered-earth/art/Art-Cycle-329593292
Marc Dalessio’s Taste Gap Graph: https://www.marcdalessio.com/self-portraits-over-the-years-2/