There are a great many things in my life that can get in the way of art-making. My hands are often shaky, weak, and painful (Parkinson's/Kienbock's.) Sometimes migraines make it impossible to tolerate light, sound, or movement. After surgeries (I've had 12 so far,) I have to spend a great deal of time with the wounded limb elevated, making it difficult to sit at my studio table (plantar fibromatosis/Kienbock's.) I deal with extreme fatigue, a consequence of all these health issues combined. To be honest, there are days when these problems do curtail my art life but mostly, I fight through and find ways to make art anyway because art makes my life worthwhile. Art fills my days with joy, excitement, and contentment so whenever possible, I try to find small ways to stay connected with my artistic life regardless of how I feel. This post lists some of my strategies for continuing to make art even when art is the last thing I feel like doing.
1) A Work of Art Doesn't Have to be Monumental:
While laid up after my most recent surgery, I made tiny (1-inch square!) drawings of everything I could see from the couch. I drew the frames in my sketchbook before the surgery and completed all the thumbnails over a period of several days. Thumbnail drawings are a fantastic way to practice composition and observation skills. They can be precursors to larger works when you are feeling more adventurous or thumbnails can just be an aimless but soothing "pencil-scratching-on-paper" distraction when you can't do anything else.
2) Sticky Fingers Can Soothe a Worried Mind:
I am slowly smothering in paper scraps (like many of you, I'll bet) so when I'm not feeling creative, I just spend time creating scrap paper backgrounds in my journals. I grab one of my many scrap boxes, a foam brush, glue, and journal. These backgrounds will wait patiently for a day when I am ready for a longer, more involved studio session. You could make scrap backgrounds in different color ways or use only certain materials such as vintage book papers.
3) Look To Your Library:
How many of you have waited excitedly for the latest book release, danced around your studio once that book was delivered, flipped through its pages, maybe even marking some pages to return to, and then tucked away all that incredible inspiration on the shelf, ultimately forgetting you own that book in the first place? Yep, me too. So, if you are confined to couch or bed, get reacquainted with all those art technique books you own. The things that you found so inspiring all those weeks, months, years (!) ago are still there. Take advantage of forced downtime to unearth lost treasures in your home library.
4) Keep Your Brushes Moving:
If you want to paint but are having trouble settling on a direction or if health issues are keeping you from more in-depth work, pick a few paint colors, grab a palette, and start experimenting with color mixtures. Make notes. Name your newfound colors. Develop fresh color combos. I keep a separate journal just for this purpose. This is also a good place to practice brushstrokes and brush handling.
5) Gather Ye Roses While Ye Wait:
There are times when health problems simply take over. Maybe you have to burn a lot of energy going to doctors' appointments and having tests or maybe you hurt too much to focus properly. Spend some time digging through your collage stash and just pin up anything that makes you go "Oooo!" Don't overthink this process; just relax and allow your brain to react. The inspiration board you create will be a useful tool later when you are able to be fully present in your studio: it will keep your inspirations front and center so they don't slip away while you are otherwise distracted.
6) Lose Yourself in a Word Salad:
One of my favorite "Want to Do Something but Don't Feel Like Anything" activities is clipping words from magazines. This process generates fuel for found word poetry and journal page titles while simultaneously pruning the stacks of paper products in the studio. While you're at it, clip images too and pin those up on your inspiration board!
7) Become a Pattern Junkie:
This exercise comes from the delightfully playful Carla Sonheim and her book, Drawing and Painting Imaginary Creatures. Check your shelves because this might be one you bought a while ago and forgot about. Basically, over a series of three to five squares, you build patterns a step at a time. I like to have a bit of extra fun and name those patterns. This is a great way to practice layering different colors and materials. The resulting patterns could be used later to make your doodles extra interesting. (Think patterns for fur, skin, and clothing)
8) Craft Some Stash:
The very best way to develop your own unique style and "look" is to make sure your own hand is visible as much as possible. Each time you use a heavily-branded and recognizable product from another artist, you slip into the background of your own work a little bit. If you feel up to being in the studio but not quite ready to dive into an involved project, try spending time creating your own art supplies. Cut your own stencils. Carve stamps. Create your own personal collage sheets or even your own paintbrushes. These personalized tools will help your art stand on its own and be uniquely you.
9) For the Love of Swatching:
This activity is my number one, go-to task when I am uninspired and/or overwhelmed. I love just sitting with a pile of supplies, sorting and sampling them by color, making notes. It is incredibly calming and astoundingly useful. It also serves as a gentle reminder that I have A LOT OF STUFF and that I don't need more. Sometimes I end up with swatch pages that are out-of-date and need to be redone. Those old swatch sheets look great cut up and added onto journal pages or mixed media canvases.
10) Go in Search of Beauty, Sweet One:
Health issues (or really any stressful life event) can sap your creative energy as you necessarily withdraw from the studio to take care of business. As soon as you can, get back to the world, camera in hand, and go for a walk. The pictures you take can be reference images for future drawings and paintings. The vitamin D you absorb and the endorphins you generate will lift your spirits. The fresh air will clear your head. Look for great color combinations, cool textures and marks, strange people (who won't notice or care that they are getting their picture taken,) contrasting values, interesting compositions. Print and pin the photos on your inspiration board. Draw little thumbnails. See if you can recreate the patterns you discover. Carve a stamp based on an awesome mark you find. Try mixing up a batch of a color that made you swoon.
Know that everything you do - even if it seems small - to keep in touch with your inner artist during difficult times will help that artist resurface after the bad days pass and you are ready to begin again with the joyful business of art-making.