Tag: motivation

Art Is Zero-Calorie Stress Relief

I have written about how making time to practice art can be stressful. Learning new things, adding one more thing to your schedule, and going through that phase where everything you make looks terrible aren’t always very fun. But, that does not mean that art has to be a difficult chore.

While perfecting skills and technique are important, they are just one side of art. Art can be joyful. I think it’s good to experience both sides of art.

Kathy Decker told me once that when she paints she feels like she’s in another world and she could go on for hours. Making art can help you forget things for a moment, just like a good nap or watching a good movie. It can be a form of meditation, giving your brain a break from overthinking.

According to studies, making art can reduce stress hormones and release dopamine. It’s a healthy way to relieve stress. ( See: https://news.artnet.com/art-world/art-reduces-stress-says-study-521051 and https://bebrainfit.com/benefits-art/ )

When trying to relieve stress with art, the important thing is to have fun. Let go of the need to produce something that looks good. Embrace the process and not the product.

So, what are some of the things I do when I am making art for fun and stress-relief?

I doodle whatever comes to mind.

I color in pictures with crayons or colored pencils or markers.

I draw something for my kids like mazes or paper dolls.

I play with salt dough.

I fold origami figures.

I write the names of my family members in swoopy fancy handwriting.

I press flowers in books.

I take close up pictures of plants. (Especially trees. I love trees.)

I work through a problem with collage.

I read an art book or visit a museum.

I draw pictures of whatever is stressing me out as goofy-looking monsters.

I draw pictures of my favorite characters from stories I’ve read or movies I’ve watched. They do not have to look very much like the characters at all.

I do an art or craft project with my children.

I write out a favorite quote in fancy letters. Sometimes I decorate it.

I try a new braid or hairstyle with my daughter’s hair.

I sing or whistle, often to my pet birds, who like any music and are a fabulous audience.

Sometimes I attempt dancing to music, but only if I’m home alone. It’s a lot of fun when you don’t worry about looking goofy.

I try to draw things the way a three-year-old would.

I look for faces and shapes in wood grain or textured tile or tree bark or clouds.

I try to make a flower chain. Or a chain out of candy wrappers.

I draw a map of someplace imaginary.

I could go on. There are so many things to try. Do a search for art projects or artist dates or art therapy, and you would probably find more things than you’d ever have time to do.

It’s important to regularly find joy in art, and it’s good for your stress levels too. I think making sure to do something fun at least once a week is a good plan. If you’re feeling extra stressed, have fun more often. It doesn’t have to take long, and it really can help.

How does art bring you joy? What art projects do you do just for fun? How often do you try to do something artistic just for the joy of it?

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The Audience

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While it’s important to make art that you are happy with, that doesn’t mean that a wider audience doesn’t exist. It’s up to the artist to determine how much that audience will see of their work. Some artists, like Emily Dickinson, are happy to keep most of their work to themselves. Others exhibit their work in shows and galleries.

I have heard that writers write best when they have a specific audience in mind. In some ways, this is true for art. When there is an audience in mind, it can help you make decisions as you work. How much the idea of the audience influences the work probably depends on a variety of factors.

For me, there is an audience in mind with each individual piece, often depending on my goals for that work. For example, doodling in my notebooks helps me sit still during meetings and is only meant seen if I tip the page to someone sitting next to me to let them in on a joke.

In high school, I had a pen pal from Australia, and we spent a lot of time decorating the margins of our letters for each other.


These are my notes from a recent Sunday at church. I love capturing my thoughts with pictures in the margins!

I put the Illustrations for my stories up on my blog for anyone to see.


Illustration from my story “Anything You Want to Be” published on 2-13-19.

Practice work is just meant for me.

Being an audience member can be educational. I took a watercolor class at the community college last year. It was fun to have everyone working on the same assignment and see how different the pieces were. It was informative in the way that art videos are, where you get a chance to see someone’s process and how they solve the problems on the page.

An audience is helpful to the artist as well. Knowing some one is watching is great for motivation. There is some pressure to do your best work.

If they are expecting you to show up, there is pressure to actually show up and do something. This might be a friend that you meet once a week to paint with, or a blog where you post a painting twice a week. Feeling accountable is great motivation.

While the best and most reliable feedback comes from a trusted mentor, an audience can also provide some feedback. They can give you comments or suggestions that you can decide to take or ignore. They can provide support and encouragement. Just knowing that someone out there cares enough to look at your work and tell you what they think without being asked is encouraging. (As long as they don’t hate your work. There is always that risk. Then you just have to do your best to recover and move on.)

As I said in the beginning, the wider audience does exist. None of us are truly alone. How much of our work we share is up to each artist and their goals. So is how much you keep the audience in mind as you work. There are choices, and it’s up to you to choose.

What are your thoughts about the audience to your artwork? Is it something that you keep in mind as you work? How do you share your work? Comment below!

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Finding Motivation

I used to be really great at sticking to a schedule. Lately, this hasn’t worked as well. My days keep throwing me curve balls. I have too much to do and not enough day to do it all, and so often I’m just tired.

On bad days, I sometimes hear a whiny voice in my head saying “But I don’t want to!” How do you keep going when you just don’t feel like doing anything?

Different things work on different days. Some days, I can offer myself a reward for getting started. As I’ve said before, peanut butter sandwiches, naps, phone calls… whatever works. Once I get started, it’s fun enough that I can keep going.

Other days, I make the tasks to do smaller. I only copy a corner of the painting or do a thumbnail to expand on later. Maybe I cut out some of the tasks altogether on really bad days.

Remembering my goals and dreams is motivating. I imagine writing and illustrating a book that I want to read over and over. I imagine creating a world that seems like it really should exist somewhere. I imagine painting a picture of my children that I want to hang on my wall and make prints of to send to all my family and friends.

On bad days, I tell myself my growth spurt theory over and over. “It’s hard today because I’m just about to hit a growth spurt,” I tell myself. “If I push through and keep going, my work is going to get so much better. I can’t give up before then.”
I remind myself that the times in the past where I stopped practicing I didn’t feel any better. Quitting didn’t help. In fact, it made things worse because the guilt didn’t go away. Once I whip through the practice for the day, the burden lifts, and I can move forward with confidence. And maybe the momentum of finishing something will help me get even more things done.

I set a time and a small task. At 10:00, I’ll do this small exercise. I set everything out on the bed in little piles and set a time for each pile. When the time comes, I try to talk myself into doing the first pile. Just really quickly. It doesn’t have to be my best work. If I just manage to do something, that’s enough. And, if the first task goes well, sometimes I can tack on a second or third and readjust my schedule.

There are some things that I want to add to my schedule that haven’t happened yet. I think of them often and try to talk myself into them. Right now, things are busy and my motivation is just barely covering what I’m already doing.

But, I’m biding my time. Certain times of year are great for schedule building. Everyone else is starting new things too and there just seems to be extra motivation in the air. There is a feeling that the time is right now. The start of the school year or the new year or the summer. The first day of spring or fall or winter. Birthdays, anniversaries, small holidays.

I once read an article that said that people are more likely to quit smoking if they set a date. If it works for something that difficult, surely it can work for something small. And I think it works better if there is some meaning attached to the date. And if it doesn’t work the first time, I’ll keep trying. You don’t fail until you quit trying.

I like to write a date next to my practice work. Having a long chain of unbroken days is motivating. I don’t want to break the chain. But then, occasionally, I do. That’s really demotivating. So, as soon as possible, I make up for the missed days and date them as though I had done them on time. “It didn’t happen,” I tell myself. “See? No missed days.” And then I’m motivated again. Looking back, I have no idea which days I missed. It didn’t happen.

Having a website like this is motivating because of the accountability. Even though not many people check it, the idea of disappointing the people who do is motivating. It’s like breaking the chain of unbroken days, but in a public setting where I can’t pretend it didn’t happen. I can’t fool the site stats by back-dating my posts.

Sometimes, after looking at work I admire, I feel like giving up. “I’ll never be that good. Why am I even trying?” I remind myself I’ll never know if I give up. I remind myself that they are them and I am me and it isn’t a competition. And then I try to trick myself into practicing anyway.

In “Howl’s Moving Castle” by Diana Wynne Jones, the wizard Howl says, “I’m a coward. Only way I can do something this frightening is to tell myself I’m not doing it!” Sometimes this works for me, too. I set everything out, and when I have a moment where I’m not doing something else, I’ll tell myself, “Well, I guess I might as well do this, just for right now.”

Perhaps this seems strange to read about. I don’t know. It works for me. Sometimes. Some of my friends admire my self-discipline. I feel a little like an impostor, because it’s not really self-discipline. It doesn’t feel like it anyways. It feels like I’m flying by the seat of my pants, frantically trying to figure out what will work this time before the day is over, in between all the other things I need to do each day.

Maybe I’ll get that regular schedule back someday. I’d like to. I’m not going to wait to practice writing and painting and drawing for that day. And so, I’ll just keep doing my best each day.

Do you have a hard time motivating yourself to get things done? What works for you? How do you add new things to your day? How do you stick to a schedule?

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