Making time and space for your art this season
My deeper understanding is that artists are people who are profoundly compelled to make their creative work, and when they are distanced from their practice, their life quality suffers. Making their work is a way to take care of themselves, communicate, process information, engage a spiritual interior, or strengthen their relationship to themselves and others.
This is a lesson Beth taught me that I have to learn over and over again: When you don’t practice, you suffer.
My creative practice is my way of processing the world. Reading, writing, drawing… these are the things that keep me grounded and sane. At times, these are literally the things keeping me alive.
I feel like my whole self when I’m practicing. It’s okay and necessary to take a break now and then, but if I go too long, I’m not that whole self anymore. Not only do I suffer, but the people around me suffer, because I’m not able to be wholly present when I’m with them.
This was an especially hard lesson to learn as a young father: I thought that the way to be there for my family was to always be with them as much as possible, when the more complex reality is that I have to be away from them long enough to do my work so that I can really be there when I’m with them.
For people with families and a creative practice, this is the never-ending dance that we do, and the holidays can be the most stressful time we face. There are presents to buy. Kids home from school. Holiday parties. Vacations. Travel to be with friends and family. Routines are disrupted. Expectations are high. (Lower them!)
This time of year part of me wants to throw up my hands and quit. I’ll just wait until the new year, I think, when the holidays are over, the kids are back at school, and things are somewhat back to normal.
This is always a mistake.
I need my practice. I need the tools I’ve developed to get me through my days.
I can’t go three days without them, let alone three weeks!
Around the holidays, I often have to rely on the advice I give creative people who have new babies: “Find the one-armed, half-brained, miniature version of what you do.”
Put another way: What is the bare minimum amount of creative work you can do in any one day and still feel like a whole person?
The answer will be different for everybody. For me, the bare minimum is pretty bare. If I go for a walk, write at least two pages in my diary, and read a few pages of something decent, I can be pretty functional. For somebody else, the bare minimum will be much more.
Take a little time to figure this out for yourself. Once you know your bare minimum, then you can figure out what you have to do to make it happen.
I like to think about practice in terms of time, space, and materials. If you make time, clear space, and bring materials, you can practice wherever you are.
Here are some ideas for getting enough of each ingredient over the holidays:
Time. Consider working while the rest of the world is sleeping. Get up early or stay up late. Bow out of an inessential activity, like watching TV. If you can, just ask your loved ones for the time you need. Take a 30-minute noticing workout. Invite others to walk with you.
Space. A little distance in between you and your loved ones goes a long way. Work in a parked car if you need to! Get creative, like you did during the pandemic. (Meg had a great suggestion: Offer to run an errand or buy groceries, and stop at a café for a bit.) If all else fails, there’s the sketchbook, which is like a walled garden for your brain.
Materials. Pack a portable art kit with the gear you need. If you’re going to be around little ones, bring a stack of colored paper and some Slick Stix to draw with at the kids’ table. Bring some gratitude zines to fill out at the dinner table. Pair up and do blind contour drawings of each other.
Those are just a few ideas off the top of my head. I would love to hear some of yours in the comments: