5 Habits of Happy Artists

5 Habits of Happy Artists

 

Do you remember happy?

We’re not talking about positive thinking or grinning-like-an-idiot kind of happy, we’re talking about the kind of happy that makes you smile when you put your head on your pillow at night. That subtle feeling of contentment. That feeling like you’ve added something unique to the creative conversation that day.

Maybe the work you did that day was a breakthrough, or maybe it all went horribly wrong. Either way it doesn’t matter because you put in your time and gave what you had to the world, and no matter what happens tomorrow, you can go to sleep knowing that today was a good day.

“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.  I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.  I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake.” ~George Bernard Shaw

It’s not about being more productive

Don’t worry, this isn’t another one of those naggy time-management articles about how to cram even more stuff into your already crazy busy day.  This is not about working harder, this is about rediscovering the joy in the creative process and not worrying so much about the final result.  This is about finding that elusive balance between getting stuff done, and finding a way to still enjoy ourselves along the way.

 

5 Habits of Happy Artists

 

1.) Feed your Inner Artist

It’s important to get outside your own head once in awhile and see the world from someone else’s perspective.

Like an apprentice you need to find a way to study and absorb the work of the masters in your field. This means, if you are a writer, you need to read the work of as many different authors as you can.  Sure it can sometimes feel like you are just wasting your time reading when you should be writing, but don’t underestimate the importance of constantly replenishing and enriching your creative well.  As a writer you need to be immersed in words.  You need to see how others have put them together and taken them apart.  You need to have them wash over you with their imagery and subtle shades of meaning.

The same is true if you are a visual artist.  You need to immerse yourself in the works of those who have come before you.  See it as an opportunity to discover what you like and what doesn’t work for you.  The more work you expose yourself to, the more tools you will have in your creative arsenal when it comes time to create your own artwork.

I understand that being exposed to the work of others can be a little disheartening or even unleash the green-eyed monster of jealousy (why didn’t I think of that?!)  I’m with you, there are still days when I read something and feel like I’ve missed out on yet another great idea and one more nail has been pounded into my creative coffin. But there has never been a time when an artist hasn’t been jealous of another artist at some point in their career. It’s simply part of the game.

As artists, we must learn to be self-nourishing.  We must become alert enough to be consciously replenishing our creative resources as we draw on them. -Julia Cameron

Regardless of what type of creative artist you are you need to find the time to read, and visit, and explore the work of other artists both inside and outside of your chosen genre.  You need to find a way to constantly expand your creative horizons.  Also don’t just limit yourself to reading method and technique books, but consider reading artist biographies as well.  Some of the most inspirational books I’ve read have been the stories behind the artists — their struggles, their doubts, their fears along the way, and ultimately their ability to overcome them.

Be sure to read outside of your creative field as well — too often we end up getting ourselves trapped in our little creative niche in the world and can sometimes lose sight of the bigger picture.  It’s a big world out there and so much of creativity comes from making connections between subjects that may appear completely unrelated on the surface.

Of course reading, viewing, and listening to the works of others is not a substitute for putting in your time and creating your own work, but it is an important part of the creative process.

 

2.) Practice your Craft

By now you’ve probably  heard about the famous 10,000 hour rule and how bands such as the Beatles had to put in years of practice before anyone had ever heard of them. However it’s not just about getting better or creating more stuff, it’s also about doing what you were meant to do. It’s about honoring that little creative voice inside of you that refuses to be buried beneath the incessant demands of everyday life.

When you sit down daily to practice your art, you are reminding yourself of its importance in your life.

I know it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all of this, but don’t fall into the creative paralysis trap worrying about how you are going to find the time.  You just need to sit down and do what you can with what you have.  Okay, so maybe whatever you create today might completely suck, or maybe it will turn out to be the best thing you’ve ever done — either way you’re not going to find out until you get it out of your brain and onto the paper or canvas.

Brick by brick, layer by layer, word after word — this is how art (and a creative life) is created.

Rarely are we blessed with wholesale divine inspiration where an image or story comes to us completely intact. Creative inspiration typically comes to us in dribs and drabs — It’s a two steps forward and one step back kind of thing. We have to work for it. We have to build our creative life piece by piece and day after day.

We need to find a way to create something (anything) that wasn’t there yesterday and then offer it to the world

 

3.) Put something out there every day

There are two parts to being a creative artist.  First we must create something, but then we must put the work out there.

Steve Jobs famously said that “real artists ship”. In other words, it’s not enough to paint something and then toss it in your attic or write something and file it away on your hard drive — it’s not real until you put it out there in the world.

You have to share what you create.

Too many artists are afraid to show their work to anyone for fear of criticism.  Often they have spent so much time creating it and have so much invested in it emotionally, that the thought of exposing it to potential criticism is too much. So they bury it away.

However, sharing your work doesn’t have to be some big dramatic moment.

Long gone are the days of spending years to get your book published or creating enough artwork to fill a gallery show, and then waiting for the critical reviews to roll in.  In this day and age of blogs and social media, there is really no excuse not to get your work out there.  Put it up on Flickr, Facebook, Tumblr, SoundCloud, or post it on your own blog —  it doesn’t really matter as long as you get it out there.

It also doesn’t have to be something monumental… or even completely finished.

Find a way to put something small out there every day. Whether it’s a snapshot of a work in progress, a chapter of your latest book, or the riff from your latest song — release it to the world.  Get used to the feeling of putting your work out there and then moving on.  This may not seem like much, but the more often you do this, the less emotionally attached you will become to your work.  Each time you share something it will seem less frightening and more natural.

Create — Share — Repeat

 

4.) Connect & Inspire

As important as it is to get your own work out there in order to receive feedback, you also need to find a way to provide feedback to other artists as well.  Unless you’re Justin Bieber, there probably aren’t thousands of  people out there just waiting for you to post something so they can squeal with delight and give you positive feedback.  This is a two way street and you’ll soon discover that the amount of feedback you receive is equal to the amount of feedback and encouragement that you offer to others.

It still amazes me how many people ask me how they can get more people coming to visit their blog or online gallery but they don’t take the time to visit or comment on anyone else’s website.  They seem to forget that there are real live people attached to the other end of those traffic statistics.  People who are dealing with their own busy lives, creating projects, and trying to get more people to visit their own website.

Remember you get what you give.

You want more visitors to your website? You want more comments on your blog?  Then spend twenty minutes a day visiting other people’s websites. Leave thoughtful comments on their blog posts and their images.  Share their work with your Twitter followers and Facebook fans. Offer them encouragement or a simply kind word and you will be amazed at the response you will receive.

Think about it for a moment, we’ve got plenty of choices of things to do online. We have millions of videos, blogs posts, and news stories that we will never have the chance to see.  There is no shortage of content online.  What there is a shortage of now is attention.  In this day and age of viral videos and funny cat memes, it is still that one-on-one connection that we all seek.

Your attention (and a kind word or two) is the most valuable thing you can offer to someone online.

 

5.) Give us what you got, then let it go

Don’t worry if it’s good enough or whether it’s better or worse than what you’ve done before.   Your job is simply to create it, put it out there, and then move on.

You can’t dwell on it and wonder if it could have been better.  You can’t constantly second guess yourself and worry about how your audience is going to react to it.  Trying to sit down and create something your audience is going to like and appreciate is a recipe for creative paralysis.

In the end, your work is your work — it’s not who you are or what you might become.

It’s not the final word on your creative potential,  it’s simply the next milepost on your creative journey.  Before you can move forward, however,  you have to be willing to first let go of the past.

Finally, learn to take some time every day to just listen to that small creative voice inside of you.

Step away from the computer or the canvas and take your poor neglected dog for a walk outside, take a warm bath (remember those?), or just sit quietly and let the world speak to you.  No iPod, no cell phone, no books — just you and the world around you.  Let your thoughts, your agendas, and your to-do lists go for just a little while. Take a moment to reset and understand that today is one more step forward on your creative journey.

No creative effort is ever wasted  – brick by brick, word by word, layer by layer you will build your creative life.

 

These aren’t the only habits artists use to be happier and more productive.

So tell us what do you do in order to get the creative juices flowing and stay motivated?  

What type of daily habits or activities work for you?

 

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Comments

  1. says

    This was a thoughtful, thought-provoking and very helpful article. I found myself agreeing from early on, and then measuring myself so to speak : ” Do I do that?” Mostly, but not enough of giving feed back to others. Thanks for a stimulating read, and I will be subscribing and back for more.
    Best wishes,
    Andrew Freidin

    • says

      Thanks Andrew for stopping by and taking the time to share your thoughts with us. I think writing these down helps remind myself of what is really worth spending my time and energy on in a culture that is often filled with so many distractions and conflicting priorities. I hope you found it helpful for you as well.

  2. says

    Wow! You hit the nail right on the head. I agree with so much of what you’re saying. It’s what I’ve been saying to myself for awhile now in some form or another but somehow it doesn’t’ always seem to sink in. Thank you!

    • says

      Thanks Dawn! I think you’re right that all of us (including myself) need to occasionally remind ourselves that creating art is at some level supposed to be enjoyable. It seems way too easy these days, with everything we are told we should be doing, to get overwhelmed and end up focusing on what we didn’t do instead of what we did accomplish that day. Thanks again Dawn for the kind and thoughtful comment :)

  3. says

    I struggle with balancing it all: I’m devoted to my blog and regularly comment, plus I still work as a teacher, and I need time to create. The wonderful thing about creating that creative life, though, is it’s a constant series of tweaks and remaining true to yourself. Awesome, awesome post!

    • says

      I think it’s all that sleeping at night that is putting you behind schedule Cyndi ;)

      You’re absolutely right, it is hard to balance it all. Finding the time to create, connect, comment, and still have time to do everything that we need to do is almost impossible most days. All we can do is try to focus on the most important things and not get too distracted along the way — which is far easier said than done!

  4. says

    Thank you for these reminders~~

    I’ve found that the power of connection to other people is too often underestimated in the arts, especially in the writing world. I’m currently working as a developmental editor for a friend’s novel, and I’ve found that the more I talk to him about writing, the more I want to do it myself. There is so much to be learned from other artists — and the energy that I get from those connections is invaluable.

    • says

      Thanks and you’re right that sometimes we focus so much on creating our own work that we forget to spend the time to connect with other writers and artists. I think we do tend underestimate the value of connecting and collaborating with others. I know that for me personally, just the energy, encouragement, ideas, and enthusiasm I usually get from talking with other artists is well worth the effort.

      Now go get writing! :P

  5. says

    Hello!

    I would like to thank you very much for all these very useful and inspiring posts.

    I was going through an Art block and it stopped me from creating anything for months,
    that was one of the worst feelings, doubting art and doubting myself too.

    Then I came across your blog sometime ago and have since started following it.

    SkinnyArtist has helped me so much throughout the period, gave me motivations and great tips.
    I have now come back to love making art again.

    Thank you so much!

  6. says

    Wonderful post. Thank you. I decided a few years ago to give up trying to do well and instead to just do art anyway – I told my self worst case scenario I make a lot of bad art but at least I’ll be doing it. Then a strange thing happened. The moment I removed the pressure the work began to flow and even weirder many aims that had seemed out of reach just happened. I now advise others to just ‘do it badly’ and ignore those notions of is it ‘good enough’. It’s surprising where that takes us.

    • says

      You’re absolutely right Camilla, there’s something about creativity that begins to shut down the moment you start expecting things from it. Pressure and stress (while perhaps good for productivity) are often poison to the creative mind. Creativity is all about opening up and making those types of free associations that are completely unexpected. On the other hand, when we are feeling pressured to create something “good” we often narrow our focus and end up falling back on what has worked for us in the past.

      By the way, I think “Do it Badly” would make an awesome t-shirt slogan for any aspiring artist!

  7. says

    Thank you so much for your great article. I feel i’m so lucky faving found this website. There are a lot of things in this article telling me, reassuring that I’m on a right track and it is ok to be jealous sometimes. It is so inspiring and encouraging me to keep going. Thank you, really.

  8. says

    This blog always makes me cry. In the “heart opening back up” good kind of way. Thanks for reminding me of what was missing…again :)

  9. says

    amazing advice, I have made some notes and will be adding them to my ‘things to do every day’ list!
    Thank you for all that motivation!

  10. SusanLowell says

    Here’s another one. It’s in every comment here and it’s sweet & simple: Thank you. Saying it out loud, writing it down, expressing it in space somehow…every day. It sure makes me feel good to remember that I am in community–even when the tire’s flat or words get stuck.

    Manythanks!

  11. Karen Kalfas says

    Thank you Drew! Thank you for putting yourself out there for us, and giving us support to be the creative souls we are.

    Karen

  12. says

    Thank you Drew this is very timely for me as I often get overwhelmed by the big picture (pardon the pun!) and never feel I have enough time in my day – I’m going to adopt your timer idea – cheers N.

    • says

      Thanks so much Niamh for your kind words, and yes you’re right, it is unfortunately way too easy to get overwhelmed by all of the little details and lose sight of the big picture in the process. Good luck with the timer suggestion, I hope it helps :)

  13. says

    Very thought provoking – I particularly liked the reminder of number 4, as I have the bad habit of forgetting to get involved with everyone else! Thank you for the all too important reminder, and for the encouragement to keep posting and sharing what I’ve been creating. A great blog post which I am going to share with friends and followers!

  14. Steve says

    I kind of remember happy…sometimes I struggle with defining what it is I truly enjoy. For a long time now I’ve been writing on and off, and I always thought that this was something I was “meant” to do (whatever that means). However, especially in the past year or so, I’ve become disenchanted with some aspect of the process: I question my motives for writing. Do I/did I want to start writing in order to live some sort of romanticized version of an author’s life or am I someone in which stories reside that are waiting to be told in an entertaining and valuable fashion? Stories that mean as much to others as other stories/films/pieces of art have meant to me. I continually struggle with self-consciousness and self-criticism as well. Introspection gone rogue. Strands of thoughts knotted up with one another. I can blame my issues of anxiety and depression at times, but I truly feel mired by it all. I’m glad there are resources such as this to help folks like myself.

  15. Lora Walker says

    Everything I have thought about myself in the last few months are in this article. Thank you for making me
    ‘think’. I paint and create and put it in a closet not wanting to give anyone a chance to see or feel what I have created. Partially because it is ‘mine’. I have never thought about sharing and letting it go and just move on to my next creative moment. So now I ‘think’ and maybe learn how to be a ‘Happy Artists” complete with sharing that very private part of my soul that creates……………..thank you.

  16. mariscadebeer@gmail.com says

    Thank you so much for this lovely article! I have been trying to figure out whether I should pursue art and make it a part time career or whether I should just let it go and forget it. Art has been a pert of who I am since I can remember but because of the busy lives we life, I think a lot of people forget how important it is to keep on feeding your inner artist because if you do not then you will lose that hunger for it. I will keep this article in my diary and read it again when ever I need some inspiration! Now, let me go and draw :)

  17. says

    Thought I’d start by following your advice and leaving a comment! I read through a few articles on your awesome website, and they are really valuable pieces- I have not come across many websites with this vibe and info :) I have learned some of this advice on my own, and it’s wonderful to be able to reaffirm and also learn new bits o’ wisdom……thanks!

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