10 Ways to Maintain Mental Health as an Artist

After a rigorous week of writing, Mark Twain took every Sunday off to spend time with his family, relax, and read for pleasure. Joan Miró, who struggled with depression early in his life, kept up an exercise routine that included jumping rope, boxing, and gymnastics. Georgia O’Keeffe started every day by watching the sunrise, then taking a walk through the New Mexico desert. 

For generations, artists and writers have made time to take care of themselves, though their daily routines weren’t always examined within this particular context. Back in the 1930s and 1940s, after all, when O’Keeffe was painting Cow's Skull and Miró was painting The Escape Ladder, the notion of “self-care” as an essential part of a healthy life hadn’t yet entered the mainstream. 

The idea of “self-care” as we know it coincides with a larger conversation about mental health. For decades, a pervasive stigma hindered public awareness of mental health, but in the last five years, in particular, that sigma has lifted. By having these discussions out in the open, we’re finally making progress towards a better future. 

We asked eleven artists from around the world to tell us how they manage stress and maintain their mental health in 2019. Read on for ten simple ways to introduce self-care into your everyday routine. 

‘The Gut Hypothesis, 2019’ © Armando Veve 2019

‘The Gut Hypothesis, 2019’ © Armando Veve 2019

Do keep a schedule.  

“Last year, I experienced near burnout, which inspired me to reconsider how I was balancing my daily life,” Philadelphia-based illustrator Armando Veve explains. “I decided it was necessary to make changes in my life if I was going to get better. I learned the importance of making a schedule---and sticking to it. Knowing that my work has a start and stop every day pushes me to work efficiently, gives me some mental separation outside of the studio, and opens up time to recharge every evening.”

‘The mirror of your dreams’ © Charlie Elms (  @10.years.time  )

‘The mirror of your dreams’ © Charlie Elms (@10.years.time)

Don’t compare yourself to others. 

“Comparison is the root of all evil,” collage artist Charlie Elms admits. “And comparing your ‘success’ online to other artists can have a negative effect. It’s easier said than done, but I would advise against getting too sucked in by the numbers. You shouldn’t measure your success by how many followers and likes you get.”

‘Hoopin'’ © Frank J Guzzone

‘Hoopin'’ © Frank J Guzzone

Do set boundaries. 

“As a freelancer, in particular, it’s important to set boundaries for myself,” 3D designer Frank J Guzzone explains. “For me, weekends are my free time. I try my best to not respond to any work emails during the weekend. While this may seem like a luxury nowadays, I strongly believe it’s helped me manage stress. Unless there’s an emergency (which rarely happens with the type of projects I work on), it can usually wait until Monday morning.”

Kate MacDowell. Feral (19"x11"x8", hand built porcelain and glaze, 5/2019) Photo: Dan Kvitka

Kate MacDowell. Feral (19"x11"x8", hand built porcelain and glaze, 5/2019) Photo: Dan Kvitka

Don’t isolate yourself. 

“A key element for me has been trying not to ‘do it all’ alone,” Portland sculptor Kate MacDowell explains. “I seek community with other artists through teaching workshops and attending residencies.”

‘Her Hands are Wild and Dangerous’ (Acrylic on panel, 48” diam., 2018) © Anne Siems

‘Her Hands are Wild and Dangerous’ (Acrylic on panel, 48” diam., 2018) © Anne Siems

Similarly, Seattle-based artist Anne Siems mentors other artists and hosts workshops. Beyond that, she organizes women’s talking circles. “I have built a foundation through self-care, lots of walks, therapy, good food, etc., but I also work hard to bring people together,” she tells us. “I think everyone is so overworked--as well as distracted by social media and kids’ activities--that it takes a lot of effort for people to stay connected. It’s worth it, though, because human connection is at the root of all our wellbeing.”

Do take breaks. 

“Knowing your limits will keep you afloat,” New York-based illustrator Ilya Milstein says. “If you are feeling stressed, try to take a step back. Go for a ride, a walk, or a good coffee. Explore a new neighbourhood, or call a loved one. Maybe even switch off your email notifications and play truant for the day. These are the sort of small things that remind us that life is for living. Self-care will make you a better artist and person.”

‘self-portrait 2018" (oil on panel, 6"x9") © Zach K. Mendoza

‘self-portrait 2018" (oil on panel, 6"x9") © Zach K. Mendoza

Don’t neglect your physical health. 

The number one most-mentioned tip from the artists we interviewed? Exercise. We heard it all, from biking to running. “I think that the challenging nature of running reminds me that I have the strength to face the obstacles of daily life,” oil painter Zach K. Mendoza explains. “Life is inherently challenging. It is difficult and beautiful, as is running on a hot day. At the end of a long run, I always feel better than when I laced up my beaten Nikes.”

Sarah Rayner, A short story from a long tale, 2019 (21 Hand Carved Porcelain pods). Photo: Lucy-belle Rayner

Sarah Rayner, A short story from a long tale, 2019 (21 Hand Carved Porcelain pods). Photo: Lucy-belle Rayner

Do go outside.  

“I spend a lot of time bush-walking, gardening, and generally being outside in the natural environment,” Australian sculptor Sarah Rayner tells us. “Watching birds, collecting seedpods, and looking closely at flowers are all an important part of my daily ritual. Sometimes when time is precious, this can be difficult. But even a short walk outside each day is so good for your mental health.”

Litho II (detail) © Oriol Angrill

Litho II (detail) © Oriol Angrill

Don’t keep things bottled up. 

“When I feel overwhelmed by stress, I write down all my thoughts and doubts on a piece of paper,” Spanish artist Oriol Angrill admits. “You don't need to read it afterwards. You can even burn it if you’d like. The point is getting out those thoughts that are stuck inside you in a creative way to empty your mind and giving them some kind of release.” 

‘Mukqs - SD Biomix’ © Keith Rankin

‘Mukqs - SD Biomix’ © Keith Rankin

Do pursue interests outside of work.  

“I think it helps to keep hobbies that are removed from how you make money,” artist and musician Keith Rankin says. “For me, going to the movie theater is relaxing because you’re in a totally dark room, focused on one particular thing that’s disconnected from your daily life. Anything that takes your train of thought to a different place.”

Several of the artists we spoke to also suggest taking up a hobby that isn’t necessarily your forte. Trying something new, and even allowing yourself to fail, can help take some of the pressure off. Do something you enjoy just for the sake of it, without worrying about how “good” or “bad” you might be at it. 

‘hommage à Claude’ (tribute to Claude Lalanne. Ceramic, copper, bronze) © Clémentine de Chabaneix

‘hommage à Claude’ (tribute to Claude Lalanne. Ceramic, copper, bronze) © Clémentine de Chabaneix

Don’t disparage yourself.  

“I remind myself that I’m doing the best I can,” French artist Clémentine de Chabaneix tells us. “I wrote those words--‘I’m doing the best I can’--on a piece of paper in my studio. Seeing them helps me not to freak out completely when I can’t do exactly what I set out to do. I’m so hard on myself; it’s like I have this dictator inside my brain. When I read these words, he keeps his mouth shut!” 

Of course, these are all tips and suggestions from artists, not mental health professionals, and it’s important to . keep in mind that mental health is individual and won’t look the same for everyone.,Several of the artists we spoke to said therapy was a fundamental part of their routine. “Therapy has opened me up to healthy ways to deal with uncertainty, doubt, and fear, which are all inherent in the creative process,”Armando Veve explained. If you’re looking for mental health resources in the US, the National Alliance On Mental Illness offers these resources for getting started. 


Treat yourself kindly this summer; follow your joy and commit to learn something new for the sake of it. Meera Lee Patel’s Skillshare Originals Class, Drawing for Personal Growth: 5 Exercises for Self-Discovery, is a great place to start.

 

Cover image: ‘The mirror of your dreams’ © Charlie Elms (@10.years.time). For more information on Feature Shoot, click here.