How to Keep Making Art During a Stressful Time

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We’ve all been there before: You want to make art, but you’re not doing it. You have plenty of ideas, making art your favourite thing, but you’re just not doing it.

You’re not lazy, and you’ve been in the habit of making art regularly before, so the reason you’re not getting around to it now is likely stress. You’re overwhelmed, and making art is just one more thing on your list.

But you really want to do it, and in fact, you should. It would help you. Here are some tips to get you back into painting!

The most basic and quick thing you can do to lower your stress levels and improve concentration to paint is to look after your health. How much did you sleep last night? Have you been eating enough nourishing and tasty food? Did you go for a walk recently?

Taking a camera or sketchbook along on your walk will give you ideas along with the exercise! If you aren’t feeling your best, it will be hard to concentrate on art.

My second piece of advice is to have your favourite supplies ready in a little travel kit. If your schedule is packed, it can be tricky to carve out time to make art, set up the art tools, and clean them up again.

I keep my most commonly used supplies in a little travel case. Even when I’m not travelling, they are easy to reach at any time and easy to put away again.

My case usually contains a travel box of half-pan watercolours, some natural hair travel watercolour brushes, a few pencils and a sharpener, some masking tape, an eraser, and a few different pen options. If your supplies are super easy to reach, and the things that distract you are put away, you will concentrate more easily.

Another tip you can use to keep making art during stressful times is to have your schedule and to-do list written down clearly. When things are written down, you’re not burdening yourself with having to remember them. This clears your mind.

If you’re overwhelmed by things other than your schedule, you can journal everything that’s on your mind. I call this a “brain dump”. Write about everything confusing, worrying, or just preoccupying. You’ll find that writing about it helps your brain move on and make room for your ideas!

I think my favourite thing to do when I feel too overwhelmed to start a painting is to remake an old painting. The idea is already there, and you get the satisfaction of seeing how much you have learned.

And the action of painting will help you relax into the headspace to continue painting brand new things afterwards! I will now show you an example of a painting I redid.

This original work was a pencil sketch that I coloured in Photoshop. I loved the colours and concept that I chose, but I decided after a critique that the vignette was a little distracting. Also, I wanted to clean up the lines a bit and practice my traditional media skills.

Remaking this painting was a fantastic way to relax and focus on the techniques because the idea was already there! I did some watercolour layers, then inked it with a dip pen, then added some texture using coloured pencil.

Then I did a different take on my digital vignette from before. By darkening the colour a little bit and getting rid of the blurred edges, I made a less distracting frame that complements the design a lot better than the previous one.

And there’s still more to improve on the next time I want to revisit the idea! Perhaps I will mute the colours to be more like the original and maybe make a cut paper matte instead of a digital vignette. Whenever you’re too overwhelmed to think of a brand new idea, your old paintings are there for you to revise as many times as you would like!

Whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed, whether by your schedule or just by a life situation requiring most of your emotional energy, remember that art is not a contest and that you can do as much or as little as you want.

It is okay to take a break. However, if you are serious about improving, it’s in your best interest to consistently practice even when you don’t feel up to it. By looking after your health, keeping your supplies handy, clearing your mind, and maybe resting your creative side by revising an older idea, you can keep making art no matter what!

Elsa Wahlstrom is an illustrator and graphic novelist based in Minnesota. She specializes in all things cozy and calm, but adds humor where she can. When she isn’t drawing, she enjoys playing musical instruments, but you’re more likely to see her staring at some silly tree or something. 
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