Things One, Two, and Three: Keeping your artistic momentum going through rituals that cue you to create
But first, this little Buddha is a still life of my Buddiary. I studied Buddhism for about 10 years, and what I learned in the practices has improved my life significantly. I am not a religious person, but I try to be a mindful person. To the extent that I am mindful, I suffer less, and that’s the whole point. It’s not about worship. It’s about learning to tame suffering. I think we can all appreciate that.
We tend to think of rituals being the territory of religion. Certainly religion has used them effectively over the millennia, but ritual is a part of every day of our lives, and most of the time we aren’t even aware that it’s a thing.
A big problem many artists have is that it’s hard to get rolling, and once we get moving, it’s hard to maintain momentum. New artists and part time artists often do not have established signals and practices that cue them in that this is my art place and this is my art time. They come home from their other job and their home says, “You’re off work here. No need to do the stuff.” And that’s not conducive to being an artist. Retired people who want to build art careers after another career often respond to the cue of “I’m retired” and get busy puttering or napping or gardening, or whatever it is they like to do. Creating a creation-ready environment through ritual practices and things can be legacy-making.
I want you to think about what your life is already telling you to do through accidental rituals. A few examples:
- Sleep hygiene– Routines and environments can be conducive to good or poor sleep. Stopping the caffeine in the afternoon, turning off the TV, turning the temperature down in the bedroom, putting on your jammies or your nekkies, brushing your teeth, taking pills, pulling back the covers, burrowing under those covers. Those might all be conducive to good sleep. But many of us watch TV until late, then pick up the cell phone and stare at that for a while, then wonder why we’re awake at 3am every damn morning. The way our rituals develop informs the behaviors we do more of.
- Coffee– Coffee isn’t just a caffeine boost. It’s a while ritual of putting coffee in the maker, adding water, turning the machine on, getting your favorite mug, and your favorite extras (cream, sugar, whatever). Coffee is often an excuse to take a mini break, either to start up a new task or to rest. A lot of rituals are about mini-breaks.
- Smoking– When I was starting out in the workforce smoking was a ritual that kept us plugging along at our tasks. We smoked indoors at our desks. It involved taking the cig out of the pack, tapping it on the desk, holding that little Bic flame up to the tip, inhaling. Maybe that’s when we made a personal phone call, or a pee break. But today, it serves as an escape ritual for smoking employees. You grab your cigs, you tap one out, you head for the exit, and you get a break outside away from the job. It can also portend social opportunities. At one former job, the smokers knew all the gossip in the company and all the conversation stopped when a nonsmoker went outside. It was a private club. One of my bosses used it as one of her primary information gathering mechanisms. It was a club I never broke into, even though I briefly tried.
As you can see, rituals like these can make or break your good habits. In fact, they become your habits. But you can create great habits by being intentional and aware about them.
Building an art ritual that fits you
One of the biggest deterrents to creating art is getting your art stuff out so that you can art. This suggests what your very first job needs to be. If you don’t have a work space that is FOR doing art, you’re not going to do art very often. Am I right? If you’re thinking, “I just don’t have room for a studio,” never fear. It doesn’t have to be a vast space. It can be as small as a pad of paper and a pencil. It just needs to be worthy of the art you have in you.
Thing One: Create a workspace sanctuary or shrine
If, like me, you are not religious, never fear. The shrine or sanctuary is to your own creativity. If you are religious, you can include that, for sure, but remember that this particular shrine is intended to increase creativity, not to be so holy you can’t get paint on it. Ideally it will have some flexibility built in to accomodate and encourage new ideas and projects, and it will have some consistency. You should never have to wonder where your favorite brush is.
Do you have a spare room or temperature controlled garage? AWESOME! You’re one of the lucky few. Do you do plein air painting (paint landscapes outside) or on site paintings out in the world somewhere? You don’t need a whole room, you can simply invest in a pochade box which is a studio-on-the-go. I got mine for about $100, and it’s so cool. Save your pennies and make that a priority. Do you do sketching, anime or cartooning? Buy a notebook or art paper pad that suits your drawing style, and put it on a dedicated shelf, or better yet, on the table where you do your art. Be creative. Look online for ideas. Cruise your local thrift or recycle shops for ideas. Make the space worthy of you and your art. The more unique and you you can make it, the better.
Your space won’t look like mine. Some day I’ll write about mine. For me, extra fuss is not a beneficial practice, but when you see my studio, you’ll think I’m lying. It looks fussy. But it is all logical and sensible to me. We all have different aesthetics. Someone recommended that I make Rice Krispy treats for a Christmas treat for my adult kids, thinking it would be fun and endearing. I was aghast. I feel sticky just thinking about it. I am not tidy, and that’s why sticky horrifies me. I would have to clean it up. AGH. But maybe your art is about making sticky things. Maybe sticky things are exciting and fun for you. Create an art shrine that is geared toward stickiness. While it’s an annoying saying, “You do you” really fits here.
Thing Two: Always leave your art sanctuary ready to art
When you set up your creativity sanctuary for the first time, set it up as if you are going to sit down to work in a minute, even if you won’t actually get down to arting until tomorrow. For me, that means my current project is on the easel, or a blank canvas is ready to get paint on it. My palette stand is beside it with the light ready to be switched on. A jar of my frequently used brushes is next to the palette. All my paint tubes are in the drawer right next to me. My brush cleaning jar is full of Turpenoid. If I were to wake up at 4am I could start painting within minutes. (That will never happen, but it could!) I would not have to do a big production of getting ready to roll.
Thing Three: Always end your session with your art sanctuary ready to art the next time
That sounds like a repeat of Thing Two, but it’s more. Don’t leave your sanctuary messy. (You get to define messy. If you’re fine with paint on the floor and 18 jars on your work table, and can launch right into a new project that way, perfect.) Walking into a messy workspace is not conducive to creation. It means you still have a palette to scrape before you can start painting. You find your brushes are stiff and need refurbishment. Your tea or coffee mug from yesterday is gross and still sitting there without fresh liquid sustenance in it. Bah. Make taking your mug to the sink the last step of your ritual for the day.
And that’s also how you end the day. Clean up your stuff, and set your table for work so that the next time you are ready to art, you are truly ready, and you can just take your creative heart, head, and hands, and launch.
Onward and Upward!