Artists can often lose track of time and work for hours on a project without taking a break (especially when pesky deadlines must be met). But if we continuously create and never stop to care for our outer and inner self, we risk burning out over time. By practicing self-care, we support healthy habits that can help us do our best work.
In this blog post, I’d like to share simple self-care ideas that are helpful not just for artists, but for any creative who can incorporate them into their everyday life. These tips go beyond eating healthy, exercising, or getting a full eight hours of sleep (though these are important too).
These practices have the most impact on my life, but since we are all unique, different self-care practices may be better suited for you. So, take what resonates, and let the rest go.
**This post contains affiliate links. That means that if you make a purchase through one of my links, I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. And as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
1. Slow Down
Personally, I wasn’t too fond of slowing down in the past. Whenever someone advised me to slow down, I often replied with, “You slow down. I’ll slow down when I’m 80.” Well, those weren’t my exact words, but something along those lines. However, over the last year, I’ve come to enjoy slowing my pace. I give myself enough time to complete tasks, and I no longer beat myself up in the moments when I’m not creating. In her course “Money BadAss”, Lilla Rogers states the following:
“The creative life has lulls and peaks. Use the lulls to prepare for and/or recover from the peaks. You need to honor your lulls. Otherwise, you’re constantly in peak season and burn out.”You need to honor your lulls. Otherwise, you’re constantly in peak season and burn out. - Lilla Rogers Click To Tweet
2. Create A Happy Folder
Normally, I wouldn’t recommend that you seek recognition outside yourself, but delving into messages of appreciation and praise can help you maintain your confidence as an artist. I have a file titled “Happy Folder” on my computer, which contains excerpts of my favorite five-star reviews from customers, mentions, achievements, etc. When someone says something flattering about my art, I take a screenshot and put it in my happy folder.
Whenever I’m feeling sad or discouraged about my art, I pick one photo from my Happy Folder and read it out loud. I’m immediately cheered up. What I love about this practice is that it reminds you of who you are and the things you’ve accomplished.
3. Revisit Your Art
From time to time, take out your portfolio and look back at your old art (especially the pieces you are proud of). This is a way to show your old art some love, and it also serves as a reminder that you can do amazing things.
It’s easy to get distracted and go on Instagram (or other social media platforms) to share bits of the art process. But this interrupts your flow and can leave you feeling worn out. That’s why I try to create first and share later. This way, I focus on my craft and take better care of my energy.
Unplugging can also look like taking a day or two off social media to be more present with loved ones or spending quality me time. If you’re feeling anxious or tired, the last thing you want is to get sucked into social media. Instead, try unplugging!
So far in my art career, I haven’t had any major physical problems. But I’ve heard other artists suffer from neck and back injuries. Most of us sit at a desk, and if you’re a colored pencil artist like me, you probably do a lot of burnishing, which can lead to wrist injuries. That’s why it’s important to stretch your muscles!
I don’t personally do yoga, but I do incorporate stretches into my routine. I recently experienced lower back pain and after doing these stretches for a week, my back pain disappeared! You can find stretches for specific parts of the body by typing query words in the YouTube search bar.
6. Change Posture
In addition to stretching, you can adjust your posture by using an easel instead of working flat on your desk, or upgrade to a standing desk. Not so long ago, my Instagram friend and fellow artist, Naz, suffered a neck injury, so she bought a table easel! It took some time for her to get used to it, but it has helped her significantly with her neck pain.
7. Use a Hand Lotion
I’m not someone who spends an awful amount of money on manicure stuff, but I do like hand cream. Until recently, I never really cared for my hands. But when I started making videos of my art process, I began to care about my hands looking dry on camera.
A friend gave me a hand cream last Christmas which I’ve been using ever since. It smells great and instantly makes my hands feel soft and hydrated. Whether you’re into cosmetics or not, it is always a good idea to show your hands some love! Below are some of my Amazon picks.
8. Take an Epson Salt Bath
Once a week, I like to take an Epson salt bath to help revitalize tired muscles. If you’re someone who does a lot of physical work as a demand of your job or sports, then I strongly suggest you invest in some Epson salts!
For relaxation and general skin hydration, add 1 cup (250g) to a warm bath, and for a more concentrated effect, add two cups (500 g). Soak for 20 minutes, then rinse.
Other benefits of taking an Epson salt bath:
- Promotes restful sleep.
- Relieves inflammation.
- Helps remove toxins from the body.
9. Clean Your Workspace
Make it a habit to clean your workspace after a painting session. I know it can be daunting, especially after a long day, but it only takes a few minutes! If you’re stressed or anxious about ongoing projects, a cluttered or messy space will only intensify those feelings. By putting away your art materials and cleaning the work surfaces, your space will be ready for the next day. This will give you a feeling of calmness and save time and energy in the morning.
I like to wash my palettes at the end of the day unless I need to work on an unfinished piece the next day. In that case, I’ll simply store my palettes/paint. But I always make sure to wash and rinse my brushes.
10. Go on a Getaway Every 4-8 Weeks
I got this tip from Peter Voogd. He suggests taking a mini vacation every 4-8 weeks, instead of once every other year, and that you set it in your calendar. This will fire you up to be more productive, make more money, and go on more vacations. That being said, you don’t have to break the bank to shake up your routine. You can travel to a nearby city by bus or train. If you’re in the Netherlands, Spoordeelwinkel has special train deals. You can also check out FlixBus for really great bus offers.
It can be scary to put your shop on holiday mode, especially when you have momentum with work or commissions, but I guarantee that you will return to your art studio refreshed and energized after having taken some time off.
I recently felt like I was lacking zest for life, but after having gone on a three day summer holiday, I got back my enthusiasm! It’s amazing what three days in the woods or in nature can do for you.
11. Deal With Comparison
Whenever I feel like falling into the comparison trap, I read this quote by Elizabeth Gilbert, and immediately drop any feeling of jealousy or envy.
“Comparison is an abandonment of your own home.”
If I abandon my home by lurking on other artists’ websites for a prolonged period, I feel shitty afterward. Instead, I choose to be proud of where I am now. We are all on different journeys and success looks different to everyone. I try to be genuinely happy for others and be inspired by their success, rather than feeling envious.
Nonetheless, if I can’t switch my focus and a certain person triggers comparison, I will just mute them temporarily until the feeling vanishes. This has helped with my mental health and allowed me to focus my attention on my small business instead of what others are doing. I might expand on this in a separate blog post for another time – it’s a big topic.
12. Listen to an Uplifting Podcast
If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you probably know I’m into the law of attraction.
I have a ritual where every morning I listen to an episode of Abraham Hicks’ podcast on Spotify. I listen to it while I’m brushing my teeth or during my morning walk. This habit sparks my mind daily and makes me feel joyful for the day.
Maybe you already listen to podcasts during your art sessions, but listening to an inspiring podcast before starting work can help get your day off to a good start. Just be careful not to binge listen and take it one podcast episode at a time!
Writing down your thoughts in a journal can help you release emotions and have more clarity on your goals and vision. I’ve made it a habit to journal as part of my morning routine.
Every day when you wake up or before going to bed, write what’s working or isn’t working, your goals or dreams. You can even make journaling fun by incorporating your art into it. Just search for “art journaling” on Pinterest, and you’ll get tons of ideas! Here are some of my favorite Pins for art journaling (copy the links below and paste them on a new browser to see the ideas):
14. Be Gentle with Yourself
There will be (many) times when your artwork won’t come up as you expect it. I have had to repeat many custom portraits in the past, either because I spilled paint on them or because the client didn’t like it. At first, I was frustrated with myself, but after a while I realized that allowing mistakes to happen is part of the art (and life) journey.
Did you know that when we judge ourselves, we are actually triggering stress and depression? Let me explain why. Studies have shown that when we criticize ourselves, the body goes into defense mode. The reptilian brain indicates to our body that there is a threat to our persona (us), and this releases adrenaline and cortisol as a response.
This threat (self-criticism) is not directed to our actual self, but to the concept we have of ourselves. When we don’t like something about ourselves (or what we create), we attack. But if we’re constantly criticizing/attacking ourselves, it is probable that we’re releasing a lot of cortisol, and by consequence, we’ll reach high levels of stress. Eventually, the body will shut itself down to protect itself from this stress, and we will become ill or depressed. This is why self-compassion matters.
So next time you create a “bad” piece of art, let yourself off the hook and be gentle with yourself.
15. Change your Environment
I have a dedicated space where I create art most of the time. But when I’m tired of sitting at my desk, I take my art supplies with me (and sometimes even my desktop) and work on the floor in my living room. This helps me reconnect with my creative inner child because when I was little, I used to draw on the floor. I never really liked drawing on a table, which many found weird.
If I’m writing a blog post, sometimes I take my laptop to a café and write from there. Other times, I write from the dining table or even the couch. To keep things interesting, try to work from different places. If you have a backyard and the weather is nice, you could even try to paint outdoors!
16. Have a Hobby that Has Nothing to Do with Your Business
Drawing used to be my hobby until I made it my full-time business. Don’t get me wrong, I still draw and paint for fun, but after 8+ hours of working on commission work, my energy is zapped. So instead, I like to read a book or learn new Dutch words.
Having a hobby that you don’t monetize can serve as a stress release and help keep your creative juices flowing. There are countless crafts you can learn, like knitting, paper marbling, watercolor painting, etc. You can find DIY kits on Etsy that have everything you need to learn a new skill at your own pace and from the comfort of your home! Here are some suggestions:
17. Make Things You Don’t Share with The World
Constantly posting on social media can be draining. You have to come up with a caption, hashtags, and then – if you’re lucky – you’ll get some engagement on your post. From time to time, I like to create pieces that are just for me. This gives me the freedom to create a “shitty” piece of art with no revisions and no perfectionism. Since my art style is usually pretty detailed and tight, whenever I have a don’t share it with the world session, I like to paint loose and splatter paint all over.
Here is something I never shared with the world (until now). I followed this YouTube tutorial and painted some abstract waves, which I then made into bookmarks.
By taking time to create something just for you, you allow yourself to be more playful and learn new things about you and your craft.
18. Learn to Say No
At any time, you can turn down projects that burden you or aren’t worth your time. I have canceled commissions from troubled customers in the past. These customers didn’t understand my style and it didn’t matter how many changes I made, they would still be not satisfied. My peace of mind comes first, and I’d rather have one paycheck less than worrying and stressing about pleasing someone’s high demands.
In this post, I talk about the criteria I follow to take on a project.
19. Celebrate Your Wins
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again:
“A win is a win, it doesn’t matter how small, and it needs to be celebrated.”
Celebrate what’s going right with your business rather than focusing on what’s not working yet. Made one sale? Give yourself a pat on the back! Got one new customer? Do a happy dance!
When you feel discouraged, pause and write down a list of your wins and remind yourself of how far you’ve come.
20. Treat Yourself
The easiest way to show yourself some love is to treat yourself to your favorite snack or drink. I often treat myself to an iced matcha latte. This is a great pick-me-up, and helps against the afternoon slump after lunch.
Here’s the recipe for my matcha latte. It’s super easy to make and it’s healthy too! Add a teaspoon of matcha powder and a teaspoon of honey to a glass. Then add a splash of boiling water and whisk with a fork. If you are a matcha pro and have a bamboo whisker, use that instead. Once the powder is dissolved and there aren’t any clumps, add two-thirds of almond milk. Finally, add some ice cubes and enjoy!
21. Connect with Loved Ones
Whether this is through WhatsApp or device-free dinners, I regularly check in with my loved ones. We are social creatures, and we need time to connect with others. My heart is always full after I call my dad on the phone, chat with my bestie, or cuddle with my boyfriend.
22. Get Some Plants for Your Studio
I’m not a crazy plant lady by any means. In fact, I’ve killed many plants in the past. It wasn’t until I started my art business that I bought plants for my studio. The greenery around my workspace brings good vibes and makes me feel happy.
This is the before and after of a plant I bought when I started my illustration career. As you can see, it has grown beautifully. And so has my business!
23. Practice Guided Meditation
One way to spoil yourself with more “me” time is through meditation. If you’re new to this, you can try a guided meditation. With guided meditation, all you have to do is listen and let your mind and body fall into deep relaxation. This practice is proven to boost happiness and health.
My favorite app for this is Insight Timer. It has guided meditations that focus on healing, happiness, self-love, and more. And the best part? You can download it for free! It’s available for both Android and iOS.
24. Walk in Nature
If you must adopt one self-care habit from this list, let it be this one. Walking in nature is rarely something I compromise on. This is how I recharge and it’s also where most of my ideas come from. I take both short and long walks. Sometimes I walk for 10 minutes, other times 40 minutes, but every day I make sure to get some fresh air. You probably have a park nearby, so put on some comfortable shoes and get out of the studio!
Here are some beautiful things I’ve seen during my walks. I’m planning to use these photos as references for future paintings. Feel free to download them and use them in your deliberate practice too.
25. Read a Physical Book
I know reading is a pretty common self-care activity, and at this point, it might sound generic. But there’s something about grabbing a physical book and getting lost in it, even if just for a moment.
Social media can distract us from the things that truly interest us. That’s why I always keep a book near me, so when I’m taking a break from a painting session, I read a chapter, instead of reaching for my phone.
26. Take an Online Class
If you’re up for something new, then what about taking an online class? One of my favorite platforms to learn new skills is Skillshare. The first class I took on Skillshare was “Drawing as Self-Discovery” by Marie Andrew, and I enjoyed it a lot! I highly recommend this class to everyone who’s looking to loosen up and explore deeper parts of themselves. Here’s one of the projects I created for this class.
I hope this post inspired you to put some of these ideas into practice. Comment below on which was your favorite. Or, if you have any other helpful ideas to add to the list, I would love to hear them!