Take an Art Break from the Keyboard
This won’t be a long piece; I save those for political columns nobody reads. No, today is a day to be brief, because when I finish this, I’m going to move from my writing desk to my art table and submerge below all the coronavirus and primary angst that is almost suffocating when it comes to creativity.
By profession, I’m a writer and photojournalist. Those two pursuits have been kind to me and my family over the years because they have put bread on the table, clothes on our backs, a roof over our heads, and (a little) money in the bank. In the best of times, I was always busy working on stories and photo shoots for newspapers and magazines.
In the worst of times, I could still eke out a living as a freelance writer and photographer, peddling my ideas to whatever publication had a need for a few thousand words and pictures to go with them. In the middle times, I was a government writer — mostly a speechwriter — which, while offering a relatively secure income and the opportunity to work for some interesting people, was a creative cul-de-sac.
We all need to recharge, though, and writing being the huge energy drain it is, places recharging demands on us that are often satisfied by exercise, hiking, kayaking, fishing, music (guitar, piano, singing), flying (which was one of my outlets until the cost drove me out of the skies), and countless other non-writing pursuits that get us off our asses and out into the real world.
For me, the best creative battery replenisher is art.
My home office is subdivided into two distinct areas: my writing space and my art space. Here on the writing side, I have my fancy captain’s desk on which sits my monitor, keyboard, mouse, and all the paraphernalia needed to support my writing and research. Bookshelves are to my left and a humongous Epson V850 Pro scanner occupies the space to my right. When I’m not writing, this part of the room also serves as my office, suitable for bill paying, taxes, files, etc. Boring.
But behind me, in the front of the room we call the Dungeon, where all my audiobook recording gear used to be, is my art table, with all my paints, pencils, sheets of watercolor paper, graphic design tools, and other fun stuff that gets me out of my writer’s mindset and into a world where art happens.
I’ve been an amateur artist for decades — at least six of them — and art is the creative outlet that flattens out a rocky day, illuminates the gray slumps that happen at the keyboard, and transfigures the real world into a world of my own making.
My art lets me illustrate my own stories here on Medium and on my blog and often in columns I write for other publications. It lets me illustrate covers for my audiobooks, it creates gifts for friends, and recreates scenes from my youth.
As it relates to my daily experience as a writer, art is that pause in the day’s occupation that is equivalent to a walk in a forest or a swim in an ocean. It’s head-clearing and restorative.
When I’m in the middle of a story, I’m also thinking about what piece of art I might be able to work up to go along with the article. While I do, on occasion, resort to purchased art through Shutterstock, or sometimes Unsplash, whenever I can I prefer to use my own work. For me, that just completes the story, and I’ll find that sometimes the process of creating an illustration will spark a few more ideas for the story I’m working on.
A nice thing about using art as a break in the writing routine is that you don’t have to be good at it (evidence above), it’s not competitive (you’re not knocking yourself out to get the best split times on a 10K run), and it’s not public if you don’t want it to be (you can make a bazillion mistakes and only you will know). Most important, there is no pressure. In fact, it’s just the opposite: it’s a pressure valve, there to let you decompress when your writing has gotten too intense or convoluted. Take your fingers off the keyboard and let some art step in to sooth those jangled writer’s thoughts.
The equipment is easy to come by: a nice pencil set; a modest assortment of watercolors and a palette and a few brushes and good paper; maybe some charcoal or pastels, etc. If you like to work electronically, there are excellent and inexpensive art programs for Macs and PCs. The medium is not the point. The turning on of a different part of your creative brain is the point.
Who knows, you might even find you like it.