Whether it’s due to a sudden life change or a bunch of little things piling up, it happens to the best of us: you find yourself separated from your painting routine. Maybe you’ve had a medical issue, or a family crisis. Perhaps you’ve put your painting on the backburner to take care of more pressing issues.
Is there hope for getting back into a regular painting schedule, even with all the changes that have happened in your life? Of course there is! The key is to start small, and remember a few guidelines as you go.
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1. First and foremost, remember that art is necessary
It’s important to view your need to create art as an integral part of yourself. Circumstances might change your life and affect your painting time, physical ability, and motivation, but if you hold on to the part of yourself that values the need to create, it will help you get through some of those tough times.
2. Accept the time you’ve missed—and move on
For me, any time I spend on hiatus from painting turns into guilt. It’s been said that art is a jealous mistress, and I experience that firsthand if I go a few days without creating some sort of artwork. There’s an anxiety that starts to build up when I’m not creating.
But instead of fretting over the time I’ve missed, I decide to get back into artwork in the same fashion I would start a new job: I show up and start working, putting my energy into what the future holds rather than what happened in the past.
Think of the time you spent away from painting as a little break for your brain, and rest assured that while you were busy doing other things, your “painting brain” was busy recharging and filing information for you to use once you pick up your brushes again.
3. Set yourself up for success
If you’ve been away from your art materials for a while, give yourself a fresh start by reorganizing them into a space that invites you to work. Even if it’s a little corner of a room with a sketchbook and pencils on a TV tray, designate a space for yourself to physically reconnect with your creativity.
Then, prep a few canvases, tape some paper down on boards—whatever you normally need to work, spend some time prepping and setting up. Give yourself a bank of ideas for inspiration, too. Take reference photos, browse through works that inspire you, look through the work of your favorite artists, go back through your best paintings to get yourself motivated to create something new.
4. Begin even if you don’t feel like it—and start small
One of the hardest parts of getting back into painting after a long break is sitting down and beginning your work. For some artists, the combined pressure of a blank canvas and high expectations can make for a frustrating experience before there’s even any paint on the canvas.
So don’t start with a big project! Begin with a sketch, or a loose color or value exercise to warm up. Starting with a small exercise gives you the chance to reconnect your senses to your painting: the weight of pen or brush in hand, the scent of paint, the scratching of pencils or brushes, the sight of your mark on the surface are all details your body will physically recognize and celebrate as you work.
Another key to starting small is changing your expectations about time. If you don’t feel you can paint because you don’t have a three hour block to yourself, it helps to shorten the amount of time you expect to work.
Just like physical exercise, start with a brief session that can be expanded as you go. If twenty minutes is all you have, take it and use it. If that twenty minutes stretches into a longer period, great! If not, you still got some work time in, and maybe you can find another 20 minutes later in the day to continue.
Each day, try to add a few extra minutes into your time blocks. You might discover a time of day where you find yourself getting longer blocks of time, which you can then incorporate into a painting schedule.
5. Work your way into full time on your own terms
Once you’ve started painting again, you might be tempted to push yourself back into your old full-time painting schedule, or feel bad because you can’t get the hours in that you did at your peak amount of time spent painting each day.
You might also be comparing the amount of time you spend creating to that of your creative peers—don’t! Instead, bring the focus back to yourself. Remember that since creating art is a part of your core being, it’s going to be part of your life no matter how much time you have for it.
If you want more time to paint, devote yourself to the time you have now and find ways to work in more time as you go. The pressure of an “all or nothing” mindset (i.e., if I don’t paint for three hours a day, I might as well not bother) is a quick way to end up separating yourself from your creativity, so do the opposite and make the most out of the time you do get to paint.
Remember the saying, “The only constant in life is change”?
Your life is going to continue to change. No doubt about it. But if you hang on to that desire to create, and fit it in wherever you can, you’ll realize again what you probably knew all along. . . that setting time aside to be creative each day makes everything else a little bit easier to deal with, too.
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