What to Do When You Can’t Make Art

By Carrie Lewis in Art Business Advice > General Art Advice

There are any number of reasons you might find yourself unable to make art. I’m going to focus on two because both are near and dear to me right now: injury, and unexpected life changes.

In my own life, I’ve been dealing with back pain that makes it difficult to work like I normally do. But any illness or injury has the potential to derail your art and your work schedule.

I’m also taking care of five orphan kittens, all of them just a few weeks old. With three regular house cats and a back problem, time is at a premium, and time for art seems to disappear like water down a drain.

So what do you do when you can’t make art?

If you’ve suffered an injury or illness. . .

Take stock of your situation. It may very well be that you’re completely unable to do anything creative. In that case, the only thing you can do is focus on getting well and recovering. Don’t worry about anything else!

If your situation is less drastic, here are a few ideas to keep you moving forward:

1. Rest

No doubt the first thing to do is rest and give yourself time to recover. You won’t do yourself any favors by pushing through pain or physical limitations to finish projects.

If you’re able, contact clients or customers. Let them know what’s going on and when you estimate you can get back to work. If you’re not able to do that, ask someone else to help contact those people, just to so you can relax.

2. Start doing some light planning

You may think that being forced into idleness keeps you from doing anything at all. But idleness of body doesn’t have to mean idleness of mind. You may have been given a prime opportunity for planning your business into the future. Make use of that time.

If there’s something you’ve been thinking about researching—converting your business to a subscription model, for example—but you’ve always been too busy to look into it, take the time now to do so.

3. Find a part of your artistic process you can still do

There are no doubt parts of the creative process that every project passes through, but that don’t necessarily mean you’re actually creating. If you’re anything like me, you’re always collecting (or taking) reference photos.

And maybe, just maybe, those photos collect in a general file without getting labeled, sorted, or organized. :) Now may be the perfect time to do that sort of thing. Work in small batches if you don’t have the energy to do more. The goal is to do something, even if it’s a small step.

4. Update your art website

Something I tend to do when I’m not able to make art is look at my web design. Since my website is WordPress-based, it’s a simple matter to browse themes and maybe try a few in live demos.

If you have a website and you work on it yourself, you know no website is ever finished. There’s always something to adjust, and sometimes you need a complete overhaul. So use your downtime to explore your options.

If you don’t do your own web work, browse other artist websites. Does anything catch your attention? Something you’d like to see on your website? Start a list of ideas for later consideration or implementation.

5. Learn

If you happen to find yourself in a hospital for any length of time—read! Try art blogs. Magazines. Trade papers. Or publications on your favorite subjects.

All creative people need to recharge once in a while. It’s better to do that on a regular basis, but it’s so very easy to forget. Use downtime to recharge creatively as well as physically.

I might also include looking at the work of artists you admire. Nothing can be more encouraging than seeing the works of others.

However—and this is a BIG however—if you’re the type of person who looks at the works of others and are compelled to compete, skip this suggestion. Remember, you want to get well, not push yourself into a worse situation.

If you’re dealing with unexpected responsibilities. . .

Life happens in cycles. You have periods of quiet sailing, followed by periods of rough seas. If your rough sea comes in the form of unexpected responsibilities (like orphaned kittens) here are a few tips that might help you get through.

1. Accept the season you’re in

Kittens don’t take long to grow up. Pretty soon, they’ll be able to feed themselves and will find new homes. It’s quite likely your unexpected responsibilities—whatever form them take—are only temporary. So accept that things are the way they are, and give your time and energy to whatever you have to.

2. Find ways to work those new responsibilities into your art

Yes, taking care of orphaned kittens is time and labor intensive, but when I sit back and watch them as they play grow, I also see that I’ve been given new subjects to draw and paint. You may not have anything as obvious as kittens, but chances are if you take time to study your situation, you will see opportunities for art along with the hindrances.

3. Look for idle moments

New mothers in my writer’s group have often said they snatch writing time when their babies are asleep. That is, if they’re not doing other things or napping too.
I find myself in the same position these days. I do cat chores, then house chores, and then, if there’s time left, I do whatever creative thing I can do—like working on my current drawing, or writing my next freelance article.

Prioritize the things you need to do, and work on the most important thing first, even if something less important is almost finished. Your time is even more precious than it usually is. Use it wisely!

For all of us with perfectionist tendencies, we may have to let go of the idea that everything has to be perfect. Nothing is ever perfect, so just make it the best you can in the time you have. Then let it go.

All too often, when life throws a curveball, it’s easy to look at the negative consequences. What we can’t do. What we’re missing out on. I know how that feels, and I don’t want you to think I’m minimizing how frustrating these times can be.

But even so, I hope this article has given you some encouragement. . . and maybe a few good ideas on how to “keep on keeping on” through these challenging times!


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