Jill Gustavis
Naturally Inspired

Art Journal

A Year in Review

This past Saturday I tallied the art I made each month last year. Why? A few different reasons. Read on to see what I found in the numbers.

This month, I’ve done a few color mixes and pen work, but I really haven’t wanted to paint. Just feeling kind of ‘meh’ about it actually. My suspicion is that I may have mentally burned myself out the last two months. But I still feel guilty. So I started digging around for clues and insight.


Alongside my 40hr/wk job, in November and December I checked off:

  • An intensive 6 week class for watercolors.

  • Prepping a show submission including 5 new large pieces (large for me is 11 x 14 inches or bigger, and I’ll of course let you know if anything comes of that submission.)

  • Finishing a commission, which was also the largest piece I’ve yet painted in watercolor. 16 x 20 inches.
    (more on this soon!)

  • Listening to workshops and podcasts on art and business and taking extensive notes.

  • Doing additional personal painting/sketching.

62 instances of art in Nov/Dec,
versus 32 between Sept/Oct.

I counted 62 instances of art in Nov/Dec versus 32 between Sept/Oct, whew! Super proud, you bet! Exhausted? Also yes. But, I know these slumps pass, they always do. The last time I had a hiatus longer than a few days, I busied myself with trying to carve brush handles, this time I’ve been exploring and adding to my fountain pens and inks. Perhaps a bit more useful in the long term than carving.


But let’s go back to why count my art? Well, mostly to see if there were any hidden advice as to what practices worked best for me, as in I wasn’t making myself get up at 5, or convincing myself to work in a way that I didn’t naturally. As I went through the data, I also made a note to myself, I should actually write down where and when I’m doing any art this year in my planner, and how I felt about each session, so I can add that into the equation instead of trying to remember and making general assumptions. The more I can hone in on how I do my art the most naturally, and with the least amount of conscious grinding, the easier and healthier it will be in the long run. As if trying to “find my art style” wasn’t hard enough. What’s my productivity style? Thus I looked at what I’ve done, to see if it held clues for what I should try again.

I went about the task of counting my art by scrolling through both my Instagram feed and my photos on my phone, since I didn’t post every piece, especially from the classes and supporting work I did. I then categorized it into the following four sections:

Sketches (watercolor)

Drawings (Ink/Pencil/Watercolor sticks)

Paintings (more “finished” looking work)

Other (paperwork, organization, color studies, etc.).

So what did I find?

  • I only did a whopping 5 things last January. 3 sketches, 1 drawing, and 1 painting. So now I don’t feel as bad about my little slump this month.

  • I did more work in plein air season, so the warmer months of May-September, with August being the most productive.

  • Plein air pieces were more often something I’d classify as a sketch, versus a painting. So I was painting multiples, and often, but smaller, maybe less finished pieces, perhaps just excited to be outside and painting nature.

  • I do more work when I’m in a class, workshop, or beholden to some outside deadline. Accountability. I need to find an art group…

  • I got equally great results from ‘just starting’ and from doing prep studies for paintings. This may be coincidence or may change year to year as I try to achieve more specific results and/or more open ended work.

  • I do less work at my desk during colder months, probably because that room is colder. It catches the wind from across the field and my Raynaud's disease doesn’t agree with sitting still at desk work in cold rooms; you can’t paint when your hands are numb.

  • In turn, during those months I’m reticent to sit at my desk, I do more smaller work that isn’t as color dependent at our living room table. One side of the couch is directly under the heater, making it much warmer, and it kind of feels like a little party, hanging out with the cats under the little white Christmas lights we leave up year round.

  • Some of my favorite work was experimental. Which is perfect to leave off on, since that’s the name of the trail I’d like to journey down this year!

So while digesting much of that, I cleaned up the studio afterwards and just knowing that it’s perfectly normal for me to not frequently paint right now, I may just perform some reverse psychology and find myself dipping a brush soon enough. I wasn’t expecting a clear answer from this exercise, but I expect throughout the year, if I am more mindful of my process, I may uncover some gems in there. Something will most likely click while staring off into space, “doing the hard work” as white space advocates say. In the meantime, I’m not rushing things. I currently have the luxury of not relying on my personal art for a living, so I can let it simmer on the back burner until I’m ready.

Hopefully some of you may find something helpful in my ramblings in understanding your own creative ebb and flow. Does anyone else take breaks from their art? I’d love to hear about it! Come discuss with me on Instagram here!

Jill Gustavis