Jill Gustavis
Naturally Inspired
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Art Journal

Shifting Focus

MessyDesk

I usually only add to this portion of my website when for one reason or another, I’m not able to paint. Since I’ve recently had art-related and personal events dominating my mental space, this is exactly that kind of time. 

If you’ve been following my Instagram, you’ve seen the posts for the art show I’m participating in right now. Just preparing for this and even looking forward to it zapped a lot of my energy. I wanted to make a good first impression, and kept overthinking even small details that were clear cut and straight forward. Then interacting with people while at the gallery took an even bigger toll. For example, I was completely spent after my obligatory hosting session. Just from chatting with people, the tension headache I’d been nursing for the past few days blew up and grew into a nasty half-day in bed the next morning! Now it may not have necessarily been the chatting alone, but that I was stressing the whole time about trying to do all the hosting duties correctly, and interacting with visitors is an important part of that.

Other than the art show, and a bit of general burnout from increase in all the work I’ve done this summer, there’s also external pressure from sources like home-ownership (and maintenance), family health, and of course my full-time job.

I’ve tried to sit down and paint multiple times the past few weeks with less than usual success. I’ve even had multiple days pass where I didn’t even think about painting. Now, I didn’t do nothing, to be clear, I managed some studies, worked on a layer or two on the backside of paintings, and pulled together two new color palettes to use my new pocket and demi palettes, but nothing like what I have on my creative to-do list. 

Therein lies the difference between creative block and this shutdown I experience when I have higher than average anxiety. The ideas are there, it’s just like the tap is turned off, I cannot work on them; there’s just no energy for it. I also don’t find the energy to post the little I do manage to social media when I don’t have the usual volume of new content. 

So I shift. 

What comes more easily now? Basically anything that isn’t painting (or sitting still at my desk). I’ve been sketching more with fountain pens, taking notes while I read art books, and puttering around. How I manage to not let the creative halt turn depressive and self-judgemental is by embracing the new facets that work.

I got a better understanding of this particular flavor of my anxiety earlier in the summer. Another Instagrammer was mentioning noticing your habits, looking at possible causes and then being generous with yourself while you work on the cause, and not judge the coping habit. At the time I felt like I needed to snack impulsively (my stomach gets in a twist when I’m anxious), feeling irritable whenever I’d try to paint, and then feel horrible that I wasn’t painting (all the things I’m doing now) and when I looked a few weeks out on my schedule, I had an event coming up that I was half looking forward to, and half apprehensive about. Bingo. So I accepted the temporary restriction and used my time more productively keeping my health and home in check. Sure enough, when the event passed and all was good again, I felt less resistance in my work. 

Basically if half of my brain is occupied thinking about something (even subconsciously) I have a hard time focusing on my painting. I’ve tried to paint a few times this week and after some puttering and internet surfing, left my studio with an apathetic, “eh”. 

Instead, 

  • I’m enjoying reading an old watercolor book lent to me from a fellow Guild member, and I’m taking notes. I also ordered a copy for myself I liked it so much! I’ll share more about it once I get a chance to try some of the new techniques!

  • I’m organizing my supplies and making lists that prioritize any materials I’d like to add, and making plans on when to purchase responsibly. ;) 

  • I’m spending time in my garden and collecting reference photos (there and elsewhere) to use over the winter and in the future. 

  • I’m enjoying the tail end of summer too! Cooler fall weather has already made a guest appearance this month and I’m enjoying the ability to be outside while I still can. High 60’s caps my temperature range in the fall (for sitting still), as the air feels cooler and my Reynauds get triggered. It’s hard to paint when your fingers are numb. So I’m definitely sidelining more inside work while summer is still here.

  • I have some projects on deck too, I need to clean all the photos off my phone and sort them into folders labeled by kind of reference subject, reorganize my computer files, and add new prints and products to my Society6 page. Another computer task is I started an Amazon Shop page in order to share with all my followers an easier way to see and shop the products I use in my work. (As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.)

  • Eventually I also want to redesign/reorganize my website, but that may be another great project for winter.

  • I also cannot fail to mention that some of the reasons I can’t paint, are because I am needed elsewhere. I’ve had personal circumstances recently that needed 110% of my attention and I am lucky enough that I do not yet depend on my art to support my living, and I can give those issues the time and attention that they require. Physical and mental health (for yourself and your family) are important, if you’re not supporting them, then they cannot support you.

All of these things help me stay ready to paint again when I feel more at ease or I find time again. I’m still planning projects and I still try to paint, but if it’s just not working, I don’t fight it. The anxiety comes and goes, so sometimes I catch a few hours of a less-tense brain for studio time, fully distracted by the enjoyment of what I’m doing. The things I end up doing may not be immediately noticeable to everyone else, but they’re still tasks that make the art engine work more smoothly!

So if you’re ever in similar circumstances, don’t beat yourself up. Be generous with yourself and look into what you may need at the current time. If you want to share your experiences or discuss, come talk with me and the art community in the comments of this Instagram post!




Jill Gustavis