No one is immune to setbacks in life. Whether recuperating from an illness, recovering from a personal loss, or drawn away by family or other obligations, (or a national pandemic), there are moments that force us to focus on other aspects of our lives for a certain period of time. For artists, being taken away from making work can be an emotional setback all its own. Returning to your art studio is a demanding decision and one that often occurs after serious deliberation. As a result, artists returning to the studio after time spent away are dealing with a powerful, but potentially overwhelming, experience.
In addition to grappling with new stages of one’s personal or professional life, it can be intimidating to resume creating artwork after time spent away from their practice. So how can you be mindful when returning to the art studio? What positive and empowering steps can artists take to hit the reset button? What are plans crucial to re-evaluate how to move forward in your artistic practice?
For those who may be feeling lost and looking for the right steps to move forward in their artistic career after a break, we’ve assembled some tips to consider so that you can resume your practice with intention, direction, and ambition. Draw inspiration from the insights we’ve gathered from other artists, and as you resume work please feel free to share your feedback in the comments so that other artists can gain from your experience and what has worked for you when returning to the studio.
Define Your Artistic Intention
The saying “pay it forward” exists to remind us to be kind to others, but equally as important it serves as a reminder to be kind to ourselves. Move forward slowly, gently, and with an artistic intention. Define your artistic intention before you dive back into art-making: After spending time away, there will be aspects of art-making that just won’t come as quickly. Depending on the amount of time spent away, re-training in certain skills or slowly moving back up to one’s previous speed or skill level can be time-consuming and frustrating. Types of paintbrushes, oil, varnish, or clay are important tools for creating artwork, but without the artist’s drive and determination – and honesty about their artistic intention – these tools are useless.
Be kind to yourself so that you can resume your habits and practice in a way that fits your artistic intention now, not a version of yourself who inhabits the past. In some cases, particularly after illness or ailment, the approach you take to art-making may be physically altered. It’s easy to lose patience or want to start from where you “left off,” but the kindest truth you can admit to yourself is that you are starting from where you are starting now, and not from any other time. By dedicating yourself to realizing your artistic intention the best way you can in your current state, you can return to being in this moment and orient yourself to the abilities you are currently bringing into the studio with you. Accepting the skill level you have, and applying this to your practice will keep you grounded and attuned to your artistic practice as-is.
An important aspect of defining your artistic intention and resuming your practice is regaining a sense of hope that you’ll be in a better place with your work soon. There’s no better way to resume faith in your own abilities than by experiencing this accomplishment vicariously through others who have already surmounted similar challenges. Look into your existing community or reach out to others who you may know who have experienced similar setbacks to see how they emerged from these experiences and resumed art-making. An even better way to regain confidence and restore hope is to join a community or group-oriented around recovery from the setbacks that have affected you, especially if the members are in the creative community. By regularly sharing your artistic intention with others and joining together, you won’t feel alone or isolated and can better grapple with specifics that you’ll need to draw from when resuming work in your studio.
Looking for other ways to restore a sense of strength and regain confidence that you’ll be quick to resume your artistic practice? Keep a journal to document your daily steps in reaching your artistic intention. Write about how you feel from day to day: what you create, what inspired you, and – most importantly – achievements that you have made in your artistic practice. By keeping track of your progress regularly and returning to it, you’ll be able to clearly gain perspective on the victories you make day-by-day as you resume art-making activities and to better understand what can cause you frustration and where your strengths and weaknesses lie moving forward. And speaking of strengths and weaknesses…
Re-Evaluate Your Art Career Goals
There is no better time than now to ascertain where your artwork is headed and whether it is moving in a direction that both interests you and best translate your concepts and themes. Now is the time to mix it up, and even to explore other processes and mediums that you’ve held an interest in but perhaps have not yet pursued. This is the right moment to apply your skills as an artist in a new direction when you can see what interests you and what you plan to avoid moving ahead.
As an example, say you are a figurative artist who has always struggled with color. Why not try working with color in abstract paintings to see what color combinations work for you? By shifting to a subject matter outside of the box, you may more carefully hone in on your palette or a distinct color signature for your artworks. Similarly, perhaps you’re a skilled figure painter who has never made sculpture. By acquiring a new skill in sculpting and translating the human figure to a new medium, you may approach your figurative two-dimensional works differently. While you are re-building the skills you’ve already attained, it makes sense to expand your skillset and to mix it up with other methods you have yet to explore.
Whether through Youtube videos, online courses, or in-person classes, building new artistic skill sets could be supplemented with further art historical knowledge relevant to your field. Experimenting with working in film but never completed a cinema studies course? While resuming your artistic practice and learning how to improve your art-making abilities, these additional insights can only better inform your practice to become more informed about art history and alternative processes. Through education and experimentation, you will be better empowered to restore and expand your confidence as an artist and to trust your inner voice in adapting your artistic practice to who you have become.
Visit Someone’s Art Studio to Get Inspired
In addition to slowly rebuilding your skillset and supplementing this growth with new methods, processes, and ideas, it will be crucial to set yourself up for success by connecting with other artists in their studio. Set up a studio visit with an artist who works in your chosen medium, or perhaps interdisciplinary artists or those working with different processes. See this studio visit as an opportunity to take notes and see what works and what doesn’t.
As you begin to re-approach your studio practice and artistic intention, realize you are at a crucial time for re-evaluating what works in your processes and what can be improved. Did you visit another artist’s studio and gain insight into other methods of preparatory sketching, tool organization, or ordering supplies? Pay attention and ask questions when stopping in for a studio visit, and you may be surprised how your own practice benefits as a result in mundane or profound ways. Equally important, taking time to observe and weigh in on other artists and their practice will take you out of the mental state you are in as you acclimate to returning to the studio. This will be a positive influence as you continue to make strides toward the next steps in your artistic practice.
Finally, find ways to be encouraged. Be positive and not overly critical. By taking small steps to re-evaluate the ways in which you see your work, you’ll observe your practice in a new light. It’s not possible to judge all the artwork you’ve made by the same standards. By dedicating yourself to developing the aspects of your practice that you can improve upon, and by slowly rebuilding your skillset to a level you are comfortable with, you will not only gain confidence but learn valuable lessons about yourself and how you can adapt and grow. Taking your artistic intention one day at a time will prove crucial as you develop new skills, recall old ones, and drive your practice forward in new and surprising ways.
Audra Lambert is a curator, arts marketing consultant, and editor.