Warning! Artists at work
Mind matters Creativity might improve wellbeing, but is this true for artists? Julia Sagar finds out how pro artists beat stress
It’s a hard game, this art lark. We speak to top artists about the perils of perfectionism and benefits of chill.
We all know about the therapeutic benefits of creativity. Most of us, at some point, have experienced the sensation of becoming so immersed in a creative act that the world, and our worries, have melted away.
Indeed, for many, creative mindfulness is an effective practice for achieving a focused, meditative state through art. But what about when you’re a professional artist? Can art still function as a vehicle for mindfulness or wellbeing when you’ve been drawing, painting or creating all day? What can artists do to escape when it all gets a bit much?
“I started my career as a concept artist because of the mindfulness I experienced when I was drawing,” says London-based Francesco Mazza. “After a few years of doing it as a professional, though, I’ve realised that drawing isn’t such an effective way to achieve mindfulness, because most of the time you have to meet the clients’ needs.”
achieving inner peace
Lately, Francesco has been working on personal projects in his spare time in an attempt to recreate a sense of inner peace. And it’s working. “I feel that this is the best way to escape from the pressure of a hectic life,” he says. Toronto-based artist Bobby Chiu agrees that client work is often the source of stress. He also points out that far from being a guaranteed gateway to a meditative state, sometimes the creative process can be difficult and stress-inducing.
“I’ve always found the initial steps of a painting or concept to be the most mentally tiring, because you have so many different things to think about and coincide. The stress comes when I have a creative task to accomplish, but I can’t seem to find an idea that I really like and the deadline is looming.”
However, it’s a different story when it comes to execution. “If I just have
Drawing isn’t an effective way to achieve mindfulness, because most of the time you have to meet the clients’ needs
A mental refresher
to spend the rest of the day rendering something like fur on a creature or foliage, it can feel quite meditative,” he says. “That’s when hours can go by in what feels like minutes. I usually leave these kind of tasks till the end of the day when I’m already a bit tired.”
For Blue Zoo director and storyboard artist Chris
Drew, swimming three or four times a week offers a similar mental release. “All I can focus on when I’m in the water is my breathing and my technique,” he says. As a director he’s involved in every aspect of a production, which often means having several things to deal with at once and, at times, can feel overwhelming. He advises trying to focus on one thing at a time. “Multitasking isn’t a productive way to work,” he adds, “so I try to finish one thing before moving onto another.” To deal with stress, Bobby often goes jogging. He also practises the Wim Hof Method. “It’s a combination of breathing exercises, yoga, stretching, meditation and cold therapy,” he says. “It’s quite refreshing.”
Swiss animator Simone
Giampaolo finds drawing on paper particularly effective for escaping reality. He says that switching everything off for an hour or so – phone, computer, tablet – and creating tangible art enables him to reach a state of mindfulness similar to meditating or dreaming. “In fact, after a few hours of addictive drawing I feel a little dizzy, like after a long sleep, but happier and more inspired than before starting. I come up with the best ideas for shorts or stories during or immediately after drawing or building something.”
“Artistic escapism is great,” agrees Dr Danny
Penman, a qualified meditation teacher, journalist and author. “Creating something new is deeply satisfying and wonderfully therapeutic, but it’s important to avoid spending all of your time living in a mental fantasy world,” he points out.
Be aware of the here and now
Danny’s new book, The Art of Breathing: The Secret to Living Mindfully, provides a guide to practising mindfulness, which he says is the single biggest thing an artist can do to enhance overall wellbeing.
“Escapism, to me, is escaping from the ‘here and now’, whereas mindfulness is being fully connected to the present moment,” he explains. “Lots of clinical trials have shown that connecting to the present moment
it’s important to avoid spending all of your time living in a mental fantasy world
Love is There if You Know Where to Look, by Bobby Chiu, who says he sometimes draws to de-stress.
Izzy Burton’s At One With Nature. “It’s hard not to get worked up when you’re a perfectionist,” she admits. Concept artwork by Francesco Mazza for a personal project called The Blue Caravan.
Bulu, a monkey anatomy exploration by Almu Redondo, who advises, “Be open and curious about the world.”
The Ganon Fight is a personal piece by Francesco that’s inspired by the legend of Zelda. An elf from 2015 Blue Zoo short More Stuff, which animator Simone Giampaolo directed.
Francesco works on personal work, like Heart Piece, to achieve a sense of calm after a hectic day.
Bear, by Izzy. When she’s feeling stressed, the concept artist often creates art in her most comfortable style.