Saturday, August 25, 2012

Guest Post: Sarah Benkin: Performing at Your Peak During Stressful Situations

Odds are most people reading this blog are balancing their art with work, school or both. And even when sequential art/illustration is a full time job, there are always going to periods of significant stress where it seems almost impossible to squeeze everything into a 24 hour day. 

Unfortunately, the attitude many artists have—one often encouraged by the industry—is to simply push oneself as hard as possible. Stay up all night, pound coffee, beer and energy drinks and sacrifice for your art. This is almost always a bad idea. Not only bad for you, but bad for your artwork. 

If your body and mind are pushed to the point of breaking, the quality—and yes, even the quantity—of your work will suffer, your productivity will plunge, your health will deteriorate and your brain will be fried.  So much wasted effort. 

But, there ARE ways to stay at peak productivity during stressful periods. Whether the stress comes because deadlines are looming, other obligations are cutting out your time for art, or you’re just having difficulty self-motivating, there are good habits you can cultivate to unlock levels of productivity you didn’t know were there.

Part 1: Self-Motivation:

Crave your work—try to associate positive triggers with your work. Draw in a relaxing environment. Play your favorite music, or better still, play music you like that you only listen to while drawing. Drink coffee, or tea, or whatever makes the experience of drawing more pleasurable. The more pleasurable things you associate with working on your art, the more you’ll be able to motivate yourself to reach for the sketchbook when you’re already exhausted from school or work.

Resist stress competition and focus on the positive—Focus on the most rewarding aspects of drawing. If you have a big job to undertake or a lot of responsibilities to balance, resist the urge to talk about how busy you are or how much stress you are under. The more you play up your stress to others, the larger it looks to you.
Draw a little bit first thing in the morning—This is something I’ve noticed in myself, and several other artists have agreed. If you draw a bit when you first wake up it seems to prime your brain for it. Even if you turn your attention from drawing after the morning’s sketch is finished and focus on other things, it sets the tone for the rest of the day. That said…

Figure out when the best time is for you to draw—Some people work best in the morning, some work better at night.

Draw something different—Sometimes, when we have a big commission or project taking up all our time it seems like the last thing we should do is spend precious creative energy drawing something just for fun, for no particular reason. Fortunately, creativity isn’t like a bottle of ink—with drops of it being carefully measured out until they’re gone. Rather it grows through action. Drawing something different, using a new technique or subject material, or revisiting one you haven’t used in ages, can refresh your view and allow you to see your major project in a new light by breaking the monotony.

Carry a sketchbook—Goes without saying. When all else fails, draw everything, everywhere. Draw while waiting in the dentist’s office, on the subway, on your lunch break. Draw from life and imagination and combine the two, and always try something new at least every now and then.

There’s more to say on the subject of performing at your peak during periods of stress, but that’s several future blog posts worth of material. For now, hang in there, keep calm and draw bunnies. Playboy or otherwise.