Seeking the Balance

As freelance artists, we (me and Kana) have to be our bosses, managers, coaches, and counselors. Apart from supporting each other, we have to try to manage ourselves — this is important even more in the current pandemic situation. The best way to do this, I think, is to have a good look at oneself to check if anything feels out of order. Sadly, this is easier said than done — our current society works hard to convince us that we should look at our peers to figure out what we want or what we should be. Instead of spending some time thinking, it’s far too easy for me (and any other creative person) to pick up my phone and see what hundreds of other artists around the world had produced in the last few hours.

Seeing everyone’s fantastic art, I also tried to work as efficiently as possible. I had a look at my Instagram feed, YouTube, archived files, and my journal to get some numbers. Here are short statistics of how much stuff I was roughly creating.

2016: 186 art pieces, 29 videos — a “thing” every 1.7 days (!)
2017: 151 art pieces, 40 videos — a “thing” every 1.9 days,
2018: 108 art pieces, 41 videos, 6 articles — a “thing” every 2.4 days,
2019: 80 art pieces, 31 videos, 4 articles — a “thing” every 3.2 days,

If we look at this visually, it’s something like this:

To put this in perspective a bit more, only 60 images or so would be enough to make a reasonably sized illustration book. Also, these numbers do not include prep-work, sketches, concepts, nor all the texts I had to write for my three books and a comic I finished in this period!

Of course, keeping this up became quite impossible in the long run. Both my mental health and my body suffered. I became tired from all this sitting, repetitive work. I was depressed, and my anxiety levels were sky-high. I could not relax at all — doing anything other than working just made me more anxious about my time. A the end of my animation studio work (2016), there was a time that I even had problems with just going out of my apartment because my anxiety was forcing me to obsessively check things over and over again, OCD-like. I was not thinking nor caring about myself — the work came first — I thought I was just weak.

When I quit the animation studio and was free to do my art, of course, I plunged into making more stuff right away, which only extended this state. I felt better without the constant pressure from the studio deadlines, but I was still focused on making all the things I had planned as fast as possible. Of course, this caused a creative “burnout” and physical exhaustion in the second half of 2019. I had to change my lifestyle.

It was a conscious decision to reduce the amount of stuff I made this year (2020) to balance my life more, allow myself rest and thinking space to find a mental equilibrium.

2020: 38 art pieces, 23 videos, 7 articles — a “thing” every 3.7 days (so far)

Which, looking at it objectively, is still a bit fast. It’s hard for me to eliminate the “I’m not producing stuff” guilt.

After ending this unsustainable creative frenzy period, I started to look at my time a bit more scrupulously.

• Most of the work I was doing so far was based on just producing stuff — paintings, videos, comics, etc. Let’s call this PASSIVE WORK because I don’t have to think most of the time while doing these tasks. I’m often relying on my experience as a painter or video producer to create what I planned. I can listen to a podcast or an audiobook or talk to someone, and it will not slow me down much. This work activity produces most of the presentable things that I can show you, upload to my portfolio, sell, etc.

• It’s the opposite way with the planning and idea-making part I’ll call ACTIVE WORK. It’s the time when I have to learn about things, do research, think up stories, characters, and settings. I have to sketch and brainstorm to solve more abstract problems. This part requires a lot more concentration and does not allow for any distractions. But the problem is that this activity does not produce almost any concrete finished things that I can show for the time spent. It’s also challenging, frustrating, and often does not go as planned.

A similar pattern is in resting time:

PASSIVE REST happens when I can relax watching a new show online or reading a book for pleasure. I can go for a walk without any definite purpose, do some exercise or clean my house listening to an audiobook. My brain is on Neutral and can be calm.

ACTIVE REST time is for pursuing my interests that are not connected with work, fueling my curiosity. Learning about things and doing complicated stuff just because it’s fun. Recently, for example, I’m trying to figure out a new music-making app on my iPad.

For the past few years, I have spent most of my time doing PASSIVE WORK because it’s less mentally challenging, and the results are tangible and rewarding. But, in the long run, relying only on this to run my life as an artist caused only “burnout” and made creating art repetitive, stressful, and overall less fun.

So, currently, I’m trying not only to rebalance my work to include more of the ACTIVE that requires creative thinking (as I wrote in a post before). I’m also trying to rebalance my schedule to include more of all the four categories. Allowing myself more time for just passive rest, pursuing things not related to my work, and putting more time into thinking things through. In the end, I’m sure that those pursuits will put more originality and vigor into my art too, but the main goal is to stay fresh and creative for many years ahead.

2 thoughts on “Seeking the Balance”

  1. That is a good article, thank you for sharing this. I also experienced a burnout recently and I think it is something that will make us wiser people, we had to go through this to move forward. But it is good to reduce the speed and feel more the slow life;) good luck to you!

    Liked by 1 person

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