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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Artists and Health Issues

There has been a disturbing pattern emerging the longer I work a creative job, one I'm especially beginning to appreciate now that I'm in my second week of physical therapy for 'repetitive shoulder stress' and an 'unstable shoulder joint'.  This occurrence after a year of ignoring shoulder aches and soreness was quite the wake up call for me.  The ability to use my arm is my livelihood and being incapacitated in any major fashion could be disastrous!  Luckily, my issue is only a moderate one which physical therapy is helping, but there is a bigger picture at work here.



Thinking back on things, I have gained about 15 pounds since I started working long hours at the computer and art desk.  I've had stretches of mental and physical fatigue caused by overworking, tight deadlines, and just being downright lonely.  Sometimes I'm so passionate and excited about my job, I just keep working and working without taking any breaks. Other times, I just can't get motivated. There is no inspiration, and worse, I start to lose hope that this job is not worth the mental and physical pain it causes me.

I can't help but feel much of the downturn in my overall health has come from a decrease in physical activity and social interaction.  I feel loads better this year now that I have made a concerted effort to change a few bad habits.  These are some of the things I've done that have helped to improve my health lately:

- Taking regular breaks. It's so incredibly easy to just keep working and working in a job that you are so passionate about!  I learned the hard way if you don't get up at least once an hour from the computer or art desk, you're really doing damage to your neck, back, and shoulders.  Nowadays, I have to get up or damage my joint more.  I take a moment each hour to go and talk to whoever might be home, take a small walk around the yard, or to do a few Yoga stretches.  I find the Tree the Warrior, and the Cobra poses to be particularly helpful for my sore back and neck pains (and are pretty easy to do).

- Taking regular walks.  I don't have a lot of time to run to the gym, so mainly I just take 30 minutes out of the morning and evening to go on walks.  There's a gorgeous country road right near our house which I can walk on for this amount of time and never hit the end.  A plus side is the healthy population of hawks, squirrels, blue birds, owls, and wildlife that dart around me while I walk. It's soothing for me to get away from the technology and meditate while I walk to the sound of nature.

- Visiting a gallery and being social.  Internet friends keep me sane, but getting out of the house once a week to visit the local gallery helps me to meet other real living, breathing people who I can talk to, who are generally just as interested in art as I am.  After long hours working alone, it sometimes feels like my life is passing me by while I'm toiling away trying to make a living at an unappreciated, underpaid job.  A coating of stoic disapproval starts to settle on me and I have to shake it off by getting OUT, or risk getting really demotivated for my work.  I've started attending local art organization meetings recently as well, which has been great for meeting other artists trying to make a business out of their artistic identity (we are not alone in our insanity!).

It's also been nice gathering a group of friends on Skype once a month for a 'drink and draw' event.  There's just something nice about being able to listen to people I don't see often and draw random stuff.  Using Skype also leaves your hands free so you can talk instead of type to chat!  Great for actually getting art done at the same time.  This has been especially nice when I can't afford to go to the local drink and draw because it takes gas and parking fees and, you know, finding a way to drive back later once I've sobered up.  Drinking in the comfort of one's own home is (theoretically) safer.

- Working in a studio vs. working at home. Today was the first day of working at a small rental studio instead of at our house and I can already feel the productivity juices flowing! (Pics and video to come soon!)  The space is a modest $200 a month ($100 since I'm sharing with my mom).  Being there instead of at home has allowed me to focus solely on creative thought and the projects I have to work on, whereas at home, I am always compelled to clean the house (considering my workspace is my bedroom and office AND studio, it's very easy to fall into chaos).  I also get distracted by what other family members are doing, or am around negative influences that don't provide the encouraging and positive attitude I need to maintain my level of productivity.

Another perk of the studio is that I can talk to the other artists there and not feel like a hermit.  I can also talk to any customers that wander in and peddle my wares directly, which helps to put a face on my work, and theoretically encourages them to buy.  I plan to add classes at the gallery to my repertoire of skills and activities as well, which will give me valuable practice at conveying ideas to others.

So I hope that this has been helpful to anyone who might be reading this and has found that the work-at-home freelancing artist is not near as glamorous as you expected it to be.  Good luck to you, and remember to take regular breaks!  I wonder what kind of health issues related to your creative work you all have dealt with and how you have dealt with them?  Please share in comments!

13 comments:

  1. my energy level has be pretty bad. I figure its me not eating enough/ well, not getting proper sleep (sleeps on couch for almost a year), and just not enough 'ME' time. also misses home and the neighborhood I'm in I don't trust (walking distance from the school).

    I'm going to go back home over the same and prepare a survival kit. I like working at home, but I rather my 'studio' be a separate space in the house.

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  2. Your advice seems common sense but I and others do not act upon it. I am both amazed and ashamed of myself about how much time I think I do not have that is actually time wasted to do self-improvement.

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  3. Wow, you are amazingly blessed to have a space to go to outside the home! The walks are the hardest to fit in for me, since I get so OCD focus! :) Thanks for the reminder, that we artists, need to take of the whole body, not just our creative minds!

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  4. I have just begun my career as an illustrator and designer. I'm glad I came across your article bump at wipnation.com It made me realize the effects of long hours at the studio desk. One of the biggest improvements I've seen in helping is getting a really good desk chair. I sat on this little studio chair for the longest and it was killing my back! Then when I got a decent upright desk chair I felt so much better. Either way, my studio is my bedroom and the more I work in it the more I realize how much more productive it would be to go to a place of work instead.

    It is also detrimental to take breaks! If you work through the whole day with no breaks you become fatigued, you focus much less. The hours you spend become deluded with procrastination and suddenly the day is over! One of the strategies I use is an app on google chrome called "stay focused" which blocks websites of your choice from being accessed, or allowing them for specific times. If I take breaks and get away from the computer I can come back much more refreshed and focused. And of course it isnt easy to do! Another one of my strategies is actually setting a break alarm. It helps to get into a routine...

    Anyway I feel your pain. I've only been hardcore at studio work for half a year and let me tell you. Being social and taking care of your body will give you the positive juices to really make great work!

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    Replies
    1. Mike,
      Isn't it amazing how much abuse our bodies take before we realize 'hey that chair is AWFUL. Why have I used it for so long??'

      You are so right about breaks being an easy bad habit to fall into. I could get lost in YouTube videos forever. That distraction blocker program sounds very useful, indeed! If there was a program that reminded you to take breaks, that'd be cool too.

      Best of luck to you, Mike!

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  5. yeah, i know what your talking about a whole lot, since the start of my college years were 90% of the work i do requires sitting on my ass in front of a computer almost 24/7 and i have gained a lot of weight since then and i know it not good for me in the long run. i almost have take a break after a hour or so of working on artwork, otherwise i start to get restless. i used to go out a lot for walks and to art galleries and what not, but recently i have not gone out as much and i know it's destroying physically and mentally. really the people i talk too on the internet is only social interaction i get now at days. unfortunately i don't know of many art studios or social events that are art related n my area, that don't cost alot of money anyway.

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  6. yeah, i know what your talking about a whole lot, since the start of my college years were 90% of the work i do requires sitting on my ass in front of a computer almost 24/7 and i have gained a lot of weight since then and i know it not good for me in the long run. i almost have take a break after a hour or so of working on artwork, otherwise i start to get restless. i used to go out a lot for walks and to art galleries and what not, but recently i have not gone out as much and i know it's destroying physically and mentally. really the people i talk too on the internet is only social interaction i get now at days. unfortunately i don't know of many art studios or social events that are art related n my area, that don't cost alot of money anyway.

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    Replies
    1. Ravenfire, I wonder if you might be able to join a local art association? Nearly all counties and cities have at least one group. Some hobby stores have free art and crafting demos as well. There's always the library to escape too, which is free!

      I hope you find something. It can be a life saver! Feel better.:)

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  7. take care of yourself Angela :) I hope to see much more art from you.
    I've got those shoulder and backpains, and my wrists take a lot of damage too. My biggest problem is that I can't relax, I can never not be painting/drawing/something.
    I have started taking small breaks and see to that I eat regularly and even if it's small changes I really feel a difference. My chiropractor got me a book on workouts that I can do at home too (I hate the gym, even if I have the time I won't go there) which is really good, it focuses a lot on back/shoulders.

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    Replies
    1. Being able to work out at home is a good thing! That's why I love Yoga. You can essentially do it everywhere, since your body is the tool.

      I've found that what helps me get away from the arting (because I am ALWAYS wanting to do art, even during my off time) is to either go watch something fun on tv or hulu/netflix and relax OR read a good book. Reading helps to keep my mind active and engages my artistic imagination in other ways. Reading magazines can also help you keep up on your industry, which is always a good thing.

      I wonder also if wrist braces might help you out? Best of luck, Ethelie! More arting and less body rebellion is what we need!

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    2. Oh I can't watch a movie without getting restless and work on something at the same time ;) reading is good though!
      And I have wrist braces, they're really great actually, since they hold my wrists in place I'm prevented from painting and drawing so they serve as a reminder that I need to rest sometimes :)

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  8. Hang in there. I think it's really encouraging that you are so self-aware - that you can pinpoint exactly what's making you feel low when you do and are able to take steps to remedying it. So many people will feel unsettled and not know why and so be unable to fix it.

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  9. I think this a wonderful, honest and refreshing look at jobs in the arts.It can be a lonely job working on a computer all day or working from home, but it's worth it to do what you love!

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