In recent years, a number of studies have reaffirmed what creative people have understood for generations: making art can promote relaxation and alleviate stress. The healing effects of art aren’t bound by genre or medium; working with oil paints works, and so does sketching digitally on a tablet. It also doesn’t matter if you’re good at it; when it comes to de-stressing, the process is much more important than the final product.
Many of us experience an increase in stress during the holidays, but by focusing on activities that make us happy–including art-making–we can help mitigate some of those pressures. We spoke with talented artists from around the world about what they do to decompress during stressful times. We were less interested in the art-making they do for a living and more focused on their creative hobbies. Illustrators told us about taking up pottery, while designers dabbled in needlepoint. With their help, we came up with this list of activities to help you relax this season.
Head to the museum.
“I really enjoy visiting the museums with my wife, whether it’s on a weekend or when we take trips in the spring to Europe,” painter Mark Tennant says. “We always bring our sketchbooks and pencils and copy sculptures or old master paintings as exercises.
“When I have a longer period of time, I bring my paint and like to make painted copies in the museum. Of course, this requires preparation ahead of time to get permission and arrange your materials and so forth, but copying in the museum is a very valuable experience.
“You bring the information that you gather in the museum back to the studio, and it shows up in your work. It strengthens your studio work and helps you gain an appreciation of your place in history. It also enables the artist to maintain a habit of drawing regularly, which is so important to me.”
Attend a pottery workshop.
“I went a few times to ceramics classes in East London after work, and it was really fun and relaxing,” illustrator and animator Yukai Du tells us. “There are different kinds of venues. Some are more like classes; I went to those regularly for weeks to learn all the techniques step-by-step from teachers.
“Some are more like walk-in workshops, where I can just sit down with friends and do some random stuff. It really distracts me from my worries and stress. It also keeps me away from my computer for a few hours, since the only things I can focus on are my hands and my craft.”
Learn Cross Stitch…
“When the season changes and it’s time to spend more time being cosy indoors, I crack out my cross-stitch,” illustrator and pattern designer Jacqueline Colley tells us. “I’ve been working on a couple of fairground style letters from Emily Peacock, for a few years. They have provided me with hours of mindful crafting.
“I’ve just finished one, and I’m about a third of the way through the second, and I cannot wait until I can turn them both into cushions. I think I enjoy it so much because it’s a remedy to my fast-paced, tight turnaround illustration work. With cross-stitch, you have to slow down and enjoy the process!”
…Or try punch needle.
“Lately, one of my favorite art-related activities is punch needle,” Chandlyr Jackson, the artist behind the creative brand Freckled Fuchsia, says. “If you’re unfamiliar with punch needle, it’s a part of the the rug-hooking family, and it’s similar to embroidery, but it’s typically done with thicker yarn. The last few pieces I have made have been created using a round, wooden embroidery hoop. I plan to make some round trivets to serve the purpose as a table centerpiece or a hot plate for tea.
“On a day-to-day basis, I’m usually block printing on fabric or paper, or illustrating digitally. Because punch needle is a fiber art, it encourages me to experiment with different materials and utilize different tools that I am not using when I am block printing.
“I’ve been trying to make it a habit to squeeze in about an hour at either the beginning or the end of the day to work on a craft that is not work-related because it alleviates the pressure of perfection for me. I like to curl up on the couch with my cat and make this time in my day incredibly comfortable.”
“Linocuts are a great way to bring printmaking into your home,” artist and jewelry designer Susan Storck tells us. “All you need is linoleum (or soft cut), a carving knife, and printmaking ink. I have made many stamps using this technique, and all of my ‘thank you’ notes for my brand Sudify Jewelry are printed from a hand-carved stamp that I made.”
Take up dancing.
“About five years ago, I was out in Bologna with my sketchbook, and I saw a beautiful dancing party on the street,” illustrator Victoria Semykina remembers. “Everyone was dressed in fancy vintage clothing, and the music was terrific. I spent the entire evening drawing dancers and musicians, and I nearly finished my sketchbook.”
She was so inspired that she got into dance herself. “The next day, I enrolled in Lindy hop dancing classes,” she tells us. “Since then, I’ve realized that I have never felt happier than when I am dancing. Doctors say you need to exercise to decompress and alleviate stress, but I am not a gym person at all –I get bored very quickly.
“I prefer to dance for five hours with my friends, to improvise, to follow the music, and, of course, to sketch. I usually arrive at the beginning of the party and draw the dancers and musicians who are preparing for the concert. These moments are the best because nobody pays attention to me.
“When the live music begins, I try to get close to the stage and to draw the jazzmen. This is my favorite part. Almost every weekend, I get home at about 3:00 AM after dancing all night, feeling completely exhausted and happy with my sketchbook full of drawings and finished pencils.”
Share a meal–and feedback–with friends.
“I love to host and attend informal ‘art nights’ with fellow creative people,” artist and designer Kate Martens tells us. “I find my work to be fairly solitary, and I work well alone. That being said, having opportunities to work elbow-to-elbow with a friend (or two) every once in a while can be hugely validating.
“I usually make a simple dinner that we eat fairly early and get to work as soon as we’ve cleared the dishes. Sometimes, I work on projects I’m struggling with and am seeking feedback on; other times, I use the time to loosen up and try something new. I find I’ve gotten to know friends on a deeper level by sharing a meal and a workspace–even if the arrangement is a very temporary one. I have come to really enjoy and appreciate the ‘art night’ format.”
Sew a vintage pattern.
“My studio practice falls mostly into the realm of ceramics, drawing, printmaking, and installation, but the one creative practice that I hold dear as a way to relax and just have fun is sewing clothing,” artist Erica Prince admits. “I’ve been sewing since I was a kid, and I aspire to sew all of my own clothes. Wearing something you’ve made feels amazing.
“I love hunting for bold vintage prints or beautiful solid linens and sewing from vintage patterns. Sewing from vintage patterns feels like a direct connection to the past. I also make my own patterns–usually super simple shapes that are difficult to find. I learned to sew from my mom, and she learned from her mom, my Nana. In the 80s, my Nana sewed herself jumpsuits in every color plus blue leopard print!”
Start a journal.
“I’ve found that keeping my special journal helps me to get into the creative, stress-free flow,” illustrator and painter Sofia Moore tells us. “I have to remind myself that what’s inside is for my own eyes and that I don’t have to care how the pages look at the end.
”I call it ‘special’ because it combines free writing pages, collages, dried puddles of paint, notes to myself, grocery lists, complaining about life, plans, ideas, and glued-on restaurant bills. It has ended up being my only sketchbook that I need on an everyday basis to unload negativity, sketch ideas, or attach some pieces of patterned paper I find while traveling. The shabbier it looks, the more interesting it gets!”
Looking for more ways to get creative this holiday season? Click here to explore our favorite Skillshare classes of 2019.
Thumbnail/cover image credit: Chandlyr Jackson
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