Equuleus, 24 x 11.75" / 60.96 x 29.845 cm, Acrylic on Canvas, 2018
Back in a past life (as a copywriter), I’d heard tales of agencies that let their creatives play video games on office time. These agencies had a Playstation on the premises because they encouraged creative downtime.
I understand how it might be tough to rationalise creative downtime for the beancounters and human resource humans. Heck, I remember some of them had trouble enough understanding why the creatives (and some super trooper account execs) needed ‘flexitime’ to pull all-nighters to get ready for a pitch.
Seriously though. Turns out there is a thing to what looks like (but doesn’t actually amount to) ‘slacking off’ in order to, enhance one’s creativity, and even productivity.
To start with some science (and beancounter-related stuff)
Ranchu, 11.75 x 11.75" / 29.845 x 29.845 cm, Oil on Canvas, 2011
Right Brain Project says your brain uses downtime as ‘fuel to incubate and innovate’. Scientific American says downtime ‘replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to achieve our highest levels of performance.’
Ironically, Fast Company mentions how ‘idle time as wasted time’ was a misconception, while fellow business publisher, Inc, says your next big idea depends on taking proper breaks and completely clearing your mind.
Truth is, I’ve always had a problem with creative downtime
Maria, 12.5 x 19" / 48 x 32 cm, Watercolour on Paper, 2021
Especially when I’m chasing a deadline (which is the usual state of things when it comes to my practice). Or rather, I guess it’s more accurate to say I can’t take a break when I’m in the middle of painting factorying without feeling guilty.
It feels a lot like I’m just wasting time that would be better spent on making or completing things~especially if I have to make a certain number of things.
Yes, yes, quality versus quantity, yadda yadda. But I honestly feel like ‘if you don’t make it on time, you’ll only have yourself to blame because you’re taking this nap’ or having this snack or whatever.
But what do you know~turns out, these things are part of the process.
Insert another mental joyride on a flying DeLorean, <here>
Strato Garden, 21.5 x 17.5" / 54.61 x 44.45 cm, Acrylic on Paper, 2014
I remember what used to happen before those all nighters back in that past life. (Actually, in the first couple or so years of that life, if I remember correctly.)
See, at the end of the day, round 5pm? The dudes in the art department, and me (I was usually the only writer save the creative director) would invariably gather for a smoke.
These yosi (our word for ‘cigarette’) breaks, for some reason, had to take place on or around stairs. (At the radio station (in a succeeding life LOL) this was stylishly abbreviated to ‘yo breaks’ and they used the fire escape.) I don’t smoke myself, being asthmatic, but I might as well have because I always went with them (the camaraderie thing x just to fit in, you understand).
Anyway, I always used to wonder how come they didn’t just buckle down and get to work. They were wasting so much time just standing around smoking and chewing the fat. Sometimes, they’d even get a drink (this was before I stopped drinking but even at the time I didn’t do beer lol).
I figured, maybe if they just got a move on and started already, we wouldn’t have to spend the bloody night at the office. We might even possibly get home early enough to get a few hours’ sleep. (The bean counters would be all 0_o if we didn’t show up at work at 9 the next day ~ hence the shower facilities at the office.)
Well, I was young~ I didn’t know any better. And now, in my old age, I find myself spending an inordinate amount of time watering my plants, checking my messages and figuring out how to beat the last boss before I buckle down and pick up a brush. It’s the same thing! Karma, I guess.
They say if you don’t make time for exercise…
Morning Waking Dream, 21.5 x 17.5" / 54.61 x 44.45 cm, Acrylic on Paper, 2014
…you’ll eventually have to make time for getting sick. They also say that people crave things that their bodies actually need, e.g. someone who craves peanut butter has a lack of… whatever nutrients peanuts have XD But you get the idea.
By this reasoning, I figure if you don’t make time for creative downtime, your brain and all the rest of you will do it for you. At the risk of sounding like I’m making excuses for my laziness or old age (or both LOL), that’s probably why I’m spending those inordinate amounts of time before *actually working*.
This is also probably why things like writer’s block, happen~the brain is forcefully having some creative downtime, even if the artist is already there *at the starting block*. And the reason why sometimes, while you’re in the swing of things, you just suddenly feel the need to take five.
I highly commend those of us who are able to whip ourselves into putting our noses back to the grindstone because discipline is everything in an art practice. At the same time, I also highly recommend giving into this urge and going AFK or AFS (Away From Studio).
(Don’t laugh, I did actually just take a nap at this point.)
You work well when you’re well-rested
Juice, 40 x 40” / 101.6 x 101.6cm, Acrylic on Canvas, 2019
In any case, I have sort of mentioned how creative downtime (or just plain resting) helps you work better~ironically, again, in my posts on getting burnt out and how to deal with it.
When you work when you’ve gotten even the barest minimum of rest, the work itself just turns out better. You make better creative decisions, e.g. what colour to use or where to place some element (that is, if you’re not planning it out first x working on the fly or something ^_^*).
The work also moves along faster (or at least it feels like it) (or at the very least, just moves). I guess you could say it ties in with that whole working smarter and not just (instead of instead of) harder. (Call me old fashioned but I still believe in the value of hard work and not just *shortcuts to success*.)
So how do you engage (or rather disengage) in creative downtime?
If you checked out that Fast Company article I mentioned back there, you’d’ve seen that apparently there’s a wrong way to do it~apparently the way I do it, mostly XD
For me, distraction or something, anything other than working (whether it’s in the painting factory or in the *office*) counted as downtime. By that definition, working my day job became a sort of downtime because I wasn’t painting. It wasn’t until recently (around the time I started this blog, I think) when I realised that anything that wasn’t art wasn’t necessarily resting.
I may’ve taken a break from the painting factory, but I was still working my day job so that didn’t really count. And, yeah, so, it looks like movies, games and messages don’t count, either.
I think I was closer to the mark when I used to take those walks in the tiny park in that tiny *village* (that’s our word for ‘gated community’) I used to live in. There were still trees and a fair amount of birds which I LOVED to just, you know, stare at whenever I’d catch a glimpse of them.
Even the odd maya (our word for sparrow) made me happy whenever I could get a good long look at one.
It’s legit just turning your brain off and doing abso-so-lu-te-ly nothing.
Letting go with both hands
Sometimes I have this, mental image of myself hanging onto a bar with both hands~that’s me fully focused in the real world, usually working (usually in the office) (okay, in the painting factory, too lol). When I’m working real hard, I’m clutching the bar. (When I’m having a hard time, the bar turns into twisted metal lol //has Supermanic delusions)
But sometimes when my energy levels start to drop after a long haul I start to let go of that bar. Don’t tell my boss, but because I’m working a night shift now, there are times toward dawn when I find myself working with *just one hand on the bar*. Sometimes I end up painting that way, too (sometimes when I was sick).
That’s usually dangerous because you might end up doing something to the painting you can’t undo~there’s no Command-Z in the real world and it isn’t always a *happy accident*. (And don’t get me started on how hard it is to focus on things like APIs and reverse logistics with just ‘one hand’ 0_o)
And that’s usually when one reaches for a cuppa. Or a can. It depends.
Rebecca here went for the can XD
Naps are our friend
These days x in my old age, I usually just give the f--- in and take a nap. Usually 15 minutes or 20, it depends. They say 20 is too long, because you have to spend some time *getting up to speed again*. I quite agree, only, I’m older now so I guess I need more than just 10 minutes ^o^;
They just don’t build jillamonsters like they used to ^O^***
Anyway, when dawn finally comes (or dusk~ back when my day job used to be during the day) I can finally *let go of the bloody bar and let it float away to kingdom come for all I care* XD
Naps count, if I understand correctly, as doing creative downtime ‘correctly’~because your mind super isn’t engaged in, well, anything.
But you know, to be honest, *letting go of the bar* for me or just *turning your brain off* maybe doesn’t really work for me. Unfortunately there’s always something going on in there.
Even when I’m asleep (napping or hopefully getting some solid hours in), maybe about 7 out of 10 times, I dream. (Yup, even during those 15 or 20-minute snoozes.) (And it’s those dreams I have during the snoozes that are scary, sometimes -_-|||)
I've long since perfected the art of desknapping, although lately I've come to prefer chairnapping ^_^;
Make time for creative downtime
I don’t feel I can really offer any suggestions for taking creative downtime because what works for one artist may not necessarily work for another. Like, what if you’re into fishing, or, knitting, or, climbing up some rock face with nothing but some rope, a harness and some carabiners. You’ve gotta find something that works for you.
But one thing I guess I can suggest is to purposefully make time for creative downtime. Or at least, make it part of your process. Or at the very least, to not feel guilty for taking care of yourself and resting when you have to. After all, you’re doing it for the paintings, right? And NOT because you’re being a lazy @$$. Honest ^_^
Windy Day 2, 30 x 43" / 76.2 x 109.22 cm, Watercolour on Paper, 2010
I’d like to end this post by pointing out how Sherlock had what Watson called the power of detachment. (You’ll find this in The Adventure of the Bruce Partington Plans, the Red-Headed League and others ^^)
Basically, Sherlock stops thinking about whatever he’s trying to solve at the moment when he’s sure there’s nothing more to be thought out~at least until he has more data or fresh developments arise. Okay, maybe chemistry probably doesn’t count the same way video games don’t ^O^*** But you get the idea. It’s the same thing!
Sherlock’s a smart guy ^_^ No harm taking a cue or two from him (as long as it doesn’t involve a 7 per cent solution ^O^***). But if you’re struggling to find time for creative downtime or could use a little support in that department, I’m here for you.
* Interested in any of my pieces in this post? ^_^;
Drop me a line to let me know
and I'll let you know if it's still available,
or how soon I can make something similar just for you.