James Gleeson

As creatives, we internalize a lot of information on a day to day basis, processing it into something meaningful and inspiring for others.  We store up emotions that would otherwise be ignored or physically distracted with mundane tasks, (not to demean mundane tasks), and channel them into our practice as fuel for our next great work of art.  Sometimes, this can all fall apart and the build up can flood our inner being and nearly drown our spirit.

I have found myself growing more and more distracted by these internalized feelings, emotions, and notions, and I have found my creative center off-kilter and in need of a severe course correction.  I have to trick myself into finishing my work, finding new, creative ways to reconnect and reengage with it, which has never really been the case in the past.  And as much as it seems that people are more vocal now than they have been in the last decade or so, I can’t seem to engage in the conversation.  I don’t know what it is that keeps me from going there, and it is really frustrating.

From the past few workshops and conventions we have attended, it is very clear that many of us in the creative arts are also dealing with similar distractions and finding it hard to focus, be creative, think of anything inspiring, new, innovative, or unique.  It is very clear that the state of the world and its political arena is in a disarray, blind leading the blind, frustration on every level, and regardless of how much we wall ourselves into our studios, we cannot escape its grip.  Not to mention the now growing fear of the effects of global warming, and the ever-increasing  natural disasters from it to strike more fear and concern in us.

And there are the bottled-up personal emotions we accumulate from mishaps with family or friends, the loss of relatives and close and personal friends or pets, personal demons that creep up on us in the silence of our work, or the personal neurosis that sets in when we have too much alone time to add to the list.

I am certainly a victim of all of the above at any given moment and have very little to no real control over the feelings I have or how to prevent them from just completely ruining my day.  I have been not so good about purging them from my system, and have allowed too many of them to build up over time, so much so, that they now seem nearly impossible to talk about at all.

We can lock ourselves away into our own work as I have done for far too long, and that can be, and is mentally taxing, and damaging on so many different levels.  We can completely shut ourselves off from it all, but that can make us sound naive, disconnected, or above it all and not know how to react or respond when having that occasional conversation with others on such topics.

Vanessa and I have talked about how the lack of exercise can also play such a big part of how we feel about ourselves and these things we keep bottled up within us.  We both grew up very active playing competitive sports and pushing ourselves to constantly improve, exhausting ourselves to the point of purging the negative emotions from our systems, something we lack in our lives today.  We talk about how we need to get it back in our lives, for so many beneficial reasons.

It’s not like we can just completely change our lives, but we can change our motivations and our goals, and put less pressure on ourselves to maintain 24-7 work routines at breakneck speeds.  If we really look back at any 24-7 workload we have done, half of that work was redone, and much of the decision making we made after the first day was questionable, and usually reworked or restarted, which means a lot of time wasted, time we could have spent in a much healthier state of mind.

William Blake

Over the course of our recent travels and conversations, I started a list of things that I am going to do to help myself get back into a healthier place, both physically and mentally. I want to share this list in hopes that maybe you will make one for yourself and really stick to it, as I am putting my best foot forward to try and do the same.

We often ask ourselves what can we do to help ourselves improve, or feel better, and so often the solutions are really not as difficult as we are expecting them to be.  The more difficult part of it all is accepting the answer, and owning up to it.  Here is my list:


  1. Live just a little bit more – to get out, and to experience again, breath the air, and walk through nature and connect with it againNorman Rockwell
  2. Work for me more often – we can give all our best efforts away to projects for others, and while we feel good to have been a part of the team that made something great, at the end of the day we need to also please our own creative needs, even if just a little. I will do more personal work as I have said I will, and stick with it, not letting the freelance world consume my every fiber.
  3. Speak up and say how I feel (more often) – not in that bitchy-gripey sort of way, but to really speak up about what’s going on inside and be okay with it, not fear it or feel like its taboo to go there.
  4. Eat Better and Sleep More – working for 8 hours without food or water is stupid. That needs to end, and more snacking to refuel the mind is key and essential to making better decisions throughout the work day.
  5. Appreciate Down Time and Really Practice “Down” Time – In my not pushing stylus or pencil time, I read art, or reference subject matter for the work I am doing. Rarely, if ever, do I just go do something random that has nothing to do with what I do.  Vanessa and I used to go off and shoot pictures around town, down the roads we have never taken before, and we will get back to doing that again.  It is usually in these moments that solutions for other problems are found, stumbled upon by blind luck or the balance of getting away from the work as much as doing the work.
  6. Be active – whether it is walking, or fully engaging in an active sport, or physically working around the house, move the body around, release the seated position we have stuck ourselves in move the torso and stretch the limbs as we were intended to do. A little activity will go a long way; A heavy engagement will cleanse the system in so many healthy ways. Bill Waterson
  7. Practice more – fail in the act of trying to escape the normal routine and try something different. You would be surprised at what solutions are found when trying something completely out of our wheelhouse.
  8. Solve problems instead of finding them – it is easy to look at all the negative things in life and have nothing to say or do to help, unless you think creatively. We can all help in some way or another, but we have to see how we can fit in and make ourselves useful without needing permission to be useful or help out.  What are you good at doing, or what do you like, and make that the first step in the right direction?
  9. Consciously help someone else for no other reason than just to help them – this helped me learn how to speak more clearly on the subject at hand, and to help me better articulate and communicate how to do what we do when we make art. I also felt really good giving back and for no reason other than just to do so.  Now, if you are in the business of education, you can still give a little and not expect something in return, and please do, as it will help you out in so many ways when you don’t monetize every word or mark that you make.
  10. Connect with others more than just once a year at a convention or workshop – friends will always be there, but isn’t it nice to show them that you really do care, and for no other reason than just because?
  11. Learn Something New – I do not have trouble doing this one, but I need to make it something entirely different than art like I used to do. Just be careful of the costly hobbies and their consumption of your bank account.  You would be surprised at how often times what you are learning will feed right back into your work and help you find a new direction that might feel “just right” for what you need.
  12. Reach out for help and be okay with it – whether it is a part of the work load you have no idea how to do, or you just feel a little down inside, be okay with reaching out and admitting that you have a shortcoming or some kind of problem and would love an ear, and maybe some conversation to help locate a solution or the start of a solution to help us move forward with a little more confidence.
  13. Learn to recognize when emotions are building up and find a release for them – whether its another art form like music or poetry, or its sports, or bird watching, escape into that space that will help you find freedom from the trouble, push it to the background and let the subconscious take over for a minute while you take a breather and live again, even if its just for a moment.
  14. Remind myself of and embrace the artist that I am – Write down what made me get into art in the first place, how I felt about it, and what I wanted to do as an artist, and I will then use this to remind me when I fog over or fall into darkness.
  15. Take the leap of faith again, this time for me – remember that first job you got? Or that massive leap of faith that you took, calling yourself an artist for hire when you had no right doing so?  Remember that project you wanted to do for yourself?  Combine these two thoughts, and take the leap in a new direction for you, and don’t look back, don’t think too hard about it, and don’t overthink it.  Just do it.



Make time in the day to take time for you, it is necessary for the kind of work we do.  It is necessary for you as a human being regardless of what kind of work you do.