The Art Biz ep. 6: Getting Back Into The Groove

Any change in your routine — holidays, illness, vacations, family deaths or weddings — can bring a slump in your creative work.

Even when you’re completely into your art, there’s often an inertia that keeps you from rebooting and being productive.

Cynthia Morris and I recognize this in our clients and thought it would be juicy content for a podcast.

But first … full disclosure … we went to a yoga class. It was an experiment. What would it be like to record one podcast, go to yoga, and then try another after taking a break? Would we be able to get back into the groove?

It was a tall order and it didn’t quite work. I think you’ll see that we empathize with the topic when you listen to this podcast.

Show Notes – Authored by Cynthia Morris

Here are three things that help my clients, including those in the Art Biz Inner Circle, rekindle their dedication to their projects.

1. Take it easy.

Beating yourself up over your lapse never works to get on track. Be kind to yourself as you resume your creative work.

Let your return be as slow as it needs to, but be firm with yourself about getting back to your creative pursuits. Build up to where you left off, if needed.

Sally Strand, Pillows. Oil on linen, 24 x 36 inches. Used with permission.
©Sally Strand, Pillows. Oil on linen, 24 x 36 inches. Used with permission.

Start with brief (10 minute) creative warm-up exercises. I often invite my clients to have a 15-minute “date” with their project, to get back in touch without pressure.

Alyson has said that her commitment to these “dates” is what helped her finish her book, I’d Rather Be in the Studio.

2. Connect to the love.

What do you love about your art practice? Take a few moments to jot it down.

What does it feel like to have this absent from your life? Is that acceptable?

3. Design new support structures.

Make appointments with your mastermind partners and set up a meeting with your coach or artist partners to design structure and accountability that works for you.

The bottom line is that this happens to even the most dedicated and accomplished artists.

©Kelly Borsheim, Gymnast. Colorado Yule Marble, 49 x 16 x 14 inches. Used with permission.
©Kelly Borsheim, Gymnast. Colorado Yule Marble, 49 x 16 x 14 inches. Used with permission.

Take comfort that you’re not alone. Remember: Whatever you do, don’t beat yourself up because you’re not as productive as you were before the break.

This isn’t helpful.

But do hold yourself accountable for doing the work.

In the many years I have been coaching and working on my own creative practice, I’ve come to realize that it's not about staying on track at all costs.

We ALL fall off our practice. The work is to get back in the groove with as little self-recrimination and thrashing about as possible.

Your Turn

Photo of Cynthia Morris
How do you get back into the groove? Tell us about it in a comment below.

About My Guest

Cynthia Morris is an artist, author, workshop leader, and certified coach. She is a team coach in the Art Biz Inner Circle.

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38 thoughts on “The Art Biz ep. 6: Getting Back Into The Groove”

  1. Thank you so much for this. Some of these things are what I already do occasionally but now you’ve made it a distinction for me and that’s what was missing! The insertion point idea is perfect. Perfect timing too. Am so grateful. And what an enjoyable presentation.

  2. Thanks for this podcast. Just what I needed after 2 weeks of Christmas and New Year activities. Was raring to go on Jan 1 but came down with a whopper of a cold that had me in bed for 2 days and really zapped my energy. Sitting at home on a snow day getting ready to do a brain dump to plan 2017 activities. Just in time for my accountability partner call on 1-7!

    Really appreciate the gentle encouragement in this podcast.

  3. I agree with the points you and Cynthia made. I can also identify with the beatings, thinking everyone else has this emptiness and fear under control but me.
    From the beginning of my career, I told myself that I have to be in my studio a certain amount of time. I can just rot in there if I choose, or I can find something to do. This philosophy has worked well for me.
    Yesterday was this year’s beginning. I looked through my sketchbooks, added more dark pencil to some sketches. I looked through inspiring pictures I had taken over the holidays. Then I came up with a list of 4 things to start working on.
    Today, I’ll wedge the clay and get started. I always start by making small tea bowls to warm up. That is fun and will get my juices flowing.
    Thanks for another encouraging podcast.

  4. Here is an opposite approach: for the past couple years I have done an artist residency which starts right after New Year’s (this year on January 1). Ten to twelve hours a day in the studio, crits with a great group of artists a couple times a week, total focus on making work – it jump starts the year. The harder trick is keeping it all going when you get home.

  5. How very timely. In fact I have recently lost my mother after over 10 years caring for her as she declined from Alzhiemer’s disease. Because I was so involved with her care – it became the primary focus of my life – I have taken this loss most profoundly. Grief is different from other “breaks in routine” as it causes actual brain and neurological changes (possibly dysfunctions) that affect both the physical and emotional person. (For an interesting read see

    I believe this is the reason that every time I walk into my studio, I can only look around, feel bereft and walk out again. I am going to have to make some big changes in order to make my studio a comfortable place to work. I must also take small steps and allow myself to acknowledge my grief whenever that urge rises. Grief is not something to be overcome, rather it is something to be assimilated and worked through. This is why crying is also often referred to as “grief work.” And, boy, am I working!

  6. Susie Seitz King

    It was great to listen to voices who accept that real life can cause breaks in our art practice no matter how much we plan ahead. I would be interested in hearing how to handle the surprises thrown on our path. For instance, my husband decided to retire right before Thanksgiving. This is great for him and he is supportive of my endeavors so no conflict with that. But for 6 weeks I was thrown in with all the retirement planning, discussions on what’s next, and then the fun but busy part of being called to make sure he shows up for the many banquets and parties that his work, family, and friends organized for his celebrations. Every year we have crazy holiday months that I have come to realize will take up time for a month or more so I can plan around them. But this year I find myself with near pneumonia. I know from my doctor I will be out of it for another month, most likely. I had great plans of big things to accomplish. When the unexpected duties of the retirement took up a 6 week span and now the pneumonia, it is really a large holding pattern life has dealt. How do we deal with the surprises that take such a big piece of our business plan down another path? Especially when sickness strikes (I have chronic respiratory issues so this happens a few times a year but I never know when). What do we do when our bodies are not operating well? Lack of oxygen and strength can really put the brakes on my art business and time to show up. It is very frustrating.

    1. Susie: I don’t know if Cynthia has a different response to you, but I don’t see it any differently. Illness and death are both unexpected and on our list in the first sentence.

      You do need to take good care of yourself. Sounds, too, like it might be time to create more boundaries with family ???

    2. Susie,

      I am sorry to hear about the pneumonia! That doesn’t sound fun at all, and I wish you a speedy recovery.

      I second Alyson’s comment about boundaries; something we always have to be mindful of. We train people how to treat us and part of that is our availability.

      If it were me, and I had the unexpected and recurring health issues, I would shore up my boundaries around other things. You have to guard your precious wellness time. Perhaps now there is less to do regarding the retirement. And, perhaps with hubby home there will be more demands on your time. I suggest discussing it with him, what you need to run your business and how you’d request he help you with boundaries, etc.

      It also sounds like you have a better understanding/acceptance of holiday time and how much that demands of you. Plan for that in 2017 now.

      Hope this is helpful.

  7. Started my year filling out the “Seize the Year” year-at-a-glance calendar you recommended – well, that put a fire under me! No time to waste – an INSTANT reality check! My priorities and timelines have become crystal clear. Your tag team podcast is so effective, so much wisdom and humor. I turned off my “BS meter” and headed to the studio for “15 minutes” with a smile;) Appreciate the timely action steps – you two are a dynamic duo!

  8. Thank You for this podcast. It helped me feel connected to a “feeling” that I am not alone
    in my actions and thoughts. I quit teaching full time and it was not easy to just jump into
    — thinking about just me! I know my passion is what I am doing. I am on the right track.
    I know it and feel it with confidence. Your podcast helped me realize it is OK to jump media
    (medium) periodically for adventure as I had students do teaching Public School. “Breathing creativity” thru Art has been with me since before Kindergarten and no family member, no ill advised friend or whomever will ever take that away from me. I will find new friends — like you two! Bless you for doing this for us and stay warm in Colorado like I have to in WIS. Hot chocolate or hot tea —here I come art supplies, move over because I am going to tickle your sides! 🙂 Kathy H. PS. Love your quiet, contagious mannerism in your voices and laughs. Keep it up!

    1. Kathy,

      What a fun and creative note! I am excited for you and this new art chapter. I know you will enjoy it.

      You’ve got a great community of fellow artists here at Art Biz Coach!

      Thank you for listening and taking the time to comment.

  9. For me, what helps is to show up. I may have no inspiration or energy for art but going into the studio and being there is important. After a break, I give myself something fun to do like making funky art paper without any censor, just play, no goal. It gets me into art gently and playfully. Sometimes if I can’t even do that, I’ll clean the studio (well, part of it) and almost always I find some art material I want to use or a pile of ideas or something that makes me want to create. (Or I just clean things up and that’s good too.) Sometimes I look at art by artists I appreciate and that will get me going. Or I’ll just make patterns on paper, or shapes or mix colors… repetitive things that can lead me to creativity. If I still can’t get going, I’ll assume I need some rest or I’ll write about it. It’s ok. But the next day I’ll show up again.

    1. Geri,

      We are the same with this! Getting into the studio and touching my things always gets me into the mode. The repetitive and simple pattern and color play also opens things up.

      I LOVE how you know and trust your process. Keep at it!

  10. It’s comforting to know I’m not alone in the post break slump! What helped me this year was first of all making the studio a pleasant atmosphere by putting on music, lighting a scented candle and tidying up. Next, I took care of some of the business end of art that had been hanging over my head. Finally, I’ve been spending time on Pinterest and Instagram looking at wonderful art. This morning I’m raring to go : can’t wait to get to the studio to start painting!

  11. Thank you, wonderful ladies! I really enjoyed hearing you discuss this aspect of being an artist. Thank you, also, for your expert suggestions on how to deal with the post break re-entry. Time to get out my Art Biz Breakthrough notes and get ready for 2017. Namaste!

  12. hey Y’all! late getting to the “party here”. I’ve been down with cold, flu, pneumonia, bronchitis, a little of everything since November, off and on. On the mend, hopefully! I decided to totally clean out my studio, down to the bare bones, so to speak. I have 2 closets (being a former guest room, I converted the closets long ago into storage closets with shelving), holding heaven knows what. Goodwill is getting a LOT of items! I now have a mailing/packing station, a permanent light box station, supplies in one closet and organized, and completed stock in another – all labeled and inventoried. Paints are sorted by color, type, in workable bins. Canvases all in one spot. Address book updated, finally. My work table was messy with paint, even scrubbing wouldn’t remove, so I covered it with white butcher paper – ta daaaa! Nice and neat! Now I LOVE coming into the studio to work, whether it be communicating with customers, networking, making a Monthly To Do List – it’s great! I’m a BIG list person, utilizing my Day Timer, a large calendar and a Year-at-Glance calendar. Keeps me on track and unclutters my mind. Love your podcasts Alyson and Cindy!

    1. Hi Diana,

      I love how organized you are getting! It’s great to notice the difference in energy and mood that decluttering can have.

      Glad this sparked something in you. Have a great 2017!

      And FYI – it’s Cynthia, never Cindy. 🙂

  13. Thank you, ladies, so much for featuring my artwork, and specifically my marble “Gymnast,” on this page. I find it particularly fitting because I created a maquette/bozzetto (small sketch for my larger composition) in clay in 2003 and had the quarry cut the right proportion of the stone, as well as cutting out the large piece above the head of my figure (which later became “Back to Back”).

    I was intimidated by my desire to make a really beautiful carving that I hoped to give people the feeling of AWE. And then a year later, in the summer of 2004, I took my first trip to Italy to touch a Michelangelo. I am not sure if that intimidated me more upon my return. I let the stone sit. Then in 2006, I began to study painting in Florence, Italy, and each time I found myself back at home in my studio in Texas, I looked at the marble and thought, “I need to have a big block of time to get started on this.” [yes, the pun]

    When I finally realized that idea was freezing me into NO ACTION [i.e., a decision based in FEAR], I decided to just start. If I had to return to Italy, so be it. I gave myself permission to NOT FINISH. At least I knew what to do when I got back to Texas. [Actually, when I learned to write, I heard the idea of leaving the writing mid-sentence or mid-idea each night so that in the morning, you did not have the chance to experience writer’s block. If the process allows, I often leave a clear pickup point for the next day.] I carved and carved and carved a little each time over the years that I moved back and forth from Italy to Texas.

    Imagine how much less stress I had in March 2011 when my husband came home one Sunday and told me that he had found an apartment in town and we would start the divorce now. He gave me up to a year to finish as many of my sculpture projects as I wanted to or could and figure out where I would move my life and do it. I had so much less work to do on the Gymnast and she may never have gotten done had I waited for that “big block of time.”

    Since this post is also about the interruptions of life’s events, I will also say that the summer of 2011 had another big life change that I felt I could not ignore. For the first time in many, many years, I had someone in my own family living in Texas. My sister was pregnant and alone since her husband was in Afghanistan, while stationed at an Army base two hours from my home. She owns “,” an online business that sells mustaches on a stick and other photo props. Pregnancy meant that she should not be carving her plastic products. She obviously needed to be near her doctors and life there. So, I moved to her home for two months to help her in the making of her products. It was quality time with my sister, but it took me away from my own personal crisis and situation.

    I needed to find a way to give myself income while I could not paint and sculpt in this limbo life. So, I wrote my book, “My Life as a Street Painter in Florence, Italy” during this time. My sister Amber, a graphic designer, designed the book and helped edit it in exchange for my carving mustaches. Had I had the ability to paint and sculpt on my own art, I would never have written the book. And we had a clear deadline: If my sister’s baby got born before mine was, mine might not ever be born. A deadline is quite the motivator!

    Before the end of that year 2011, my sister had birthed a beautiful boy, we created a beautiful book, and after I returned home, I finished the “Gymnast” and placed her in a sculpture park in central Texas in November. Shortly after that, I left Texas and visited the rest of the family before returning to Italy to start my new adventure.

    Flexibiity is SO important and so is applying our creativity to all areas of the art life. I do not always follow the good advice for building an art career. But I do what I can and even in my too-often down times, I try to keep some part of my creative life going. Even now, I am arranging my “rehab room” for upcoming knee surgery and an anticipated six-month recovery time. It includes easy access to drawing paper and charcoal, as well as a digital painting computer, and my regular laptop. The charcoal is far less messy than paint of any kind and can be set down or picked up as I have the ability. [Oh, I do not know how to do digital painting. Rehab is resting the body and exercising the mind time!]

    Thank you, Alyson, Cynthia, and team, for this post and really, thank you again for sharing my special marble carving “Gymnast” on this page. It does keep me motivated!

    Happy and creatively productive 2017,
    Kelly Borsheim

    1. Hi Kelly!

      I LOVE LOVE LOVE this sculpture and am so glad you finished it.

      Thank you for sharing your story; it’s a great reminder to keep going and to honor the shifts we need to make.

      Good luck with your knee surgery. May it bring you something new and fabulous like Matisse got when he could no longer paint.

      Keep making!

  14. Thank you for a cheerful podcast! What I gleaned out of this was how negatively hard I have been towards myself to produce art. Good grief, I would never impose the expectations on others as i have in my own transitions. No wonder I am not producing….thanks again, I look forward to your next podcast/emails. I supose I will be learning more about mercy this year. lol God Bless!

  15. Thank you for all your input.
    I find that each time I have the luxury of taking some time off, I struggle with what I want to do next, I stay discontent with my work, never sure if I’m on the right route…no…always sure that I am not on the right route…
    I’m struggling to get to a theme that works for me, I’m easily distracted, easily bored.
    It is a big frustration for me.
    I’m a workaholic, therefore it’s never a problem to get started again…
    But man, I am lost!!

    1. Hey Mariaan, I am just drafting a post about the importance of finding the theme (‘cos it came up in a convo with a coaching client). Sometimes we just have to keep digging for the theme, what is the work about? What do we want to say? What do we want people to feel when they look at it? Other times, we know what the theme is but we don’t want to engage with it because it feels too strong. We don’t want to show THAT in our work! But we can’t make the theme go away once it presents itself because if we do, we get blocked…(might masquerade as feeling bored or distracted!)…so…we’ve got to find a way to work that theme into our piece subtly…People will resonate with it but it won’t shout a them from the other side of the room 😉
      So, as Cynthia says, just keep returning to what you LOVE about the work and your theme will gradually emerge 🙂

  16. This was really pertinent for me too. As a mom of two kids with lots of breaks from school, I often have to leave the paints and brushes alone in my studio for weeks at a time. For instance, this Christmas time the kids had almost three weeks off, had my husbands family come for a week, and my son had a serious skiing accident, so I’ve been care-taking too.
    Whenever I come back to the studio, it always takes me a while to get back into it, and particularly, to paint anything I like. I have learned to just give myself some time… usually takes up to a week to get to really doing some good stuff again.
    This time I was pleasantly surprised. On my first day back, today, Monday, I started by doing a Guided Meditation for 25 minutes, then I did one really BAD painting layer, which frustrated me, but after that, I was off and running and doing some great stuff for the next three hours!

  17. I find a great long walk is so great for me as that is where I really start to make a plan. Also when I first wake up and I try to be quick to jot things down so I don’t forget once I wake completely. I go with the flow and if I start to paint, pj’s or not I stay at it until I feel I want to stop. When I have those days that I feel like I just want to do something else off I go walking or whatever, take my break and then back at it when it hits. Working from a home studio is wonderful as I can grab my coffee and canvas and just start. I have so many pairs of pj’s that have paint on Oh well. Life of the artist.

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Your Artist Mailing List: Rethinking + Assessing

Get a transcript of episode 182 of The Art Biz (Rethinking Mailing Lists for Artists) followed by a 3-page worksheet to evaluate the overall health and usage of the 3 types of artist lists.

Where can we send it? 

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You’ll also receive my regular news for your art business.

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