The Soothe of Creative Wellness

Image: The Dropping Well at Knar Knarcsborough by Francis Nicholson/Art Institute of Chicago

In 74 years, Betty Harper has drawn 20,000 images of Elvis Presley. That didn’t stop in the pandemic. “Since the pandemic, I’ve probably done almost a hundred pictures of Elvis,” she says. “It’s kind of relaxing. It’s like comfort food. You know the face so well.” Harper might have stumbled into creative wellness, but she certainly isn’t the only person who finds these repetitive rituals soothing.  

Christine Watson has written a haiku each day of the pandemic—so far, she’s approaching 300 days. When Justin Yong’s photography work dried up, he took up quilting. And to do something therapeutic for himself after the 9/11 attacks, Pentagram partner Michael Bierut started drawing everyday

It makes me think of David Choe’s attempt to preserve his sanity as he was imprisoned. He used dye from his blue jeans and soy sauce, and even urine and blood, to create paint that he could make art with.

For all the talk of people quitting their jobs, there hasn’t been much talk of what they plan on doing after. I believe that, if the talent re-shuffling narrative and surveys are valid, then many people who quit their jobs will need this kind of structure to cope with their new—and somewhat existential—freedom. 

Of course, I can relate. I worked as an editor in chief at QuickBooks, with my departure—by coincidence—planned for March 2020. In the months leading up, I knew exactly what I didn’t want to do, but I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. My so-called plan quickly disintegrated. I was taking in so much new information every day after that contract, I didn’t realize how disconnected I’d become during that time.

Thankfully, before I left QuickBooks, I started taking notes. I had some structure, and I kept this habit up. Within a year, I’d written 800 note cards using the Zettelkasten method. In those early days, I was spending an hour or two a day taking notes, reading, and putting ideas together. When I realized I needed to write a book, I could hit the ground running—and so I did it. I published it independently, and am currently working on a revised edition with a publisher. 

I’m proud of and grateful for the outcome, of course. But more importantly, those notes and that writing really helped me stay on my two feet during the pandemic. I would journal constantly. I would read. And I would write. At least one note card, almost every day. The creative practice contributed to my wellness.

Many papers suggest that there are health benefits to creativity. One of the most relevant is this, from The Journal of Positive Psychology: 658 young adults took part in a 13-day daily diary study and reported their creative activity and positive or negative affect each day. Through lagged multilevel models, the authors suggest that people felt higher activated positive affect and flourishing following days when they reported more creative activity than usual.

Making something every day isn’t just a good habit; it’s one of creative wellness too. And whether you’re a full-time employee somewhere, or someone who’s recently funemployed, identify as creative or non-creative, I think you could benefit from making something every day. You could work on it during your lunches. Or, if you only have a few minutes, it could be as simple as writing up a note card, like I did. 

I found it naturally fell into my creative process; it was easy for me to connect new ideas and be more creative. Commercializing it isn’t necessarily a part of the process, of course, but it could help get you the time you want or need to keep making stuff.

If you’re not sure where to find your passion or to start with creative wellness, look around you at your environment or your wishlist. What objects do you wish to buy? What are the favorite objects you have that “spark joy”? 

If you find this interesting, I’m working on a revised edition of my book, which will involve over 50 of these creative prompts. You can use these prompts as starting points for your creative process. If you sign up, I’ll send you an email when it’s available for purchase.

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