Tuesday, November 19, 2013

"We Are What We Repeatedly Do."

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle.

I've been thinking a lot about habits lately. I just finished reading The Power of Habit  by Charles Duhigg. The book will give you lots of ideas if you want to get rid of bad habits or install some new and better ones. A habit is something that we do over and over again, sometimes without our full realization of it. The important thing to remember is that we get some kind of reward from a particular habit, or else we wouldn't do them. The habit is the trigger that results in a certain behavior that gives us a reward.

Personally, I've always had better luck adding new good habits than attacking my bad habits head-on. Say, for example, you're in the habit of snarfing a bag of caramels when you get home from work, not that I would ever do anything so shameful. If you simply make yourself a mug of virtuous green tea and enjoy that before you attack the caramels, you might forgo the caramels or maybe eat fewer of them. Or then again, you could end up finding yourself with a green-tea-and-bag-of-caramels habit.

Incidentally,the artist Paul Foxton has set up a website, Creative Triggers, which encourages art practice based on cultivating habits. I highly recommend it  if you're trying to squeeze a lot of things into your day and have trouble finding time to teach yourself how to create art.    

Many artists have a series of habits, or procedures, to help them get into (and through) their work day. I don't have a problem getting to the easel, but I sometimes have to settle myself down before I can concentrate, especially if I'm feeling pressured or anxious or I think a painting is starting to fizzle. My studio habits are just simple daily routines that convince my brain that I am in fact going to do something wonderful today; they help me get focused. I'll bet that most artists have some version of what I'm writing about in this post. A lot of people seem to think that artists only work when they are inspired. It's the other way around; I go to work on a regular basis and then the inspiration hits (if I'm lucky).

The first thing I do is change into my standing shoes (thick rubber soled clogs). They make a big difference when you stand for hours at a time; I'm told that surgeons and chefs wear clogs too. You can't really dance in them, though.
Next, I fill up the electric teakettle and make a pot of tea. I try to drink at least half of it during the day and I often drink the whole thing. I'm partial to rustic, earthy teas but I'll try anything once. This Australian tea, Bushells, is nice; so is Billy Tea and Yorkshire Gold.
I put a tea cozy over the pot to keep it warm for hours after you take out the tea leaves. This tea cozy is made out of an old sweater my mother made me when I was little; I took off the sleeves, doubled up the body and put in some fiberfill stuffing to help retain the heat. I've been known to wear this on my head when the temperature drops and I don't want to turn the heat on, but mostly it's a nice daily reminder of my mom.

Putting the paint out on the palette is a thoughtful routine for many artists as they begin their work sessions (see my prior post on my palette). I either keep my paint covered with plastic wrap at the end of the day or put it in the freezer.

Next, I put on an apron; I have at least three of them. I also have a home apron for when I'm done in the studio and need to do things around the house. This helps me change gears psychologically from art-maker to care-giver, which was important when my kids were little and it was critical to be present for them and not brooding about what next to do with my artwork.

Finally, I decide whether to put on some music. I probably get more done with silence, but if the neighbor's dog starts barking endlessly I put something on. I like ambient and classical music and the occasional audiobook.


Laurel Alanna McBrine said...

I have a bunch of those clogs - you are right about them, great for painting! And I am currently into white tea....Enjoying your blog!

Laurel Alanna McBrine said...

I have a bunch of those clogs - you are right about them, great for painting! And I am currently into white tea....Enjoying your blog!