Sharpen the Saw: 7 Things Artists Can Do to Improve Their Work and Their Life–

Without going to the gym!

Have you read Scott Covey’s self-improvement classic, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People? One chapter is devoted to developing the habit of self-care. Covey refers to this as “sharpening the saw,” because like a carpenter trying to work with dull, worn-out tools, you cannot do your best when your body and mind are tired and out of shape.

A swim workout clears my mind, but that’s not the only way to get a new perspective!
Source: Uploaded by user via Wrenaissance on Pinterest Photo, © 2011, Wren M. Allen



Many people assume that Sharpen the Saw refers only to physical fitness, but the truth is, whenever you take time out from your work to refresh or strengthen your body, mind and spirit, you are sharpening the saw. Activities like family get-togethers, continuing education seminars and going to church can help you recharge your batteries and approach your work with renewed vigor.

Here is a list of 7 things you can do as an artist to recharge your batteries and sharpen your mental saw.

1. Join a group of your peers for networking, support and feedback. Sometimes life in the studio can get lonely. Here are some examples of artists’ groups that give their members social support and opportunities for professional growth.

2. Get to know and enjoy the company of the people who are buying your art! Many local groups will have associate memberships for people who are service vendors or are peripherally involved in the industry. For example:

  • Illustrators and designers can join their local ad federation to network with the ad agency art directors who hire freelancers.
  • Industrial photographer Mieko Mahi created the monthly Oil and Gas Gathering for oil-industry employees and service vendors to get together in a relaxed, after-work environment.
  • Many interior and graphic design associations offer associate memberships. Frequently they offer their members a chance to get in touch with their creative roots with artsy-craftsy events. As an associate member, volunteer to give a studio tour or lead an introductory art workshop to your technique and let these art buyers get to know you.
  • Don’t forget to stay active in your immediate community! Scout troop parents, church choirs, beach clean-up efforts: volunteering with like-minded people is a great way to take a break and interact with people in a natural and relaxed environment.

3. Learn more about your craft.

  • Take a class or workshop online or locally and learn a new technique.
  • Set a budget for art books and magazines.
  • Join a local artists’ critique group.

4. Improve your business skills. If you run your studio business more efficiently, it will clear out time and energy for your art practice.

Francis Bacon’s filthy studio. See the Cabinet Magazine article for an interview with his cleaning lady!
Source: via Wrenaissance on Pinterest



5. Organize your studio. Unless you’re Francis Bacon, clutter and junk can have a deadening effect on your creativity. Clean up and clear out your space and your mind!

  • Throw out or give away old, worn-out or unused tools and equipment.
  • Purge old paperwork. Scan the important stuff and shred old documents.
  • Hold a studio garage sale to dispose of old artwork. Dugald Sturmer has an annual sale of his old illustrations that has become a local event.
  • Try Fly Lady’s 15-minute Fling Boogie.

6. Take pride in your appearance. If your studio is at home, it becomes all too easy to spend the day in your pj’s and bunny slippers. After a few months of slob-hood, you can begin to lose some self-esteem and become very depressed.

  • Remember basic hygiene and grooming and kick it up just a tiny notch. A spritz of perfume, lipstick, clean nails, an ironed shirt are all small details that can lift your spirits.
  • Wear real clothes to sit at your computer or wear a studio uniform to protect your street clothes, if you work in messy mediums. Nothing’s worse than looking down at your favorite shirt and seeing a big blotch of paint.

7. Take care of your spirit and play!

  • Take yourself on an Artist’s Date, as recommended by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way. Go to a museum, an old-fashioned hardware store, a thrift shop, the park, the zoo. You don’t have to buy anything, just get out of the studio and see something new and interesting.
  • Try sketching in public. International Sketch Crawl is a great way to meet up with other artists and draw in public.
  • Go on an art vacation. Maybe an exciting workshop, or simply take your sketchbook and watercolors on your next vacation and make a point of sitting down and recording your meals and sightseeing in paint.

(Links to the 7 Habits and Artist’s Way are via my Amazon affiliate.)

How will you sharpen your creative saw in 2013?

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