Do you wish that you could, or would, spend less time online and more time in the art studio?
I get it. Today's artist's need an online presence. If you're not building your email list to announce your latest exhibition too, you're selling prints online or sharing your online portfolio with potential galleries. Our online business is valuable, profitable and dare I say it... fun.
But where does that leave our art making? Y'know, the bread and butter of our business?
A few months ago I noticed I was spending more time online promoting my art, building my network and tweaking technical issues then actually making art, and you how that made me feel?
That's the word. Crap.
I was SO bored. I was not enjoying what I was doing. I was frustrated. I felt overwhelmed. I felt fraudulent... mainly because I wasn't doing what I loved... making art. Instead I was obsessing over whether my side bar had enough impact, or what my social media numbers where or what my bounce rate was. For some, blogging and social media is their absolute favourite thing in the world. For me, blogging and social media are just my preferred way of sharing my creations with the world. I enjoy it, I need it, but hell no... I do NOT want to be on it 24 hours a day.
Then I started to get a bit freaked out.
My daily routine and behaviour started to lean quite heavily on the internet. I wanted to know what was happening on Instagram at 6am. I could easily waste hours on Pinterest. I was looking at my phone many, many times a day and it was the first thing I picked up and the last thing I touched during the day. Before my husband. Before my own kids! The moment I realised things had gone too far was when my daughter asked me what I did for a job. As I sat there before her, responding to some inane comment on Facebook, I said 'I'm an artist' and I could barely contain my own shame. I wasn't an artist. Artist's make stuff. Artist's don't sit around all day having fights with strangers on the internet or trying to get verified on Twitter.
From that point on I decided to Unplug and find a life again as an artist offline.
I knew I still needed the internet, and as a Creative, my home would always be online because it works soooo brilliantly at sharing my artwork around the world, but I needed to reacquaint myself with real analogue creativity. Talking to other artists in person. Making things with my hands. Reading books and learning from experience and experimentation without YouTube videos. I needed to bring balance and control back into my life and start using the internet with a strategy to develop my art career and knowledge without it taking over my life.
First port of call obviously... I googled 'Digital detox for Artist's' (shhhh, I had to start somewhere). Not much came up. So I started to pull together shreds of information and guidance from others (Creative Cleanse byRegina, Unplugged: How to live mindfully in a Digital World by Oriana Fielding) and began to come up with my own system that allowed me to take a break from the internet but also respected the fact I still needed and wanted the internet for work, and encouraged me to get back into the studio.
Because there's one simple rule about being an online artist and that's if you don't make stuff offline, you won't have anything to share online.
Here are some of my tips on going offline and getting back into the art studio.
Lead the way
When you go unplugged you will notice that not everyone is going to support that. I was the frequently the only person NOT staring at my phone at dinner or the last person to be invited to social gatherings, that's if they even remembered I existed if I wasn't online! This can be a huge trigger to get back online. But I promise, it's not worth it. Stay strong and learn how to start conversations. Learn mindfulness and how to sit with feelings of loneliness and silence. Learn how to notice the little things and people watch again. Remember what boredom feels like- it can be incredibly healing. Besides it's always funny to make eye contact with the only other person in the room not staring at their phone and share a knowing glance. People soon look up anyway. Especially if you keep attempting to talk to them. If you're feeling left out of friends conversations or events, host your own, stay in touch in other ways. People LOVE real life connection over virtual, they just have to remember it exists!
Prepare a busy bag
ALWAYS carry a small bag with a sketchbook, pen/pencil, a small portable project like sewing or knitting, a camera, anything that will keep your mind and hands busy when you're waiting- whether that's on your commute or in a queue. You'll be amazed at how much work you can get done. And just think, you would have spent that time probably playing Candy Crush! The key is to keep it small and on you at all times. It's also worth carrying a watch, a list of essential phone numbers and a local map if you're going far, say out in the car or on a day trip. It's unlikely you'll use them but you really noticed how much smart phones have taken over our lives when they're not there. And it really doesn't take up much room. Keep another busy bag or set of projects you can do on your lap in the evening too, so when it's time to switch off for the night, you can really relax with something that adds value to your life, rather the stress about a last minute email from your client which you can't sort out till tomorrow anyway! (Don't you hate that when it happens?!)
Most people I've spoken to about going unplugged for any lengthy period of time are generally horrified. I've heard everything from 'That's impossible' to 'I will get fired'. Stuff like 'But I need to comment in my comment pod!' Or, 'What if someone comments on my Facebook post?' particularly amuse me because, be honest, is that what really adds value to your business? Sure, they HELP, but NONE of these things are going to determine categorically whether you 'make it' or not as an artist in the short term. But so many people feel their art careers depend on whether or not they're gaining followers or getting the 'right' stats on their sites or what might happen if they don't respond to a clients email immediately. I'm going to bet my own career on this... nothing life-changing negative will happen if you unplug for some of the week. If anything, your business will boom. I'll tell you why: If you've got a huge email list but nothing interesting to share with them or you come across as strained, bored and stressed out, what do you think is going to happen? If the internet is stopping you from actually making art and Doing The Work you need to reassess. (Speaking from painful experience here.) Not to mention scarcity is kind of sexy...
Automate, automate, automate
One thing that I found incredibly helpful was finding ways to automate a lot of my marketing and social media so that I could spend more time offline. You can schedule posts for instance, reposting old blog posts or artwork to most of your social media platforms meaning that your followers are constantly being shown not only your new offerings but also old evergreen content which they may not be aware of. Have an online shop? Automate your social media to promote your products. It also increases your online presence without you even being online. I'm a huge fan of IFTTT which is a free way to automate so many things. I loved this tutorial on how to automate your blog posts for free using IFTTT and Google Calendars. It's a bit of a faff to set up, but a complete game changer if you don't have the budget for Hootsuite etc.
Address the underlying issues
So... why are you online anyway? Is it to sell art? Meet other artists? Learn new things? Each of those reasons has an emotional motivation behind them. That emotion can be a positive draw, or reveal something more negative. Maybe you're going online to sell your art because you're intimidated by local galleries and don't know where to start with them? Maybe you go online to meet other artists because you literally don't know anyone in your life that supports your creativity and it makes you feel lonely? Maybe you go online to learn new things because the idea of signing up to art classes terrifies you and you fear you can't afford it, even though you would desperately love to... these are all useful insights to work with and explore. Keeping an open mind, why not push your boundaries instead of using the internet as a way out of any uncomfortable feelings? You may find a new method of working that's far more rewarding.
A word of warning
The internet, as wonderful as it is, can also lead people down the serious path of addiction and other related problems including depression and even suicide. If you feel that you need more help with your internet use and are worried about your behaviour, or the behaviour of a friend or family member I strongly urge you to contact a medical professional to seek further help or have a look at Action on Addiction or Virtual Addiction which have many resources that can help you.
I hope this post has given you a wake up call if you need it and way forward to embrace a more unplugged life! Good luck and let me know how you get on.