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Can artistic perfectionism affect your health?


Have you ever worked so hard on your art that your health suffered?

Maybe you’ve pushed yourself for a deadline (like holiday shipping dates!).

Or maybe it’s just who you are — you have to get every last detail perfect.

This is what happened to one of our students a few years ago.

“I had no idea that it is possible to get seriously injured from painting, until it happened to me…”
In mid-2017, portrait artist Solly Solomon was enjoying 10-hour days in her studio, engrossed in her newest work.

With the tiniest brushstrokes, she began painting the next section — dozens of tiny sequins in lifelike detail.

She had no idea that she would be unable to finish this painting for another 2 years.detail with brace and brush support

What started as occasional pain now flared intensely as she perfected every line and reflection.

She thought her hand would be OK after a day or two. It always had been before.

But this time, it wasn’t.

Her doctor diagnosed a repetitive-strain injury called tendonitis.

And Solly found herself sidelined from her art. For months.

The inflammation in her wrist was so intense, she couldn’t even brush her teeth with her painting hand.

“It was completely devastating, and I wish I had known then just how important it is to take care of your body and have regular breaks.”
Solly tried everything: ice packs, anti-inflammatory meds, pain-relieving gels, ultrasound therapy, TENS machine (nerve stimulation) therapy, acupuncture…

But the most crucial element in her healing was simply this:

Not doing anything.


Time off.

Even though all she wanted to do was go back to painting.

But her body demanded healing.

So she had to listen. There was no other option.

After several months off, Solly returned to sketching for short sessions.

Just 20 minutes at a time, with long rest breaks.

Even though she couldn’t paint the way she wanted to, she looked for creative ways to keep making art.

She taught herself to draw and paint left-handed.

She played with making monoprints.

And she returned very gently to painting, starting with abstracts instead of her usual photorealistic style.

A year after her diagnosis, Solly completed a new work — based on the MRI scans of her wrist.

The toll of her injury hit in invisible ways as well. Who was she if she couldn’t create the work she wanted to?

Making art from the experience helped her to process emotionally.

And in September 2018, Solly returned to the painting that led to her original injury.

She wore a brace to support her wrist.

Her brush handles had foam wraps so she could hold them with less effort.

It was a bit like learning to paint while wearing heavy winter gloves.

But she did it — and another year later, she completed the painting.completed paintingYou Have No Idea of the Gift You Once Gave Me – oil on canvas, 48″ x 30″Solly has a message for visual artists everywhere:
“Working those extra few hours is really not worth it if it takes you out of action for months, or even years…. This isn’t an injury that I have recovered from. It’s one I live with every day.
“I would implore fellow artists to look after themselves and take regular breaks when working. My injury was totally preventable, and this type of injury can happen to anyone.”
Your body is one of the most important assets in your art business.

What if you started treating it with the same care you’d give to your most expensive art tool?

Sometimes it is the negative space that makes a painting work.

And sometimes as an artist, it becomes essential to do nothing at all.

As I mentioned last week, there is no “balance”
— only the creative act of “balancing”.

So, it’s important to spend time making art…

…but not so much that your health suffers.

It’s important to spend time building the business & career side…

…without sacrificing your most creative hours of the day.

And, it’s important to make time for yourself and your family…

… without feeling guilty about not doing more for your art or your business.

So if you find yourself caught up in the December holiday rush,

or just feeling especially anxious —

take a minute to pause, breathe deeply, and focus on the moment.

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