Shop Talk

Creative Work vs Working Out: The Unhealthy Life of the Artist

Creative work is largely sedentary. To watch someone draw is a study of internal action with little external cues. There is no need to be able to walk to paint. There’s no need to shower or wear clothes to accomplish even the most minor of creative tasks. As far as hobbies go, drawing is as close to the bottom of the list of healthy activities as competitive eating or playing video games. Gaining weight and being generally out of shape is easy when you spend your free time in front of a computer or a pad of paper rather than at the gym.

For me, I can get roughly ten hours of creative work done during the week in between a full time job, wife, and baby. Weekend free time for personal projects fluctuate but I’m able stay up as long as I want, unless a breakfast or brunch has been put on my calendar, or it’s my turn to wake up with our daughter.

This isn’t to complain about my lack of free time. I have plenty of it, but there is a need to prioritize your activities. Once you throw in family and friend obligations, working out and staying fit falls even further down the list of things I care about. In order to have a sense of accomplishment I give myself deadlines for my projects. I find contests or festivals, anything with a submission deadline. This gives me something to work towards. A goal that builds the anxiety and sharpens the focus that I need to get a project done. The desire to get a final piece completed trumps push-ups and crunches. I can live with a few extra pounds, but I can’t live with not creating.

So, what options do I have? Here are a few ideas.


"Sloth I♥lazy" by limeart

 1. Diet

This is a total obvious first option, but it is something you can do without hindering your creative time.

2. Be Active

Find an activity that you enjoy as much as drawing, painting, photography, etc. Softball, tennis, running – this could work. I enjoy tennis, but I need a partner for that. Which leads us to…

3. Be Active AND Social

Find an activity that your friends and family enjoy doing, and do that. This is smashing two birds with one well aimed stone. Need to spend time with the in-laws, friends, or your parents? Do any of them play tennis? Guess what? Now you play tennis as well. There. Got your social obligations taken care of as well as your workout. Also, without joining a league you’re free to play whenever you want.

4. Be Active AND Social AND On A Schedule

Or you could join a softball league or a team. Some folks need a schedule, and knowing that every Tuesday and Thursday is touch football night might do the trick.

5. Talk To Yourself

Dictate your work as you run. This is pushing it but here’s the idea: get dictation software for your phone (iPhone has Dragon Naturally Speaking plus others) and use the built in microphone in the earbuds to record your ideas. Now, go on a run. When you get home and play back your notes and get to work.

6. Pedal

Work a regular job? Why not ride your bike to work and back? Do a quick jog on your lunch break. Do squats at the fax machine. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Lose the paper cup and get yourself a five pound pewter stein for the water cooler. Anything that burns a calorie or two.

7. Nuke The Leftovers

Don’t have dinners that take over an hour to prep, cook, and cleanup. Two or three nights a week eat leftovers that can be heated in a minute or two. When you get home go on a bike ride or a jog with your beautiful and loving spouse and once you’re done, jump in the shower, pop some food stuffs in the microwave and eat at your easel. This accomplishes a few things. You get a workout in, you’ve spent time with your adoring significant other, and now the rest of the night is free to work away as you please.

8. Pedal Some More

On the weekends, all of those errands that you have to get done? Ride your bike. Or, park somewhere that you can walk to and from each errand to get a few miles of exercise.

9. Get Up Early

Get up an hour early each morning to either go for a walk, a run, hit the gym, or a bike ride. My disciplined and excellent wife attempts this on occasion. I never have. Like I said, a man needs his rest. But that doesn’t stop it from being a damn good idea.

10. Use Your Time Efficiently

Schedule your time better. Pick three evenings that are for creative work, two for working out or any other physical activity. Put it on your calendar. Share this calendar with your significant other. This is your schedule. If you’re invited to a dinner or a party, do it on a workout night. Drinks after work? No. Drinks after the gym or after you’ve played tennis or practiced your high jump for an hour.

"Self Portrait" by Naolito

I haven’t committed to any of these and I should. I doubt I’m the only one who knows how difficult it can be to have a regular forty hour a week job, have a family and a home, and try to make time for a creative pursuit that potentially has no pay off other than some inner peace and joy.

The difficulty of the sedentary nature of being creative is one that has a lot going against it especially if you’re not getting your creative fulfillment in your working hours, your artistic pursuits are left to compete for your free time with everything that fills a life. For me working on getting fit is not something that I’ll choose over time with friends and family, and definitely not with my time writing.

Remember: most creative pursuits are sedentary and solitary. You don’t need anyone other than yourself to paint, draw, sculpt, or write. But if you’re in a relationship or have a family it’s not just your own health that gets ignored, there are also others that you love and care deeply for waiting on the sidelines for your attention. It’s important to make time for them too, so plan accordingly.

What do you think? Share your plans and tips in the comments below.