13 December 2006
Maria Piscopo, Communication Arts
Maria Piscopo, Communication Arts

This is the perfect time of year to stop and reflect: Where have you been? Where are you going? How do you get there in one piece? One thing for certain, you will not make it on an "empty tank," so we asked an eclectic and diverse group of creative professionals to share their tips and techniques for resting and recharging. My personal thanks go to the owners of Sagewater Spa , Rhoni Epstein and Cristina Pestana, for seeking out and providing me with a number of creative professionals to be interviewed for this piece.

You can run "out of gas" trying to balance conflicting needs, especially personal and professional. You need to dedicate yourself to your work and you want to spend time for yourself or with your family. You need to relax and get some rest. Sound familiar? Michael Fleishman is a freelance illustrator, graphic artist, teacher and author in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and discusses the most important technique - physical exercise. He also has a great suggestion, plan some "buffer time" from when you walk in the door at work to when you start talking to clients. He explains, "Exercise is important. You have to fit it in. I teach, and I found a gym that is literally right on my way to work, so I have no excuse not to exercise. I arrange my schedule so that I can lift weights or swim before I start my day. Most of all, I usually schedule office hours first so I don't have to be 'on' as soon as I walk through the door to work."

It does not seem to matter what you choose for your recharging as long as you identify these two things: some activities that you can turn to and a retreat you can look forward to. Annie Consoletti, graphic designer, says, "Play is a key element to creativity. I don't think one can be freely creative without having a sense of play. I put all of my energy into whichever project I am working on and am equally as passionate about my design work as I am in cooking, gardening and landscaping my yard, which at the moment includes cementing and staining a wall in my backyard."

Taking the time to rest is critical. Those of us that travel a lot in our work find this a real challenge. Tracy D. Taylor, fashion director at Marie Claire magazine says, "I forget that when most people travel, they are on vacation. When I travel, I am working...with early call times, inclement weather and brutal schedules with tight budgets. My schedule is pretty crazy as I travel all over the world for photo shoots. Work often gets confused with play as so much of my typically 'off-the-business-clock' hours are spent in the context of my professional life. I may be having drinks at the Ritz in Paris or sitting atop a camel in India, which all sound glamorous (and I am not complaining!), but at the end of the day, it is work despite the fact that I have a wonderful time doing it. If I don't take out time for me - which can mean anything from sitting in front of the television to meeting friends for brunch to an all-out vacation - I will get totally burnt out. I get busy like everyone else absolutely, but I do believe that time-out is an investment in yourself, your career, and your creative well-spring that pays off tenfold in the long run!"

Craig Wright, television writer for Six Feet Under and Lost, validates physical exercise and adds another technique - walk away! He says, "Not to be painfully obvious, but everything seems better when I've had some sort of strenuous exercise. Other than that, I tend to work in short spurts, with short rests in between, unless there's a looming deadline. Whenever a creative problem seems unworkable, I give up and walk away. A few moments later, the freedom of having given up usually allows for a new answer to show itself. The key is actually giving up. You can't pretend to give up."

A "laundry list" of items to turn to is good to have in hand before you need it. The worst time to try to think of something to do to recharge is when you are burned out. Michael Fleishman shares his list, "Swearing can be fun and work miracles (I'm only half kidding here). Doing something you absolutely love to do. Being in the company of someone you cherish, someone who listens, and who you want to listen to. Laughing. Laughing hard. Making music. Listening to music. Making art. Looking at art. Reading. Watching movies. Certain foods (in moderation, of course) can be medicinal, as are certain friends (sometimes also in moderation). Sleep is good, very, very good for you."

In addition to physical exercise to unlock a creative block, television producer and writer, Andrew Reich, recommends, "One of the best techniques I have found is to not read the trades. Variety and The Hollywood Reporter tend to instill stressful emotions: competitiveness, jealousy, anger. I've found I'm happier when I don't look at them. It's hard to resist, though."

Don't underestimate the value of planning and being organized. In his book, The Business of Graphic Design - A Sensible Approach, Edward Gold says, "Creativity's dirty little secret is that control is not the enemy: control is a necessary ingredient that makes creativity possible." Vanessa Eckstein, founder of the design studio Blok, validates this point, "I discovered that the only way to avoid stress is planning ahead the time frames of when projects should begin and end and allocating time to explore in the middle. Prioritizing what is important versus what is inevitable. That is the practical part but avoiding stress is also knowing that one way or the other (and sometimes I do wonder how!) we always get to finish the project on time and proudly."

Finding a special place to go is one of the most commonly named techniques among the creatives we talked to. Annie Consoletti explains, "I moved to Los Angeles from Boston in 1977 and shortly thereafter discovered the desert. For me it is a very creative, magical place filled with great energy. I've always been a spa-goer and it happens that Sagewater Spa has the best water in the world. For me, it is my 'No Stress Zone.' You feel like you're on your own private island with beautiful magical mountains in the distance and the sweet smell of the desert wafting by as you absorb it all in. It definitely has Zen-elegance and I feel totally renewed after a stay and ready to face the blank canvas!"

Validating the desert theme, Sarah Sciotto Gavigan, president of Santa Monica, California-based Ten says, "Like the vortex in Sedona is visited by millions a year for its healing and energetic qualities, there is something inexplicable in the relaxing qualities of the water in Desert Hot Springs. Sagewater started out as a weekend escape for me, a personal place. Now, after a half dozen visits, I realize I am just clear when I am there. I can think - clear my head, relax, soak and recharge my creative fire."

When you are choosing your retreat, remember three things: Simplify. Simplify. Simplify. Andrew Reich adds, "When you go to a place where there are a million choices of activities and things to do that alone can be stressful. When I go to Sagewater, it's because I want to get away from making decisions. The decisions to be made there are pretty simple: Should I go in the pool or the hot tub? Should I sit out and read or take a nap? Shiatsu or hot stone? Those decisions I can deal with."

Clothing designer Ruthie Davis of RADesign Inc. agrees, "As a creative professional, my head is so filled with so many things all of the time and I also have to be constantly aware of my surroundings, consumers and what is happening that going somewhere that has no distractions is the best kind of retreat. I would never go to a big resort with all kinds of activities and such. I don't want more stuff, I want less stuff."

Sometimes you have to try someplace completely new to you. Eda Warren, graphic designer at Desktop Publishing Services, Inc., says, "When I did a dathun, a 30-day Buddhist retreat, we did sitting practice for nine hours every day. Every moment was living in the present. Mindfulness is a way of life. I realized that what was most profound about the experience was that my awareness dropped into my body in a way that had never happened before. It was transformative. All my life has focused to a large degree on my mental activity, but the part of me that really gives meaning to life and understands why I am here on this earth, and the parts that provide the inspiration for creativity and growth, are in the body, in the heart. Connecting to self at that level is worth more than anything."

Another technique is to deliberately go outside your personal comfort zone. Vanessa Eckstein says, "I do look for a place which will surprise me. Places in which things happen magically because I encounter differences to what I am accustomed to. I go where I can meet people that I would have never met had I stayed at home. I look for situations that end up being a mixture of the everyday and the extraordinary."

In conclusion, graphic designer and illustrator as well as instructor at the School of Visual Arts in New York, John Sposato gives a balanced perspective, "What I love best about the work we do in visual communications is that there is actually so little separation between work and play - so much of arranging and crafting the elements of a design is by definition, play - and so much of what most people in other walks of life use to separate from the work day (entertainments, diversions etc.) is created by some other creative professional who intrigues, feeds, maybe even inspires us for the next day's challenges. Since I've spent all of my professional life working out of New York City, that most vertical of environments, I need periodically to retreat to places with extreme horizontal vistas (the beaches and deserts of the world, of course). It never fails to clear the head and fill my notebook with new creative directions."

About this article

Reprinted with permission by Communication Arts, 2006 Coyne & Blanchard, Inc. All rights reserved. This article first appeared in Communication Arts September/October 2005 issue written by Maria Piscopo