7 Artists on the Self-Care Rituals that Keep Them Creative
Artmaking requires significant self-discipline and an ability to ruminate on abstract ideas for hours or days at a time, over the course of many years. Some artists turn to self-care regimens to add structure to their lives or to hone mindfulness, both of which help in furthering their art practices. The seven artists below find that activities like exercise, meditation, yoga, and drinking green tea can boost creativity, allowing them to do their best work in the studio. You can take inspiration from these rituals, whether you’re attempting to make a masterpiece or simply starting a new project.
Photo by Susan Cianciolo. Courtesy of the artist.
Portrait of Susan Cianciolo. Courtesy of the artist.
Susan Cianciolo, a longtime staple of New York’s DIY fashion and art scenes, meditates every morning for an hour. For the last 17 years, she’s downloaded meditation files from Orkie.com, which hosts the School of Vibrational Healing. The School’s philosophy, according to its website, is based on the idea that “one needs to experience truth in order to assimilate it into their daily life experience.” It promotes “trance channeling,” which allows participants to communicate with the spiritual realm.
Cianciolo’s self-care rituals are also part of her art practice. She goes to the Hudson Valley’s Blooming Hill Farm every weekend to buy organic vegetables—“covered in dirt right from the earth,” she said. She fills jugs of spring water, cooks “from the earth,” then mingles those activities “with painting and dyeing textiles, all one, all experimental!”
If you’re looking for a yoga instructor, Cianciolo recommends Elena Brower, Anna Falck, and Basak Gunaydin, who are all teaching online now.
Performance view of Naama Tsabar in Melodies of Certain Damage (Opus 3) at CCA Tel Aviv, 2018. Photo by Eyal Agivayev. Courtesy of CCA Tel Aviv.
For Naama Tsabar, self-care means waking up early. She begins her days slowly, rising at least two hours before she needs to leave her home. This gives her body and mind “time to adjust,” she noted. Tsabar completes a short workout and, when the weather’s good, bikes from her Bedford-Stuyvesant apartment to her Greenpoint studio.
Maintaining a strong body is important to the sound and installation artist. Tsabar said that the performative aspect of her work can “be very taxing” and the sculptural part of her practice requires “working with large, heavy materials.”
With New York in lockdown, Tsabar is no longer commuting to her studio. She has more time to read and listen to music. She’s particularly excited to hear Fielded’s new album, Sacrifice Zone, out May 1st, which the musician has written and produced in quarantine. Tsabar said she also “loves looking at things grow,” and her houseplants—palms, spider plants, succulents, coleus, cacti—and fruit and vegetable garden “have never been happier.”
Photo by Hayden Dunham. Courtesy of the artist.
Portrait of Hayden Dunham. Courtesy of the artist.
“All of my self-care involves water: Taking baths, putting it in my mouth, and thinking about my body as a filter,” said artist Hayden Dunham, whose practice has long involved interactive installations and energy drinks. Each morning at 6:45 a.m., she wakes up and makes what she calls a “liquid composition” with ingredients that depend on what she needs at the moment. The concoction may involve chlorophyll (which supports blood cells), chamomile (an anti-inflammatory), or calming lavender. Dunham either drinks it or soaks in the liquid in her bathtub.
Over the past couple of months, Dunham noted, we’ve had to think about our bodies’ inputs and outputs in a brand-new way. “We are literally creating additional filters in the form of masks,” she said. She’s interested in the invisible particles in our bodies, and how the air transmits them. Dunham noted that we’re reading and speaking about breath and air with a new language: For better and for worse, the pandemic mandates that we be more mindful of how our bodies interact in communal settings. Since the middle of the 20th century, that’s also been a mandate for sculpture itself.
John Edmonds, Holding a sculpture (from the Ashanti), 2019. Courtesy of the artist and Company, New York.
Hudson Bohr, John Edmonds, 2019. © Hudson Bohr. Courtesy of the artist.
John Edmonds begins his days with green tea and meditation. The ritual, he said, helps him be “alert and mindful,” allowing him to observe his state of mind before he embarks on any projects. He avoids caffeine unless he’s “in dire need of it.” Edmonds also believes that communication is important. “When I don’t have time to talk to a friend or see a therapist, I keep a journal,” he said.
Since the lockdown began, Edmonds has focused more on his self-care regimen. Unable to visit the gym, he now practices an at-home exercise routine both in the morning and before bed. He allows himself to “really lean into” his skin-care rituals. The photographer, who was featured in the 2019 Whitney Biennial and has a forthcoming solo exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, believes that taking time for self-care allows us to thrive in many areas of our lives. “Self-care is at the center of wellness, and wellness affects how we perform,” he said. “The harder we work, the more care we need to give ourselves.”
Photo by Miya Ando. Courtesy of the artist.
Portrait of Miya Ando by Roy Ritchie. Courtesy of the artist.
Miya Ando’s practice transforms ancient Buddhist techniques and ideas into contemporary art, so it’s no surprise that her self-care rituals honor generations past. She prays every morning, she said, to help her “focus and concentrate.” The act also pays homage to her grandfather, who worked as a Buddhist priest in Japan. Prayer reminds her of family, comforts her, and helps her set intentions for her art practice.
During the pandemic, she said, “my primary goal is equanimity and quietude or calm.” Her rituals help her stay focused and remain disciplined. Ando’s own ability to bring tranquility to her viewers is evident in her transcendent abstractions, the gauzy fabrics in her installations, and her sculptures that bring natural elements (wood, images of clouds) into the gallery setting.
Portrait of Misha Kahn. Courtesy of the artist.
“I never talk about self-care because it sounds so indulgent,” said Misha Kahn, the creator of some of contemporary art’s wildest, most colorful furniture-cum-sculpture objects. “I also think being an artist is the same level of indulgence.” The vocation, he thinks, requires believing that your own ideas are worthy of others’ contemplation. Getting to have both a self-care regimen and an artistic practice, he said, “is so much!” Yet Kahn’s fans adore his more-is-more aesthetic.
Before the pandemic, Kahn took his personal time in the morning: Before going to his studio, he’d work out, make himself an “oversized breakfast,” and “take a shamefully long shower,” during which he’d lie in the tub and “think through everything.” These days, he’s homebound and taking runs in the afternoon, after a morning of sketching and working on digital drawings. He’s also a fan of a 15-step moisturizer collection that he bought when he had a show in Korea. “If I’m going whole hog, that’s on the agenda,” he said.
Artmaking, for Kahn, has its own element of wellness. “I don’t have a traditional spiritual side or activity,” he said. “But being creative feels like my tether to a connected humanity and world. It’s when I feel tuned into everything the most. I count it as spiritual.”
The Mushroom, 2018
Portrait of Claudia Comte by Diana Pfammatter. Courtesy of the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.
Claudia Comte, who makes eye-popping sculptures, murals, and paintings, feels lucky to live just outside Basel, where she’s “relatively isolated in the countryside,” she explained. “Every day, I go for walks in and around our garden and the surrounding forests,” she said. “That’s been a continual source of mental and physical nourishment.”
Since the pandemic began, Comte noted that she’s “more able to linger in the present.” It’s a difficult time to predict and plan, yet it’s a perfect moment for observing the world around us, as it is, right now. Comte visits the tadpoles in her pond and the newly planted vegetable patch in her garden. On her walks, she’s spotted llamas, birds, and a hare. Her cat, Blue, trails behind her. Nature offers a salve. “Perhaps this moment galvanizes a caring revolution,” said Comte, “where radical empathy for ourselves, others, and our planet takes primacy. That idea drives me creatively.”
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly described the use of “faux” energy drinks in Hayden Dunham’s practice; she has created real, FDA-approved energy drinks.