Sunday, 1 November 2015

Defeating Artistic Blues: Mili's Tips On Finding Happiness During Blue Days


Mili's Tips On Finding Happiness During Blue Days

Warning: This article talks about my sad days and my thoughts on suicide. There will be a lot of personal honesty that may make you feel uncomfortable. If you are looking for something fun to read stay away from this article. 

Bundled up in my warm coat I’m happily walking down the street, enjoying the crisp fresh air of approaching winter, when I suddenly hear: “So this is Christmas, and what have you done?” 

I really, really, REALLY despise this John Lennon’s song, and especially that lyric. It does not matter what I have done, I always somehow feel I could have done more. So, I wrote a book, painted some really great paintings, won an award, travelled… But maybe if I was more clever and less lazy I could have brought about world peace or cured cancer? 

Suddenly, I am nothing. I am worthless.

If this does not sound familiar, thank your lucky stars, because I believe this is what everyone refers to as “artistic temperament”. I call it: “disproportional sensitivity to stimuli, resulting in crazy pendulum swings of emotions”. However, “artistic temperament” will do. 

I am not alone. I use to think I was, but after living with creative people, I have found these reactions rather common among my species. It may be a cliché, but we artists are a sensitive lot. 

I believe that if I was kept in a bright vacuum, I would spend my life feeling positive and content. I am at the core a happy person. In company, I’m mostly happy and sometimes bubbly. A friend once said I reminded him of a Disney Princess--singing included. However, this happiness is sometimes a mask I wear in front of people I do not know well. I was raised to be pleasant in company and solicitous of other’s feelings before my own. Therefore, regardless of how I’m feeling, I will never show a negative side to a stranger. I will even keep any negative feelings from my close family and friends, because I do not wish to burden them. Rarely, will I let the sadness I feel emerge to the surface for others to see. 

I do not remember this, but recently I met with an old school friend who has a memory of playing with my sister, because I had one of my crying fits. When she asked my sister what was wrong, she replied: “Oh, sometimes she just has to cry.” 

I am older now, but I still have days when I just have to cry. I am content most of the time, but there are days when I feel despair; such deep despair that I wonder if life is worth living. I usually have these days when I have not seen the sun for days, when I’m sick, or when a project is not going as planned. Sometimes, during these crying fits I do not even know why I’m sad. The rational part of me argues that my life is good. I may have personal difficulties, but who doesn’t? I may not be a famous artist making the big bucks, but I have a home and people that love me. I have seen and done things most people dream of, so why am I so sad? 

On the other hand, the emotional part of me sees life as a deep dark hole full of pain and series of disappointments and losses, and wonders why I should suffer through it at all. Wouldn’t it be nice if I was just gone? If there would no longer be this terrible pain? What do I contribute to society? Am I not just a burden to people who love me? One slice to the brachial artery and it can all end in minutes… 

Online other artists seem always successful and happy, sometimes angry, but none are sad or talking about how difficult a life of an artist can be. I wondered if there is something wrong with me. Am I the only artist struggling to make a living? Then I realised, I too only wrote about my successes and shared my triumphs with my fans. I never wrote about how being sick for months made me want to end my life; how there are days when I feel I can save the world and days when I can barely get out of bed; how sometimes I cannot draw, because I hurt too much; how I worked for below minimum wage and was not able to scrape a living; how I could not understand why I’m failing in real life when I was so good at school… 

Is it possible to feel too much? I believe that it is this artistic sensitivity that makes me a better than average artist and writer. My skills might not have reached the level of unsurpassed mastery, I am not Shakespeare or Monet, but I have deep empathy and a well of feelings that lets me put emotion into my work that strangers can experience. I also believe that this sensitivity to life around me that makes me special is my greatest weakness. The pendulum swings of my emotions that hits the highs and lowest lows sometimes frightens me. 

I had to find a way to bring my feelings under control. Should I look to my fellow artists for a solution? 

I like my ears well enough, thank you Van Gogh. 

I also have no intention of ever using drugs or alcohol to make myself feel better, thank you other famous artists. 

Manizing? (Is there a male equivalent to “womanizing”?) 

No, thank you. 

Eventually, I did discover what works for me, and I hope these H.O.O.T.s of Wisdom on dealing with Artistic Blues will help you as well. 

H.O.O.T.s of Wisdom

Defeating Artistic Blues

Avoid negativity. Negativity can come in many forms. The worst comes from the people you care about, because their opinions matter to you. However, negativity can come from outside sources as well as fiction. 

When Artistic Blues hit I avoid all negative sources of energy. I try to keep away from negative bitter people. I stop watching the news (Can they never report the good things that are happening in our world? What can I realistically do about any disaster?). I keep away from drama and horror, and opt to watch or read comedy instead. 

Smile. I believe that life trains us to deal with disasters. We remember disastrous experiences better than the good ones, because we need to protect ourselves in the future. However, we must not forget that Life is beautiful! Why worry about disasters that may never happen? Find something to smile about today. 

If you cannot think of anything under the influence of the Artistic Blues, get up, stand in the superhero position (your hands on your hips, feet apart, head high) and smile. Stand like that until you do remember something good and happy in your life you can truly smile about. 

Forgive yourself. Currently I’m taking an online course with a great artist who has an enormous lack of sensitivity to others’ feelings and temperaments. He has health, energy, and will to create dozens of sketches a day and fill out a sketchbook every month. In his lectures he goes on to browbeat us students with sentences such as: “If I could do this assignment daily in my great busy life full of responsibilities you wish you had, then there is no excuse why you cannot do the same.” 

I would leave his lesson determined to prove to him that: “Yes. I am great. I can do just as much as he can.” Then… Life happens and here I am: my homework is not done and I feel a complete and utter failure. I have spent days feeling like an utter failure, not just as an artist, but as a human being. The Artistic Blues have hit me again, resulting in me doing even less, because I cannot produce quality work when my feelings are a mess. 

Then one day, I decided to forgive myself. I am not the same person this great artist is, but that does not make me any less an accomplished artist. The important lesson I’ve learned is to accept that everyone is different. 

Please do not feel you are a failure if you cannot fill out a sketchbook every month, or if you cannot publish a book every two months. Jane Austen only published 6 books in her entire lifetime! Harper Lee wrote two! So, you may not be Nora Roberts, but that does not make your artistic contributions any less valuable. 

Forgive yourself. You are human. Someday you may write/draw more, someday you may not write/draw at all. Therefore, forgive yourself and let the ridiculous expectations of others go. 

Look at what you’ve accomplished! In addition to forgiving myself for not being superhuman, I stopped comparing myself to others. For years I felt a complete failure when I compared my work to my heroes. What I did not realise is that I was comparing myself to artists at the height of their careers. Then one day I went to an art fair where I saw what people my age were creating, and I was fine. Of course I’m going to be a better artist ten years from now than I am today. In ten years I will gain more experience and will gain more knowledge. 

What about artists who are younger than me and are producing better work? 

Well, good for them. They do not have the experiences in life that I had. Maybe they come from artistic families who guided them and they did not have to stumble as much as I did? Maybe they are prodigies? Who cares?! What’s important is what I can do. 

Just keep working on your skills, create, measure your own accomplishments, and stop obsessively comparing yourself to others. Look at what you’ve accomplished! 

Keep a Happy Book. When Artistic Blues hit and I am moping around my home feeling worthless, a waste of space, and that the world would be a better place without me in it, I go and read my Happy Book. For my birthday my friend gave me a journal and told me to fill it with only happy experiences. I named it Happy Book and in it I record the nice things people say about my work, myself, and any achievements that make me proud. When Artistic Blues hit, I cannot remember these good things about myself. I only see my failures and the bad things that surround me. By rereading some of the happy experiences, I realise that life is not as horrible as I think it is, and that I’m not as worthless as I think I am. 

Accomplish something every day. The night before, or while I’m brushing my teeth in the morning, I think about what I wish to accomplish that day. I start small. I’ve learned not to put too much on my plate. At the end of the day I check off the items from my list. I transfer the items I failed to accomplish that day onto another day, but instead of berating myself for the things I have not accomplished, I gratefully admire everything I have accomplished today. 

If you find you fail to accomplish all your tasks, do not despair; this usually means that you’ve given yourself too much work. In the future adjust your schedule accordingly. 

Never forget: Adding a grain of sand day by day, will eventually make a beach. 

When Artistic Blues hit you the hardest and you feel you cannot work at all, accomplish just a small task. I find usually that accomplishing something small will give me momentum to keep working. Whether it is just a single rough sketch of a would-be illustration, or a couple of pages of text--what you have accomplished that day, you will not have to do tomorrow. 

Do what makes you happy. Sometimes when I feel the pressure of a complicated assignment, or if I’ve been working too long on a project and have been drawing in the same style for months, I have to step away from my work and do something that makes me happy. I like to do Mini-MEs, or draw princesses. I’ve always drawn princesses. Drawing princesses makes me happy, because it takes me back to my childhood when I was happy. I allow myself to get silly and fanciful, before I have to get back to the real work. 

Go outside. Staying indoors too long can make anyone blue. I sadly tend to spend way too much time indoors. I blame the Toronto weather. Even if I do not go anywhere, in Summer I can sit outside, work, and not feel dreadful. In fall, winter, and early spring I would look outside my window and all I want to do is burry myself in blankets and go back to sleep until the sun shines again. Instead, I force myself to get dressed in my heavy winter clothing and go outside for a six-kilometre walk almost every day. Fresh air, even if there is no sunshine, can do wonders to revive my spirits. It’s even better if I can find someone to keep me company. But if not, a romance novel or a fun fantasy audiobook is almost as good. 

Exercise. Though exercise might be the last thing on your mind when you are Blue, getting your heartbeat up and allowing the endorphins to kick in will perk you up. The knowledge that you have done something good for your health will make you feel better, too. 

Avoid sweets, alcohol, caffeine,… When I’m Blue, my weapon of choice is chocolate. Yes, chocolate does make me feel better, but then after a few minutes I feel even worse, because not only am I sad, now I feel I’m getting fat! The temporary high of an influential substance is not worth the deeper misery that will follow. Exercise is a much better option. If I really need something sweet, fruits should do. If not, I try to limit myself to one or two squares of dark chocolate, and not a whole bar. 

I hope you find these H.O.O.T.s of Wisdom useful. If none of these tips help to dispel the Artistic Blues, you may need to seek professional help. I know a few friends who are on anti-depressants and their lives have improved immeasurably. There is no shame in asking for help. 

Do you have your own tips for avoiding Artistic Blues? If so please share them. 

Until next time, 



A few thoughts on suicide: 

Have I ever thought about suicide? 
I’m an artist, the moment I hear something I think about it, imagine it, and live it. (Another reason why I stay away from horror movies, or anything depressing.) I have mostly thought about suicide after reading “Veronica Decides to Die” (Paulo Coelho) and “Pilgrim” (Timothy Findley). 

Have I ever planned my suicide? 
Yes. Frequently. The last time was at the beginning of this year when I was sick for months, having one cold or flu after another. I could do nothing but stare at TV all day, or listen to audiobooks. There were things I needed to accomplish and I could not accomplish one. Even after I got better, I could barely walk around the block. I remember thinking my winter clothing was too heavy. 

How would I end my life? 
Cutting the brachial artery with my x-acto knife. 

Would I ever commit suicide? 
Not as long as there is a single person left in this world that loves me. My friend’s younger brother committed suicide when I was in college. He was a teenager at the time. I kept imagining how I would have felt if my sister did the same. Regardless of the pain he felt, there were people around him that loved him and would have been willing to help him if he just asked. Suicide is a selfish act. Ending my life like Cleopatra at the end of everything, so I would no longer suffer is acceptable to my sensibilities. However, causing pain to people that love me is not.


Mili Fay, a Toronto-based artist, classical animator, illustrator, writer, and singer, is an award winning graduate of Sheridan College and Art Instruction Schools. In November of 2011 she created Mili Fay Art determined to support the world one artwork at a time.

Her latest published work is Animals In My Hair; a story about a boy who goes for his first haircut only to find endangered animals falling out of his hair.

Currently, Mili is working on her first ever illustrated Fantasy novel, Warriors of Virtue, about a reluctant princess who must prevent a war with the dragon-people, while keeping her mission a secret from her over-protective mother.

Join Mili Fay Art Fan Club to stay in touch with Mili Fay and to be the first to find out of her upcoming books and artworks.

Mili Fay Art: “Together we support the world one artwork at a time.”

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