Testing Grounds had its last group meeting of the year last week. For their final meeting, Testing Grounds focused on reflection. What was the past year like? What lessons did they learn? What challenges arose? How did their mentor guide them through the year? How can the program better support artists next year? (Look out for what the Testing Grounds artists said in a later blogpost!)

Alongside some evaluative activities, this session was also dedicated to mental wellness and sustaining yourself as an artist. Dealing with burnout was a topic that last year’s Testing Grounds participants and applicants all flagged as issues they wanted to discuss, so we decided to make it a pivotal part of this session. CuriousWorks staff recently had a Staff Wellness Day, so part of the session included sharing resources including the Black Dog Institute’s Self-Care Planning Tool.

 The other main exercise was a visualisation exercise led by program producer Miranda Aguilar. This exercise was designed as a relaxing, creative way to reflect on your mindset and the ways you like to work. It also uses drawing as a creative expression rather than something like journaling or stream-of-consciousness style writing so the participants could tap into their inner child selves and really relax.

If you’d like to try the exercise yourself, you can follow the steps below.

Tools:

  • Paper
  • Markers, pencils, sharpies, pens whatever visual art tools feel good to you
  • A timer, preferably one with a gentle chime

Instructions:

You’re going to be making three different drawings on three different pieces of paper. With each drawing, you’ll have ten minutes to complete them. Feel free to add words or arrows or whatever else feels correct; it’s not charades, you won’t get in trouble. Don’t overthink what you’re making, don’t worry about making it visually stunning or even neat. This isn’t about drawing capability, it’s about taking the time for self-reflection.

Drawing One: Draw the landscape of your mind right now. What does the inside of your brain metaphorically look like? What topics or issues are at the forefront of your brain? What does it feel like? Silly, serious, whatever is up there. You can draw a literal landscape, draw some doodles of things you’re thinking of, or even just write word balloons.

Drawing Two: Draw what it looks like in your brain when you’re stressed or burnt out. What does the burnt out landscape of your brain look like? Consider what actions you tend to take when you’re burnt out. Think about how you feel stress in your body: for example, do you feel it in your chest, do you get migraines, do you tend to clench your jaw? What factors tend to worsen your stress? 

Drawing Three: Lastly, draw what it looks like when you are in a state of creative fulfillment. What does it look like in your brain when you’re in flow and feeling artistically, mentally and physically able to do your best? What factors in your environment help you feel good about the work you make? What do you need to feel nourished, sustained, inspired?

In between each drawing, you can share and discuss what you’ve made and use it as a jumping off point for conversations around how you all navigate mental wellness, burnout and sustaining yourselves as artists. No matter your experience level, there are always different factors that can make sustaining an artistic practice difficult: time, finances, the state of the world, etc. Talking to each other, being open and sharing strategies, advice and motivation is a great starting point for all of us.

You can use these drawing prompts as provocations for other exercises if you wanted: journal, make a playlist, make a collage, whatever feels good! I used marker drawings because I wanted to tap into all the participant’s inner child selves, and I wanted to use a medium that was removed from their core artistic practice. Lean into being creative for the joy of being creative; finding these outlets is part of how we can sustain ourselves as artists.

If you liked this exercise, feel free to check out other entries on our blog labelled ‘Toolkit‘ for other creative techniques and tools – or check out three of the more recent entries below.