January Slump – Survival Tips For Artists and Other Humans Who Work From Home

It’s January and all I want to do is wrap a blanket around myself and whisper sweet nothings to my sofa. I am not a Winter person, I find it difficult to be productive and ebullient when I am cold. Heck, I find it difficult to even get out of bed when I am cold, and working from home does not help.

Many of you are probably thinking “how wonderful to not have to commute on frigid winter mornings” and rightly so, I can’t argue with that. However, there are those times when I do wonder whether a cold slap in the face from a morning commute would actually help me perk up a bit every day. The grass is always greener, folks!
The truth is, my house is darker, gloomier, and chillier than usual, and the moment my kids leave for school, it takes a huge amount of self control to not tip over in slow motion while making a long groaning noise, and land balled up on my sofa for the day. Have you ever felt this way?

Well, I have worked from home for eight years now, and I have worked for myself for all of those years, so kicking my own butt into action has become routine for me. Over the years I have formulated a kind of action plan for times like this, to stop me from the slide into complete inertia. Most of it is just common sense, but I’ve heard that cold weather can kill common sense, so read on if you will:


  • Get out of your house
    Just leaving the familiar surroundings of your home will make a difference, trust me. I write this while sitting in my local library. I have a favorite spot tucked away in a corner of the audiobook section, right by a big window and a heater. The library has other people – quietly industrious people, and much better heating than my home. I come here for a change of scenery, and to avoid succumbing to my sofa’s siren call. It doesn’t have to be a library, if you have work that is portable, then go and work somewhere else.
  • Only work in work zones
    Some people can work in bed under their quilt, some people can work lounging on their sofa. I find that I need to be in a quasi professional setting to be able to click into work mode. I have to work at a table, away from home comforts like the TV, or my bed. Things get messy, when you work from home, and it’s important for me to draw a line between work and leisure time. Hence, I have designated certain spots as work zones (dining table:okay, spare room:okay, bed:not okay). Of course, I break this rule from time to time, but snap back into it when I feel things getting sloppy.
  • Set yourself automated tasks
    I make myself paint and draw every day. I set myself assignments in a planner, and give myself time blocks to do them in. I have found the book below really helpful, when I need ideas for tasks to keep my creative juices flowing.
  • Give yourself an audience
    I use social media to record the results of each day’s work publicly,  so that I can be held accountable for my work. If I haven’t been documenting my work, then there is something wrong, and I realize that.  Blogging is part of this, the weekly blog helps me take stock of myself, and keeps me moving. Work breeds work, and sometimes just keeping the ball rolling is enough for me to come up with the next great idea.
  • Develop an interesting inner life…
    …yes, I actually wrote that. A downside to working from home is the potentially crushing lack of human interaction. While getting out of your home, and taking the time to meet up with other people for an occasional lunch date can help to an extent, let’s be honest, it’s not enough. It’s important to make peace with that, and find ways to enjoy your own company. I keep myself on a soul strengthening diet of good books and audiobooks (see below for suggestions), podcasts, and music, and practice yoga regularly.  I visit inspiring art exhibitions when I can. Find what keeps you ticking and thinking, stay passionate, and fit it into your schedule however you can.

    My happy list this week; I recommend The Muralist, The Muse, and Hold Still for getting inspired to create.
  • Let it go
    When my kids get home I stop working. If I need to, I’ll work an extra hour after they go to bed, but I try to be present with my family in the evenings. I set myself boundaries, no looking at work emails at breakfast, no worrying about projects during dinner. It is okay to type emails while sitting outside your kids’ Tae Kwon Do classes, but it is important to step away from work at certain times everyday. It is so tough to do this when you work from home, but somehow you need to find a way.

These are just some of the things that help me stay motivated, semi-sane and productive. They may not work for everyone, and I am always looking for new ideas, so if you have any, do throw them at me please!

Paintbrushes v Toothbrushes: A Peek Inside My Artist’s Home

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to live with an artist? Maybe you already live with one, and are thinking up a few choice expletives to write in the comments section below? You have my sympathies, really.

My family love what I do, and my kids are proud of having an artist mom. They point out all the artwork leaning against walls in my house to their friends and get lots of “wow“in return. Also, they have a mom who doesn’t freak out when they want to break out the paint for school projects (but not glitter – NEVER glitter).
My husband also likes the bohemian aspect of the house, and gets excited about my work every day….but maybe not so excited with the mess that it ‘sometimes’ involves.
Disclaimer here: this is not a post about a dream house. In my dreams, an artist’s house is an exotic outlet for their passions, a reflection of their aesthetic tastes, like Frida Kahlo’s exquisite home in Mexico. My house is more like a giant, ever changing storeroom for my many unfinished projects, and sometimes it can be an infuriating place to be, because…

I don’t have a studio, I work at home.

At first, this meant that I took over the spare bedroom upstairs, depriving my husband of his workspace, he took that graciously, but it wasn’t enough. My work got bigger, and more messy, I started screen printing on the dining table, washing screens in the bathtub, painting against the far wall in my bedroom, storing paints in kitchen drawers, heck I even painted on my family room wall one rainy day. Walking around my house yesterday, I noticed just how much my work and it’s tools have encroached onto our home spaces. It seems so normal to us, but I’ve noticed guests’ amused chuckles when they discover paintbrushes next to toothbrushes in the bathroom. So I started documenting this gradual spreading out with some photos, nothing fancy, just my trusty iphone.  If you are an artist/designer, this may all look very familiar to you.

Here are some things you will find in my home:

  1. Printing screens stacked alongside towels and sheets in the linen closetimg_4923

2. Paintings (both mine and the kids’) lined up against my bedroom wall (aka my painting studio)img_4932


3.Brayers drying in the guest bathroom, next to kids’ clay projects that have no home, and paint drips on the wall, because my students need to touch every surface on their way to the sink.img_4922


4.Paintbrushes drying alongside toothbrushesimg_4943


5.Eye wateringly bright colors everywhere, courtesy of the kids and I.img_4934


6.Postcards from art galleries stuck all over the kitchen, some in a terrible state.img_4935


7.More paintbrushes, this time next to fresh produce!img_4936


8.That elegant console in the living room? It’s actually crammed with printing tools.img_4940



9.Stacks of paper and sketchbooks all over the place. I think they are breeding.img_4937

10. An impulsive mural in the family room, created on a rainy day.img_4945

11. Bookshelves mostly filled with kids’ Art books

12. Finally, a defunct work room that is really more of a storage room!img_4924

I could go on, there is a huge ‘Thank you’ banner hanging in our basement from last year’s summer camp students, and our windows are covered in glass marker drawings…. etc, etc.

Working from home is a messy business when you are an artist, even more so when you are an artist and a parent. All my quotidian tasks cannot be ignored, and all too often the business of making art gives way to the bigger role of being a parent. But there can be real beauty in the moments where the two intersect. Our house may be messy, but it is a monument to my many loves, and the very , VERY fuzzy line that separates them.


Reflecting on 2016

Before I move on and start outlining my hopes for 2017, let’s put this baby to bed properly!

In 2016…

  • I turned forty (finally, after waiting a whole forty years for this to happen). It’s strange to explain but, forty has always seemed like the perfect age to be, for me anyway. I have always expected to be more together, more substantial, more content at forty, I don’t know why, I just have. So has this happened? Well, believe it or not, actually, yes… in a way….sort of.
    Something changed within myself this year, it was a slow but tangible change that I felt deeply. It has maybe taken me longer than most, but turning forty forced me to accept adulthood, to be comfortable growing older. I actually do feel more relaxed, more reflective, less self conscious, and more content in my skin. Sounds cheesy, but I am liking it so far.
  • I took my family to Paris.  What a landmark trip, The hot chocolate, the old apartments, the Seine, the relaxed mood of my husband. This is just the start of my travels with my family. The kids enjoyed Paris enormously and were little cultural sponges, and I realized that there are so many places that I want to share and explore with them. My husband and I are in talks about this Summer, so watch this space for more travels.

    Lounging on the banks of the Seine
  • I got nostalgic meeting up with many old friends in London, and realized that we could pick up exactly where we left off. It’s been a tough old year for Gen-Xers, with the loss of so many formative role models in 2016, and my visit to the city I grew up in felt more poignant than ever. My love affair with the city has endured well, no matter how much it changes. Post London/Paris,  I have realized, that being in a city, any city, will lift me up when I’m down. So there will be a lot more Metro-ing in 2017img_2253
  • I started painting and drawing more. I plan to continue painting without a purpose through this year, hopefully I’ll get a little better at it. img_4406
  • I started voicing my opinion more. Nowadays, when I see a stranger with a great haircut, I tell them that they have a great haircut, and it makes them smile. I speak out about other, more worrying, things as well. If the 2016 elections have taught me anything at all, it is to be vocal about the injustices you see. Life is too short, and too important to not stick up for those who need your support.

    Vienna VA
  • I fell off the wagon when it came to the gym, ate more, but somehow got back into my Yoga practice. I need to get back into shape, but I’m not freaking out about it. I guess that’s just the Yoga talking!
    Giant macarons
  • I developed an obsession with books written by Neil Gaiman and Jessie Burton. Getting into a good book is my favorite thing in the whole, wide world, and I think I’ve found my favorite soulfood. Sigh.img_4912
  • I finally found the perfect location for my summer camp, and it was a huge, rollicking good time. The camp makes me realize how much I love teaching every year, but last year especially so. The bigger spaces, and extra help meant that we could be extra ambitious with our projects. Hence, my many Parkour related injuries.
  • I got off my backside and visited more museums and galleries. Nothing like it for oiling those cogs in your brain. This has kept me motivated to keep producing work at a steady rate.

    from the Bingata exhibition, The Textile Gallery, DC


Writing this list has helped me realize what I want to do more of in 2017. I want to teach more, paint more, travel more, reflect more, worry less, snack less, and engage with other people more. Whatever you want from 2017, I wish you the best in this New Year.
Now I’m off to clean out my workroom, whilst listening to the sonorous voice of Neil Gaiman. 😉