Monday, 15 September 2014

Post Holiday Resolutions! Number One

It's the customary activity in a new year, to start making resolutions. However, I've always found this a little forced. It's cold outside, and it's hard to feel rejuvenated, plus all that Christmas feasting is clouding my vision. I recently decided that perhaps it's more logical to reflect on life resolutions after some distance from said life.
I've just come back from a two week holiday and it's given me some time to contemplate on the way I was working back home and on the changes I'd like to make - and to my personal life as well. I thought it would be helpful to share them here, one day at a time, for one month. Below is just the start.

1. Take better care of the body you work with. 

I recently learnt the hard way that working long hours without taking the proper precautions to protect yourself from injury leads to a very broken body indeed.

Late last year I was sitting on a hard, plastic chair with no back support and painting for long periods of time - typically 10 to 12 hours a day. I was working on my first proper book project, tasked with producing 80 full colour illustrations & a cover design. I was so focused on the challenge that I didn't think for one second of the implications it would have on my body. Add to this a lack of sleep and an unhealthy diet of cheesy snacks and caffeine, no regular breaks, and minimal exercise - and this heady concoction resulted in a painful lower back injury, which is still with me today. 
If I could go back in time I would do things differently but sometimes lessons really do have to be learnt the hard way, and on a hard surface. Now I know my body must work in order for me to work.

The future of Holly Exley illustration? Regular breaks. Fresh air. Dog walking. Leafy greens. I've also invested in a good chair - it's ugly & bulky & belongs in a corporate office but I'm learning to put my vanity to one side. Feeling like an old lady at 26 is alarming to say the least and it frustrates me that I can't work in the same way I used to. 

However, I am resolved to remember I am not an illustration machine. No career, no matter how dreamy, is worth risking one's health for.

Do you have any tips for working long hours at a desk? How do you look after your body? Any ergonomic advice? Do YOU own an exotic stand-up desk?


  1. I apologize in advance if my comment seems all over the place.
    This really hits home for me right now. I have 3 out of 5 big watercolor illustrations to go and I need to send them off next week, but also still need to do my 50% of work at my soon-to-be-ex-office-job.
    I was going to most of illustration #3 today, but because of upper back pain (and thus restricted blood flow to the head, at least that's what it felt like) I had to stop.
    I did go for small walks. I did big swirly Eight-shaped-movements with both my arms (which gave me the weirdest tingly sensations in my fingers) in the hope this would flex and stretch those really hard to reach muscles between the shoulder blades. I put my watercolor block on an easel to try painting while standing (doesn't work well at all for the highly detailed images). I lied on my carpet with a rubber ball under my shoulders and tried to massage those really hard knots. It was painful. I did all sorts of weird yoga poses. I stretched in bed like a cat. My back cracks a lot :-(
    I have a big bulky chair but I fear it's not ergonomic. Maybe I need a Swiss ball? Or something like this = ? My work has them, and they force you to use your core for sitting.
    I do have a drafting table that I can tilt. It's from Utrecht art - they do international shipping, have great discounts and do all the customs & import fees for you:
    I draw&paint with some TV shows on for background noise. Once an episode finishes after 40 minutes, I have to get up and put the next episode on.
    I also go to the chiropractor, and I should take up bodyweight exercises again. My back was ok when I went to Pilates class.
    I have stopped using handbags and rely mostly on backpacks / daypacks for an even distribution (I attended evening classes after work last year and had to carry the course material all day, but I used a big handbag for that. It was a mistake.). I still need to figure out how to look less immature with a daypack though.

    Lastly, I read this article on, maybe this is helpful to anyone else experiencing pain from painting:
    Here are some yoga stretches for back pain:

    I really do hope I can overcome the back pain, because right now it's incredibly painful, frustrating, makes me doubt my future as an artist and just plain sucks.

    Thanks for your blog post today. Makes me feel less alone.

    Lots of healing thoughts,

  2. Thank you Monika, that's some seriously great advice! I really feel for you, you sound way more clued up than me on this whole back business, I hope you get some relief soon! I hear it can be quite a long process of recovery, but I guess painting is such a lovely job it's almost ok?! Thanks again for your amazing comment.

  3. I've found yoga and pilates really helpful. My shoulder and wrist pain has pretty much gone since I started doing both weekly. I've also learnt not to push myself, if I've got to the point where I'm in pain it's time to stop and do something else for a bit. Also, I don't know if you do much photoshopping, but I find a supportive mousemat helps.

    1. Thanks Emma! I have joined a local yoga group - really hoping it helps. Thanks for the helpful tips!