Flott skiterreng ved Stevens Pass
Retreat and withdrawal is a necessary part of the creative process. Very few of us who work creatively are able to stay on top, creatively speaking, producing day in and day out. We need to let our minds rest and seek inspiration or new energy away from our usual creative field. The creative mind is indeed unlimited, but every so often we need to let it have a bit of rest. It doesn’t have to be more than just a walk in the park or enjoying a bit of social life in a café or listening to some beautiful music on the iPod. Being social is fine, but in most cases it’s more beneficial if you allocate time to spend all by yourself. And even if you have to let go of a project you are in the middle of completing, it’s not wasting time to leave the work behind for a while. Instead it will become a time of incubation where new ideas suddenly will appear or new inspiration will trickle down upon you.

All artists need downtime – that is time to do nothing. There is nothing wrong with that. But we might even have to defend our right to this downtime towards family, friends or even colleagues if you work in a creative field. It might not always be easy; it may take courage, conviction and resiliency. Such time for ourselves – resting – will strike our family and friends as withdrawal. And it is. But for an artist withdrawal is necessary. Without it the artist in us feels vexed, angry, out of sorts. Without this period of recharging our artist becomes depleted. Downtime as in retreat and withdrawal is important for incubating new inspiration in us. If we let ourselves have some downtime on a regular basis, we will be able to stay more creative when we do creative work.

When was the last time you took some downtime alone – walking in the park, resting in the sunshine or did a longer hike or spend a day skiing?


126 thoughts on “Downtime

  1. Interesting, I’m just back home from a relaxing “downtime” week in the swiss alps, just walking in the snow, reading a good book, chatting with my wife and taking some photos. Going to write something about it in my blog…
    PS: but I did not take such a great picture as yours…

  2. Excellent post.

    Some people think I have a life of luxury in retirement as I spend most of the time doing, (or thinking about) photography, which I love. But after shooting about 60,000 photos from the time I bought a camera nearly 3 years ago, I am running out of ideas and subject matter. Since health & finances preclude me from going where I want, I feel as though I have photographed everything imaginable in the 4 locations I can easily reach via public transport.

    I need some down time right now. Your post was a timely reminder that maybe I need a break.

  3. Hey Otto. I’m just emerging from a break of some months while I got some major things in my life sorted out … at the time I itched and worried that I had ‘lost it’ but after a while I settled into it … confident that all would return and better. It has … it is!

    Great, thought provoking post as always 🙂

    1. It’s good to have you back again, Geoff. We all feel like we have lost it from time to time. But then if we don’t give up, somehow it all comes back again, doesn’t it?

  4. Agree with you totally. It is very important to have some downtime to let the creativity inside recharge and renew itself. Going for a walk especially helps me if I have a bit of writer’s block.

  5. I think downtime is the most underrated part of the creative process. We can’t endlessly produce masterpieces without some quiet time in our heads. Great post, and love the photograph!

  6. as always, your suggestions are quite helpful and wise; this also might help family members who get bruised feelings when “their” creative person goes inward! it’s important to get quiet, and for me that sometimes means shutting my eyes to turn off the visual input! most of the time i am lucky to have downtime whenever i need it, but getting quiet and being away from a hubbub of activity and noise is very important for recharging my batteries.

  7. Good advice. I have a friend who is a retired teacher. He once was a promising writer. At his retirement party a friend told the audience he could have been a wonderful author, but he lacked the innate greediness necessary. The friend was talking about being greedy with his time, using it for his own artistic pursuits. He was such a beloved teacher, and gave so much of himself to his students, that he never had time to focus on his art. He could have used a lot of down time…but he was born to be a teacher, and not an artist.

    1. Sounds like a little, sad story, but on the other hand, maybe he was happy as a teacher. It takes a different kind of courage to pursue your creative self. If you can help students reach their inner artists – that in itself is awesome, too.

  8. Beautiful photo Otto. It captures the serene alone-time you speak of. I regularly take a day on a weekend to go out for the afternoon, or whole day, by myself to drive around our rural area, or to go in to the City to walk around. I love being by myself to just think, and see the beauty around me.

  9. So important, Otto…and what a good idea to write about this…I tend to feel guilty when I’m not constantly producing and then all of a sudden when I feel like I haven’t been working at all…ideas come to fruition…seeds planted along the way start to bloom…thanks for this reminder on this dreary Monday when I’m stuck inside waiting for a new tire for my car…:-)

    1. I think we all have this feeling of guilt on and off when we don’t produce. But in many ways downtime is productive, because you become so much more creative as a result.

  10. Great post! We hear so much about the importance of being authentic and vulnerable, especially in the creative worlds. I hear less about the importance of recharging and downtime. : )

  11. Your photo is a little visual downtime in and of itself. I do it, but I always feel guilty, I get bored and restless, feel like I am wasting time, yet I don’t want to create anything even though I have projects that are ongoing. I am always much better once I get back in my studio. It is necessary, but difficult sometimes to feel good about it. Another post that gets under my skin, thanks Otto, you are so good at that! 😉

  12. A meaningful post and equally beautiful photograph. I find small amounts of downtime work well, even just a short drive without the radio on or a 10-minute walk with the dog where I can let my mind wander seem to revitalize me. It’s good to know that others see that “doing nothing” is actually working!

  13. Wish I had the time for downtime! I wish I had the time for photography at the moment as well! But I agree, it’s something that we should make the time for, even if it is at the expense of doing something that appears to be more productive. It’ll be worth it in the long term.

  14. I totally agree, ” Downtime as in retreat and withdrawal is important for incubating new inspiration in us. If we let ourselves have some downtime on a regular basis, we will be able to stay more creative when we do creative work.” Even in real life, we need to retreat and just reflect, find solitude, relax and unwind. Great post with an awesome picture.

  15. Sometimes I think I take entirely too much down time, but I think what I really need is some step-away-from-the-computer time. I like your idea of just taking a walk or sitting in the sunshine.

  16. one of the best places for downtime alone is being at home without the cell phone, television, radio or computer turned on. simply silence to reflect or read. however, if given a choice to go out & ski or stay inside, well, I would be first out the door! ha! your photo would be awesome as a huge poster photo. very enjoyable post, Otto.<3

  17. I was lucky enough to have most of the day recently at home, on my own, for the first time in a long time. As much as I love winter it can become a little claustrophobic at home. Throw Christmas and visitors into the mix and the sweet isolation of your superb mountain shot is looking most inviting!

  18. Nydelig bilde – trodde først det var fra Kvitfjell i Gudbrandsdalen… men det er vel ikke så bratt der : )
    Jeg er så heldig å ha “downtime” hver eneste dag ; ) blir nok noe annet da vi flytter hjem til Norge!

    Hilsen fra Laos

    1. Det høres ut som du har det fantastisk der du er, Kina eller Laos. Ellers har du helt rett i at bildet til denne posten ikke er tatt på Kvitfjellet. Dette er fra staten Washington.

  19. yes i am taking downtime right now … no teaching for a while … just open to the creativity of the moment … wonderful photos and a timely reminder of our need for solitude and silence every so often, thanks otto!

  20. I know that what you’re saying is true. I don’t have too much trouble taking time for myself in short spurts, but I sometimes think I’m almost sneaking it in. It is difficult to explain the need to others in my family, many of whom really don’t seem to take this to heart. Thanks for the encouragement and I guess “permission” to take that time when I feel it. I’m not in a particularly creative career, but just living life with enthusiasm can be very exhausting. 🙂

  21. Firstly Otto, what beautiful tones in that lovely composition. I always know when I need to drop the processing, viewing, commenting, etc, for a while, and that’s when it’s starting to feel like a burden, rather than a joy. A day off, reading, relaxing, walking — the latter, still with a camera — and all is well again!

  22. ure giving great emphasis to the vast mountain countryside.Lots of appeal – nice, albeit slightly eerie light, and the lone figure emphasising the vast mountains. A cool pic!

  23. I have found the creativity comes in cycles… usually between 6 to 8 weeks then I get that empty feeling. At first I stressed… now I know it’s the natural time to take a break…

  24. Thanks for visiting my blog—your blog is wonderful! What a treat! Your photo of the mountains, figure, trees, snow, sky is so clearly delineated, immanently spiritual, and atmospheric. In your writing, you are like a character in my novel, The Beech Nut of Big Water Beach, for children from eight to eighty. The character I am talking about is an artist, Cassandra Beech, who just happens to teach the child protagonists in my book. They go walking on a beach, and she tells them “Shh. Listen.” Then their senses are filled with the sounds of rolling waves, wind rustling the clifftop trees, birds and gulls, the soft breeze, the visionary lakeside landscape. When they finally come back to dialogue, she says, “That is one of the most important parts of making art of any kind. When we pour our creative energy into our work, we have to take time to be refreshed. I call it refilling the well.”

  25. Magnificent shot Otto – perfect illustration for a post on downtime. Just looking at it I found myself sighing at all that white silence … 😀
    Mr F and I go hiking almost every weekend – its food for my soul. We did a volunteer shift today i.e cleaning a path in the Santa Monica Mountains. I feel recharged and renewed.

  26. True! At times the creative minds need a break too, just like leaving the land fallow before the next growing season. It will help them regain their strength and come back with new vigour and ideas. Beautifully expressed.
    But I should wait till July for a break – here the only places I could go are my school and the supermarket. Life here is is weighing me down these days, I feel!

  27. You have encapsulated that perfectly, Otto. I wholeheartedly agree with every word, and found myself nodding all the way. I too need downtime occasionally – even in the middle of a project, as you said – and although it’s difficult to justify or explain to others, I find it absolutely crucial for the creative process.

  28. I consider downtime my “recharge” time. I like to journal first to “dump” my thoughts and then I like to retreat by going out and doing other activities I enjoy. It is a must for my creative process.
    A great read, thank you.

  29. Great advice Otto, but how we often forget to recharge our batteries or to step back from the enjoyment of our art. I will aim to follow your advice, just after I have finished…and so we go on until the mind becomes frazzled…now it is time for a break! I hope you have a wonderful week. Regards, James

  30. Down time is the time when I do most of my thinking. It is the time when things seem to become crystal clear and the words or other creative means come to the surface of my mind. It is probably the time when the real me is most evident.

  31. This posted really resonated with me. My downtime is every night at 9pm when the kids are sleeping and the house is peaceful and quiet. I also MUST travel every 4 months to not go insane as a single mama and I’ve just stopped justifying myself to others and most who know me, understand I need it and no longer hold it against me. I come back refreshed, rejuvenated and a great mother once again!

  32. So, so true and I swear by it. Nothing is worse than trying to be creative on empty. I took a back seat in January and while I ended up falling behind on blog comments, I needed that time of silence. Also, part of my shift has led me to blog less and I’m all the better for it. Love this. 🙂

  33. You have an excellent blog, one I shall return to on many occasions! I’ve merely scratched the surface so far. Glad you like “In search of unusual destinations”, by the way. Phil.

  34. I am very fortunate in that I am able to spend part of my days alone, outside in nature, and have found it to be almost necessary now. I get out of sorts when I don’t have at least an hour or so to myself. I recently took some downtime away from blogging, something I really needed.
    I love the image in this post, Otto. It’s stunning. Great advice, too. 🙂

  35. Wow, that is an incredibly beautiful image. The powerful sky and desaturated tones add to the atmosphere. I love how you’ve incorporated the two people into your composition, they really give a great sense of scale. Wonderful work!

  36. I fully agree on this. Time passes quickly when you only take care of your “art” and others see that as an obsession. Which it is, in some way. That can lead to real issues with people around you, your friends, your family. A bit of disconnection time is always recommended. Great post and picture!

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