Dear Artist,

While painting and listening to my sister-in-law, Tamara’s podcast recently, American tech consultant Sara Wachter-Boettcher laid out the symptoms of burnout: “An increased sense of depersonalization – feeling distant from people or maybe yourself; exhaustion, foggy brain.” Referencing the past two-and-a-half years of global pandemic and its disruptions and reckonings, she said, “For a lot of people, the world has changed and their lives have changed – and so sometimes you don’t care about the things you care about just because you’re different now.” She suggested asking yourself what your “current you” cares about. “When burnout gets bad, people get cynical and that’s hard to come back from.”

Arno Valley Landscape, 1473 Drawing 19 x 28.5 cm by Leonard da Vinci (1452 - 1519)

Arno Valley Landscape, 1473
19 x 28.5 cm
by Leonard da Vinci (1452 – 1519)

In creative circles, burnout, if caught early, is attended to locally with a salve called, “diffuse thinking mode.” The layman’s term is “daydreaming.” I know it’s obvious, but when working toward deadlines, or juggling family life, or grief, daydreaming can tumble from its vital spot at the top of the creative totem pole. Crystallized by Professor of engineering at Oakland University and McMaster University Barbara Oakley in her 2014 book A Mind for Numbers, diffuse thinking is the magic that happens when our minds are free to wander. By breaking up intensive work periods – what scholars call “focussed thinking” – with daydream periods, we have a chance to subconsciously mull over problems and make associations and connections that were not at first apparent. This moment, they say, is the very essence of creativity. Focussed mode, therefore, is for the details; diffuse mode is for this comprehension and context. Here’s a simple plan:

Study of a Horse, circa 1490 Silverpoint on paper 25 x 18.7 cm by Leonardo da Vinci

Study of a Horse, circa 1490
Silverpoint on paper
25 x 18.7 cm
by Leonardo da Vinci

Break up studio tasks with non-studio ones, including resting outdoors, walking and talking with fellow travelers.

Spend time at the secondary easel: contemplate unfinished or nearly completed work regularly; step back, position it away from your primary workspace, sit in a comfortable chair.

Take a trip: around the block, around town, around the world.

In A Mind for Numbers, Dr. Oakley offers tools for how to learn new skills – like math – efficiently and effectively. Rather than studying problems with laser-focus until a solution is reached, she suggests stepping away from them in order to allow a more relaxed and creative part of the brain – and its magic – to take over.



Design for a Flying Machine, circa 1488 by Leonardo da Vinci

Design for a Flying Machine, circa 1488
by Leonardo da Vinci

PS: “We want to be healthy and supportive to the people around us; to know that burnout is not only harming you and those around you can be a wake-up call.” (Sara Wachter-Boettcher)

Esoterica: Peter calls it “Working on the business as opposed to at the business.” In advertising, his profession of over 25 years, a master cocktail of creativity and hyper attention to detail is essential for good work. These days, he shifts between creative enthusiasm and agency acumen with the rhythm of a road-tested racer. He also knows when to rest. Watching him work his system has taught me that, as a long-time striving artist, my default has probably erred on the side of overwork. Perhaps it’s time to adopt the 20-minute snooze my Dad prioritized every afternoon of his life. “Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation,” wrote Leonardo da Vinci. “For when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer. Go some distance away because then the work appears smaller and more of it can be taken in at a glance and a lack of harmony and proportion is more readily seen.”

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“The best cure for an off day is a day off.” (Frank Tyger)



  1. Burnout is a real factor in life today and must be dealt with the same as one deals with other constructs we put in place that no longer serve us. I’ll read the article by Sara Wachter- Boettcherr. Thank you for bringing your thoughtful voice to the subject that can pose the most damage to ourselves and others. As always, Fridays are my favorite days to read my email.

  2. What a great reminder! We are not who we were 2-1/2 years ago….to check in now with ourself to find out what we are interested in now. Time for a new look now, thank you Sara.

  3. You write so very well, Sara, and how true it is to ‘take a break’, a holiday from staring blankly into an often already over-worked painting. I too have discovered the benefits of ‘getting away from the beast ‘ for awhile and, as Leonardo da Vinci so well pointed out, one can see, through a type of relaxed day dreaming, what needs to be adjusted or done to complete the painting. I often take a few minutes break, walk around the apartment, make a snack or play with my cat, whatever, and when I then sit in my little old pink rocking chair, painting before me, about six feet away, over a bit of time, new fresh and happy conclusions so often come to mind.
    So glad you are carrying on your Dad’s helpful and always so interesting letters and how we miss him ! I too live in White Rock and it was always a thrill to ‘run into ‘Bob Genn’ at some art function. A true Canadian master ! Thank you, Sara.

  4. Fits in with my mode this week. I bought an instructional book and had to remind myself to slow down, not skim, do all the exercises carefully and release myself from the pressure to learn it all right away and do it perfectly. Perfectionism is a prime source of burnout for me. I worked for many years as an advertising creative director, where the hours are long and incredibly stressful. Oftentimes, if we were stuck on a creative challenge, stepping out of the room for 15 minutes or sleeping on it overnight was more successful for problem-solving than continuing to push while tired or blocked. Caveat to this … all the pushing you do beforehand helps the subconscious mind to solve the problem. Sometimes I’d walk away for a bit and think, “aha! that’s it!,” rush back to my office to write it down and later discover I’d written it down previously, just didn’t recognize that it was the solution. Because I was too tired and overwhelmed. Funny thing, creativity. It both responds to pressure and also revolts from it.

  5. Good things comes to those who nap.

    I remember so well the very first time this happened to me. I was exhausted in university and had a difficult problem to solve. Immediately upon awakening from a nap on the sofa, the answer was right there!

  6. Ooh…. I want that 20″ nap too! Living in a spot with a seasonal economy, I’m overly responsive to whoever shows up. I also tend to overwork. This morning I put a sign on the door that said, “Called by Beauty to the Woods.” I really soaked in the Forest Bath and practiced relaxing small facial muscles. Came home to find visitors at the door but they kindly said they’d let me get settled in and return later. This summer I’m claiming some R&R for me!

  7. I remember years ago when our kids were young and into everything, which meant I had to be into it with them as well, serving on committees, driving, running, my super woman cape was well worn. I recall those terms ” too many irons in the fire” , ” my plate is full “, ” watch out for the burn out ” and thinking, back then, what does that mean? I could say yes because I knew I could do it. Now looking back, I wish I was more selective in what I forced myself to endure. People pleasing is a dangerous place to allow ourselves to commit to. Now, I understand burn out in a much different way. I agree, taking time to just float on my recliner and dose off for a bit is really an important thing to do. Restoring for the mind that never stops going places that create stress. Being this age and full time caregiver to my husband’s scary new health problems is terrifying. But, not so bad, if I manage my own fears with finding ways to “daydream”. Fortunately, and somewhat miraculously, time at the easel is the best form of daydreaming I do at the end of the day. Life is always shifting as we age. I often think how the changes we must adapt to living with can sometimes be gifts. I don’t miss that Superwoman cape. I know how to enjoy every moment of calm and sense of normal in a day. I may be burnt out somedays, but it’s manageable. Great letter, Sara, THANK YOU!!

  8. Leigh Cassidy on

    Sara, I have been reading your dads letters for years and today, this letter of yours allowed me to realize what a lovely human and artist you are. Not just following in your fathers footsteps but making your own path. What a lovely sharing this was. he provenance apparent, the origin you. I very much appreciate YOU. I feel blessed you have continued the letters in this manner. Hugs and dabs of lovely spring paint from the heart.

  9. I didn’t even know what was wrong with me, just that something was really really wrong, until I read this.
    I have textbook burn out, and was paddling as fast as I could trying to stay above water.
    Thank you Sara.
    I needed to lift my eyes up out of the hole I was in. Now They have been opened I can do some serious cloud gazing and inward contemplation without guilt, it’s exactly what I need.

  10. Jacqueline Jamuna Snitkin on

    just want to say how much I appreciate this forum.

    Robert’s letters and all of Sara’s and all of you.

    It is very enriching

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Featured Workshop

Painting Plein Air on the Coast of Maine
August 8, 2022 to August 12, 2022

Sharon WorkshopPainting Plein Air on the Coast of Maine
August 8th to August 12th 2022
Adventure-Artists will be painting on the Coast of the United States this summer! This exciting painting and writing opportunity includes instruction and demos of Plein air painting techniques with award winning Artist Sharon Rusch Shaver in inspiring nautical surroundings. Comfortable, en-suite accommodations with balcony views of the harbor, all ground transfers, airport pickup and return, and to painting sites. Join us for a lobster roll or pizza night, and an optional Schooner boat adventure. Walk from your accommodation to the coastal village of Rockport to experience east coast hospitality on your own. $2,950 all Inclusive*, book now for early bird discount! $450 holds your spot. Join us on this next exciting adventure for artists!
https://painterskeys.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/purple-series1-2285-1-wpcf_300x295.jpgPurple series #1
Oil on canvas with pyrite and amethyst
48 x 48"/122x122cm

Featured Artist

Candace studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Angers, France but it is her travels in the deserts of Africa and Oman, Antarctica and the Arctic, and sacred sights of Machu Picchu and Petra that serve as her true place of learning. A desire to combine these experiences with a deeper understanding of her own spirituality has provided the underlying focus and inspiration for her paintings.


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