Artists Share Their Rituals for Dealing with Stress

It was late 2016, and New York-based painter Sofia Leiby was anxious. She’d just been notified that the building housing her studio had been sold—and she’d be evicted from her workspace just five days before she needed to ship canvases to Berlin for her first solo exhibition there.

“I had to finish work for the show in a temporary space, after begging the new landlord to give me a room on a different floor as they bulldozed my studio,” Leiby tells me from Frankfurt, where she’s now in grad school. “He agreed, but I had to move everything. The last few days [before a deadline] are always crucial for me, so it was very necessary to de-stress.”

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Leiby needed to calm her nerves in order to finish the paintings headed to Berlin, so she sought guidance from friends. One suggested that she cue up the soothing compositions of Jazz pianist Alice Coltrane—and, crucially, remember to breathe while she was listening. Leiby took the advice.

Since then, it’s become her go-to calming ritual when stress mounts. “When I have an intense moment of stress in my studio, I listen to Coltrane and sit on the floor with my legs out straight and my back flat to the wall,” she explains. “Then I take three breaths, in and out.”

Being an artist comes with inevitable moments of anxiety. There are daily stressors triggered by creative block, studio mishaps, and deadlines; overarching personal concerns related to relationships, rent, and procuring the next paycheck; and those broad sources of unease that affect us all, like the political climate and, generally, the future.

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