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science for artists image

This 2011 CDC study suggests that approximately only 20% of the US population exercises (it varies by state). By extension we can assume that only 20% of artists exercise. This means that only 20% of artists are going the extra mile to be a better artist. Of course we can't assume such things about every subculture, because it surely doesn't apply to traditional athletes. But here's the idea that I want you to take away from this:

In an ever increasing global world of talent and competition an easy way to be better than 80% of your competitors is to simply exercise for 30 minutes per day. Why only 30 minutes? Because studies show that with enough intensity during those 30 minutes that's all you need to get the most mental and physical benefits.

What else can we learn from statistics, studies and math?


I'm not a medical professional nor to I pretend to be one on the internet. Although these activities can be healthy additions to your life they are not always appropriate. For instance exercise is not recommended for people who are sick or under great emotional or physical stress. Exercise should be done in moderation depending on your health. Some of these things assume that you have a healthy frame of mind and body. Consult your doctor before overly investing in any of these tactics.

The Benefits of Creativity

There is inherent pleasure in doodling regardless of the end result

Researchers found that visual self-expression helps with attention and improves health and well-being. Outside the stigma of us knowing what is good art and what is bad, we are still capable of simply enjoying the act of drawing. Interestingly when doodling artists experience more brain activity in the prefrontal cortex. Which are similar findings to those of Dr. Roger W. Sperry mentioned previously about disassociation. Master artists tend to have less overall activity in the brain and a more focused activity in the prefrontal cortex.

Doodling helps memorize

Research shows that if you doodle while you listen to a lecture you are more likely to remember what you listened to in comparison to a group of people who didn't doodle.

Traveling for more than 2 years enhances creativity

4 A.K. Leung, W.W. Maddux, A.D. Galinsky, and C. Chiu, Multicultural Experience Enhances Creativity: The When and HowAmerican Psychologist, 2008, 63(3): 169–181.

The Science of Behavior

How to form better habits, lose bad habits and gain more willpower

BJ Fogg is an expert on changing habits. With his colleagues at Stanford Persuasive Tech he devised the method coined the "Behavior Wizard". The method is fairly simple but extremely powerful. First you need to notice your patterns.

  1. First there is the trigger ( the trigger that initiates the behavior) I work, I feel stressed
  2. Then there is the routine (the behavior itself; the action you take) I distract myself with food to lower stress
  3. Then there is the reward (the benefit you gain from doing the behavior) Food comforts me, I get fat

​Now a healthier habit would be:

  1. First there is the trigger ( the trigger that initiates the behavior) I work, I feel stressed
  2. Then there is the routine (the behavior itself; the action you take) I go for a run.
  3. Then there is the reward (the benefit you gain from doing the behavior) I calm down, I feel a bit more empowered. 

Substitute the trigger with what you want to start your new habit. For a long while for me it was the clock hitting 9 PM. Later I was able to adjust to running the first thing in the morning. Which although a bit more difficult has several benefits such as: less hunger, better sleep, a much improved mood and according to studies it's suggested that although academic performance doesn't improve in a major way, it's still worth the effort.

Make your routine easier by only setting small challenges initially. Compete with the old version of yourself. It's okay to not give your best and it's okay not to beat your old version but the general trend should be where you push yourself gradually to do more. When running use upbeat music. Make it easier in any way possible. Even a walk is a good start.

Definitely reward yourself. I drink a glass of carbonated high concentration mineral water. It tastes like liquid gold after a lot of sweating. Don't burn yourself out. Save enough desire to do it again tomorrow.

Small habits are easier to adapt than complex habits. Research shows that it takes on average 66 days to form an automatic habit. Sometimes even longer. But anything complex is made of simple things. So to reduce overwhelm just break down your challenge into smaller steps, execute and reward yourself. Unfortunately the reward study is behind a paywall. You could also take a look at the wedging technique.

The Science of Health

Belief/Placebo effect / Be optimistic

What does shamanism, voodoo and homeopathy have in common? A big part of their effect can be attributed to the belief in the ritual. Studies show that mere belief in medicine will go a long way in actually helping people recover from their ailments. Similarly a positive outlook on life has been shown to benefit cognitive and physical well being.

Socialize for mental health

Belonging to (positive?) social groups makes us healthier and improves mental health. It might be a bit strange to call your friend and say let's socialize but that's what I've been doing ever since I found out about the benefits of socializing. It wasn't even this one study. The Blue Zone research also recommended to stay active within your 2-5 member group of friends as a way to increase longevity. Anecdotally my 100 year old grandma also had her daughter in law visit her every day until she passed. In general, I also find that I'm more prone to negative thoughts and patterns when I'm alone. People are generally wonderful, so let's try to hang out more.

Diet affects mental health

From anecdotal experiences of placebo to numerous studies of good science. Diet is the second, if not the most important pillar of good health, next to exercise. You can't outrun the amount of calories you eat. A spoon of peanut butter will last you miles of running in calories. It doesn't matter if you're a vegetarian, KETO follower or an omnivore, the one thing everyone agrees on is: stay away from refined and added sugars.

Have you noticed how there's spoons of sugar in your Heinz ketchup or in the sauce covering the slow cooked meat you bought from the store? It's the same reason chefs use a lot of butter in food, it's a simple way to please your taste-buds. But that capitalistic reasoning does not benefit you in the long term. Nor even in the short term for those who are familiar with insulin headaches.

I cheat a couple of times per week but I eat more whole foods and I cook my own meals much more often now. I've been losing weight, which makes it easier to exercise, which makes me look better, which increases confidence, which in return supports my desire to eat healthier. 

Exercise improves and sustains long-term cognitive ability 

The concept here is simple. Art is something you come up with using your brain. So logically it makes sense to incorporate exercise into your daily routine. If you want to be a better artist, learn, reason and problem solve faster, then exercise is something you should do. Exercise will also improve mood which is shown to help certain cognitive abilities. An improved mood through exercise will also make you more resilient to adversity.

How much, how long?

Current science seems to indicate that most of the benefits from exercise come not from duration but from the intensity. How much do you sweat? But if you wanted an optimal time to aim for at least 30 minutes per day of moderately intense exercise ( like jogging). But make sure to later add bodyweight exercises because research shows both types of activities together are better for cognitive performance than a either on their own.

Meditation protects long term IQ

​It is known that as we age our mental faculties start to suffer. Scientists now believe that long-term meditation practitioners lose less brain grey- and white matter. Additionally a John Hopkins researchers identified 47 studies (out of the hundreds that have been conducted since the 1950s) that qualify as well-designed and therefore reliable. Based on these studies, they concluded that there is moderate evidence that meditation reduces anxiety, depression and pain. Much like exercise, you're better with it than without it. In fact meditation seems to help adherence with exercise.

What exactly and how much?

Like with exercise start small small. 10-15 minutes twice per day would be perhaps optimal but as with most things something is better than nothing. So do as much as you can.

The Science of Outside Influences

Your environment shapes you

Without even a scientific study we can prove this. Do we not react to our environment? If there's loud noise coming from the window or a cold breeze that we prefer not to experience, do we not close the window? Is that not a distraction that keeps us from focusing on our work? As I write this, I myself have retreated to my local city library. Home was filled with distractions and a young German Shepard who would bark at the faintest of shadows. Next to me is the low decibel hum of a 3D printer working away.

Have you ever noticed in your kitchen from all the surfaces available to you, how you choose the surface closest and most convenient for your cooking preparations?

Or the fact that if you go to the grocery store all the essential ingredients and daily foods like milk and bread are stacked away somewhere in the back, while smokes, alcohol and candy is neatly stacked next to the cashier? Have you ever noticed the warm yellow glow over certain food products? Food stores know our psychology better than we and they use it against us. So let's be mindful of the surroundings we've created for ourselves and shape them in a way that pushes us forward.

So, shape your environment to shape a better version of you.

What is Priming?

"Priming is a non-conscious form of human memory concerned with perceptual identification of words and objects. It refers to activating particular representations or associations in memory just before carrying out an action or task. For example, a person who sees the word "yellow" will be slightly faster to recognize the word "banana." This happens because yellow and banana are closely associated in memory. Additionally, priming can also refer to a technique in psychology used to train a person's memory in both positive and negative ways." - PsychologyToday

Key Takeaway:
Be careful about the words you use in your daily life, the relationships you keep, the social media you use and the news you watch.

Your posture shapes how you feel

Four studies were conducted in a laboratory setting to examine whether variations in physical posture can have a regulatory or feedback role affecting motivation and emotion. The results of the first study, which were replicated in the second study, revealed that subjects who had been temporarily placed in a slumped, depressed physical posture later appeared to develop helplessness more readily, as assessed by their lack of persistence in a standard learned helplessness task, than did subjects who had been placed in an expansive, upright posture; surprisingly, there were no differences in verbal reports. The third study established that physical posture was an important cue in observers' verbal reports of depression in another person. The fourth study further explored the role of posture in self-reports of emotion using another posture. The results indicated that subjects who were placed in a hunched, threatened physical posture verbally reported self-perceptions of greater stress than subjects who were placed in a relaxed position. The findings of these studies are interpreted in terms of self-perception theory. It is suggested that physical postures of the body are one of several types of cues that can affect emotional experience and behavior.

Key takeaway: Smile for more happiness. Frown for skeptical thinking. Sit straight for a better mood. A good posture also makes you more attractive

Accountability increases productivity

We behave better when we think we're being watched. Scientists from Newcastle University discovered that the mere presence of an image of eyes makes us mindful of our reputation. Alternatively Dr. John Norcross a clinical psychologist who studies new years resolutions suggests that we get an accountability partner who keeps us on our toes.

The fear of loss is bigger than the desire for gain

Loss aversion implies that one who loses $100 will lose more satisfaction than another person will gain satisfaction from a $100 windfall. Give your friend an envelope with money ( or some embarrassing photo of yourself) and give him or her instructions to send it to a place you don't want either to go should you fail to lose weight or draw a portrait every day.

Tools: stickk - If you don't have anyone to keep you accountable, then join the community at stickk and put some money where your mouth is. Stickk will take your money and send it to a charity or organization (that you hate, if you want, for added effect) should you fail to be as productive as you promised to be. 

The Science of Learning


Sycra Jasin's

When learning embrace randomness

A John Hopkin's study confirms what many artists intuitively know. Small bursts of practice interwoven with deliberate experimentation increases the rate at which people get better motor skills. I've already mentioned this my article how to learn to draw faster. This is something we've all experienced but it wasn't until Sycra Jasin mentioned it, did I make a mental note of it.

Disassociate from your problem

Betty Edward's research, combined with the preliminary work done by Nobel Prize winner Dr. Roger W. Sperry discovered that the brain as a whole participates in most activities. But there are some activities, such as drawing, where you need just 1 mode without significant interference from the other.

Key takeaway:
Betty Edwards had a problem. She couldn't figure out why some of her students had trouble learning to draw. Which Edwards believed was not some mystical talent you are born with. One day on impulse she asked her students to copy a Picasso drawing upside down. To her surprise suddenly her students had improved. With the Picasso drawing flipped upside down the students no longer recognized objects but saw what shapes the picture was made of. The brain had switched the way it dealt with the problem.

It's easier with emotion

Although we can't entirely control our emotions we can still help our feelings go in a certain direction. Get inspired, consume media that motivates you and pushes you forward. Capitalize on your emotion.

Compete with yourself not others

Before Roger Bannister, everyone thought the sub 4 minute mile was impossible. He achieved this feat on 6 May 1954 with a time of 3 min 59.4 sec. His record was broken 46 days later and many times after that because now people believed they could. Think of it as an updated version of the croquis. Comparison is often the thief of joy, however the opposite would be beating a version of your past self.

Initially fine motor skills develope faster if learned before bed

A 2003 study shows us that sleep is important to solidifying motor skills. Which.. well doesn't come as a surprise to anyone. But...the more important finding, however, is that on top of your regular practice, you'd be wise to supplement it with a practice session before going to bed. Slow and deliberate practice which you eventually speed up. Because you want to reward accurate strokes. The study showed that test subjects who practiced before a good night's sleep adopted their new fine motor skills faster.

Relaxed brains perform better

If you don't know how to relax, you better learn, because a recent study shows that relaxation is crucial to your brain performing better. This might be why The Wedging Technique and the Pomodoro Technique are so widely recommended.

When describing colors use the names of shades

English and Russian color terms divide the color spectrum differently. In a 2006 study Standford University researchers tested speakers of both languages for their ability to distinguish between two shades of blue, lighter blues (glueboy) and darker blues (siniy). The results clearly showed a speed advantage for Russian speakers when differentiating between shades of blue. This was because linguistically Russians use more precise language when talking about blue colors. Now this ability was very specific and they showed no advantage in other tests but it proves in a limited capacity how the language we use shapes how we experience the world. You should take away from this: be precise and kind with the words you use. The sky is blueberry blue or my client is challenging but not impossible.

Practicing is the best way to learn

Research suggests that practicing by doing and discussion have retention rates of 75% and 50% respectively. And this contrasts with the lecture (5% retention rate) and audio-visual (20% retention rate).

Smartphones drain your cognitive capacity

Another environmental trigger that you should be mindful of. Do you have a tendency to heck your phone for social media alerts? Are you one of those people who is busy looking at the phone when out with friends? "Research shows that the more dependant you are on your phone the less cognitive capacity you have while it is physically near you. They suggest you keep the phone away in another room.

The Science of Your Mind

Staying open-minded and becoming more conscientious predicts success

Being open to experience and conscientious is four times more important than intelligence in predicting academic success, a new research review finds. Unlike intelligence, which is less trainable, the study shows that individuals who score high on these traits are 4x more likely to perform better academically than individuals high in intelligence.

Speaking of conscientiousness... did I mention exercise and diet yet?

Sleep well for creativity

Studies have been done which show that there is cognitive ability decline after a lack of quality sleep. Emphasis on the word quality, because your subject measurement of sleep quality doesn't correlate with objective sleep quality. Meaning you didn't get that much quality sleep. For those art students out there who work at the last minute into the night you might want to reconsider your work ethic:

"Importantly, students who maintained short sleep durations, highly variable night-to-night sleep durations, or had fragmented sleep (i.e., waking after sleep onset) demonstrated pre- to poststudy declines on the laboratory measure of creativity (remote associates task)."

Use Constraints

When you have a bad habit, create an environment which doesn't allow you to indulge in the bad habit. If you have a tendency to waste time on youtube watching cat videos then simply ban Youtube from the list of websites you can access. Constraints are amazing.

IQ is flexible and Brain Plasticity

IQ is shown to be flexible. Possibly even in adulthood? Cathy J. Price and colleges studied the changes of verbal and non-verbal intelligence in teenagers. They found that IQ fluctuates through out your years. It's possible to be a fit 12 year old and an unfit 18 year old and vica versa. The study suggests the same for IQ.  Although brain training apps don't work you might want to engage in generic activities like reading books you can learn from ( not Twilight) or practicing your math. Diet and exercise, probably wouldn't hurt either. Activities that might benefit you in the years to come because the hope for a better brain is there. 

Multitasking kills productivity

In a 2014 study they found: 

“Using laptops, phones and other media devices at the same time could be shrinking important structures in our brains, a new study may indicate. For the first time, neuroscientists have found that people who use multiple devices simultaneously have lower gray-matter density in an area of the brain associated with cognitive and emotional control.”

And although multitasking can feel good initially, once the progress slows down due to a lack of concentration feelings of inadequacy are more likely to come up.

Swear more to reduce pain and anxiety

The study published in the journal NeuroReport, measured how long college students could keep their hands immersed in cold water. During the chilly exercise, they could repeat an expletive of their choice or chant a neutral word. When swearing, the 67 student volunteers reported less pain and on average endured about 40 seconds longer.

Express gratitude for overall well being

"The word “gratitude” has a number of different meanings, depending on the context. However, a practical clinical definition is as follows—gratitude is the appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful to oneself; it is a general state of thankfulness and/or appreciation. The majority of empirical studies indicate that there is an association between gratitude and a sense of overall well being." 

This study although not conclusive might be particularly helpful in times of stress, when a little perspective and gratitude is sorely needed. It's difficult to be pessimistic when you have so much to be grateful for.

The Science of Selling your Art

Attractiveness halo

It's a good idea to exercise, groom, sleep and diet well. Because of the attractiveness halo effect, people tend to assign positive traits (such as intelligence) to people who look attractive. The study showed that simply sleeping better which opens up your eyes more and makes you less likely to frown will already give you an increase in perceived intelligence even if you aren't attractive. As an artist you're not only selling your art, you are also marketing yourself. So it wouldn't hurt if people who see you and your art also think that you seem competent, even if it's just a facade and your world is just a chaotic vortex of entropy.

Offer something for "Free"

A study by Dan Ariely and Kristina Shampan’er tells us that people are not very rational when it comes to the word "free". Studies and possibly also our own behavior that if you make us a 2 for 1 deal. It's something we will have a hard time passing on.

If you want to get updates about similar research or methodology then I'd encourage you to sign up for my newsletter. I plan to keep updating this as I find more information. I'm also planning another article similar to this but this time about market research, surveys, user polls and such. Signing up would also help me know if you like what I'm creating. 

Familiarity Bias

People are more likely to buy things they are familiar with even if they don't remember why. To increase sales, become familiar, become someone they like and trust. Put more of yourself into your work and process documentation. Speak plain and simple in your "about me" page. The stereotype of artists being able to make more sales locally is true just because of this. There's comfort in familiarity.

Belief/Placebo effect / Be optimistic

What does shamanism, voodoo and homeopathy have in common? A big part of their effect can be attributed to the belief in the ritual. Studies show that mere belief in medicine will go a long way in actually helping people recover from their ailments. Similarly a positive outlook on life has been shown to benefit cognitive and physical well being.

Too much choice is overwhelming

In the famous Jam study researchers found that by reducing the number of jam options from 24 to 6 they were able to increase the amount of sales. This suggests for the artists- s when selling your art only show a limited number of your best.

When selling art avoid these mistakes

For artists selling their art I recommend you try to make each piece as unique and experiential as possible for the prospective buyer. In a new series of studies in the Journal of Psychology researchers Carter and Cilovich (2010) explore six reasons why material purchases are less satisfying than experiential purchases.

  1. Objects are easy to compare unfavorably - Always offer quality because if your art pieces are perceived to be materialistic purchases they will look for a better deal.
  2. A ‘maximizing’ strategy leaves us less satisfied - Offer less options with similar prices?
  3. Material purchases more likely to be re-evaluated - If it's not just another painting it's perceived to be more valuable than the next one that comes out
  4. The new option effect - Don't bring out the next model right away 
  5. The reduced price effect - Don't reduce prices after someone had just bought something ( at least avoid letting them know)
  6. A cheaper rival - People are more upset if someone gets the same item cheaper
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  13. Richter & Spath, 2006 (paywall)
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About the author

John Thatch

John Thatcher is a computer science educated artist. He uses technology to solve artist problems. His friends don't like it when he speaks of himself in the third person. But John does it anyway, because he's a rebel.

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