Interview with Michael Nobbs on sustainable creativity and tea

This post was written by Megan on February 9, 2011
Posted Under: Burnout and creativity,burnout and recovery

Michael Nobbs cartoon

Michael Nobbs is a full-time artist, blogger and tea drinker (not necessarily in that order). He is the author of the popular blog Sustainably Creative and writes, tweets and podcasts about drawing and trying to keep things simple.

In the late 1990s he was diagnosed with ME/CFS and, over the last decade, has learnt a lot about sustaining a creative career with limited energy.

Michael regularly publishes, The Beany, an illustrated journal about his life on the west coast of Wales. And has a fab e-book called Sustainable Creativity about learning to use whatever energy you have available, however limited it may be, to maintain a creative life (or even livelihood). Here's the funky cover of his e-book (currently only $9.95):

Sustainable creativity Michael Nobbs cover
I had a chat with Michael (he's in Wales, I'm in Australia – gotta love technology when it works), who put up with my interrogation and kindly shared his thoughts and feelings on health, energy and enjoying a sustainable creative life.
  1. Mind sharing where you are at now with your health, Michael?

    I still have health ups and downs, I think that is probably the nature of living with ME/CFS, but through years of learning to pace myself I do try to live as sustainably as possible. The ups last longer and the downs aren't so deep.


  2. Do you think your creative pursuits (drawing and writing) helped improve your health?

    I don't think being creative in itself improved my health, but it certainly has made me happier (which may have had a knock on effect for my health). How I've learnt to be creative has improved my health, however. I try to follow my mantra (supplied by a good friend of mine) of Little and Often. 

    I learnt very early on after I'd been diagnosed with ME that is was far healthier for me to work on small drawings rather than the big paining I had been making, and to do so regularly in short bursts of time (sometimes for just twenty minutes a day). What was amazing was how this little and often approach  built about a substantial body of work. The satisfaction I got from completing a small drawing was a huge boost emotionally (and maybe on occasions physically too).


  3. Who have inspired you the most while you've had ME/CFS?

    Danny Gregory, Keri Smith and Dan Price are the three artists I met online that inspired me to draw. The all have a lovely down to earth approach to art making, working with what's in front of them, celebrating the everyday and the ordinary. Realising that it was "okay" to make art out of my teapot, or mug of tea was a huge step for me, and helped tremendously with living and working in a healthier and more sustainable way.


  4. How does paying attention to small things help when you're feeling perpetually exhausted and fuzzy brained?

    If I can make a small drawing of something in front of me a bad day (I think of them as my "treacle days" days when I feel as though my brain and body have been immersed in huge vat of sticky black treacle) then I feel as though I have accomplished something, that things aren't so bad really. Of course I need to be careful with this. Some days it might not be sensible to use my available energy for drawing, and sometimes there isn't even enough for drawing and I've learnt to be okay with that. But when I can, I've learnt that making drawing (and writing too) a priority for my available energy makes me a MUCH happier person.


  5. How on earth do you have the energy to partake in social media? (note: Michael has 24,968 followers and 888 friends on Facebook…and counting!)

    I do keep in touch with a few close friends on Twitter and Facebook, and largely use it in place of more time and energy sapping email for "work" communications, but mostly I'm a broadcaster on those networks. I post links to drawings I love and articles about creativity that inspire and I hope will inspire other. Happily there's no more work involved in doing that to 24,000 people than there is to 10 people.

    I do sometimes wish I could engage more directly with people on Twitter and Facebook, but I've chosen to make other things a priority for my available energy. Luckily things do seem to be working quite well.


  6. How have '3D friends' (i.e. those physically around you) helped you (or not…) through your recovery?  

    Interestingly I find it MUCH easier to be open about my health online. That said, I do I have  mix of 3D friends, some of which I discuss my health with and some I don't.

    My close friends and family have a very clear idea of how I am physically, and see me on my "treacle days". Without them I doubt I'd be able to function as I do.

    I have other friends, who see less of my downtimes. I've found myself wondering recently why I am unwilling to share how I'm feeling with some of the people in my life, and I've come to the conclusion that there are times I just like to feel "normal". It's good sometimes to not be seen as an ill person, and whilst I need not to overdo things when I'm with some of my friends, it does feel good to be seen as a regular person (albeit one who drinks a lot of tea and is apt to curl up for a nap).


  7. What tea do you like drinking?

    Currently I'm drinking English Breakfast tea and Earl Grey a lot. I make them both in a pot from loose-leaf ta (and let the tea brew for a few minutes) and put the milk in my cup before I pour out the tea .


  8. Do you have advice to share with someone struggling with burnout?

    Be kind to yourself. Always do less than you think you can and take plenty of naps. Learn to not listen to that voice that urges you to do "just a little bit more". That's how you ended up burnt out in the first place! Somewhere you have a much gentler and wiser voice that knows what you need. Learn to listen to that one instead.
That was the gentle and wise voice of Michael Nobbs. What a sweetie.
Michael Nobbs' sites:

Join Michael on Twitter:

This post was written by Megan Hills. Megan is a writer and cartoonist who also enjoys a nice hot cup of tea.  Find out more about Megan

Reader Comments

Very inspiring. Thanks for introducing me to Michael, I love his site too.

Written By Anne on February 9th, 2011 @ 1:05 pm

Megan, THANK YOU for this. I needed 'a cup of tea', so to speak. To be honest, this post made me tear up, which is probably an indication I should take the afternoon off!! It's always wonderful to find out about people who are dealing with similar issues in a wonderful creative way.

Written By Amber on February 9th, 2011 @ 8:04 pm

Bookmarked, I really like your site! :)

Written By Viola on February 11th, 2011 @ 5:56 am

great interview meg.
and love your pic of michael.

Written By les on February 11th, 2011 @ 7:03 am

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