So, I know I’ve been pretty absent around her for the past few weeks. A lot has happened. I’ve sold a couple of small paintings, had strep throat, met a rattlesnake on a hike, and turned 24. My domain even expired while I wasn’t looking! I haven’t been online much at all, and I’m actually ok with that. Sometimes we need to unplug.
Most of the reason I’ve been gone is because I’ve been in a serious creative funk lately. I’ve started a few new paintings but I’ve run into some walls with both of them. Nothing a little modeling paste and rethinking can’t fix, but walls nonetheless. I haven’t worked on my novel much, I haven’t been very active on Etsy, and my studio is such a disaster that I can barely fit in there.
I figured I could either hide behind some fluffy posts or just take a break. I chose the latter, because I knew I’d be in the mood to post again soon.
So, about creative funks. I don’t like to call them “blocks” because it sounds like something outside of ourselves that’s causing us to avoid creating, but it’s really not. Nothing that has happened over the last few months could have inevitably blocked me, but a funk, now that feels more like the sticky, mucky, internal mess that this really is. I picture it as getting stuck in molasses or tar; the gunk that clogs up our creative channels if we don’t clear it out in time. That gunk will always come, but it can either get stuck or pass through fairly painlessly.
In the past few months, I’ve uncovered and run into rejection, shock, the possibility of major change, shame, anxiety, guilt, regret, and all kinds of stuff that loves to gunk up our creativity like a giant hairball in a drain. This all came on fairly quickly and I didn’t really allow myself the time or means to move it out before it congealed. I avoided talking or thinking about it and instead read a bunch of (amazing) books, busied myself with household chores (my apartment is still a mess somehow), organized my ever-growing Pinterest boards so I can access my inspiration easier, and taking lots of walks. I knew that funk was there, but I wasn’t ready to deal with it. I’d let myself think about it in passing moments, tiny bites at a time because the whole elephant just seemed like too much.
I haven’t nailed down a surefire way to get out of these creative funks, but I do know that our spirits and therefore creativity are an ecosystem as delicate and complex as any rainforest, and all the little elements need to be there and working together in order for the whole to function properly. The extinction of one insect, the absence of one seemingly trivial ritual can potentially throw the whole system out of whack. Life is far too messy to balance properly, but we can make sure that the necessary things get taken care of. Creativity is a delicate little creature that needs proper care to survive. ”
Real” artists aren’t exempt from this. All creators struggle to keep their systems balanced, though some may have themselves figured out more than others. So, my solution for my creative funk is to do what I can to restore the environment in which my creativity can thrive. This means different things for different people, but for me it means making space for “creative playtime”, reading inspirational things like Laura Hollick’s blog or The Artist’s Way, and making sure to connect with myself by journaling and daydreaming instead of filling every free second with other reading or Minesweeper.
This morning, I’m planning to take myself shopping for art supplies with the rest of my birthday money and then having some creative playtime before I go to work. The thought of artmaking actually terrifies me at the moment, but I know that bribing myself with some new toys from the art supply store will coax me out of my shell. Whatever happens in the studio today will be ok, even if I completely ruin whatever I’m working on, make something wonderful, discover that I want to go in a completely different direction, bawl my eyes out, whatever. It’s all ok.
Last week, I looked forward to a beautiful Saturday filled with long walks or a hike and filling my creative well.
It rained, hailed, and snowed the entire day. Sam was away working for the weekend, so it was just me, the cat, and the weather.
Gloomy days like that are hard on me sometimes, but I spent the morning curled up with a book, hoping things would clear up so I could go for a walk, but they never did. By midday, I felt super antsy. I decided to sit withT that feeling for a minute and find out what I really needed.
It was simple: I needed to lighten up, loosen up, and play around. I needed some “Creative Playtime.” I took some of my Christmas money, drove through some monster puddles to the store and picked up some mini canvases, then came home and changed into my paint clothes, put on The Muppet Show, and play with new images, new techniques, and other little surprises that I might want to include in my larger paintings. I made a tiny painting for my desk at work so I could remember that part of myself even when things get busy.
I’ve been reading The Artist’s Way, so this concept was similar to the “Artist Date” the author recommends, the special time dedicating to nurturing your creativity. Here are some ideas of how can nurture your own creativity.
It’s been awhile since I’ve allowed it, but I feel like I need creative exploration and experimentation, but at the same time the other part of my brain is screaming “No! You must be productive! Build your career! Make work to sell, then promote it! Every second that you’re not sleeping or at work should be dedicated to this!”
That’s the logical thing to do, but logic isn’t always correct. Maximizing every second of every day is like dieting and communism. It works on paper but not in real life because it doesn’t account for human limits or free will. I know better than to trust that kind of logic. I can’t spend every minute of that other 8 hours painting and marketing. My work will run dry and I’ll burn out in not time.
So screw that other part of my brain. I’m in charge, and I say it’s playtime. I want to keep my well filled, try a few new techniques and mediums, sketch, read, and take good care of myself so I’ll have the energy and clarity to be at my creative best. I want to be as open as possible.
Part of the reason I went back to work full-time was to remove some pressure from my art and free up some brain space that was previously occupied by money and career stress. I have the freedom to loosen up now. Not everything I make has to be top quality, I don’t have to make everything with the intention to sell. I can make something just for me if I really feel like it. I can play with different mediums and it’s ok if they don’t work out. I think this will ultimately do great things for my work.
Here’s a few ideas for my upcoming creative playtime (and yours too!):
- I’ve always wanted to try bookmaking, and now I feel like it’s time to actually find the tools and try it. It’s been on the back burner for years, but now I feel like I’m being called to do it.
- I miss reading novels, so I hereby dedicate my lunchbreaks to leisurely reading.
- No more skipping exercise or cutting walks short to make time for more “important” things. I need that movement. It feeds my soul and my creativity in a way that nothing else does. My body needs that, my mind needs it.
- I want to play with new techniques I’ve been wanting to incorporate into my work.
- I rarely draw anymore. Drawing is the backbone of art, so I’d like to spend some time with a sketchbook and a pencil, working on what I see.
- I want to get outside more, visit galleries, and go on other outings that fill me.
Do you ever allow yourself some creative playtime? If you did, what would you do? How would it help you?
I thought I’d share a fun little treat for your imagination. I’ve been playing with this all week and it’s actually led to some interesting revelations.
I got this idea from an exercise in The Artist’s Way, and then a friend of mine started a Pinterest board called “The secret life I’ve always wanted it to live!” and filled it with the most gorgeous, gypsy-themed photos. I’m planning to steal this idea and create my own “secret life” vision board, or maybe a few of them, or maybe a whole series of artwork of some kind!
So here it is:
If you had, say, 5 other lives to live, who would you be in each of them?
Just play with that for awhile. I don’t know about you, but my imagination went totally nuts.
Here’s what I came up with:
1-I’d live up in or by the mountains with a horse and some chickens. I’d go for lots of long rides and hikes, I’d grow a lot of my own food and make my own cheese. I’d do lots of looking and not much talking.
2-I’d be a contemporary dancer. I’ve always wanted to dance, I paint dancers a lot, and even though my skills are somewhat less than extraordinary, I don’t doubt that there’s a dancer in me somewhere.
3-A minimalist traveler, living out of a backpack and working my way around the world. I’d observe, write, draw, connect, and let things flow out of my life as quickly as they flow in. Drink it in, express it, move on.
4-A musician. I actually have a lot of undeveloped musical talent, I just don’t know what I’d do with it at this point. In this imaginary life, I’d be a drummer in a rock band, I’d carry a harmonica in my purse with a notebook full of song lyrics. I’d take the time to train my voice properly and keep my piano and composing skills sharp.
5-A geologist/rock climber. I’d travel to explore and study the world’s most beautiful landscapes and write all about it.
Then I got carried away and came up with one more:
6-A surfer, with long wavy hair and a beach shack. I’d surf and swim in the ocean every day, eat mangoes to my heart’s content and get around town on a skateboard in my cargo shorts and tank tops. I’d never run out of sunshine.
This is a silly, self-indulgent little game, but I learned that by doing this, I was actually tapping into neglected parts of myself that long to be expressed.
I really encourage you to make a list of your own and then mine it for clues to what you might be secretly longing for in your life. Noticing leads to consciousness of this longing, and consciousness leads to plans, which lead to action. This doesn’t have to lead to a big drastic life overhaul though. I like my life and being an artistwriter and I chose that life for a reason.
However, here’s what my secret lives are telling me:
- I need to get outside more. Several of these lives are all about the outdoors; rock climbing, surfing, hiking, and horseback riding. I don’t need to move to the country, but I can go hiking a lot more often, maybe plan a trip to a national park or a beach to learn to surf. I live in Utah for crying out loud, so I’m sure I can find a way to ride horses every once in awhile. That’s actually a big one. I grew up riding horses, but I haven’t ridden in years. This is a sign that it’s time to get back in the saddle, literally.
- Just because I’ve chosen visual art and writing as my mediums doesn’t mean that I should let my musical talents go to waste. I took piano and voice lessons for many years and I used to compose, but I’m quite rusty. I feel very untrained, but music is a very intuitive thing for me and I know it’s an important part of my life. I could look into bringing my piano home from my parents’ house, or I could ask to practice on a piano at my church a few days a week.
- I need to set up a separate savings account to save for trips. If you’ve seen my Handprint List, you know that travel is important to me. I’ve made it to China and New York so far, but I’ve got a long way to go. It’s unlikely that I’ll pull up roots to travel Eat Pray Love style, but this little action will help get me on a plane to somewhere. Baby steps.
- Finally, I need to connect to my body. I’ve always been a very cerebral person, so I’ve spent my life as a brain riding around in a very awkward, unconditioned puppet body. I’ve ALWAYS wanted to dance, so maybe I should look into taking a class. The nice thing about me working full-time again is that I have a lot of extra wiggle room in my budget, so things like a dance class is feasible.
Look at your own imaginary lives and notice what you can do NOW to feed those parts of yourself. They can be as simple as picking up a library book about a topic you’ve always wanted to learn about, or visiting a local farm to milk a cow. You don’t have to pull up roots (unless that’s what you’re being called to do) but you can expand your horizon a bit.
What are your secret lives? What are they telling you?