Three weeks ago I finished a three piece commission that I labored over for over 2 months. They are three 12 X12 acrylic paintings of the two dogs and one cat of my late Father’s wife, my dear “Ma Penny.” I was pleased with them and so was she.
Completion is a good thing. You’ve put in the time and effort and then you find yourself done! After the initial feeling of euphoria and accomplishment, however, there you are. What now? It can all be a bit disorienting. There is a favorite John Lennon saying I have “It’s better to travel hopefully than to arrive.” What next? Where was I with my own personal trajectory?
Luckily I’ve been in this spot all too many times before. Here is my recipe when you wind up in a “grey zone.”
Don’t panic. Be still.
Write in your journal
Do some cleaning/tidying in the studio.
Look for inspiration from the work of others. Pinterest is my favorite source of visual inspiration.
Do some warm-up exercises- no expectations. Scribble, splash, write lists of words that fascinate. Dedicate them to the gallery of the recycle bin or the collage box.
Eventually, the creative fairies take the bait. Like seagulls when you throw a piece of food to one, another will come until you have a flock of them around you.
I finally came up with the following work (after cleaning out my paper files & filling up my garbage can full of warm-ups…….)
I’m a huge fan of Elizabeth Gilbert. She became instantly famous with her novel, Eat, Pray, Love but many readers don’t realize that she was a writer way before that and has published other noteworthy books. She writes a lot about creativity. If you haven’t read her book “Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear” it’s a great read on the subject. Also, she has a riveting TED Talk that is well worth a watch.
A friend forwarded this essay of hers on writing. I enjoyed this so much and thought I’d share. You could substitute the words creative, artist, or musician for the word writer and it would still apply.
Sometimes people ask me for help or suggestions about how to write, or how to get published. Keeping in mind that this is all very ephemeral and personal, I will try to explain here everything that I believe about writing. I hope it is useful. It’s all I know.
I believe that – if you are serious about a life of writing, or indeed about any creative form of expression – that you should take on this work like a holy calling. I became a writer the way other people become monks or nuns. I made a vow to writing, very young. I became Bride-of-Writing. I was writing’s most devotional handmaiden. I built my entire life around writing. I didn’t know how else to do this. I didn’t know anyone who had ever become a writer. I had no, as they say, connections. I had no clues. I just began.
Being a creative type can be a lonely affair as one toils away at their desk and/or in their studio. To combat the negative, yappy little voices in my head that say “this sucks” I keep a good supply of reading material on hand to feed my “inner cheerleader” so that I may merrily stay the course. I just finished listening to a very good book that I would recommend to any person that needs to keep their inner critic at bay which is…
This 136-page gem is packed full of wise advice and anecdotes gleaned from the author’s interviews with other artists and from her own experiences. She covers such topics such as facing the blank page, dealing with criticism, jealousy, excuses, and blocks with humor and sensitivity. You’ll get advice on how to navigate through roadblocks with various exercises designed to make you stronger. Though I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the book and will listen again, I will be buying a hard copy so I may mark it up and enjoy the great illustrations by Martha Rich. Put this one in your toolbox!
In meditation the goal is to focus on the breath, observing thoughts with non judgement. It is an exercise to become aware of one’s inner dialogue without criticism. According to Yoga International….
” Meditation is a practical means for calming yourself, for letting go of your biases and seeing what is, openly and clearly. It is a way of training the mind so that you are not distracted and caught up in its endless churning. Meditation teaches you to systematically explore your inner dimensions.”
I decided to take the concept of meditation and apply it to my art making, meaning any creative task I undertake. As a visual artist especially, I’ve noticed that I have a habit of letting a stream of negative judgement runs through my mind as I make art. My inner critic tells me “this is not good enough” or “if I only I did this – or that” or some such chatter. This is a perfect recipe for artistic block – and I have been there.
When toddlers begin to walk and fall down, they don’t give up. They try and fail over and over again. Parents cheer and don’t discourage. It’s part of the process of learning. Too bad we give that child-like wonder as adults
As of the New Year I am making art with an attitude of play and experimentation rather than judgement of whether my work is good or bad. If a piece doesn’t work, so be it. I have learned from it. I am mindful to my inner dialogue as I create. When negative thinking enters my mind I say “You are not welcome here. Let me play!”
This week I began an online class, Making Monotypes with a Gellatin Plate taught by Linda Germaine. it’s been the perfect opportunity to apply “The art of non-judgement.”
It’s so liberating. I’m having fun. I can hardly wait to get back to the studio…..
Experimenting….first try printing with a gelli-plate!
I’ve decided for 2018 to quit going upstairs to my studio to make “ART”. Now I am going upstairs to my studio to PLAY and quit being so serious. I’m seeing what I can make in an hour. My best subject matter I’ve decided is my own imagination….
Gas molecules will fly all over the place unless held in a container. That’s what I’m like . Unless I am contained in a structure, I am all over the map. As a result, I can feel inefficient and anxious. Ironically it appears that in order for me to “think outside the box”, I need to be in one
For most, they have a structure imposed by a job, school, and/or family responsibilities. That used to be me but 2 years ago I retired from teaching and now it’s up to me to create my own structure. In other words, I get to be my own parent. Scary.
I make several kinds of visual art, play music, sing in a choir, and write, plus take care of an aging farmhouse on rural property. I’m doing a little of this and a little of that. As a result, my work is all over the place with no real sense of focus & accomplishment. I am “showing up” but irregularly without a clear set of goals. So after bumbling around for a while in this new found frontier of freedom, I realize that in order to function effectively I need to create my own “box” for myself to save me from chaos.
Recently I sent for books on the subject. Currently, I am reading , Goal Setting forPeople Who Hate to Set Goals.” This small book by Keith Ellis is helping me prioritize & set measurable goals step by step. Today I am going to sit down, write out my goals and create a visual flowchart to follow. For me, unless I write things down and have a visual posted in a place where I see it consistently, all will be a wash.
Some successes thus far: I have started to get up an hour earlier. That helps a lot. I also for some months now have been following a modified version of the house cleaning and organization system on flylady.net. My house is way more in order and clean than ever before by just following her simple systematic approach. I function much better in a clean, orderly environment.
If you have any tricks to stay focused and organized, I would love to know!
No matter what rut you’re in, creative or otherwise, the only way to escape is by momentum. Whether it be a running start with or without an external assist (think tow truck) as in a class. Here is a free tow truck- watch the Mel Robbins’ Ted Talk. She is a good motivator.
After a bit of a dry spell this summer (literally and figuratively), I decided to take the sage wisdom of other creatives and just SHOW-UP. Anything is better than being miserable. So I have been just showing up to my studio with no great inspiration, choosing to do whatever caught my fancy. “Junk collage” started me off, then I joined an informal mosaic group on Monday mornings that a friend of mine started. Then there is nothing like SIGNING UP. I have a couple of holiday shows now I need to create for. Deadlines are a great motivator. I bought a new bag of clay and I’m ready to go.
Creative dry spells are no fun. There is a certain desperation and despair about these times. But just like being physically out of shape, the only way to get in creative shape is to start moving. It’s uncomfortable at first and discouraging to begin again. Creative muscles get sore too. That means baby steps. Show up 10 minutes a day if that’s all you have in you and work up to more.
I’m not making masterpieces here, but I am making, and making is when I’m happiest.