It’s not uncommon to feel a bit of a creative let-down following all the excitement of the holidays. For the last several weeks our attention has probably been focused elsewhere — family, shopping, gift-wrapping, baking, and traditional events. Now, we’ve taken down the decorations, we’ve put the house in order again, and we might feel like sitting down, putting our feet up, and doing… nothing. We’ve deserved a good rest, right?
Well, sure. Sometimes we need a break, but sooner or later that creative spirit will be calling again. We’ll rush back to our drawing board, our easel, our watercolors. But just getting there may not be enough. I know this quite well from personal experience.
When we moved to our new home last April, it took me a few weeks to set up my art studio. Even then, however, when I hurried to the studio, I found myself wondering what to do, where to start, how to get into an art routine that worked for me.
It happens from time to time. We’re going along, firing on all cylinders, so to speak, and something comes along to foul up our sparkplugs. We start chugging, head for the side of the road, and finally stall out completely. The spark is gone. We’re out of fuel. Our battery is dead.
Use whatever automotive analogy you like. Whatever you use, it’s not a good feeling to be stranded at the side of the road or to be stranded in making art, surrounded by so many paints and brushes and drawing pads, and feeling stuck by it all.
So, let’s get unstuck!
Here’s how: Do the opposite of what you usually do!
Do you normally spend time drawing? Put the pencils down and create something with brushes and paints. Are you an artist who works primarily with charcoal? Color your world with pastels instead. A realistic artist? Go for something abstract!
Right-handed? Switch over and draw with your left hand — or vice versa. The sudden, unexpected change in your brain can flip those creative switches in surprising ways.
Change the subject matter of your art. If painting still life is your norm, head outside and look at the landscape. Normally a portrait artist? Pick a bouquet of your favorite flowers and paint them instead. If florals are your usual subject, try painting animals. Done a lot of seascapes? Paint a few mountains. Whatever you usually do… well, see if you can figuratively turn it on its head.
Switch up your habits, too. Do you always paint in the mornings? See if you can adjust your schedule for a late-night session at the easel. Even moving your drawing table to a different location can “push a few buttons” to restart your creative energy.
So, whatever your usual art habits are, break them — temporarily. Once you’ve fired up your creative spirit again, you can go back to doing whatever you like, however you like, whenever and wherever you like. But to help you get there, doing the opposite of normal can be like shocking your heart back to beating. Well, all right, maybe that’s a bit melodramatic, but don’t underestimate the power of DOING SOMETHING DIFFERENT.
One reason why this works so well, I believe, is that it allows us to lower our expectations somewhat. If we’re working with a new medium, trying a different approach, exploring a different style, or doing anything else from a new angle, we shouldn’t expect masterful results. It’s more of a learning experience. It’s something to have fun with. Something to play with. Something to make us laugh, perhaps.
Maybe it goes along a bit with the idea of making bad art. Sometimes it’s good to do exactly that. Art should always be enjoyable. If we get too caught up in creating a beautiful work of art, we might miss out on some of the enjoyment while we’re fussing and fretting over every brush stroke, every pencil mark, or every color choice. Being able to say “It doesn’t matter how it looks!” is very liberating. Art can be fun again, and maybe it’s that fun element of art that keeps our creative engines running.
Here I am back again with the car comparisons. I guess that’s also a new way of looking at art and the creative process. In truth, it’s not a well-oiled machine, not a precisely-designed high-powered, fuel-injected engine, and thank goodness for that! The creative process is a lot more involved than a mere machine.
Still, the analogies may be useful, so if you’ve been feeling a bit stuck or even just a bit on the sluggish side, why not try a quick jumpstart?