Thursday, 22 June 2017

Why Creative Blocks Are Good For Us

I wanted to write about creative blocks, because - and I make no secret of this, I have them - have just had one (it lasted a couple of weeks which is tough and feels like a long time when you're in business as an artist) - and I wanted to talk about why they are good for us and how they can help us grow as both artists and individuals.

I'm just like you and I have times when I feel utterly stuck and don't want to create.  In the past I have suffered, struggled and fought with these feelings - the dissipation of the urge to paint and make art created huge waves of fear, as it's something that I associate as part of my make up, it's part of the fabric of who I am, and without art I feel a bit lost.

I have journeyed through creative blocks that last a few days, and then sometimes drag out for weeks where nothing, seemingly, happens.  In the early days I used to flap, force myself to do something with paint - anything - as long as I was in front of a piece of paper or canvas making an attempt.

And yet, it was time wasted.  I have learnt that trying to force art when I feel this way is a waste of my time and materials.  I inevitably end up feeling more downcast as a result.  I hear the whispers and the chiding of those critical inner voices softly telling me I'll never paint again, and what a hopeless mess this all is, and how I'll probably have to go get a 'proper' job now etc...and so yes, I have learnt over the years what to do when these blocks arise, when the apathy settles like a thick fog, when the mind feels numb.

I allow it.

As strange as that may seem, I allow myself to feel blocked, and gently allow myself to do other things.  I avoid the studio, and I fill my days with writing, maybe meeting friends, attending to other aspects of the business instead.  I go for walks, I take long baths and have early nights, I read light hearted fiction books, maybe pick up a crochet project and I journal a lot too.  I've found it so healing to get my fears and thoughts out onto paper this way.

Often times, it's no one reason as to why a creative block has emerged, and although I don't exactly welcome these blocks with open arms, I have learned to accept and tolerate them, understanding that there is always light at the end of the tunnel.  Sometimes, life events are the reason why I stop painting, and I sometimes go through periods of feeling pretty low which can trigger them (and which I attribute to being in my 40's and all the challenges that brings for a woman).  Again, it's about honouring whatever shows up for you at the time, and making space for acceptance instead of pushing against it. 

I've come to see creative blocks as a positive gift, because for me when I surface again I am brimming with ideas and creativity.  My mind seems to know no boundaries and there is inspiration everywhere, my soul is buzzing with an excited energy.  

No creative block will ever last forever.  Fact.

You will come out of the other side, it will all come flooding back - bigger, shinier, brighter and clearer and you will then understand why you stopped.
It is so we can grow as individuals and creative souls, it is so we can take a moment to really listen to ourselves and just 'be'.  When we have exhausted our wells, we need to allow space for new ideas to be born.  A creative block is medicene, it doesn't feel like it as you travel through your empty days but I can assure you that it is a healing conduit to a new, inspired you.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

What I Did On My Artist's Date

Some of you may be familiar with the work of Julia Cameron, and her concept of an Artist's Date which was something brought to life for me about 12 years ago when I first read her best selling book, The Artist's Way.  The idea is that you take yourself off on a solo adventure somewhere, to do something that pleases you, inspires you, lights your creative fire.  This is what I did yesterday, and you can read a little more about the concept of it here on her website.

I have had a funny couple of weeks, I think my soul felt rather battered and weary from the constant drip feed of horror and sadness brought about by the two recent terror attacks here in my homeland...and then the barrage of politics on social media and TV as we ran up to a General Election.  I made myself turn it off, it came to a point where I had to stop looking and absorbing. soul called out, and I listened but my heart felt heavy; emerging from so much anger, confusion and noise takes time.  

Remembering that love and peace are what heals, is what helps.

And so yesterday, I decided to take myself off to one of my favourite local spots - the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.  I would make it an Artist's Date, and allow myself some time to be gentle and switch off, to come to surface again.

Henry Moore

I took a note book and pen, in case I felt inclined to write or draw, but mostly it was a morning of wandering and sitting.  The weather was kind, overcast but warm and the air was heavy with the sweet scent of flowers and the lambs who populated the parkland.

Tony Cragg

There were exhibitions to enjoy, including sculptures by Tony Cragg - bubbling, ergonomic shapes made from wood, metal and glass and I felt soothed by these soft sculptural shapes which were in the gallery and also outdoors around the grounds.  

The YSP is a very special place, a modern building nestled in a beautiful, peaceful landscape.  There are trees, lakes and walks, and my favourite - the Skyspace, housed in an old deer shelter.  I sat for an age in here, and not another soul came in during my time there.  I was left to watch the ever changing drama of the Yorkshire sky above me, with only the sound of the birds and buzzing of insects for company.  

How many shades of grey are there in a cloud?

I found myself asking this question, and I found many.  Observing this soft, gentle shape shifting was a balm to me; time slowed down and my world was reduced to that simple square of light and sky above.

I walked for miles around the parkland, choosing to make it a mindfulness walk where I listened to the tread of my sneakers on the ground, tuned in to all the different bird songs in the trees above.  I noticed light and shade, texture and colour.  I took in the shapes of leaves and grasses.  I soaked it all up, and when I got to the lake I heard the sound of crickets in the tall grass, saw bright yellow wild iris and watched a grebe who silently dived below the dark surface of the water.

My walking meditation ended with lunch at the YSP cafe, peppermint tea and a sandwich on the veranda, enjoying the warmth, feeling that the tender parts had in some way been repaired...and I sat and watched as a sheep bothered a family down on the grass having a picnic, a woman flapped her arms wildly trying to shoo it away from their goodies.  It made me laugh out loud!  

I didn't write or draw this time, I didn't really need to but my mind is coming alive once again with ideas and plans.  The simple pleasures of nature had done enough to fill up my well, and I couldn't remember quite why it had been such a long time since I did this for myself.  I am planning another Artist's Date very soon. 

Why not take yourself on an Artist's Date?  You don't even need to be an artist to do this really, at least, I don't think you do - I believe allowing ourselves to indulge in a few hours of something that will inspire or just simply delight, is both necessary and good.

Where will you go? What lights you up?
Why not share your stories with me here?

Monday, 5 June 2017

Finding Our Self Belief

Once upon a time, I lost all the belief I had in myself and my creative abilities, and I stopped painting.  I was 18 years old and had almost finished my college course.  My college art tutor had advised me in a chat about my future, that my hoped for career path in the arts was potentially a pretty bad choice and that she couldn't see it working go home and think of something else to study perhaps...and I remember I left that tiny, messy room in the art block feeling my self confidence trickle away.  My self belief zoomed to an all time low.

And because I chose to listen to that person, and believe them, I stopped making art. Just like that.

I understand how crushing it can feel to be told you're no good.  It's similarly crushing when you cultivate these feelings yourself, when you are afraid to try something new for fear that you won't be any good at it.

We listen to the voices, perhaps they are in our minds, or they surround us in real life - a helpful friend or family member who is dismissive of your excitement at trying a new project, or envious of your talent...or perhaps it's a whisper from within telling you it's pointless to start because, well, what's the point it's only going to be awful.

I have spent many years overcoming such hurdles, I have met with those inner whispers and paid heed, missing out on many opportunites to enjoy myself and engage in something creative.  I have also met with real life people who possibly meant well, but who have inadvertently helped my self belief to dissolve.
These voices, within us and around us tell us: it will cost too much, it won't work out, how do you know it will be any good?  You're not going to be any good at that.

The problems start when we believe them.

Like me.  I believed what a tutor once told me, and it took years for me to rebuild my self belief and have confidence in my abilities again.  

If there is anything you have ever wanted to try - just go ahead and do it.  Promise me you will ignore the nay-sayers, the wicked whispers who quietly tell you its a waste of time, the helpful relative who doesn't think it's really for you.  Take small steps, starting now, towards making your dreams real.  The truth is, this life of ours is so precious, we really don't have time to waste believing that 'we can't'.

What kind of thing have you always wanted to do?  Think of the first small thing you can do that will set the wheels in motion, and keep on doing that until you are there.

Buy the paints, find the notebook and writing pen, book the SUP class, join a gardening club...whatever it is you want to do, let nothing stop you from enjoying your life and filling it with the things that make you smile and feel happy.