My creative process has a predictable cycle:
- Create lots of art and happily exist in flow state.
- Hit a wall and run out of ideas.
- Discover myself in creative flow once again with no real understanding of how I got back there.
Right now I’m hanging out in stage 6 so I wanted to try to tease apart how this happened so the next time I’m in panic mode, thinking I’ll never be able to create another piece of art again, I’ll have a little breadcrumb trail to follow.
I know this is like, just part of being an artist, so hopefully sharing it will help someone else along the way.
So this summer I was working on two big collage collections – Domestic Goddesses and Apothecary Angels. I was making them for my first physical gallery show, which came about unexpectedly and on short notice. I ate, breathed, and slept collage to get ready for the show and completed nearly fifty pieces in three weeks.
I NEVER work that quickly. I still don’t understand how I was able to do it or where all of that art came from. Best I’ve been able to figure is that I was passionate about exploring the collection themes and felt a lot of pressure to make work worthy of a gallery show. Tack on an external deadline and I turn into an art machine, apparently.
My plan for when I got back from Mexico after the show was to dig into creating similar collections exploring different themes. I was SO excited to get back to work.
I started sourcing images and making notes and…nothing sparked. It didn’t matter from which angle I tried to approach the work – it just wasn’t happening. It was as though whatever wellspring Domestic Goddesses and Apothecary Angels came from had evaporated and grown over with thorn bushes.
Here’s what went through my head in the moment, courtesy of my extremely unhelpful anxiety brain:
You didn’t sell any work during your show therefore it must suck.
You put too much effort into those collections and used up your allotment of ideas for the year.
You’ll never have another idea again.
It’s time for you to quit art.
My anxiety brain is an asshole.
I don’t know that I consciously chose a path out of panic mode. In this creative cycle I really did just give up on trying to make art. It didn’t feel good – whenever I was watching a movie, reading a book, or journaling there was this voice in my head (probably anxiety brain) telling me I should be making art. I was wasting time. I was falling behind. Everyone would forget about me.
(As I write this it occurs to me that my anxiety brain talks out of both sides of her mouth. Don’t make art. Why aren’t you making art? Go make art, you slacker. It’s almost like it doesn’t matter what I’m doing it’s the wrong thing.)
When I felt ready to make an effort again I kept expectations low. I just flipped through old magazines and pulled out images that caught my attention. I was drawn to old televisions and families. It didn’t work though, the concept for the collection hasn’t gelled yet.
So I decided to just cut out random images and move them around to see what happened.
I tried working in my daily art journal again.
I tried making some found poetry.
I visited antique shops and sourced some new collage material.
This inability to art dragged on from the end of July to mid-September and I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s been one of the most painful creative cycles of my life. My heart ached to create something, anything, and it just wouldn’t happen.
I dug into running and started increasing my miles. I took a giant step back from social media and NFTs to prioritize spending time with my IRL friendos and cultivating new friendships. I journaled a lot and started clocking eight hours of sleep each night. I took a lot of baths while listening to music. None of this was planned specifically as self-care but in hindsight that’s exactly what I needed – creative rest.
I didn’t realize how tired and burned out I was.
I deep cleaned my craft room and purged supplies I no longer used. In the process I decided to organize my security envelope collection.
While sorting patterns I realized how loud all of my insecurities had been over the summer and felt like maaaaybe there was an idea in that somewhere. So I started cutting patterns out of security envelopes.
The first piece I made was awful.
The second one didn’t work.
Neither did the third.
But I kept trying and eventually hit a groove…which led me to decide to learn how to make Reels and TikTok videos…which led to my wanting to play with making collage and painting process videos…which led to my inhaling a bunch of inspiration shared by other artists…which led to…
I made a collage. And another one. And another. And they were really good. Art was suddenly pouring out of me and the process made sense again.
And I remembered creativity is like breathing. Exhaling art into the universe is where we want to be all the time because that feels so amazing! But we need to remember to slow down long enough to inhale the inspiration and lessons that make our art OURS.
Both the exhale AND the inhale are essential to our creative process. We can’t have one without the other.
When we forget to breathe, we panic.
We can’t create when we’re starved for oxygen and inspiration.