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  • Writer's pictureJen

Note To Self (and other artists): What To Do In A Creative Funk

Creative funks are a regular occurrence for me, especially after taking extended breaks from the studio. My return to a creative flow after time away is almost always slow. During these times, I tend to feel scattered, uncertain of myself and downright unhappy whenever I try to get creative, and these feelings bleed into other aspects of my life, too. Even though I know I shouldn't be, I'm sometimes hard on myself during these times, which generally results in an even more stubborn creative block and an emotional downward spiral. I know these funks are inevitable, and I'll eventually find my way out of them, but they're still tough. After over a week of feeling disconnected from my art practice, I felt much better this morning and was journaling about the experience. It occurred to me that this might be interesting blog content, so I decided to share what I know to be helpful in times like this. This could benefit others and be a great reminder for me the next time the dark cloud of creative block shades out my sensitive artist soul!

How To Break Out Of A Creative Funk, In 6 Easy-To-Follow Steps

For sweet, sensitive artists (but mostly a reminder for myself)

First of all, I'm sending you virtual hugs. This sucks. You're not alone. All artists get into a funk occasionally (if they tell you they don't, they lie). Never fear. Pull up your socks, get yourself a little treat and then follow these steps:

  1. Step one is to rest and take care of yourself. "But I just took a whole week off for Christmas!" you say. That isn't the kind of rest I mean. I want you to take INTENTIONAL time off. I want you to do something for yourself. Acknowledge that you're a sensitive artist and you're feeling bad. You need and deserve loving care, so give yourself that gift. Do some things that "fill your bucket" unrelated to art making. Take a bath. Muck around in the garden. Re-pot a houseplant and then lovingly give it a name (Evelyn.) Wash your sheets. Bake yourself a treat and take a slice to the neighbour. Listen to an entertaining podcast while you take the dog for a stroll. Take your body out to the patio and have a nice stretch in the sunshine. Visit a friend and tell them what a shitty time you've been having (they'll likely give you a well-deserved hug or let you hold their cat.) Get a nice coffee on the way there. For goodness' sake, put the phone down. Instagram will still be there tomorrow. Feel free to replace these things with stuff you personally like to do.

  2. Ask for support. As much as we sometimes want to turtle into our shells and wait for hard times to pass (top-tier hermit here), that isn't always the best option for our well-being. Talking with a friend, confidant, or mental health professional can be a great way to access support and a reminder to be kind to yourself. You wouldn't speak to your friend the way you speak to yourself, would you? A friend will want what is best for you, and so should you. Artist friends have the added bonus of knowing where you are coming from, having experienced creative funks themselves, and their ability to relate and commiserate with you will help you feel less alone. Remember that you don't have to be at the end of your rope to access mental health care. Regular visits to a therapist can be an important part of our health routine.

  3. Next step! Hopefully, you've finally had a good night's sleep after yesterday. If not, coffee up. It's time to get productive but in a mindless way. This is what I sometimes call "productive procrastination." Busy work can be very valuable. Not only does it let you feel productive, but it occupies your brain just enough that you can stop that unhealthy cycle of overthinking everything. Stretching canvas is great for this. It's physical work that requires some concentration but can still be done while watching your latest Netflix binge. Prep some paper with gesso, make pre-mixed pots of paint, and whitewash the studio wall. Wash the windows! Organize the shelves! These types of "mindless" tasks will help you tap into your flow and momentum. Look at you go! You get shit done!

  4. Dip your toes back into creative waters by reflecting on your past work. Have a look back at your archives. Which are your favourites? Forget about what sold or didn't sell. Forget about what got the most "likes." Which ones did YOU love the most? Which did you love MAKING? Consider gathering them together in some way. Maybe you have some available in the studio and can hang them all on a wall. Maybe you could make a digital scrapbook page with the images (I've included one of mine below). Now ask yourself, what do you love about these pieces? What might you be interested in revisiting if you were making art right now? Specific colours, marks, themes, etc? Are you feeling the spark? Pull out your sketchbook and make some quick notes, or, if you're like me, open your journal and write your stream of consciousness! Try drawing some tiny thumbnail sketches of your chosen pieces. Notice the bad parts but label the good parts. Add little scribbles or daubs of your favourite colour palettes. Hopefully, by now, ideas may be brewing in your mind, and you will begin to feel better.

  5. Now loosen up and find joy in making something imperfect. Your version of this may be very different than mine, but here's what I do to jump back into the joys of the process: Grab one of those favourites you chose yesterday and use it as a reference to make a blind contour drawing on some scrap paper. Set a timer because you don't want to give yourself time to overthink. When your five minutes is up, make another! Grab your pile of old work you don't like (I know you have one) and cut a few up with ruthless abandon. Cut up a few of your contour drawings, too! Glue the pieces down into quick collaged assemblages. Again, try not to think too much. Like the way one shape looks next to another? Glue it down. Make 4 assemblages in twenty minutes. Pull out your favourite pencil crayons, pastels, markers, etc and use them to add some fun flourishes to your quick collages. Add a few wild flourishes that the kids these days are referring to as "out of pocket." Which, I think, means not typical for you. If you don't love the results, try cropping them. Give them silly titles. If you find them interesting, take a photograph and share it with your artist friends. If not, share with your artist friends anyway, have a laugh, throw them back into your "old work you don't like" pile, and go walk the dog. Have yourself a little treat. You did good work today.

  6. You've likely spent a handful of days on the previous steps, and if you're feeling well enough, you might be ready to begin making a plan for your creativity going forward. Ask yourself, "What's next?" Often, for me, this starts with seeking out references or inspiration for the work to come, followed by perhaps a series of sketches and studies. Usually, for me, a lot of journalling is also still underway, so I can keep track of ALL THE THOUGHTS. At this time, I try to be wary of jumping into production mode and, instead, enjoy some careful consideration and planning. I have skipped the planning stage time and time again, and I find it does not benefit the evolution of my creative work. If spontaneity is a big part of your creative process, obviously your "what's next" will look much different than mine! Either way, take a cleansing breath and settle into the work you love.

I hope you're feeling better. I know I am.

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