Posted by on May 18, 2020

Since lockdown I have enjoyed a burst of creative energy, with endless enthusiasm and ideas flowing, I have produced 16 finished paintings in less than 6 weeks. However, that creative energy has started to change. That doesn’t mean I’m any less enthusiastic, but it does mean that I am physically and mentally tired, ideas aren’t coming quite so quickly, and I feel a reluctance to immediately start on another set of paintings.

I had a conversation about this with a friend of mine, another artist who, like me, has dedicated a huge portion of her life to developing her creative practice. She has similar feelings about painting at the moment, but she acknowledged that she just wasn’t at that point in her creative cycle. This made me reflect on the patterns of my own creativity and, it’s true, creativity definitely tends to move in cycles.

I have always known that there are times when creativity has come more easily than others over the years but I have always put this down to trying to juggle artistic activity with a day job, or children, or academia. During my Degree and my Masters I found that there were times when I could paint and times when I could write but I found it really difficult to do both in the same day. When I was writing my dissertation, I couldn’t draw a stick man, but when I was painting, I couldn’t string a sentence together. Each activity uses a different half of the brain and I found it took a while to move between the two; a bit like trying to turn a big ship around. For a long time I assumed this explanation was the only one. I have actively spent time after researching and writing, allowing myself to get in to a state of extreme boredom by doing almost nothing in order to get my imagination working again. As soon as I started daydreaming I knew it was time to get back in to the studio. Boredom is the mother of creativity after all – perhaps a topic for another time!

Since my conversation earlier today, I have come to the realisation there has always been more to it than that. The ebb and flow of creative energy is affected by many things: stress, outside commitments, the weather, hormone changes, interruptions, mood and unexpected visitors are but a few! Having said that, there are four significant stages that I go through in my creative cycle.

First is the explosion of energy with lot of drawing, sketching, paintings and other furious activity. This is then followed by a bit of a slump where I feel exhausted. I start to make it in to the studio later and later in the day and eventually have to take a day off to recover. Then comes a recuperative phase; a time for self nourishment which might involve going for a walk, taking some photos, laying in the sun, paddling in the sea, binge watching old movies, reading, cuddling up with the family and any one of a number of things that are nourishing to the mind and the soul. Finally I enter a preparation phase where I empty the studio bins, clean the surfaces and get everything ship shape. I sort through my books and review the latest art mags etc. This phase doesn’t last long as it quickly leads to boredom and then, you guessed it, I find myself daydreaming and the cycle begins again.

So, what is the point in sharing all of this with you?

Creating art isn’t an easy task. To be creative on any level takes commitment. It doesn’t just happen. Inspiration, as discussed in my last blog post, doesn’t just happen by itself. It means showing up and doing the work, even when the work isn’t going well! Delving in to the tender spot within that creates the desire to make and express is also emotionally draining sometimes, as is sharing your creations and opening them to public scrutiny. There are bound to be peaks and troughs and times when you enter “the zone” where the work comes easy and time itself seems to stop, and other times when, no matter how hard you try, the good stuff just doesn’t seem to want to come.

By giving a high quality of attention to your own creative practise, to your mental state, your physical body, and your emotional responses, you can work out your own creative cycle. Now, here is the important bit. Try not to fight it. Embrace it. Acknowledge where you are in your cycle and, as long as you do something with your practice in mind, even something as simple as bringing some flowers in to the house, all is not lost. Your creative mind needs to be fed, rested and worked in much the same way as your body. Honouring that and consciously going with it will help you build a sustainable creative practice from a place of positivity, and help keep that self critic in the shadows where it belongs.

Comments

  1. Karen McDougall
    May 18, 2020

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    Emma, that as so interesting to read and can totally relate to everything you are saying. Thank you. I also find that my inspiration suddenly happens when I wake in the middle of sleep. You are so inspiring. Thank you again x

    • Emma Martin
      May 18, 2020

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      What lovely feedback! I know the actual cycles are probably different for all of us but I felt sure there must be some commonality. I was going through my same old cycle but blindly. Recognising it and treating it as a friend rather than an enemy has definitely done away with that little voice telling me I should be doing more and all the time. Sometimes having a break, going to a gallery, or wiggling your toes in the grass can be more productive in terms of creativity than slaving over a canvas for hours. That seemed to be good news worth sharing! x

  2. Jim
    May 18, 2020

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    I am no artist of the brush but I enjoy art by pen. Writing is something that I love but as you have shared Emma, our busy personal lives with children, work etc does put the brakes on performance. I would say I have only found time on four or five occasions in 27 years. Will I ever complete even one of 3 books?

    • Emma Martin
      May 18, 2020

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      We can rarely move mountains in one go, but it’s amazing how easily we can shift them over time moving just a few pebbles at a time. I keep a sketchbook handy all the time. Do you have a notebook nearby? Jot everything down and it’s funny how things begin to create themselves after a while. (I wrote a book when I was working and had two kids under 5. It can be done!) x

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