Friday, 31 March 2017

What to Do When Creativity Won't Flow

I was talking to an artist friend of mine yesterday, and she was telling me she felt a bit down.  She was struggling to process the ideas she had in her mind successfully onto paper.  It's not something that she normally finds difficult, she's a very accomplished and successful illustrator.  She wondered whether her time was up, she'd had her turn at being a painter and that this was it, game over.  

I've been there.

I know those feelings all too well - I have an idea and yet when I try to execute it onto paper, it doesn't happen.  The paper is crumpled and thrown in the waste basket, I try no avail.  Now comes the sighing, the furrowing of the brow...a feeling of consternation and frustration.
The feelings of fear and despair settle quite quickly...what's going on? I can do this, why can't I do this?

I do believe creative people are highly sensitive souls, and we tend to panic if our creative ability is challenged - even when the challenge is created from within.  We question whether that's it for us, our allocation of ideas has dried up, our capacity to translate the idea into a real piece of art is no longer doable.  And it brings up so much stuff for us, our self worth, our esteem, and our confidence, it takes a knock - our failures are suddenly laid bare and that's hard to acknowledge.  Inner critics laughingly mock our utter lack of competance, and we foolishly listen to their cackling little voices, which makes us feel worse of course.

I've come to understand over the years that there are several possible reasons why this happens.

We're simply tired/stressed/anxious:  All of these emotions deplete the ability to connect properly with our inner flow, we cant concentrate properly and it's much harder to create when our minds and bodies are fuzzy with fatigue or overwrought by anxious thoughts.

Solution:  Take a nap, get a few early nights, drink more water.  Write in your journal, create a list of gratitudes, get out into nature, take a break.  Whatever it takes to help you feel calmer, nourished, back on track.  Be kind to yourself.

It's just one of those days:  They happen, to all of us, no matter what our profession.  We all have duff days where computers crash, cakes get burnt, paintings won't happen.

Solution:  Leave it be.  If you can, take some time away from what it is you're doing to go do something else.  Read a novel, take a walk, see a friend.  Do something that will disconnect you from what was going wrong, and come back to it with a fresh mindset later on.

It's a bit more than just a's been happening for a while now...:  I've experienced this and the first time it happened I really thought I'd lost the ability to create anything, ever again.  I thought my livelihood as an artist was over.  I felt depressed, I had anxiety over it.  It was really, really hard to deal with.

Solution: Acceptance of this situation is the best step forward.  I've had a couple of big blips during my working life as an artist where the ideas just wouldn't work out or simply, without warning, dried up.  I could create nothing and had no interest in doing so either.  And yes, it can feel scary to acknowledge that there might not be an end date to this, that you just have to ride it out, take care of yourself and be patient.

I spent much of the last time it happened writing in my journal and getting jobs done around the house.  I addressed the fact I had previously worked really hard on getting a heap of paintings ready for an exhibition and was probably a little burnt out.  I also came to understand that creativity can fluctuate like a season, we have prolific Spring times where we are in full flow, producing wonderful art and then we have our Winter times which are fallow and quiet, it's a time that has become essential to my creative practice - I need the quiet Winter in order to have the bountiful Spring.  I find magazines and Pinterest are really good resources for firing up an empty soul during these times.  

Mindfulness works well at times when we feel panicked or afraid, it brings us back into the present moment and takes us out of the bad movie we have on a constant loop running in our heads.  Bring yourself back to the present over and over, it reminds you that what happened is in the past, and now is really all there is.  It is a very grounding tool, and can help you move forward, rather than stagnating or dwelling on the negative.

Also - and this is important - don't expect too much of yourself.  It's no good trying to force the art out - it doesn't work like that.  Art has an energy, and how you feel resonates in what you do - people will be able to sense, like an invisible secret, whether you were on the ball, or not.

Oftentimes, it's just a couple of days you need to recallibrate, maybe sometimes a few weeks, and then you'll feel that unmistakable pull to create once again...

...then it's time to hit the ground running.


  1. You have cheered me up with this post - thank you! I recently gave away my silk paints as felt I had exhausted their possibilities (2d) there was so much I wanted to paint and express but the medium wasn't' right for my ideas - watercolour will be the answer I thought, but it just doesn't seem to flow for me, I get about one day a month when something comes off my brush spontaneously but if I plan time and make myself paint there is a big nothing! the answer for me I think is to expect less of myself and rely on being spontaneous! I do hope you will do more posts about creative flow and would love some suggestions for finding a subject/inspiration if you have the time.

  2. Hello, and thanks so much for your comment. I completely understand, I worked with watercolour for a long time before discovering acrylics were my thing. It can be hard when you have a designated day to create, there's a lot of pressure to actually do something isn't there? I'll keep in mind your suggestion for a post about finding inspiration, it's a great idea - thanks again.
    Julia xxx


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