printmaking press, creative burnout, boosting creativity,

It happens to all of us creatives. Writers, illustrators, painters, and everyone who creates might find the well of inspiration and creative energy run dry occasionally.

I used to be surprised when I read biographies of famous artist and their experience with creative burnouts or long periods without creation. Sometimes it’s been tough times in life, other times, it’s just the ebb and flow of energy. Just like nature, we all go through cycles of stagnation and regrowth.
But in my opinion, one thing that has changed since the times of the old masters is our perception and expectations of productivity. Most of the time, creating is a need for me. I need to draw, paint, or make something else. But in times when I feel less creative, it feels wrong and frustrating, like I’m not doing what I’m supposed to do. And that’s not even thinking about the trap of social media lurking around the corner, because there will never be enough ‘content’ put out.

For me, wintertime can be a struggle in many ways. Up north, days are extremely short which affects my energy levels but mostly my options to work in daylight. Some days, especially in December, it feels like the days just don’t get started as we stay in some moody twilight zone.

Especially last winter I felt like I was as stuck as my car when I drove into a ditch on an ice day. I felt tired and restless and didn’t know what to draw or paint, or how. The well that was always overflowing with ideas suddenly looked like a bottomless pit.
Since living up north, I often plan downtime in December to give myself the space to rest, reflect, and plan for the upcoming year, but I still try to avoid long periods without drawing to maintain my habit and skills.

I’ve noticed that before realizing what was going on, doubt started to creep in on me. Did I lack skills? Did I not work enough? Should I *insert all kinds of random things*?

First of all, when I identified the block, I decided to meet it with both patience and discipline.
I taped the words: VOLUNTATE, STUDIO, DISCIPLINA (will, study, training) to my studio wall, and on my agenda. For me, being practical and intentional works better than the fluffy advice to take a walk in nature (I walk at least an hour a day), try to reduce stress (I’m stressed when I don’t draw so this sounds like a chicken/egg issue), daydream (hello ADHD my old friend…*eyeroll*), …

Then, I zoomed in on lifestyle and habits, only to face a very uncomfortable finding. Living full-time in the Swedish countryside was no longer fuelling my creativity but instead draining it. I missed having my creative friends around, I missed art exhibitions, I missed workshops, … I even missed seeing dressed-up people in the streets (you can spot the summer people from Stockholm from a mile away), and things like graffiti.
I missed culture because – and the Swedes will get furious- the countryside has a lot of tradition, but not that much living/evolving culture. They mostly want things to never change, to be as they have always been. That’s fine and pretty but giving me Stepford wives vibes as I’m just not like that. As much as I would like it to be different, my brain and heart needed some fuel and I needed to work on getting unstuck.

So what works for me?

1/ My first step was getting a non-precious sketchbook. I got a pack of blank Moleskine notebooks with thin off-white paper and a simple date stamp. The aim was to do something every day on one page of this sketchbook. It didn’t have to be a sketch. Or represent anything. It could be a line or smudge. Just opening the sketchbook and doing something to the page. There was one day when I just made a rubbing of the line drawing of the day before. And that was fine.
I especially got the one with the thin pages so that ink or paint would partly destroy the paper and bleed through. And it’s funny that when I shared a video of the date stamping, it was the only video that received negative comments. They believe I shouldn’t be using an ugly date stamp and destroying pages. I should write my name and the date in a decent matter. /LOL/

2/ I joined an illustration/portfolio course. Not because I don’t know how to tackle a project, but because it can be great to be guided and provided with step-by-step actions when you’re feeling lost or stuck (or both). I regained my focus, tried a lot of different things, even new subject matters, and got the group as an incentive to take action on things I had been neglecting for a while. During this course I picked up some new habits that I still maintain.

3/ I started to paint BIG again, and oh that felt liberating. Working small for illustration is often a practical solution to being fast, and scannable (is that a real word?) to meet certain criteria. But getting that whole body involved to make marks sets both the mind and the body free.

4/ I joined Patreon and joined live sessions with other artists and illustrators- and I can’t believe that I did not discover this earlier! Life of an artist/illustrator can be a rather lonely venture and these sessions are often very chatty and cozy with subjects that I might not pick myself -so great challenges. I’ve been discovering new materials, new approaches, new Instagram accounts, … and I’ve been having a good time.
While I’m not a shy person, I’m still very uncomfortable with talking on camera, especially since most is recorded. Still, I always share in the end (if there is an option for it) as I love watching the results of the others too. So good work or bad, it doesn’t even matter. It’s all about the process and the sharing.

5/ This year, partly as an early 40th birthday present to myself, I joined an in-person printmaking course in Antwerp. Getting my hands dirty and my mind full. Back to two very different but incredible teachers who challenge me both on a technical and a conceptual level. It feels like this was the final piece of the puzzle to feel 100% me again. I dream of ink and drawing, color mixing, paper, and volcanoes.

printmaking press, creative burnout, boosting creativity,

Still on my to-do-list:
6/ I plan to go sketching on location (probably with some friends) once the days are a bit longer and warmer. The good thing about Belgium is that I don’t have to wait until May for the snow to melt. I think I might be out early next month! I’ve already listed locations that interest me and I plan to try and film some bits as an experiment for Youtube.

7/ So many exhibitions are still on my list!

8/ I’m planning some mind-fuelling trips that excite me. I have discovered that the way most people plan travel doesn’t work for me. I need a purpose, not a checklist. I’m allergic to blog posts like ‘What to do in 48 hours in place X’, or ’10 things you have to do in place Y’. Horrible! But beach combing, searching for ammonites, searching for movie locations, and lots of drawing, that’s my kind of thing. (I would like to join an art retreat one day, that seems fun too)

It’s not the holy grail.
Just what’s been working for me. Perhaps all you need is to watch a great movie or try a new dish. Maybe the walks in nature will do magic for you. Or some time alone in the woods. Often we seem to need the opposite of what we have in our daily life. For a long time, I needed silence and endless forests- and in a way I still do. Two different things make my heart sing and my creativity flow, but I cannot have them at the same time or the same place. In the future, I will probably divide my time better between Belgium and Sweden (+ explore some other places too), I have planned a few more courses and some fun projects- and I’m feeling very excited!

If you have experienced a creative block/burnout/bore out/… and you want to share your experiences, feel free to leave a message below!

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