How To Beat The Inspiration Blues

January 10, 2017

I have been an artist for 20 years now and the question that pops up in every interview I give is : "Where do you find your inspiration?" I have always thought that this might be an obvious question, but the answer is nowhere near as obvious. Does one really ever know how inspiration works? I don't, I really don't know. I also don't think the answer is helping anyone. Inspiration is very personal and how it works for me, will probably not be a foolproof recipe for someone else. I think that the question should be : "How to to keep access to your inspiration?" And through my many years of experience, I happen to know the answer to that question.

Through my career as an artist I have had my share of artist's blocks. Some minor, some severe. They would usually pop up in January. You would think that these are some kind of winter blues, but they are not. They have everything to do with the insane madness in the month of December. As I run my own business I have to work on my book keeping in that month, which I loathe with a passion. Collectors tend to want to buy mostly in December and I have no idea what they would like to have until it is December, so there is simply no way to get the work done ahead of time, then there is Christmas....You get the picture. December is so busy that I always end up with a sore ribcage, purely from waiting to exhale. I work all hours of the day, I don't go outside much, I forget about the things I love to do temporarily and I have this feeling of being lived instead of living. This is THE recipe for losing touch with your inspiration. January comes, a blank slate for the new year and you stare at it and it keeps being just that : Blank

In my worst blocks I was unable to come up with one single idea, I could not take one decent head appeared empty. Of course it is not really empty, I just lost access to my inspiration. How does one deal with this? Here are a few things that help me and they might help you too...

1. If your brain draws a blank, don't panic. Don't get stuck in watching daytime television either, that will not do you any good. If you know when these inspiration funks have the tendency to pop up, make sure you prepare for it. I know that in January my brain will not produce any ideas if I don't prepare myself. I make sure I have something to do in January that excites me as an artist and so I buy online classes that I can start on the first day of the New Year. I don't choose classes in my own niche though. I take mixed media art classes, art journaling classes, figure drawing classes and also photography classes that have absolutely nothing to do with forests or landscapes. This will plant new seeds of inspiration for the rest of the year

2. If your brain draws a blank, you tend to loose self-confidence quickly. You go to Facebook, see your fellow artists and photographers post amazing things and you can't come up with one single idea or take one decent picture (trust me, I know what this feels like). Solution....don't check into Facebook so often. If something makes you loose confidence, just steer away for the time being and focus on critiquing your own work. I have a visual journal, which is something else than my art journal in which I paint and draw. My visual journal is to collect images that I took, I write notes in it about what I like about it, what I don't like about it and how it could be improved upon. This helps me get back on track. I temporarily don't look at other people's work and review my own. I have done this for many years and it is something I truly believe in

3. Similar to what I was saying about classes that might not be exactly in your niche, it can also help to go to museums and exhibitions. Again I really recommend going to exhibitions that are not showing work that is similar to your own niche. Why am I stressing this? Because you might be low on self-confidence and seeing some great photographer's work hanging on the walls of a posh exhibition hall might bring you down even more. Instead I go to art exhibitions or visit a museum with Van Gogh paintings or even a quilt exhibition. I know this sounds odd, but this is what works for me. 

4. Don't overthink things. I know I had this tendency to sit at my desk and demanding that my brain just delivered an idea...Then I would start to think why I could not get any ideas and before you knew it, my little problem of sitting at my desk without a brilliant idea changed into a major existential crisis. Instead, go for a walk, bake some bread or cake or do something totally unrelated and don't push yourself. I usually go for a walk without my camera. If I were to go with my camera, I would expect myself to take brilliant pictures and if that would not happen, this walk would make me feel very I go without a camera. I look up some nice tracks on the internet and just walk. I feel totally refreshed afterwards, even if I saw at least three possible pictures that I could not take ;)

5. Accept that you need a rest. Resting is not filling up your brain with tv-series, Facebook posts, looking at your phone every 2 minutes or anything of the kind. Resting is trying to cool down that over-heated brain (which is usually the cause of the block). For me this means reading books (on paper, or I would be tempted to check Facebook), I shut down my mobile devices completely (yes, really), I do just the simple stuff. I walk, I cook, I bake, I read, I clean...I am not trying to be creative at all cost. What I also do is make lists of things that I want to accomplish, I write down goals and break them down into small steps and print them out. 

It is all about preparing your mind to be creative again. In my case I simply don't plan anything creative in the first weeks of January, I make sure I have some classes downloaded that I can start watching as soon as my creativity hits a low, I take long walks with my dog, I eat super healthy, I make lists and this way I don't really get stuck anymore. I know there is going to be a creative low after a very hectic time. Why wouldn't there be? Even cars that can run for hundreds of miles need to be refuelled at some stage. Why wouldn't this be the case for your creativity? Resisting a block will only make it worse. I have learned how to embrace it and I genuinely look forward to January now...I know that I have fun classes waiting for me that will put unexpected seeds in my brain and I cherish this downtime. I hope you can do too :)