For most creative people, creative stillness is the worst possible fate. Whether you call it artist’s block, stagnation, or something else, it looms like a huge, dark storm cloud on the horizon. Most of us will do anything to avoid it and struggle to escape it when it catches up with us.
But what if that huge, dark cloud has a silver lining?
I’ve been in a creative stillness for over a year. The last painting I finished was finished on June 24, 2014. Since then, I’ve started half a dozen or fewer projects, but have succeeded in finishing none. To the contrary, the one that progressed the furthest is still just a line drawing.
It’s been impossible to find subjects that ignite even the faintest creative spark, even among my favorite subjects. Even the first Thoroughbred Triple Crown winner in 37 years (American Pharaoh) failed to prompt a painting. In past years, all kinds of ideas would have sprung from that single event.
At first, I was afraid of the silence that had settled upon me. What if the last painting I finished was the last painting I ever did? I’ve always said I’d paint until I couldn’t paint any more. Was this it? For someone who has been painting for nearly 40 years with very few breaks, this was a frightening thought.
But then, I was directed by a series of circumstances to embrace the creative stillness rather than wrestle with it.
Benefits of creative stillness
People in other professions take sabbaticals; planned retreats from day-to-day work to perform some specific task or get away for a time. Sometimes, a sabbatical is spent focusing on something other than the usual work. Professional people who write books sometimes take a sabbatical to write the book.
Sometimes it’s spent on continuing education. Seminars, workshops, classes, and other forms of concentrated education can be considered short-term sabbaticals.
Sometimes, it’s just a time to relax and step back.
I haven’t been idle during this period of creative stillness. Far from it. The last twelve months have been very busy, and informative.
Here are a few of the benefits I’ve discovered in the midst of my creative stillness:
Other creative outlets
For me, that includes freelance writing for EmptyEasel. Freedom from the studio gives me more time for article writing.
I’ve also been journaling the experience. Journaling is something most writers know about, but that appears—on the surface—to be less important to artists. We’re visual, right?
Sometimes, the best way to work through something or explore new ideas is through the written word. My sabbatical from the studio has provided more time for this kind of idea exploration.
Reading art-related blogs and articles
In the heat of creative passion, there’s little time for anything else. Even blogs I follow regularly get ignored when time and energy is devoted to painting.
Now that I’m not actively painting, I’m reading more. And I’m reading about more types of art and methods than I would have done otherwise. I’ve found blogs to add to my reading list, too.
My kind of research is browsing the websites of artists and photographers who work in subject areas that overlap or complement mine. Equine subjects. Oil painting and colored pencil. Sporting news. That sort of thing.
I’m looking for things I didn’t know about, or for current events; the kinds of things that might play a role in my next painting, even though I don’t know when the next painting will happen or what it will be about.
What better time to learn a new skill or brush up on an old one? Craftsy is a great place for this. Choose a class and get busy.
So is the public library. I recently checked out two books on drawing. My goal? To refresh existing knowledge and learn something new.
I have a lot more time to give to my students now that I’m away from the studio. Teaching others is one of the best ways I know to learn new thing and my students are thriving on the additional attention and super fast response times.
Trying something new
Are you a painter? Try collage. Is sculpture your specialty? Why not give crafting a try?
I’ve been giving my creative energy to non art things. Writing. Journaling. Photography. Even a little web and newsletter design. All of those things exercise the creative parts of my brain without the pressure of studio work. No one is paying me for these things. There are no deadlines. There is, therefore, no external pressure.
But they all keep me creative and moving forward.
Every act of creation drains us of energy. Sooner or later, if we don’t recharge that energy, we will reach the end of it. Imagine a car running out of fuel and coasting to a stop. It’s the same principle.
All of the things I’ve listed are ways for me to recharge creative energy. There are many other ways, as well. Visits to galleries and museums. Getting out into the world around you. Family or social time.
I’ve been caring for five orphan kittens. It all contributes to recharging the creative battery, even kitten care.
I don’t know how much longer I’ll be in creative stillness, but I no longer fear it. I welcome it. Because, like it or not, creative stillness is just as much a part of the creative process as creating itself.