Saturday, 12 January 2013

The Creative Process - Don't Burn Out!

Rule number one for all creatives is DON’T BURN OUT. Its common sense but we do it anyway. Despite everything I know I still do it. Neglect to put petrol in your car, change the oil or have it serviced and it will grind to a halt leaving your sorry ass on the motorway, in the middle of the night, in the pouring rain. With no phone reception.  Neglect to feed and nurture your creative self and the result is much the same. There is also no RAC/AA cover for this eventuality . . .  you will have to do it the hard way and walk; coming back from creative burn out takes as long as it takes.

So, how to avoid the burn-out? We talk about creative ‘output’ for a reason; the words, the music, the ideas, all pour out of you. You need to put something back in occasionally or you’re going to run dry. Creativity may come from an undefined somewhere but it does not, not, not live on fresh air.

The best strategies seem to fall into two basic categories; nurturing and boundaries. Without these two, you are nowhere.


Forget the hippy-dippy feel of this word – it comes from the word “nourish” which means to “sustain with food, foster, cherish, nurse”.

Take care of yourself.
This is so basic is shouldn’t need saying but sadly it often does – Don’t expect to do your best work if you are, strung out on lack of sleep, too many ciggies, too much coffee, alcohol, drugs, emotional dramas, lousy diet, or internet browsing. Contrary to popular myth a steady diet of the above will not make you a great actor/ writer/ artist/musician. We can all sustain a bit of that
( not trying to be a killjoy ) but keep it up and all you’ll do is break yourself. If you are broken then no-one else is going to write that novel, paint that canvas or dream up the great design.
You are your own greatest resource, respect what you have and value your Self enough to take care of it.

 Take your nose off the grindstone and do something else.
Doing something else allows the creative part of your mind to switch into another mode. Not only is this is restful but, ultimately useful, for your creativity will continue to work at a deeper level – think Archimedes in his bath. Play the ukulele or the kazoo, take up knitting or gardening, something, anything else that you can switch to. It helps if it is something fun. Anything fun pays back into the creative bank.  

Physical activity is especially good for this; there’s a zen like thing that happens. Ask anyone who runs or swims or walks. Ideas, inspirations and solutions will come when you give them room. If you do this often enough your creative mind comes to recognise this ‘switching off’ and will begin to use this channel to your conscious mind.

Give yourself some playtime. Regardless of any deadlines you might have, you have to do this. You can get away with denying yourself for a while but do it for too long and you will dry yourself up. It doesn’t have to be complicated, expensive or time consuming Salsa class or blowing bubbles, doesn’t really matter but it does need to be fun/satisfying in some way. I repeat, anything fun pays back into the creative bank. 

In much the same way as play is frowned upon once you get past a certain age, so daydreaming is considered a waste of time. Not so, daydreaming may well keep you alive. Not in a physical sense but in a crucial, imaginative, sensitive, nourishing and creative way.

Dreams are absolutely essential to our emotional wellbeing; they nourish the soul. Daydreaming speaks to the heart and essence of who and what you are both as an individual and as a human being. And creativity has to have the freewheeling, noodling downtime that daydreaming gives.  One of my favourite Albert Einstein quotes is “Imagination is more important than knowledge”. And he should know.

All very well and good but how do you take the time, make the time to daydream? It’s a question of whether you and your creativity are worth it. The good news is you don’t necessarily need big chunks of time but you do need to do it. My favourite is to make a cup of tea and stand at the window and watch the sky.  Not, make a cup of tea and browse the internet, send a text, phone my mother, drink tea with one hand and fill the cat’s bowl with the other. Just do nothing for a whole five minutes. Then you can do all that other shit. 

A couple of other suggestions are ;

Take a bath with no interruptions. ( Harder than you think, especially if you have children )

Walk the dog alone. Not, walk the dog and text somebody. Wander lonely as a cloud. It’s not lonely, it’s deeply restful. Haven’t got a dog? Borrow one.

Doodle – doodling on a page is brilliant for getting the monkey mind to take time off. You don’t need to be an artist to do this and nobody else has to see it. It’s about random lines not making a masterpiece. I’m not a drawing kind of artist but I’ve got sketchbooks full of doodles.

Stare out of the window on your daily commute instead of texting, phoning, playing with your ipod/tablet. You will be so much more refreshed and notice so much more than if you fiddle the whole time.

Take a proper lunchbreak – don’t sit at your desk, checking your inbox/junkmail/Pinterest/Facebook.

Not daydreaming as such, but related to . . . . Meditate in the morning or before bed. No method, no guru, no teacher. Just sit with yourself and allow your breathing to relax and slow down. Yes, the monkey mind will chatter like, well, a monkey but sit with yourself anyway. Can be five minutes or an hour, whatever is good for you. If all you get out of it is five minutes to yourself in peace and quiet then you’ve gained something. If you persue meditation as more of a practise you will come to find that there is a vast space on the inside and below the monkey mind there is a deep deep calm. All of which helps to redress the thousand and one demands that erode our personal head space and leave us feeling strung out.

Other Useful Things to Do;

Anything that absorbs you completely . . . . jigsaw puzzles, origami, lego ( highly recommended for adults ) , taking things apart, cleaning them then putting them back together again, more doodling ( buy yourself a colouring book and a set of feltpens if you feel inhibited by the idea of doodling ).

Scrapbooks . . . . . as a visual artist this is what I do to re-inspire and feed the creative mind. Cutting pictures out of magazines, sticking them down with glue is the most absorbing process. Again, it doesn’t have to be perfect ( I get way too hung up on making it look good ) and no-one has to see it but it gives the unconscious mind so much fodder.

Find new areas of interest – depart from your norm, whatever it is and look at something new. New interests feed the imagination in ways you cannot anticipate.

There are a hundred and one ways that you can feed your creative self, get to know what works for you and keep, keep, keep doing it.
Next time . . . . how boundaries can help you stay sane.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Ghost Town

Photographing at night . . .  a natural progression from walking at night. Go out during the day and there is too much to engage with. Walking at night everything is pared down, visually and aurally. I feel free walking at night. 

I'm trying to take more time framing the shot, thinking about what I'm after.
Still thinking about alienation but also about the different layers to the world; there is always another world beneath/behind/underlying the everyday one we so casually accept. Which most of us don't really look at all.

Layering the different shots together . . . . don't ask me why I went for colour with these . . . . just to see really. I shall draw my last breath thinking " I wonder what would happen if . . . . ?".  There's a kind of underwater feel here.

Alienation,strangeness, loneliness . . .  this little seaside town has it's desolation just like anywhere else. I'm not interested in the chocolate box giftshop chip shop thing unless it's to draw out the strangeness of it.

My favourite out of all this lot ( above )  . . .  now the new blog header, facebook picture thingy. Can't get enough of it.

Then invert everything and we've got an urban take on the Landscape of Nostalgia thing. They have a kind of early photography feel to them  but with weird added to the mix. Which do you like best? Colour or vanilla?

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The Creative Process Part III - The Heart Asks Pleasure First

The ideal, for any artist, is to stay creatively healthy, happy, and productive. Begin by recognising that the creative self is something that has specific needs and  requires nurturing and you’ve made a start. What does the creative self need? What is the nature of creativity? 

If asked, most people would say that creativity is just making stuff. But no, making stuff is the end product. Creation itself arises from the very core of our being, from a deep, deep wellspring within. It is the expression of something that comes out of the Self but also comes from somewhere beyond ourselves.

It is both simple and complicated. Simple because creation is, first and foremost, play. Not worthy, sensible, serious stuff but simple child- like wonder and playfulness. Complicated because we grow so far from our simple selves and the world demands so much that goes against the grain of that simplicity and inner freedom that we are often in danger of draining the life out of ourselves and our creative natures.

If you watch a small child play, they are completely involved, totally present and alive in the moment, absorbed, endlessly fascinated, always curious, experiencing the world with all their senses. There is little or no sense of what they can’t do. Once you've left childhood, play is dismissed as being childish and a waste of time. But play is not only how children express themselves, it is how they learn about the world and their place in it. It is how they innovate and find solutions. It is how their imaginations and their hearts learn to fly. As Einstein once said “ Imagination is more important than knowledge”.

Your creative self is just like that small child. Yes, if you are a working artist/writer/musician there will be hard work and serious stuff but at the heart of it all you must keep the wonderment, the sense of adventure, the fun, the lack of strictures and rules and all the other crap that the world says you need in your life but that will suffocate the life out of that creative happy child. Do this you and you create a place within your life from which all the art/words/music/dance comes. This is the anchor, the starting point, the bedrock of your creative life from which all else proceeds.

This can be a tricky balance to try and maintain. The world clamours ever louder for our attention and there a million and one ways to drift away from that bedrock. Knowing what you need is the vital starting point, from that you can begin to work out how to keep your creative self sane, happy and nourished.

I will leave you with a couple of quotations from Joseph Campbell that have been constant reminders of where my heart has needed to be . .

“I don’t know whether my conciousness is proper conciousness or not, I don’t know whether what I know of my being is my proper being or not; but I do know where my rapture is. So let me hold onto my rapture and that will bring me both my conciousness and my being.”

“If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while waiting for you and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in your field of bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you all the time.”
Joseph Campbell, Mythologist.

Next time . . . . .  What Not to Do or How to Keep your Creative Sanity

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

The Creative Process - Artists are not like other people.


Artists are not like other people. Creating is not something we chose  as a self indulgent whimsy, floating around with paintbrush/pen/musical instrument in hand, head in the clouds, living in some fey fantasy La-La Land waiting for The Muse to touch us with her faery wand. Tell someone you’re an artist though and you will see an approximation of just that cross their minds.

For most artists creativity is not a choice; it's a need. It is essential to your wellbeing and your peace of mind and it is as intrinsic to you as your DNA. It is hard wired into your soul.

All very well and good but your creative soul has its own set of rules and needs. Meet these needs and you will feel content, harmony will reign and your work will flow. Neglect or ignore these needs and you will begin to feel emotionally dehydrated, irritable, defensive, hostile, exhausted and pretty much ready to kill anyone who crosses you. Or  looks at you the wrong way. Oh, and your work, your beloved work. Producing anything significant will be like pulling teeth.

The secret lies in knowing and understanding what the creative self needs. You wouldn’t buy a car and not bother to find out whether it takes leaded or unleaded petrol. Nor would you think of driving it around without putting any petrol in it at all. Understand what you’ve got and you can care for it and nurture it. It will, in turn, nurture you. Sounds corny but it’s true

Next time I will look at how your creativity works.

In the meantime do leave comments, opinions etc – feedback on this would be most valuable.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

The Creative Process - Failure


I'm knackered, burnt out, depleted, bereft of inspiration ( I could go on but I don't want to go bringing parrots into it*) . Another bout of creative failure has brought about this sorry state. And yet I am not sorry. Not sorry I tried and not sorry that, once again, I failed. 

Being self taught means there is a lot more trial and error than usual; I haven't had art college to help me define my ideas or style, it's been a wide ranging, on-going process of trying everything to see what works. And what doesn't. A lot of this process has taken place publicly, on my blog, website and facebook page not to mention the Etsy shops that died a death. Oh yes, I've put a lot of crap out there over the last few years.

There have been times when failure has been particularily hard - I have torn up and thrown out almost all my early paper based work. That  really really hurt and I confess to having cried but each time I did it I knew I was clearing the way for something new.

And that's the point right there - failure is not this isolated 'thing', it's part of a process. Obvious really but we tend to focus on the bit that didn't work rather than the wonderful, complex, evolving whole that it is.  

I once likened the creative process to wandering from a place you know to a place you don't know and possibly can't conceive of with a cardboard box on your head. To which I might add that there is a big element of going over the edge of a cliff as well. With the box still on your head, of course. Sometimes I make a mad dash for the edge and fling myself off just to see what happens, at other times I find myself inching closer and closer to the edge delicately feeling my way along. I am driven by curiosity and just enough fear and uncertainty to make it interesting.

I realized the other day that I loved this crazy process and was no longer that fazed by the possibility of failure - public or otherwise. The prospect of seeing whether I could fly off the edge of the metaphorical cliff or if I was going to crash and burn is just too damm exciting.

And in the spirit of possible failure I intend to blog more about what goes to make up the creative process, why artists are different from other people and how not to burn out . . .  that kind of thing. Stay tuned.

* Youtube search 'Norwegian Blue Parrot' if you don't get this reference.

** This picture isn't actually relevant I just didn't have a picture of a mad artist running off the edge of a cliff.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Strangeartworld Photography - The Fair came to Town

 A stunning opportunity for taking pictures . . . .  thursday night, the rides only half filled the carpark in the middle of town, a very sad bedraggled looking affair, only a few bewildered looking families and the usual bunch of likely lads. 

 Because it was almost deserted I was able to lie down on the steps of the Dodgers ride to get a couple of really good shots of the lights. No-one took any notice . . .  I'm developing the knack for being invisible when I take pictures.

Camera on the same setting, getting two very different results, I'm loving the over exposed yellow.

 But you have to admit this one's a cracker . . . . .


 Can't decide which I like better here, the colour or the black and white. The black and white given a little bit of punch with levels but that's all. The rest are all straight out of the camera. Have to say I also like the different size  formats available to me with this camera ( Lumix G3 ).

I only came home because the battery died on me  . . . . . dying to get out and take more trying different camera settings this time but, being a Bank Holiday in England, it's pouring with rain. I keep going to window to look out and speculate wether it will pass over by this evening. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

You can see the rest of the pictures here

Monday, 16 July 2012

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