Spark Your Creativity!
Have you ever had a sort of “safe but bored” feeling when doing a creative project? The sort of thing where you’re working well within your comfort zone, and it feels kind of nice, kind of easy, and reassuring, but also kind of… dull. Perhaps you’ve also had a concern that getting out of your comfort zone might feel too alarming and impossible. You wonder how to spark your creativity and feel more engaged with your artwork.
I’ve worked with many, many art-makers, from absolute beginners through to fellow professional artists, and the “safe but bored” comfort zone seems to be a familiar state that pretty much everybody finds themselves in from time to time.
Don’t get me wrong: there are certainly times when we need to spend time in our comfort zone. It can be immensely, well, comforting. Which might be exactly what is required! When that’s the case, stay there for as long as you need. Doodle, draw mandalas, colour something in, or do whatever gentle, low-key, creative activity that soothes and calms you.
But the key is to notice, to be aware of your feelings.
Making your artwork, do you feel relaxed in a good way or do you feel bored? Boredom is great because it can be such a good signal that something needs to change. Frustration can be another great signal to respond to.Creatives: does your artwork energise you; or bore you? How to spark your creativity... Click To Tweet
When you’re drawing or painting, and you start to get a whiff of boredom or frustration, stop and remind yourself that you’ve arrived at an exciting choice-point. Now is the time to make an important choice: either to take the inner critic approach, or to spark your creativity by taking what I call the grappling approach.
I’m sure you already know the inner critic approach. It’s the one where you listen to your inner critic carping on (“you’re doing this all wrong, it’s rubbish, I don’t know why you even bother, you’ll never be as good as [insert name], just give up now, it’s pointless even trying” etc). Does paying attention to that voice help you feel more creative and do better? Of course not!
So what’s the grappling approach?
It’s both an attitude thing and an energy thing. It’s to do with being kind to yourself, and it’s also about taking risks and finding ways to energise your working process.
I call it “grappling,” but it could equally be called tussling, or wrestling, or scuffling… you get the idea! A bit of a skirmish, a vigorous encounter. But—and this is very important—with grappling, the vigorous encounter is happening in a friendly, safe-enough way that doesn’t leave you feeling frightened (because as you probably know, nothing inhibits creativity like fear!)
The grappling approach involves big doses of self-kindness, self-forgiveness, and permission-giving.
So, what is it that we are grappling with? Well, we’re grappling with something that’s outside us (i.e. to do with the materials) and with something that’s inside us at the same time. And if we’re making an artwork that is based on something we see (such as if we’re drawing a person or object that is in front of us), then we are also grappling with that too.
Here’s an example of what it might look like in practice:
Let’s say you’ve plucked up the courage to go to a life-drawing workshop. You’re doing your best, but somehow the figure in your drawing looks completely different from the model you see in front of you. You are on the verge of feeling defeated, but then you get a surge of energy.
You grab your eraser and attack the paper with gusto. The marks of your earlier version can still be seen, which in a funny way feels like a relief: this slightly messed-up paper will never look “perfect,” so you now have permission to make something imperfect but heartfelt. Using charcoal, you challenge yourself to start again, but this time, trying to “see” the model in a new way.
You grapple with the materials, pushing and pulling them about and finding the limits of what they can do. You give yourself permission to be playful and experimental.
You grapple with the model too. Not physically, of course (the class and the model probably wouldn’t thank you if you tried!) but in terms of trying to perceive something more and different about such things as where she is in space, how her weight is distributed, how the light interacts with her skin, and even using your imagination and empathy to try to intuit something about how she might be feeling as she poses there.
And you grapple with yourself, with your preconceptions and your self-limiting beliefs.
You grapple with your own brain, seeing if you can get the left hemisphere of your brain to stop running the show, and work increasingly cooperatively and interactively with the right hemisphere, which has a different way of perceiving things.
You take the chance to experiment: you might draw “blind” (working quickly, using a single continuous line, and looking continuously at the model without looking at the paper). Or you might see if you can draw the model using a short piece of charcoal on its side, in broad marks. Or you might try drawing a small part of the model so big that it fills the paper.
There are countless other things you might try as you spark your creativity. And yes, they might all end up as a drawing that you decide to put in the bin. There are no guarantees of success in terms of the finished product. But using this method, you are going to be successful in terms of process and developing as an artist (even if it takes a long while to recognise that!)
The grappling approach is all about having a more compassionate and forgiving attitude to yourself and your struggles as well as a different attitude to risk-taking and experimenting.
It’s about allowing yourself to feel excited, and hopeful, and optimistic, and delighted.
It’s about being curious and willingly following the threads of your curiosity down little alleyways of exploration, even though there will sometimes be dead ends.
It’s about looking at things afresh and turning something upside down (perhaps literally) so that you can get a new surge of energy and excitement about it.
It’s about giving yourself permission to make mistakes and not expecting every single piece of art you make to delight you (or other people) and accepting that no matter how skilled you are, there will be plenty of pieces that you will throw away (or perhaps rip up and repurpose as collage materials.)
It’s about letting yourself sometimes feel disappointed with what you’ve done, and yet, instead of beating yourself up, cheerfully forgiving yourself.
I’m a psychotherapist as well as an artist, and I always notice the overlaps between the two fields. I love the way that art-making using the grappling approach can be a powerful way of practising skills for living in a happier, more fulfilling way.
When we can be flexible in adapting to challenges, when we can tolerate a wide range of feelings (whether joy, disappointment or whatever), when we can keep on seeing things in fresh ways instead of always viewing things from a single, fixed perspective, and when we can feel grateful and appreciative when things go well and forgive ourselves when things go wrong, we can enjoy the all-important resilience that is part of good mental health and happiness.
Next time you are drawing, painting or whatever, and you realise you are feeling a bit bored or frustrated, remember that you have now arrived at a glorious, exciting choice-point. Will you plod along dully; will you let yourself be beaten up by your inner critic; or will you get grappling? The more you practise grappling, the better you’ll understand and experience its potential.
The grappling approach is a win-win way of doing things: it helps you feel better because you’re both being kind to yourself and pushing your boundaries.
And sometimes, yes, there’s another wonderful benefit: when you spark your creativity through grappling, you may find yourself making artworks that thrill you, surprise you and that feel deeply meaningful.
How good would that feel?
What do you usually do when you’re feeling bored or frustrated with your creative projects? How do you usually get out of the rut? Share with me in the comments!