How to Stay Creative as an Artist

How to Stay Creative as an Artist

In this article I want to share with you my methodology when it comes down to maintaining that artistic fire, that everyone praises and aspires to. Because, let’s be honest, inspiration, will to create and creativity in general, are mediums that have a certain fluidity to them, and sometimes they don’t spread evenly over the surface of our lives. Artists, whether total beginners or high level professionals, all face the issue of lack of power to create at some point along their career.

Over the years of my practice I probably had hundreds of conversations on this topic, and, frankly speaking, words don’t always resolve the anxiety that the lack of inspiration or creativity may cause in us. Nonetheless, sometimes they can have a very reassuring, calming effect or in best case scenario help approach the situation from a new angle, which eventually leads to better handling of such stress. In theory, these principles don’t only apply to the sphere of fine arts but could also be used generally in life. So without further ado, let’s get into the solutions I found to work quite well in the miserable state of no creative power.

A random sketch I did when I was having no ideas of what to draw

In the academy of arts I study in, Weißensee Kunsthochschule Berlin, the first 2 semesters are dedicated to allowing the freshmen students to explore all of the academy’s opportunities, try out different directions, regardless of whether you originally applied to painting or product design. This period of studies was filled with tasks and there were always suggestions of topics for our creations made by the professors. Once the freshmen reach their 3rd semester, they are being all broken up into groups according to their departments, and from that moment on their swimming in open waters begins.

I can’t speak for other faculties of Weißensee KH, but being part of mine, the Free Arts – Painting, feels more like a residency rather than a conventional university programme. The second students finish with their Grundlagen (literally translated as base studies) of the first 2 semesters, they can practically do whatever they want, there are no real grades, as how can one grade art, right? There are no real rules as to what you can create even though the faculty name implies it has to be painting related, one can practically do anything, film, sculpture, performance. It’s Freie Kunst – Free Art. But with this immense freedom comes an even bigger responsibility. One has to motivate themselves to learn, research, create and be an artist.

No one can teach you being an artist but yourself, seems to be the lesson of these past 4 years I spent at Weißensee academy.

I was 19 when the time came to self-organise and start creating something without a teacher telling me the topic of my creation. And I have to admit, it was very hard. So hard in fact, that I felt perhaps I am not even worth being an artist. It was a time filled with constant anxiety that was incredibly hard to overcome as an angsty teenager. But something clicked in me over the years. Creativity is fluid, it’s true, but one can teach themselves to flow with it like salmon in the stream instead of being a rock blocking creativity’s movement. There are few key components to that state of harmony with your creativity cycles.

Number 1: The never ending New

In the pandemic times, a lot of us have seemingly lost something very precious. The thing that probably drives our inspiration the most. Dancing in stuffy clubs, going to random places, finding new people etc. All these things that have to do with exploration of self and the outside, have been abruptly ripped away from us. Cooking up thoughts in my own head without having the space to burst it out, like by going to a mountain expedition or sitting in the park with a large group of friends, makes it increasingly hard to stay put and motivated to create, it is easy to get distracted and close in on yourself. Sorry for making it sound sad, let me bring some hope to you with this next paragraph.

The biggest lesson we as a society received is that one has to stop being so egocentric and work together and in the name of others. Even during the pandemic with its limited possibilities, one can find new experiences if we just look outside of our periphery.

Not Out of the Woods Yet, 150 x 110cm, Acrylic on canvas, Sofia Efremenko, 2020

Look at what you have. Being secluded with my own thoughts, I realised how much I miss my grandmother, who is having some long term health issues I managed to ignore, whilst I was occupied with the daily dynamic life of my own. I realised how deeply concerned I am about her. I put my mind to creating this painting to process this new emotion and new thoughts that emerged from this overwhelming compassion and worry.

Making Shadows, 50 x 70cm, Oil on canvas, Sofia Efremenko, 2021

Find something new in your mundane. Watching a film at home with your loved one, can be something you get used to over the time but whilst we are all locked up in our seemingly well-known habitats, one starts noticing a new charm in the usual aspects of their life.

Self-portait, 54 x 65cm, Oil on plank, Sofia Efremenko, 2021

Be mindful of others but don’t forget to explore the inner. Of course you have to give space to yourself and take account of the self-focused emotions as well, be that happiness or sadness from not having to go outside and go through a nerve wracking experience of having to talk to people. Don’t run away from yourself now that there is so much more time to listen to your thoughts. Accept them and try to work them out through your art as you would do with any other issue that you might work out that stemmed from the outside of you.

Number 2: In Words of the Artists

Vincent van Gogh, letter to Émile Bernard, Arles, 7 June 1888, Letter 6, page 3 Thaw Collection, given in honor of Charles E. Pierce, Jr., 2007, MA 6441.6

Just after Christmas, when I felt incredibly low on my motivation to paint, I laid my hands on a book that I was meaning to read since 2016 when my beloved mentor, who taught me so many things I know about art today, recommended it to me. I was searching for a sip of fresh air in my creativity staleness.

The book is a collection of Vincent Van Gogh’s letters to his brother Theodore. I read a Russian speaking version of this collection and from my understanding the editions may warry in the selection of letters presented in books from different publishers. But I am certain the main points will be preserved in any edition you pick (Here is a suggestion of this book in English).

Reading this astonishing piece of literature, showed me for the first time what being an artist might feel like for someone else. You read it not from a perspective of a dry, praising the masterfulness of the stroke biography but from Vincent himself. It is a very intimate account of his life from a first person perspective. It almost feels like you shouldn’t read the letters, like you are intruding on something truly private. And by the end of it, something clocked in me. It’s not the times or the place or the conditions I am in that my creativity depends on, but rather my own understanding of whether art is what I want to do.

You don’t have to answer the “Why?” to your question of doing art but rather the “Whether I want to?”

 Try to imagine your life as if you never could do art again. Scary, right? Well, that is what this letter gathering evoked in me. I realised that even if I can’t put my thoughts into a coherent form or even if I don’t have any thoughts at all, it’s important to do at least something! Just go and do. I know it is hard, especially for those of you artistic people out there who always suffer from the “This looks different from what I initially envisioned” syndrome like me. Nonetheless, go out there (not literally of course, please stay safe at home for a bit longer) and do something. Believe me, after the initial agony the perfectionism will cause you to feel, you will notice a certain level of satisfaction with yourself.

Just be ready to have a lot of unfinished things, and yes, it’s best when you can finish a piece but it is just as fine to start something and leave it to breathe for a while, maybe even forever. It’s fine, just let go for a bit. And this laissez-faire attitude brings me to my next and last point that should help you with creativity management.

My study of young Tarantine by Alexandre Shoenewerk

Number 3: Rest

Yes, I know, it is hard to accept, but without a thorough rest, your creativity will keep feeling like a tightly stretched string that will snap the second you pull on it. When I am saying rest, I don’t mean going to bed at 8 PM and sleeping till 10 AM, that too of course, but you have to expand your rest beyond that. Sometimes, when you start feeling the not good kind of tension in front of your canvas, sculpture etc., it might be a sign that you should take a step back and let the creativity regain its fluidity on its own. These resting periods may last anywhere from a couple days to a couple months, to even a couple years. The key here is to not fall victim to your own feeling of lack of self-worth if you are taking a break, which can be very hard to do if your definition of an artist is someone who creates constantly.

Truly there probably are those who can create constantly, but I have never met them. My experience was a painstaking process of teaching myself to not get attached to the lack of doing and focus on the future benefits that will 100% come after a break. I say it with such certainty, because it worked every time I had myself mentally prepared for taking a break and stepping back from doing art.

As I already said, you will go through a few stages of this resting process. First, you will feel like you are doing something wrong. Next you will finally let go and almost feel like you forgot about art. And then lastly, all of a sudden you will feel a powerful stream climbing up from your heart to your brain where new ideas will start brewing, potentially from the things you’ve experienced during your break or maybe from things you didn’t have the time to address before, whilst you were so preoccupied with managing your lack of creativity. It is a spectacular feeling and when you get it, your hands will literally itch to grab a pencil and a piece of paper and start the doing!

Fish seamless background. Hand drawn fish on a blue background.
Background vector created by nenilkime —

And that’s it. The 3 pillars of my creativity management and maintenance. Remember, you want to be a salmon in the stream and not a rock in the way of your creativity river.

Did you find this article helpful or do you have some of your own pro tips you could share? Please let me know in the comments, I will be very happy to heat your thoughts! In the meantime you can follow me on social media to continue watching how my creativity is going (or standing). Thanks for reading and have a great day!

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