Confession: I’m feeling pretty frustrated with my art practice this summer. As much as I want to dreamily move through World Watercolor Month in a watercolor-induced euphoria, my painting practice right now is scratched out in the margins of motherhood, bracketed by grocery lists and orthodontic appointments. There’s no sense of inspiration or rightness to a creative practice that feels like a postscript. And I’m supposed to be a professional artist; a role model for aspiring artists and a full time painter. This scrabbling for time amid the noise of life feels like my dirty little secret.
And yet, even as I write this (feeling guilty that I’m not using this time for painting), I see across my painting table a huge stack of paintings, evidence of productivity and time invested in art. There might be a hundred paintings there, proof that consistently showing up is more important than meeting some ideal of the perfect artist’s life.
If I’m scraping up minutes where I find them, can I similarly dig up inspiration for those scattered abbreviations of time between motherhood’s demands? There are studies that show that creativity is more accessible for different people at different times of day, but I have no idea whether I’m more creative and productive in the morning, afternoon or evening. I have to take what I can get when the opportunity appears. When time is limited and the golden hour of creativity can’t be set aside, how does an artist tap into flow?
I believe that no matter how much (or little) the time I have to paint, I paint best in a safe space where my creativity can thrive, and over the years I’ve developed habits that help me find a space of flow even when time is short.
It’s called a creative practice and if it’s a practice, are there habits you can establish that will form a framework to remind your body and mind to open up to creative flow? Could an artist structure a routine that prepares you to paint?
My creative starting process doesn’t really look very intentional, but it is! Because my creativity killer is my tendency to be a rule-follower, my creative flow is awakened best through play. I need to start with a reminder that in my art space, I get to do whatever I want. When I enter the studio, I don’t start painting right away. I meander in and poke around for a bit. I rarely clean my studio at the end of a painting session, rather, I start a session by tidying up some of the messes from the last time I painted. I fill my paint water cups with clear water, creating a symbolic fresh start for my brushes and my mind. I review recent paintings with curiosity, trying to avoid judgment, noticing instead the parts I like, techniques or colors that feel inspiring. I make a cup of coffee and choose a playlist or podcast to listen to while I paint. Rather than setting a big intention, I try to listen to my inner sense of what I might want to achieve in today’s painting session. Do I want to start a new project, or am I intrigued by the possibilities in an unfinished painting? Do I need the mood lift of a purely playful color exploration, or the safe space of painting something I know well and can successfully complete? Am I excited about taking risks in my paintings, or do I need the comfor of traditional and familiar techniques?
My pre-painting routine often feels haphazard, even lazy because I don’t rush into the studio and start work immediately. But even though this wasn’t initially intentional, I’ve realized that my body knows best, and this lackadaisical beginning is my way of reminding myself that my art practice is for me. My creativity feels most uninhibited when I offer myself self-indulgent freedom, when I let time fall away and take the pressure off of my own productivity.
If you’re an artist who thrives under intention and structure, perhaps your creative starting ceremony might look like entering a space that is clean and clear to welcome your ideas, with your beginnings planned out. Perhaps you are a very physical person whose inspiration will flow best when you’ve warmed up your body with yoga or breathing exercises. Maybe you are keyed toward language, and your creative flow will be awakened through journaling before you paint, or reading poetry.
My creative habits didn’t feel like a starting ceremony at first; they felt like bad habits. I was quick to shame myself for not diving into painting as soon as I entered the studio, for not being more focused and driven. But I’ve realized that in letting myself start slowly and meander, I’m opening doors for inspiration, easing into my painting process, and it’s freeing to my artist self.
What are you doing today that helps you settle into your own creative flow? How can you create a start-up tradition that cues your body and mind to feel more free to paint like you? Leave a comment below and share what works for you!Recommended4 recommendationsPublished in