As I’ve been working on scripts and lessons for an upcoming online course these past few months, something I keep coming back to is a theme of creativity and guarding our creative energy. I think this past year has been really instrumental in learning that lesson for myself.
A year ago last week, I packed up all of my paints and brushes in my temporary Arizona studio and put them in a box, not knowing that I wouldn’t really touch them much in the next 365 days. But, outside of a few commissions and some touch-ups on nearly-done pieces, I ended up not painting again in 2020.
I think a lot of us experienced a similar moment last year when we were still and quiet for maybe the first time in a long time. I realized that I hadn’t painted a painting for myself in…maybe not years. A painting for the joy of painting, not a painting for a show or a deadline or a gallery or an event. And, I also realized that the place inside of me that paintings came from kinda felt empty.
So I did other stuff. I grew a garden (though I didn’t make sourdough or learn French). I got up with Matt at all hours of the night and morning to chase comets, and northern lights, and milky ways, and wild deserted places. We sat in a dry streambed in Arizona and watched a trio of Harris hawks tend their chicks on top of an ancient saguaro. Matt and I walked in the silence that is totally unique to 2am around Old Faithful, when the only sounds in the entire world were the constant rumble of the geyser and the alien sounds of whippoorwills. I watched birds in my back yard. Matt and the dogs and I went to sleep in a truck in Grand Teton and woke to the earliest rays of sunlight lighting up the Teton Range in bright pink and blue over a field of wildflowers like a postcard. We took the dogs on long walks and watched dozens of sunsets. We stood on a frozen river in Yellowstone and could see a sleeping coyote on our left, and a preening river otter on our right.
In all of that quiet time, I also learned a lot about creativity - where it comes from, and why it goes away. I think we sometimes view it like a machine that we can pump time into and get art out of. In reality though, I think it’s a lot more like an animal that needs food and sleep and lots of non-structured time watching a grasshopper crawl slowly up the stem of a marigold.
I didn’t walk entirely away from art for the year - I made sketches and studies, I experimented with a totally new non-paint media (which I’ll be sharing soon!), I created 100 abstract tonal pieces for a project with Matt, and I took half a dozen online classes to figure out how to teach art online. But, I didn’t do any of what I call “painting.” Every time I walked to the easel and thought I was ready to paint, I realized I wasn’t, so I let the soft squishy creativity creature rest a little bit longer.
Last week, I started laying out a painting, just for myself.
Back last spring there was this wild trend of uber-productivity. It felt like every artist I knew was posting about how much they were getting done now that they no longer had to leave their studios. That’s awesome for them! That also wasn’t me. I felt bad about it at first, but now I don’t. I needed that moment of silence to finally hear that I needed to take a break from uber-productivity.
Now, I want to paint again.
I hope that whatever happened in your life in the past 12 months, you’ve had time to take care of yourself the way you need to. I hope you also had time to take care of your creativity. And I hope that you haven’t felt bad about it, because you definitely weren’t alone.