We’re in week six or seven of this pandemic now, and I don’t know about you all, but I feel like I’m starting to normalize this new reality (although that brings some anxiety about getting back to the “real” normal in a few more weeks, but that’s a problem for later). As with most other states, our governor extended our stay-at-home order through May 30, which means about four more weeks of being at home as much as possible.
Normalizing for me has luckily meant that a lot of my day-to-day anxiety and inability to focus has gone away, and it’s made room for all the things I want to do still — creative or not — while I have the time. I realize what a privileged position I’m in, and I like to hope that maybe some of the suggestions I offer here can help those of you still feeling like I was a few weeks ago.
So, in addition to all the other stuff I’ve been saying here — let yourself just practice without pressure, create rougher pieces, commit to smaller increments of time at the art table — I’m back with a couple more things that have been helping me keep working, particularly when I need some inspiration. Don’t get me wrong; I’m still not being as prolific as I want to be, but when have I ever been?
Still, I’m finding ways to get back to it. Here are some of the things that have worked for me:
For one, I look at other people’s art for inspiration. I think one of the Great Myths of Being an Artist is that it means pulling brilliant ideas out of thin air. That doesn’t happen; it just doesn’t. All artists are inspired by things they see, read, hear, eat, whatever. The “magic” comes in how they translate those sensory experiences into their chosen medium. As far as I can tell, the people who seem really “creative” to me are the ones who have experiences (or interpret those experiences) much differently from my own. I follow dozens, maybe hundreds, of other artists on Instagram. When I see something in my feed that really strikes me, I save it. Then I have a little library of saved stuff to go back and revisit when I need inspiration.
Pinterest is another great place to put together a “library of inspiration.” There’s tons of art shared on there, too, but you don’t just have to search for that — I also have boards for color swatches and cool architecture (one of the subjects I like painting). You could also try searches for things like “flowers” or “beaches” or other things you like and see how the colors and shapes might inspire you.
Secondly, a lot of artists are hosting IG Live classes to demonstrate techniques, or they have (free!) YouTube videos where they’ll walk you through a creative project. I like these because they let me see how other artists work. There are so many different ways to paint the same subject matter and add a stylistic twist. Recently I’ve tried one from Jenna Rainey’s YouTube Channel and another from fashion illustrator Jessica Durrant (her IG Live class on drawing faces inspired me to try the drawing at the end of my last post).
Third, and this might sound like cheating, but I also try recreating other pieces of art. (Disclaimer: this is for my personal growth/practice only; I don’t try to profit from or pass off other people’s work as my own.) Reproducing a painting is a really good learning tool, and I’ve found it’s also a good way to help put the emphasis on the process of creating instead of the product, since it is just practice. My piece almost never looks exactly like the original, and a lot of times that’s on purpose, but I still have learned a lot. It can also inspire you to try your own subject matter in another style, which can be really freeing. For example, I recently repainted a watercolor sketch of a stack of books by Agnese Aljena which uses a muted palette and dramatic shadows; next I might try stacking up some of my own books and applying what I learned to my own composition.
The last idea that’s helped me keep moving is to work smaller. A friend gave me a pack of watercolor “postcards” — 4″ x 6″ sheets with rounded corners — that are perfect for object sketches, for example. I’ve also divided up bigger sheets into smaller 5″ x 7″ sections with drafting tape so that I can do multiple smaller pieces on one page. I know of some artists who work even smaller than that. When the blank page feels too big, cut it up!
If you really just don’t have the focus or inspiration to come up with something on your own, though, there are some great solutions on Etsy too. Artists (myself included) have started creating pre-drawn templates on watercolor paper that you can get to work on painting right away. I made a few kits of my watercolor crystals that are ready to be painted, and I’ve found other artists who offer drawings of turtles, cactuses, and other fun scenes (plus instructions or tips on how to paint if you’re new to watercolor). A lot of us can also send you some paint and a brush if you don’t already have the supplies, thus removing as many barriers as possible between you and art.
So, to summarize, here’s some things to try if you’re feeling creatively stuck:
- Look at other artwork. Create Pinterest boards or save posts on Instagram that strike you or inspire you, and revisit them.
- Watch process or how-to videos and paint along with the artist (or use the demonstrated techniques to create your own work).
- Try replicating another piece of art that you like. What is striking about it, and can you capture that by figuring out the original artist’s techniques? Try applying what you learn to an original piece.
- Work smaller — create scaled down pieces that take less time and require less sustained focus.
- Check out places like Etsy to find ready-to-paint pieces (or whatever medium you’re interested in). Try searching “paint yourself kits” or “DIY kits.”
Have you tried any of these suggestions already? What helps you to keep working? What do you do for inspiration, especially now that our spheres are so much smaller?