Monday, 5 November 2012

Beating the uncreative blues

Dear Diane,

We have a new meeting place for tea and talk! A branch of Costa Coffee has been built in the carpark of my gym. The good news is that it is open late so it is a perfect place to write between work and home. The bad news is that the cake is good and that means more time is necessary in said gym!

There is a certain irony that your last post was tardy because you were not feeling a creative urge and mine is tardy because I have been busy, busy, busy creating. There is an even greater irony that much of the creating has gone into pulling together a brand new blog called Plan • Create• Succeed which includes material about organisation amongst the posts about art, food, journalling, design and personal development.

Of course with Blogger I could have just written a post and there the new blog would be. But I decided that was no fun and sought out the challenge of learning how to use a self-hosted WordPress blog with a sleek premium theme. It was really fun using my brain for research and learning and writing lots of posts ahead of time and I am thrilled with the initial response from new readers.However, in my determination to meet my own self imposed deadline I let things with no deadline slip. Which is why, after our discussion off blog, about getting this blog more regular, I now have it scheduled in my blog organiser for fortnightly posts from me. A deadline means a commitment which means  I need a damn good reason not to do it!

Which sort of brings me on to your main question from last time about motivating yourself and whether I have ever hit a period when I am devoid of all impulse to create. I cannot actually think of a sustained time, since I discovered I actually was creative ( only a few years ago!), in which I have been unable to motivate myself. the have been days when I have chosen to do other things and in fact a period of about ten days running up to Festival of Quilts when I had all my projects finished and chose to rest from the studio so I would be really hungry to do new things when I got back to it with all my new inspiration and shopping from Festival. But that was a deliberate rest not a complete funk like you seem to have been struggling with.

I think there are two reasons for that. One lies in what some people would regard as my over the top target setting and organisation. I participate in the SAQA Visioning Project and my main target there for this year is about studio time. After much excruciating maths, I declared my goal was to be a thirty/seventy artist meaning that when you added up the time I spent over a year in the studio with that I spent at work, the total would divide thirty percent to creativity and seventy percent to work. There was much consideration of how to count work commutes and lunch hours count?...but in the end I got to a monthly total of 53 hours a month target subdivided for art and blogging.

Then I made a list of what projects I fancied doing in the first portion of the visioning year, how long each might reasonably take and made my choices based on what I could fit in to the time available. Those form my secondary goals for the project.

This means that the decision about what and for how long I am going to create is pre-made. So my decision each day is not, "Do I feel like creating?" but rather, "Do I want to miss my target?" or " No I have spent so much time On this project already do I really want to slack off now and miss the deadline for submission." or actually, the question is usually more, "Am I in the studio before or after dinner tonight or am I clocking hours with handwork in front of the TV today?"

I think I have a healthy regard to these targets. If I miss a submission date, I miss a submission date and the world does not stop. There is nothing to beat myself up over and maybe there will be times when other things, say, health or family, take priority. Fine. But the buzz of meeting my own targets and crossing them off on the drywipe board in my studio is heady and enough to keep me going.

Basically I have created a habit of creativity rather than constantly making a choice whether to create or not. Please don't think I am bragging about this; I remain rather surprised that it has happened!

The second reason is that I find creativity soothing and comforting. As you know I lost my Granny a few days ago.  ( do you remember taking this photo? Its the last one of us together.)

It was expected but still, bereavement I found made me feel heavy and stolid and washed out. Logistics of being away for the funeral means I missed a couple of days of sewing (although I did take the opportunity to solve a thread emergency by popping to the nearest quilt shop to where she lived and put the finishing touches to Plan • Create • Succeed !) But the day she actually died and the weekend after the funeral I spent hours at my machine and hand quilting. The flow of creativity ( and some good films and back episodes of Grey's Anatomy on Love Film Instant while I worked) soothed and sustained me and took my mind away from grief and loss to a more positive state of bringing art in to being.

You mentioned that part of your problem was a dissatisfaction with your space and I totally agree that having a suitable dedicated space is a big enabling factor. A studio is not a requirement for good creativity; as the photos in our book show I did much of my early work on a dining table. But I think that having a dedicated space however big small, basic or luxurious sends a big psychological message that creativity is a basic life function like cooking, washing, sleeping and doing laundry. In a studio what else are you going to do but create? Having that area is a sort of validating permission.

Or to put it another way, as my husband said when I checked he did not mind me spending so much time in my studio, "We spent thirty grand on it, you'd better be sending lots of time in there!" (Of course there is no need to build a new house storey as I did, its just identifying a space and dedicating it to creativity that works. I know part of your troubles that are consuming you involve your environment and what it will be like in the future and I encourage you to build into your plans a dedicated studio separate from your office.

Interestingly, I have noticed this pattern with my burgeoning Filofax collection too. I have a taste for these beautiful leather binders which come at a certain price, although the hunt for the bargain is fun. I realised this weekend that the areas of my life that have a really nice binder that I love to use and have pushed the boat out a bit to buy get more attention from me. I think it is that by the act of committing money and the beautiful object to that purpose, I validate the purpose as worthy and important. Plus, the pleasure of using the binders ( Oh, the lovely soft leather, the flippiness of the pages, the joy of customisation. Ahem) makes me give the material inside the attention it needs.

Yes, I could use a cheap notebook or a mock leather binder but the joy of using something beautiful is motivating. So, writing the hours I clocked towards my quilting target in an Ochre Malden A5 model? Double whammy of bliss and satisfaction! Too often we downgrade creativity to leftover status when for reasons of our well being it should be up there with gym membership. Do you find your filofaxes have the same result? Did buying that great beast of a Bernina of yours have the same effect?

You also asked what would I do if I found myself lacking in motivation. I would take a pile of art related books or magazine or the like to a cafe and start to browse. Without fail I find that shortly I start to get inspired and excited and start to hunt out paper and pen to write ideas down. It does seem to work best in a cafe though. Maybe its just that I have trained myself to get the same signal I get from going to a studio,but I have never fathomed why cafes are such special places for creativity. I know you share that love of cafe life. Do you know what it is about them?

You also asked me about the effect on working in a series, but you know, this is a long post so I think I will keep you in suspense and write about that next time. (Such a tease but I have much to say!)

Oh, but before I go, I wanted to ask you about your watercolour sketchbooks... They do not obviously seem design related. Do you see them as an end product in themselves, or is it the process that is important and if so why? I like the idea of doing them but them I see them as a huge distraction from the task in hand of art quilting. I do not have time for distractions! Am I missing something? Do they feed into your textile work or stand alone?

In January the builder starts to convert our garage into a wet studio and laundry area. Before then I have to clear the large amount of junk in there. I thought about taking one item at a time and drawing it and journalling briefly about the item as a sort of quirky record of creating the studio. But I don't know.. That's more hours.. Is it worth it?



Terry Grant said...

I always feel a bit like I am intruding on a private conversation when I post a comment to this blog, but you talk about such interesting things here that it is hard to bite my tongue (figuratively) and hold back.

The one time I have been totally abandoned by my need to create something was the year my parents died within 5 months of each other. I had experienced losses before and like Helen found some comfort in the soothing nature of sewing and stitching. Not this time. Looking back I think it had to do with not only grief, but a loss of some part of myself and serious feelings about how I defined myself. Being a daughter meant, apparently, much more than I had been aware of. I felt without purpose and direction and definition after my parents died. Time, was, as it usually is, the only cure. I am coming out of a more recent funk, but of much shorter duration and different feeling. Mechanical chores related to getting ready for the urge to return was what got me back to work!--drawing, sorting fabric, dyeing fabric, cleaning the studio, etc. The proximity to my space and materials seemed to be the genesis of new ideas.

Kristin L said...

Phew -- that's a lot of organization, but I totally get it. I am in awe of those artists who can qualify goals and quantify what it will take to reach them and then to map out the road to get there. I can't seem to define to what I want nor commit to making it a priority. Anyway, I find that mixing up the media a bit feeds new parts of the brain and consciously or not, it does influence the other work you do. I would jump at the idea of drawing or otherwise cataloging, if not everything in the garage, the things you discard (and why). It could be an interesting study in motivations and sentimentalities.

Terry Grant said...

And, (sorry, I just can't shut up), Helen, I must say that I think drawing is the best thing you can do for your art. It is not the product that matters, it is the act of drawing that changes your brain and your way of seeing and will ultimately make all your art better. Really. I believe this strongly.

Anonymous said...

My first time here and I felt like Terry, wasn't sure if I could comment or not! But it was such an insightful post that I had to tell you how much I resonated with what you said. I write, I write in our kitchen extension, it becomes my office by day. I have a proper study but I never use it except for filing etc. I am peripatetic and also am often found waiting for children outside music lessons or rehearsals so I have a huge basket in which I can fit all my notebooks, journals, laptop and a wrap if I am cold. At the end of the day they are all packed up again and depending on where I am the next day I have everything to hand. Something as simple as that has helped so much with the creative flow because I feel I am "at home" wherever I am and I always have everything I need.

Diane Perin Hock said...

I will reply properly with a full post soon, but had to say several things: first, Helen and I LOVE people jumping into the conversation! I'm glad you've added your thoughts. Second, sklybluepinkish, you sound like me moving around with a basket full of suplplies. I typically go out on chores with a basket that holds my Ipad, a filofax or two for your align and planning purposes, my little watercolor and sketching kit, my current novel , etc. I've never thought of it as a portable office but now I will!

Helen Conway said...

Yeah, we love comments. We ake out like this is private but really... We are attention seeking! Well, speaking for myself anyway! And I too have a big African basket that cafe goes with me, full of books, journals, filofaxes,ipad ,wrap, socks and usually some emergency food. In case I get hungry on the way to the cafe or rhey run out of food or something!