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We All Need Recess
A creative prompt for getting out of our heads and into a more process-oriented state.
Welcome to the weekend edition Creative Fuel! These weekend missives are for creative inspiration, sometimes through prompts, sometimes through other means.
Today’s is going out to everyone. Paid subscribers help make this whole newsletter possible and get the weekly edition every week and have access to the full archive of weekend prompts + inspiration.
I was excited to return to the studio this week. To take some of the impressions of the last month and turn them into something.
I thought about all those things I wanted to take with me from summer and how I would implement them. So on Tuesday morning, still with a hint of jet lag, I reached for my notebook instead of my phone. Creative ritual success #1!
I went on a walk to get the ideas flowing. Creative ritual success #2!
I went to the studio and made a list of all the work things I needed to get done in the week so they would at the very least be out of my head and on paper instead. I resisted the urge to check my email for no good reason. Creative ritual success #3!
Then I got to the task at hand: make some art. At which point, I stalled.
I flipped through my notes and sketches from the summer for inspiration. I looked around the studio at the paper, the pens, the watercolors… in the moment I really didn’t know where to start. Instead of a flow of inspiration I felt stuck in a muddy return.
I texted a friend, “I’m in the studio for the first time today and now realizing I don’t know what to make or how to begin. HOW DO I MAKE ART?”
She of course gave me the advice I would give to anyone:
Scribble a big blob, see what it looks like.
Rip some stuff up, rearrange it.
Lower your expectations.
Even as I got to said blobs, I felt that immediate sense of needing to produce start to percolate back up. It had been so nice to be away from that for a few weeks. So freeing, so expansive.
I hadn’t been dreading coming back to work, in fact, it had felt like the opposite: I had some things I was excited to work on. But nonetheless, there was an incredible slowness in starting back up. I had a sense of stepping back into a routine that I felt entirely unprepared for, or had forgotten how to do. I was out of practice.
For me, like many independent artists and creatives, fall is a time of production. My main thing this month is making my annual calendar, and there is an assortment of other things to line up and have organized before “Elf Season” begins.
Creativity is a matter of process over product, but how do you stay in that process even when a product and outcome is required of you?
It’s all well and good to say, “Experiment! Play! Make what you want!” (which yes, I say all the time) but the reality is that those things are much harder to put into practice than we think. It’s not as easy as just saying them.
While we might come to these essential elements of creativity as children, as adults, they function as much as muscles as any other part of our creative practice. They require regular investment. They need to be constantly maintained. They need structure.
I won’t say that within just a few days I’ve entirely found my way back to my creative work flow, but I’m inching my way forward. I’m mulling this question of how to maintain a sense of looseness and experimentation not in spite of the constraints, but within the constraints. After all, the constraints may look different from person to person, but they’re always with us in some capacity.offered up a great quote from Vincent Van Gogh in a recent edition of that I think fits here.
“[I]n order to write a book, do a deed, paint a picture with some life in it, one has to be alive oneself. And so, unless you never want to progress, study is a matter of very secondary importance for you. Enjoy yourself as much as you can, have as many diversions as you can, and remember that what people demand in art nowadays is something very much alive, with strong colour and great intensity. So intensify your own health and strength and life a little; that is the best study.
So don’t study and grind away too much, for that makes one sterile. Enjoy yourself too much rather than too little, and don’t take art and love too seriously—there is very little one can do about it, it is mainly a question of temperament.”
I know that not everyone who reads this newsletter is a working artist or makes a profession out of their art. But I do think that we all have a sense of understanding what happens when we’re holding onto expectations too tightly, when we’re overthinking what the next step should be, when we lose sight of why we started doing the thing in the first place.
We can be diligent about our creative work. But we need to be equally as diligent about the play in our creative work.
Don’t take it all too seriously.
Put your inner child in charge.
This craving for looseness, for experimentation, for being unattached to the outcome… these are things we used to do. Which means we can find our way back to them.
As you can tell, there’s a bit of a back-to-school energy happening here in the newsletter. But I really do believe that if we drop the baggage that comes with being an adult and abide by a more childlike state of curiosity, wonder, and play once in awhile, we do benefit.
To take the school framework: we all need recess. A little bit of structured time in our everyday where we can let go of the usual expectations and shake out a bit of energy.
And if you’re putting that inner child in charge, whether it’s with an art project, a poem, or some other creative endeavor this weekend, just be sure to give it some snacks and maybe a nap too.