As artists, we have said amongst ourselves how we need to stretch, step back, see the world - or even just the local neighborhood - a little bit more, in order to reapply ourselves to the creative process with renewed attention.
But even with our affirmation of these clear benefits in punching the pause-button, we often fall short of acting on them. Perhaps it is a common trait for creatives, to predominantly intellectualize our progress?
For myself, I have been stubborn enough to sit before my spread of projects and, feeling the tick of the clock as if I had swallowed it, simply stare into the void of creative dilemma that hangs somewhere between my mind and the paintings a few feet away. I'll just...survey my work, but being stuck, for any of the myriad reasons we get stuck, I am only investing in staying stuck! I sit there, watching only my problems, prolonging my dysfunction. It's remarkable how much time goes by under such poor investment.
So how do we temporarily step back, stop over-analyzing, and make better investments?
Don't think about it like you would a planned outing. It isn't a picnic with a menu and friends. It shouldn't be a grocery list or a set equation to solve for x, 'x' marking the prolific sweet spot. Don't fight with the same tools that are making you loose the battle.
Do get up, and with the 'hand's off' ease of autopilot efficiency, throw a to-go bundle of brushes, pencils, watercolor, and towel left-overs into a satchel, maybe with your water bottle and an apple. Or take the camera instead, or the years-weary, precious leather sketchbook that records all thumbnailed ideas. Whatever simple tool-kit of creativity that might need a bit of attention again.
Don't think about it. Just pick it up, stow it, and walk out the door. No plan.
(If you have a family, prepare them ahead of time with this probable and necessary, self-diagnosing re-set method. It's the courteous thing to do).
There is a certain 'pressure's off!' mode that can be tricky to learn to access, but is a wonder of relief once figured out.
If you're naturally inclined towards analyzing your experiences, keeping a meticulous psychology, and monitoring your tasks and time with hawk-like application - like me - you will find it challenging to first:
- reprogram your neurology to identify and avoid over-stepping functional intellectualism
- to switch on an action-oriented perspective.
But it's temporary. It's the metaphorical eject button; have the self-preservation to activate the parachute, take the flight down, letting external forces do their work, and by the time the parachute has deflated, you've got a fresh head.
It's the brilliance of endorphins, really, and when a practice like art, by it's definition, inhibits a consistent relationship with these invigorating, healthy chemicals, it's easy to leave them out of our repertoire.
Once you're in touch with recognizing those moments of going too far into creative no man's land, and through trial and error have found your cue or 'trigger' method to let something active clear your head, the benefits take on a steady role in your life, improving both creative presence and vital, daily drive.
But be lenient with yourself. That equation can wait until you've put in the hours on it's components.
How do you best reset? What actions most directly flow with you, let you tune out or explore a simply sensory few moments under the sun again?
Just, go. Start. Begin to bounce, turn it into jumping jacks, maybe that will inspire you to start sprinting, and turn that into a game for yourself, no strings attached. Don't think it through ahead of time. Think action.
How did that feel? How effective was it? Is it easy for you to switch on again next time, or would something else be better? Mix it up.
Childlike, automatic, commanding my mental guidelines to take a siesta, I stand up, collect a small satchel of options - only options! - put my shoes on, and walk out the door, all in a few swift minutes, following through on long-legged strides.
I'm letting my body oxygenate, giving it permission to initiate my trek for me, flexing into my physicality as I go, taking deep breaths, letting go of the 'stuck'. It doesn't belong here.
Taking advantage of what I know of the area I am living in, I walk a few miles to a glen park, where forest, water, and nature-noise await me. I step onto the path, climb over rocks, tip-toe across stream-beds, no plan, no schedule for my 'creative options' on my back. They are just options, meant to be pressure-free. I don't need a new project giving me grief.
And as I do, as I let my body chemically activate, processing as it does best, setting me up for a boost I could never have stubbornly ordered out of the murk of sitting, staring, at my 'stuck' back in the Studio, I float down, my 'parachute' deflates, my head is remarkably fresh - hey, thanks body! - and a little sweaty, I sit down to bask in the clear sunlight...
And then this happens, with those 'options' I gave myself:
A fresh study, flexed fingers, and hungry, wakeful neurons firing.
I leave my scene with hope, with lightness, with a renewed sense of confidence in my conviction to get that bloody painting done (or that infuriating concept strong, or that tedious drawing transferred, or that less than ideal commission sorted out properly)...
I'm smiling, before I arrive back at the Studio. I'm limber as I walk back into the room, and my attention is renewed. After only a few hours, from setting out to getting back, I've done more for my mind and body than I could have ever come close to achieving in equal time, foolishly procrastinating in mental muck.
The problem is still there, but I'm no longer a problem.
As artists, we can intellectualize the hell out of technique, content, process, emotional preoccupation, and all the ways our cerebral domain deserves our loyal, milling finesse.
Yet, there is a limitless resource we're neglecting. The body. It's able to provide the natural replenishment for the not so infallible imagination, that creative musculature, if you will, also known throughout the artistic and freelance communities as our livelihood. The more we act physically, the stronger our inspiration, confidence, wakefulness, and vigor for art work is. And the beauty of the human form is it's ability to personalize; there's no need to mimic an athlete in order to empower your own individual, biological prowess.
We know our strongest, most powerful work communicates best with audiences because of it's ability to incite a lingering emotional response. Work that is great, that is loved, is informed by human experience, visceral language, kinetic energy, emotional depth. "Draw verbs, not nouns", says Zelda Devon. Create what inspires and excites you, others will love it too, colleagues advise.
For a reason. Our work gains flatness as we sit, stuck in our own uninformed stagnancy. When we build our own human experience, visceral language, kinetic energy, and emotional depth, we are equipping ourselves to superhero status the way our 'powers' deserve. We're fortifying that repertoire. We're putting in the hours to solve for 'x', that prolific sweet spot. And we're smiling about it.
It's what comes from walking out.