Seasons of Creativity
A few years ago, I had a sudden realisation.
For as long as I can remember, I have always painted. Some of my earliest memories are of painting. Sometimes as an adult I would sit down to paint and it would be terrible. I would beat myself up about how rubbish I was and that I shouldn’t bother even trying. Yet, for some reason I always did try again. Then out of the blue I would have a brilliant day painting. Afterwards I would sit in awe at this work of art on the page and shake my head in confusion. Did I really just create that with my own hands? I did not know it at the time, but I was experiencing Seasons of Creativity.
It only occurred to me a few years ago, having had some time to paint regularly over the course of a few months. During this concentrated period of painting I recognised a pattern. And then it struck me. Creativity has seasons. Just as nature does, creativity also goes through phases of activity and rest. Growth and hibernation.
Since that realisation, I have found it easier to cope with the ‘bad painting days’ and have sat up sharp when the good days come around to make the most of that precious time.
I’ve laid out for you how I have found this cycle to work and tips on how to best use each of the seasons. I hope you will find it a resource for getting through the difficult times and motivation to make the most of the good ones. I will start with winter as I think it is the hardest season to cope with.
Seasons of Creativity – Winter
Winter in the natural world appears on the surface to be void of activity. The trees are bare. Many animals hibernate. Flowers and colour are rare. The daylight is weak and short. The nights are long and bitterly cold. Everything is in retreat, closed up and withdrawn. Nature is storing its energy ready for the arrival of spring.
Winter in the creative world is the scariest time because it feels like you’ve lost your craft. You are deep in the depths of artistic winter. You feel as if all skill and ability have abandoned you. You’re left holding the paintbrush not knowing quite what has happened. The trick to surviving winter is to not panic. After all, you now know you are in the season of winter, therefore you also know that it won’t last forever. Try to settle in to this time. Take the lead from nature and save your artistic energy. Take a proper break and save your actual energy. Do something different for a while. Visit new places, try a new hobby or sport. Go swimming. Walk in the woods in the rain. Blow away the cobwebs and clear some space in your head. Take a holiday if you can. But don’t lose touch with your inspiration. Feed your mind with images, collect sounds and feelings. What excites you when you are out walking? Listen to instrumental music (it doesn’t have to be classical) and see what feelings or images bubble to the surface. Notice textures and patterns in the things you pass daily. Do any of these things trigger an idea? Do they create a spark of inspiration that you can nurture in your mind until spring comes? If you do get an idea, try to fan the flames. Feed it with more of the same. More walks in the woods if that was the start, find more patterns that you love, listen to more music. Whatever gave you that initial spark, look around you and find more of the same. And then store it. Store the energy, store the ideas, store the feelings. Do as nature does, store all the energy you can ready to burst forth in spring.
Seasons of Creativity – Spring
Spring in the natural world is the time for new growth, for awakening. For the ground to warm up, green shoots to appear. Colour returns with new leaves, blossom and early spring flowers. The sap rises in the trees bringing energy for growth. The world seems to awaken from sleep, shake off winter and start to gently go about the business of life again.
Springtime in the creative world is an exciting time indeed. You see potential everywhere. That idea you nurtured back in the depths of the cold and dark winter months has sprung into several possible projects. Now is the time to hold your nerve. Don’t rush in too soon. Use spring as a time to play. Enjoy your creativity again, re-acquaint yourself with your craft. Paint and create without the pressure of producing a finished piece. “Paint for the bin” artist Jean Haines says. This is great advice because it immediately takes the pressure off and gives you permission to experiment. Try new colours, new tools, new surfaces. Paint knowing you will most likely throw the piece away. push it too far, break the rules, try something outrageous. Glass paint on paper, watercolour on canvas, get your scissors out, get the glue out, mix it up. Think of the craziest thing you can think of and try it. Scribble and play and get messy with your art. Be open to everything. This is the time when things will connect. When one thing will lead to another. New ideas will bounce around your head, lighting up your brain like a pinball machine. Follow every lead and absorb every new experience. Keep on with the experiments, you will know when the time is right to commit. But for now flirt with everything and commit to nothing. And most of all have fun.
Seasons of Creativity – Summer
Summer in the natural world is when everything is turned up a gear. Flowers are in bloom everywhere, bright reds, hot yellows, green leaves cover the trees and shrubs. The weather is at its hottest, the days are long and (sometimes if you live in the U.K.) sunny. Everything is in full flow, at the peak of growth, activity and beauty. Life feels good and full of promise. Vegetables are ready to pull and pick, fruit is ripe. The seeds sown in the late winter and spring have grown and matured and ready to be enjoyed. Everything seems possible.
Summer in the creative world is when the magic happens. You have learnt so much from your time playing with creativity in spring, you are fit to burst with ideas. You may have discovered some new techniques, you’ve certainly got to grips with your hard-won skills again. The last few sessions you had went well, you got some stuff out of your system and now you feel ready to start. You sit down to paint as you have done so many times before, but this time everything comes together, and beautiful works appear in front of you and you can’t quite believe that they came from your hands.
This is the time to really push on and create as much art as you can. You are in your peak season, whatever you do you are unlikely to fail. Bring the restful peace of winter and the energy and freshness from spring and apply it NOW! Keep on and on, while you can. Don’t squander this time. Make the most of every opportunity to create. Devote whole days and weeks to your craft to get the most from this time because everything you have worked towards will come together now and your best work will be produced.
Seasons of Creativity – Autumn
Autumn in the natural world is when things start to slow down. Trees withdraw energy from their leaves and they start to change colour and fall to the ground. Animals gather their last stores of food before hibernation. The temperature drops, the days shorten and the dark nights draw in. Summer growth dies back, as autumn nears winter. The final fanfare of autumn colour disappears from shrubs and trees and the landscape looks bare and empty.
Autumn in the creative world is a time of letting go. Again, you feel like you are losing the ability to paint. The things you did so easily just a few weeks ago seem laboured and impossible. Nothing goes right, everything feels wrong. You have the inspiration but when you sit down to paint, it feels forced and nothing flows. You are rigid and tight and it shows in your work. Something is missing. The spirit has gone out of your work, there is no soul, no magic, no light. It’s like coffee without caffeine, it looks the same, but the kick isn’t there. You can still produce decent work during autumn, other people may not notice any difference, but you know in the core of you that the magic wasn’t there and you can see it’s absence, even if nobody else can.
As in winter, the trick with autumn is not to panic. Your work here needs to focus on your mind. Stay positive, you aren’t failing, the season is just changing. Work on your inspiration, have a little play like you did in spring but in a more measured and gentle way. The momentum is going the other way now, winding down, not gearing up. So reflect on what you have created through the summer. Look at your best work from that time and recognise the skill in the work, the creative genius in it. Remember the journey from idea to finished piece and allow yourself some pride in this beautiful thing you brought forth into the world. Without you, this wouldn’t exist. Check in with yourself regularly to make sure you are not doubting your abilities again, you know better now, this season will pass and you will make incredible art again sometime soon. But for now, rest in the knowledge that you had a wonderful summer. Continue to feed your mind and soul with things that inspire you through the autumn. Soon winter will be here and it will be time to take a break away from what has become familiar and to start this whole cycle again.
A note about freak weather.
As in nature, often seasons cross over. Sometimes in spring, we awake to a snow-covered landscape, This may happen in your art. You may wake to find your motivation has gone. Treat this the same as the winter. Take a break. Maybe you have done too much. Life is tough, you may be juggling too much, be handling a stressful situation or coping with difficult life events. Go easy on yourself, be gentle. Stop. It will be ok and your creativity will return when the time is right. I can tell you this from experience, through chronic illness, grief and stressful work situations, I have had to acknowledge I can’t do it all and to give myself a break. Literally!
Sometimes in the middle of winter, we have a warm, sunny few days. It even fools the plants and they start to shoot too soon. If you wake up to a spring day in the middle of your creative winter. Go with it, have a play around, experiment and paint your heart out. If it ends up in the bin, you’ve lost nothing. If a beautiful work of art emerges from the page, celebrate. But don’t forget, this is freak weather, if it doesn’t go well be careful not to let yourself slip into a negative mental state. Spring proper will come soon. It will be okay.
A note about timing.
The Seasons of Creativity can last different lengths of time. If you are a full-time creative, you may experience many cycles of these seasons in a year. You may even experience a few within a single month. The more you create, the more you will notice the ebb and flow of your creativity. If your creative time is not so regular, you may find it harder to notice the seasons.
My own experience is that I spend most of my time in the spring and autumn months. Dabbling with ideas, playing with new materials, winding down from an idea or gearing up towards one. Summer is here and gone in a flash, a bit like the English summer! A few days of sunshine where you have to be alert and ready to make the most of it. And winter, well, even now it is hard to recognise it for what it is and not think I have ‘lost the knack’. But in the years since recognising these seasons of creativity I am much kinder to myself when the painting doesn’t flow. Now I am much more relaxed about it. I give myself permission to take a break. I don’t panic, and soon enough, inspiration shows it’s face and I’m back painting. Now I enjoy so much more, the times when I allow myself to be curious with new techniques and give myself the space to have fun and experiment. Previously these times would have felt like failure because I hadn’t produced a painting. But nowadays, I love these sessions most of all because they are rich with possibility. Something I missed out on before.
The timing of the seasons will be unique to you. It will be dependent on your own set of circumstances, work, health, money, family and so much more. So try to tune in to your own rhythm. Tune in to your current season and try a few of the suggestions outlined above. Use your time to play, reflect, experiment. rejuvenate your art by taking time out and doing something completely different. But most of all, be kind to yourself. Your creativity should bring you joy and satisfaction. There are enough things in life to beat yourself up about, so don’t let your creativity be one of them.
I hope with this new-found perspective, you will look at your creative pursuits in a new light and fall in love with them all over again.
Have you ever wondered how new ideas are created? Me too and I put my thoughts down here. See if you agree.
Thank you for reading. I’d love to hear your thoughts, so leave a comment here or over on my Facebook Page so we can carry on the conversation.