self-reliance noun Reliance on one’s own powers and resources rather than on those of others
Creative blocks have a way of rendering the past worthless, negating every worthy thing I’ve ever done and leaving a dusty vacancy in my mind…there, where my bright ideas and little a-ha! moments used to live and proliferate in joyful, wild fecundity.
I wake up in the morning on my day off; a breeze is blowing, the air is light-flooded and the hours are pillowy as fresh clay, just waiting to be molded in my hands. I clear some space at the desk, have (almost) all my art materials neatly grouped and within reach, and make a big pot of coffee to sustain me through a whole day of Making & Doing. I set out to make a little something, exercise a bit of creativity; I essay a few tentative marks with one material—no, that’s turned out wrong. I try another—Eek! Then another—Now that looks really crap! What a mess! What the hell is going on?!
I’m confused. Somewhere in my memory bank I seem to recall that I was okay with acrylic paints (Why else would I have 90 tubes of the stuff?) Or colored pencils. Or pen and ink. I was reasonably proficient. They used to respond to my touch. They used to perform tricks at my command. Fun ideas and confident forms used to rise unbidden and splendid, in abundance, under these very fingertips!
Didn’t they? I begin to mistrust my memories. Was I actually ever creative? Did I really make anything worthwhile? Did I really have good ideas of my own, at any time, or have I just imagined them all?
Here’s where a ten-year-old Flickr photo account is invaluable.
Don’t go looking to be inspired by Others on the internet. This tactic almost never works when you have a creative block, because the block is caused by a faltering of self-confidence, and seeing the thousands upon thousands of wonderful things that others are making will only make you feel like dog shit. You’ll find yourself believing that it’s all been done before, and better. Worst possible outcome is that you may fall in love with something by someone else so much that you succumb to imitating it. Imitation is an important step in the learning process for artists, but you keep these copies to yourself, as exercises and lessons in technique, palettes, whatever. But you don’t post it on Instagram, hoping to boost your views and harvest a load of praise that was never meant for you, because when people “love” your copy, they are really loving the original artist’s work. Plus there is the strong likelihood that you will be found out, and the public shaming over one little image will damage your integrity so much that following up with 20 genuine works still might not be able to clear the wreckage.
Instead, turn to the one person you can copy, admire, strip-mine, and expand upon without fear of a public shaming or self-loathing: Yourself.
I was doing precisely this, this morning. Stumped for ideas, paralysed with self-doubt, and feeling as though I had never made a mark or anything good in my life—so alien and disappointing were my attempts at making anything, last week—I browsed through my own Flickr albums of sketchbook pages, visual journals, embroidered work, soft sculptures, clay, hand-bound books, paper art, mail art, paintings, drawings.
Twenty years of photographs…a couple roomfuls of things created, ideas given form, stories documented. Hundreds of thousands of minutes, frozen in time and pinned to a surface or trapped in material.
Just for fun, I’ve embedded half a dozen images, here. I think I will try to do this, at least once a week, on my blog…just to air the images out a bit. They’ve been sitting, unlooked at, in my sleepy Flickr account, for several years. It’s nice to see them out and about (on my sleepy blog!) again. Every image recalls a time in my life, a story—however small—of who I was at the time, and what was engaging me. It’s good to be reminded that my life has not been a desert…that, although I never really took these ideas further or managed to make them my career or make a living out of them, I have spent a fair bit of my time doing something that brought me joy, making things that made me happy, and quite a few things that went on to make other people happy (as I browsed the images, I asked myself where it had gone to…a surprising number of finished paintings, books, and embroideries, have gone to friends or to delighted new owners who found them in my (also sleepy, dusty) Etsy shop.
Some of these images may even go on to inspire new work! Though I am notoriously hostile to the idea of repeating myself.
Even if they don’t serve as springboards for something else, though, they inspire just by showing me that, yes, I have had the ideas and drive to make things before. Yes, some of the things I have made have received such an enthusiastic response from others that I can hardly believe the stats.
And if I managed to do it once, I am reassured by these old images that I can do it, again.