This godforsaken pandemic tempts my brain into neutral – away from creativity and into some sort of uninspired autopilot - almost daily. Like most human people navigating this strange time, I have felt the mental strain of that frequently in 2020.
An idle brain is tough on an artist, and I hope you’ll remember as I continue using that word that we are all artists.
I get sensitive about the most trivial things when this happens…
Even if he was at times, he knew the importance of his art and how to stay the course with it.
A brain deprived of its art will do this instead of change the world. It will decimate our creativity with life-sucking thoughts. We will continue to seek the validation of the internet, we just won’t be doing the work to earn it, and the cognitive dissonance in this can readily spiral into mental health challenges if left unchecked.
Because these are common feelings, I thought I would offer my four-step roadmap for escaping them and centering back on your art. These are my tried-and-true steps to coming alive as an artist:
Step 1) Read and Ponder.
What are you feeling curious, uneasy or sad about right now?
What books have your friends been raving about?
Decide to dive into something. If you are busy like me, buy a related book on audible or choose a podcast to listen to while you drive, clean toilets, fold laundry, marinatechicken… You get it. Let the ideas presented from this reading/listening feed you new questions and paths to go down after you finish this book. Chain smoke the books, if you will. (You now, fire up a new one off the one you are currently reading. Keep it going.)
You simply can’t pour creativity out of an empty cup. Whatever you are full of at any given moment is the thing that will spill out the next time to attempt to do your work. Rather than lending your internal real estate to anxiety, resentment and worry - fill it with something that generates creative energy and invention.
My work, and my company, is always better when I read. Always.
Step 2) Sit with Your Ideas, Take Notes.
The greatest artists make a habit out of finding new things within old things. They are constantly thinking andlearning. Try these prompts for touching base with yourselfin a journal a few times a week. See how they boost the quality of your work.
One of my favorite things is to look back through my journal and pat myself on the back for how far I’ve come.Talk about perspective.
This practice also lets your thoughts land somewhere so you can settle your brain throughout the busy week without losing them. If things hit you out in the world or at work, jot them on a sticky note or in your phone and plan torevisit the next time you sit down with your pen.
Journaling is a great way to keep you accountable for a more intentional life.
Step 3) Set a Fitness Goal.
I have looked the world over for a movement regimen I can just stick to every single week, on the same days, forever and ever, and never have to think critically about staying in shape again.
The unfortunate truth is, while there are people out there who thrive on this sort of routine and repetition, none of them are me.
If you are someone whose body, daily schedule and needs change as you navigate life – like mine – your exercise habits should probably follow suit. Like mine.
Try setting fitness goals with end dates to give more purpose to your individual workouts. Here are a few ideas:
An important note regarding this practice: Your seasonal goal should never start with “I want to lose ___lbs,” because centering the focus on your fluctuating scale is a great way to undermine your body’s amazing capabilities.
Instead, base your measurable goal on improved mobilityand strength. When you do this, every workout will meet itspurpose. You won’t be looking at your scale or mirror to validate the activity (and possibly ruin your day), you will be using the activity to advance toward the goal.
This alternative approach generates a daily sense of accomplishment that motivates me to show off the rest of my life - including my art - with more confidence. It moves the focus away from the size of my body and back to my sense of purpose.
Set fitness goals that keep you moving and uplift your creative spirit.
Step 4) Let Your Art do the Talking.
“Art is not what you see, it’s what you make others see.” – Edgar Degas
You should be feeling pretty inspired by the time you reach this step. There is no guidance from this point but to get to making with the things that are in your heart. Pour from your full cup of inspiration and leave something for the next person to pick up.
One of the most satisfying ventures I’ve created through this process has been my Etsy shop, which was born from a past business I simply followed the chain of my ideas into. It marriesmy love of visuals and words by offering clever, niche messages on social media props. Imagine my surprise when people reallyloved something that lit my heart on fire.
The ultimate reward of a true artist is seeing the afterlife of your work through others, and for me, that has been spotting what others make with it via their social media posts.
Which brings me back to Dr. King…
Like so many, I have felt discouraged by the images, news reports and hateful slogans of 2020. I have wondered how we couldn’t be further along than this, and why we continue to bother when that box next to “all men are created equal” staysunchecked for literal centuries.
But then I remember that we are artists, continually finding new things within old things. We stand on the shoulders of giants as we backtrack and re-learn. We create ugly art that some people love, beautiful art that some people hate, and we keep notes so we may remember and compare.
Martin Luther King’s civil rights era was written many pages back in the journal of America. If he were here to look back with us, I believe he would be amazed by the diverse appearance of today’s marches. He would see the jump from his version to this one and we need to as well.
We must keep our inventive, artist hearts in the game through these ongoing challenges. Issues may resurface in new forms with new generations, but we always have the last version to improve upon.
So lay your art down with the confidence that matters greatly. Trust the process and your very unique hand in it. Your art, in this moment, is historical.
You only live once, creative friend. Bring yourself to life with your time here.
Michelle Ellis is a graphic artist, mother of two and self-professed “student of life.” She began blogging in 2018 as a way to connect with others on the common struggles of everyday life. Read more of her writing atmichellemariellis.com, and find her on Instagram at @michellemariellis.