Riding your own waves – sustaining creative momentum

How do you manage the roller coaster ride that shapes your adventures in art-making?

Perhaps it’s a bit of a presumption to ask. Perhaps you don’t have to “manage” at all. There may well be rare creatures out there who keep a very steady creative boat. If that’s you, I’d love to hear your secret! But time and time again, I hear artists tell this story, long-term art-making can be a pretty rough ride.

I’m a sucker for a podcast these days. And there’s a few really great artist-hosts out there, who keep their conversations with guests relatable. By this I mean the content of the podcasts have something for all listeners, no matter where they are in their creative venturing.

I don’t know about you, but I tend to put on a podcast when I’m in a chore phase in the studio. Tidying, packaging up orders or varnishing, for example. If you’ve given up the day job, studio hours alone can sometimes seem long (even though I crave them when I’m busy with family). But it feels less lonely when you have access to high calibre art-talk right at your fingertips. 

“Nothing has made me more excited than painting. Nothing has made more depressed than painting. Right?!”

Robert Szot

A couple of conversations spring to mind from this week’s listening. Nicholas Wilton, art mentor and abstract painter, has launched a new series of Art 2 Life podcasts. I have just been listening to his interview with Robert Szot, who says, “Nothing has made me more excited than painting. Nothing has made more depressed than painting. Right?!” And Robert stresses that he has 20+ years of experience as a professional. I love it that he repeatedly reassures listeners that he still feels as vulnerable as any new artist. This is generous and humble conversation. 

Working through the back catalogue of Laura Horn’s podcast has been good support too. Her two interviews with Carrie Schmidt are full of gems. The first, called “Being brave enough to listen [to yourself]”, says it all. Carrie shares the insight that the times in which we feel most challenged are often fertile with “ah ha” moments. We need to listen in during these times because they can offer guidance about where we need to go next. “Change is always happening,” she says. Seems almost too obvious, but we often forget universal flux when we’re in the thick of it. 

Both these artists spoke to me because my waves have felt a little choppy of late. There was the high of hanging and opening the Mappa Marches exhibition – my first time in the role of co-curator. Then a dip off the back of that wave as I began a new series of paintings. This series, unlike my other work, has a fixed date for launch, and a destination gallery as part of a group show. I was flattered – well, “touched” would be a better word – to get the invitation to take part. But now I’m feeling the overwhelm as the show is themed: we will produce 6-8 paintings to a specific brief, featuring a particular hill view local to our studios. Having always self-generated loosely interpreted local landscapes, I suddenly feel a little panicky and under the spotlight… 

The thing is, for these situations you need strategies. One of the best strategies for me is to work through and keep creating. Not necessarily on the latest series, as that probably needs to percolate, but I sketch or make comforting, satisfying work that brings pleasure. So I’ve put painting aside, briefly, and have returned to the familiarity of printmaking, making an etching of woodlands at dusk, a favourite subject. This will hopefully carry over into the gallery series. Because it’s meant to be fun, right?!! Just keep on floating that boat…

Creativity is a gift that will keep giving if we let it.

Me!

When on a high, we need to know that it’s not necessarily the biggest wave we will conquer. The journey is ongoing, the learning doesn’t end. When you feel a slump, remember that your commitment to your art-making got you climbing high before. In fact, once upon a time you rode your very first wave after you were triggered to make art. Whether you were 5 or 55 (I don’t think I know anyone who started at 105!!), something got you going. And you swam in some very big waves back then, gathering skills, shoring up your self-knowledge, translating your need to create. 

I think I’ll make the “trigger” the subject of my next blog in a fortnight’s time… Thanks for reading this far – now go get your surfboard/canoe/dinghy/steamship/peddleboat – whatever helps you you ride those waves!

Nicholas Wilton’s podcasts: https://www.art2life.com/podcast/

Laura Horn’s podcasts: https://www.laurahornart.com/podcasts

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