Getting my (creative) mojo back
November 26, 2022 4:09 PM   Subscribe

Over the past few years, I've finally got to the point where I can afford the arts/crafts tools that young-me wanted but couldn't afford. Of course, I don't have time or energy or ideas to use them, now that I spend all my time working and recovering from working. Thoughts on getting creative energy back?

When I was a teenager I was part of an early-internet fannish social circle that was really invested in fanart and other creative work. I ended up getting really into digital art, even though I only had access to a 5" Graphire tablet and a scanner (which is plenty, really, for a 16-year-old, but the cooler/wealthier folks had big Intuos tablets and art lessons). Then I went away to college, and didn't have time/energy for art, and then I got a job, and didn't have time/energy for art. A couple of years ago, I realized I had enough savings and inflow that I could buy a small Cintiq (tablet + LCD screen) just because teenage-me would've loved having that tool available, so I did. But of course, now I'm in my late 30s and work all day in a mentally draining role, and I come home and want to sit/relax/not force myself to practice art, not least of all because I don't really have any projects in mind, and also I remember being pretty skilled, but I haven't exercised those skills in 20+ years, so I'm not actually all that skilled anymore.

I think this is actually a two-parter question: How do I reconnect with the desire to actually produce something? When I was a teenager there was definitely an element of wanting to belong, and/or wanting to be able to be proud of myself. I'm in a much healthier place now where I don't really need to validate myself, which is overall good, but I'm not sure what happened to my drive for creative output without that. When I was younger I was willing to throw myself against that wall over and over again, in part because I was bored with school, and in part because I wanted the outcome (being able to show my friends things I'd made too, hoping they'd like me). That was probably never healthy, but it was effective Now I don't have that community, and I'm much more comfortable in my own skin. As I said, this is pretty much good in every way, but I'm not sure what to do with my relationship to creative output anymore.

Also (and maybe this flows from the first part) how do I get myself back in the habit of creating, when I'm not quite so demon-driven? Maybe if I had something I wanted to say, I'd want to work on saying it again, but I'm not sure.
posted by Alterscape to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe if I had something I wanted to say, I'd want to work on saying it again, but I'm not sure.

What if you tried to make something for somebody?
posted by trig at 4:40 PM on November 26, 2022 [3 favorites]

I've hit creative rough patches when the day job was overwhelmingly busy and left little time to create. I've also gone through bad patches generally (illness, grieving, etc.) that deadened my desire to create for a time. Some of the following have helped with either:

* [What trig said]

* Identifying small projects that can give me that "yay, I finished something" feel

* Repeating exercises or recreating work I'd done previously

* Do a monthly challenge (think NaNoWriMo, Inktober, etc.)

* Set aside X time * can afford to spare every day and sit down in my creative space and make art. For me, at least, this is helpful regardless of subject or theme. It helps build up a head of steam again.

* Consume art. If I'm tired or burned out, I return to old faves, seek out new stuff, or look at things in media/genres I don't usually follow. Binging refills the well for me.

* Set a schedule, with built-in rewards at fixed intervals of production. (This was more helpful when I was younger, less experienced, and poorer, but still.)
posted by cupcakeninja at 5:04 PM on November 26, 2022 [3 favorites]

Do you have ways to connect with other artists now? One thing that keeps me going is that I have a writing group I meet with once a month. Even if I'm not really feeling it, I'll work to come up with something to share with them. It sounds like your social circle was important to you in creating art. If you don't have that now, is there a way to seek it out? I met my writing group people by going to conferences and taking online classes. Is there a similar option for you?
posted by FencingGal at 5:11 PM on November 26, 2022 [3 favorites]

I was coming in here to recommend just making a time-based habit, but wait: Is there truly nothing that makes you mad or sad in the world today? Nothing you feel strongly, positive or negative? That seems pretty unlikely... political and cultural polarization, and love itself, are great for art.

Or do you feel like you know every technique you've ever wanted to know in your medium? I really enjoy projects that let me play with a new technique over and over until I feel like I know just how to make it work, then I find projects that make good use of it.

If none of those things create enough spark for you, a friend of mine did a great project years ago where she wrote a lot of nouns on individual scraps of paper, and chose two at a time at random to draw together. I have 3 pieces from that project: watercolors of a mime in a snowglobe, a giraffe wearing sweatpants, and a couple of hugging lava lamps.

Good luck with your mojo. Creativity begets creativity, and we all need more of it!
posted by nadise at 5:32 PM on November 26, 2022 [2 favorites]

You sound like me. I did a toon of art in high school, and after entering the workforce, I didn't have the energy, monies or space to do art. And once I did have at least the monies and the space, I didn't have the energy. Various things that helped.

Going through the Artist's Way. It's not a perfect... piece of text, but I found the exercises helpful. In particular, the "artist dates" and letting yourself write down what you fancy for yourself and then letting yourself go do that was very helpful. It helped me view my time, money, energy as not just means to an end of securing more stuff / career whatever, but instead, helped me reframe that I can be "fanciful" and entertain my whims... vs. being functionally oriented / practical all the time. And in many ways, being creative is in some ways just about being playful and entertaining your whims -- what if I tried to make a sculpture out of dried leaves?

Practically, other things that helped was to just start doing a thing, and being OK with starting a thing and perhaps maybe not continuing it all the way or being particularly good at it. E.g., buying some yarn and a crochet hook and following along some how to make doily youtube videos; buying some beads and stringing a necklace together; getting some watercolors and following along someone's instructional video. These were definitely not the things I did that I had considered to be "serious art" that I did back in high school, but they felt low pressure, low in the expectations I had for myself, that even making a cotton washcloth still felt satisfying/rewarding/neat.

I also tried to consume more art -- maybe it was reading some art history, or just scrolling through the r/Art reddit or watching The Art Assignment on youtube. It helped me reset what "art" was supposed to look like and just broadened my perspective of all the ways creating art could look like.

After some amount of time.... a lot of time... I've managed to do "serious art" -- i.e., a medium that I thought was hard and that my younger self really respected. Here, I made the jump by figuring out the minimum # of things to buy and followed along some YouTube instructions on oil painting. Was my stuff good? Nope. But, did it feel nice to play around with paint? Yep!

Don't beat yourself up. How long has it been since it was that you did a lot of art/creative stuff? It'll also take a while to get back in the groove, just like it took a while for you to get out of your groove.
posted by ellerhodes at 5:59 PM on November 26, 2022 [4 favorites]

Honor your creative mojo with a workspace that is tidy, even if in use, and always set up and ready. Making a workspace is the one thing you can do to make it easy to make art. Then it becomes a comfortable reality that is not tied to set up, and your impulse is catered to, even if you only have a few minutes. Taking yourself seriously, and cooperating by removing obstacles is a way to get where you want to be. The other thing, don't tie making art to doing some mundane task you have to do first and art is the reward. Let making art be a stand alone set, and be patient with your trialing, there are no errors.
posted by Oyéah at 6:14 PM on November 26, 2022 [5 favorites]

I don't know if you've heard of the Morning Pages by Julia Cameron but it could be something to try, as a way of reconnecting with your creativity and creative process:
posted by starpoint at 8:51 PM on November 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

Take a class, in-person or on the Internet. Having an assignment and a deadline is a wonderful inspiration.
posted by tuesdayschild at 8:56 PM on November 26, 2022 [3 favorites]

Social media / endless internet dopamine really killed my drive to create. I’ve been thinking about getting one of those cookie jar lock boxes for my phone to ban myself from touching it for a few hours a day. Weaning off the dopamine drip from
scrolling the internet might help?
posted by nouvelle-personne at 6:06 AM on November 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

My craft, which I love and am good at, requires a ridiculous amount of prep time and fussy equipment to perform, and I find it impractical and deflating to try to work into my day-to-day. My solution is to go away to a residential "art camp" once a year and spend a week doing nothing but creating. This has also been a great way to connect with other crafters and learn from talented and experienced teaching artists.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 6:23 AM on November 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

“…and/or wanting to be able to be proud of myself.”

I don’t think it serves you to look at this sort of motivation as being immature or unhealthy.

I work in animation and don't have a ton of energy left for myself at the end of the day. I found that joining a Flickr portrait group helped motivate me to make pictures. The key for me was that it was a smallish, focused group and not some giant info firehose spray that my efforts would disappear into.

Another key was lowering the bar on setup. Curling up on the couch with Procreate on my iPad was something I was more likely to do than sit at my Cintiq.
posted by brachiopod at 3:18 PM on November 27, 2022

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