Do you struggle with 'blank page syndrome'? Are you hampered by self-doubt or unrealistic expectations in your creative practice?
Whether you are a writer, poet, composer, or painter, your journey as a creator is rarely a smooth one. It tends to be full of detours and self-doubt. It often arrives at a completely unintended destination. But for all this, it is exciting and colourful. As David Bowie put it: “I don’t know where I’m going from here but I promise it won’t be boring." Importantly, the journey itself can be intensely therapeutic for both the creator and the viewer, listener or reader.
As an artist, I have always been fascinated by the agonies and ecstasies of the creative journey, and therefore I was delighted to be asked by Ed Ngai to be a guest on The Creator's Journey podcast. The interview took place earlier this month, sadly not face to face, due to lockdown restrictions. Listen to the full interview here.
Parts of the creator's journey must be alone, but few creatives can thrive in isolation. Lockdown has been a testing time for many of us. For my own part, right up until a few weeks before lockdown, I was always busy creating my art live in public, interacting with passers-by and actively engaging people in conversation while I painted. Since March, I have had to drastically change the ways in which I maintain my practice as a socially engaged artist, attending online networking events and webinars, and shifting my 'live' demonstrations and tutorials to my YouTube Channel.
For a long time previously, in the spirit of artist networking, I'd had in mind to visit our local Ipswich Creatives Meet-Up group, a monthly group for creative professionals and aspiring professionals in the creative sector to meet, network, share ideas and inspiration. I'd never yet managed to attend the group, as I was always too busy travelling and teaching around East Anglia and beyond, but when I saw that the event had shifted to an online setting after the lockdown, I was very pleased that I could finally attend. I was given a warm welcome by the group's coordinator, Ed Ngai, who also runs the Led Community group, where people can share creative local news, events, artwork and projects. Ed kindly invited me to be the subject of his next podcast for The Creator's Journey, an invitation which I gladly accepted.
Thinking of the creative process as a journey rather than a destination may help people who struggle to overcome the pressure of their own expectations. If we begin with the intention to create a masterpiece, the pressure of that unrealistic expectation may well cripple our true creativity. If on the other hand, we set out with nothing more than the intention to travel hopefully, enjoy the journey, wander off down those intriguing detours, maybe even get lost a little, then the pressure is off. We allow ourselves time to play and experiment, even to learn from trial and error.
The most important lesson I learned from years spent working as an artist assistant alongside children's illustrator Jan Pienkowski was his revolutionary approach to so-called 'mistakes'. Talking with Ed in the interview, I relate the anecdote of how Jan would welcome a 'mistake' as a gift in disguise. Being a devout Catholic, Jan would exclaim: 'It is the Lord who speaks!" and, while anyone else might have screwed up their paper in frustration and started again, he allowed an unexpected error to inspire a stroke of genius.
The word 'journey' may evoke ideas of an epic voyage over a vast terrain on a scale of The Lord of the Rings or The Odyssey, taking years to complete. The creator's journey can seem equally as arduous and time-consuming, sometimes painful, the thought of which may be sufficient to put off the faint-hearted before they even begin - a likely contributor to 'blank page syndrome'. As Ernest Hemmingway said: "There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed." Many would-be artists are too scared to break the blank uniformity of their canvas because they want the first mark they make to be perfect, signaling a perfect end result. This intense pressure can kill true creativity. Too often, the actual results will be lifeless, rigid and pedantic.
But the creator's journey doesn't have to be long and arduous. If you're prone to putting too much pressure on yourself, try thinking of it more as a lighthearted amble through the countryside, for example. When you set out for a walk in the woods, you don't generally have a precise destination in mind, because that's not the purpose of your journey. Indeed, your likely destination is to return back home in time for tea. But think how enriching the experience of wandering amid trees and meadows and running water can be. We hear birdsong, glimpse wildflowers and butterflies. We might even stumble over a fallen log and by chance discover some overgrown path we never knew existed that leads us to a beautiful hidden lake.
This is how I view my journey as an artist and creator. I set out to be playful with my tools, techniques and materials. I travel with an open mind, and see where that journey takes me. And often I dance as I go!
Enjoy your journey, and hope to cross paths along the way!
Listen to the full interview here. Special thanks to Edmund Ngai.