This story ends with a life-sized cat dragon and an equally large luna moth, but it begins with near burnout.
This year has been anything but a walk in the park for me, work-wise. By the time September came around, I was creatively numb from an intense year of production, spurred on by the perils of running a creative micro-business in the pernicious waters of capitalism.
As an artist, there’s nothing that can suck your creativity dry like the shackles of business-minding.
When I’m down and out, it can seem like a Herculean task to simply want to make something.
How to spark your creativity
If you, like me, sometimes find yourself in a creative rut and are struggling to climb out, try one of the following:
Give your creative space a good clean
There’s nothing like a clean space to clear your mind for inspiration. I think of this as an invitation, like you are preparing the guest room for creativity to come and stay. With your action, you are saying to your brain, “I’m open to inspiration.”
What’s more, putting your hands on the materials you already own can jog your memory of ideas past and give you fresh ideas for future projects.
Change up your creative medium
Most folks don’t just have one creative outlet. For example, I often toggle between sewing and knitting, and each fulfills a specific need at different moments in my life. When I need something calming and meditative, I will often reach for a knitting project. (Unless it’s a hard knitting project. As a perpetual mediocre knitter, hard knitting projects cause me to throw balls of yarn at the wall.)
When I need something that gets me into a concentrated, excited, creative flow, I will conjure up a new pattern design or enjoy the problem-solving of hacking a pattern.
Think beyond just crafting pursuits, too. This could mean toggling between being inspired in the kitchen, figuring out a new phase in parenting, planning a garden, or journaling, for example. Putting aside one pursuit for a while and picking up another is completely normal, absolutely needed, and ripe with inspiration that you can fold back into your “official” creative pursuit.
Take a class
Learning a new skill is invigorating. While being a beginner comes with a twinge of frustration, it can also be freeing. Of course you won’t be perfect, and that’s ok! I felt this most keenly when I started taking pottery classes a few years back. I had to stop and haven’t picked it up since (thanks, pandemic!) but the experience itself emboldened my overall artistic practice.
Taking a class also comes with the benefits of getting to know other creative folks – a benefit that we should not take lightly, in a social media-driven world that is creating walls between us by monopolizing our attention so that we spend less time face-to-face.
If your circumstances make it challenging to attend an in-person class, try an online course that has a robust community platform that doesn’t require you to be on social media to participate, like Sew Liberated’s Learn to Sew courses and Mindful Wardrobe Project. It’s really heartwarming to make new friends who lift you up and encourage you on your creative journey, and work through the course content on your own timeframe.
Sometimes you just need to rest
By rest, I don’t mean scrolling on your phone. I mean engaging in true leisure activities, such as sipping your coffee while watching the leaves fall, reading a good book, catching a bite to eat with a friend, going to a museum, or heading out on a hike. Anything you do that expands, deepens, and enhances your lived experience. You can’t make art, after all, with no lived experiences.
Decide on your parameters
Infinite possibilities are overwhelming and will get you nowhere because it’s nearly impossible to choose a starting point.
Not to mention that, in order to hone your own artistic style, it’s necessary to define your parameters. Without parameters guiding your creativity, you float from one style to the next and can find it challenging to settle into a creative home.
Take Pablo Picasso, for example. He could have worked with intricate details as he was quite capable of making realistic images. Instead, he chose to work with simple shapes and a small range of colors to portray his subjects. Within those limits, he found profound creative expression.
Try limiting your color palette, your sources (using only secondhand materials, for example) or, my personal favorite, the mother of all tricks to get yourself out of a creative rut:
Work on a deadline
A time limit is an excellent creative parameter. This is how I went from zero to cat dragon in 60 days. Not by cleaning my studio. Not by resting. Simply by having a good, hard deadline.
But the kind of deadline is important for success, if we’re defining success as feeling energized and creatively fulfilled, and NOT just being productive and turning something in on time.
If the deadline is arbitrary and set by a boss or a client, or even a self-imposed deadline for profit, well … things can end up feeling like a slog, even if the task ultimately gets done. Such is the messy nature of fitting art into a profit- and productivity-driven society.
The kind of deadline I’m talking about is benign – it exists outside of the expectations of capitalism and is simply for leisure – for fun.
Halloween is the ultimate kick in the pants for getting your creative mojo back.
It ticks all the boxes for the perfect creative deadline: Fun? Check. Exists outside of capitalist pressures? Check. Often done as an act of love, for those of us with kids? Check. Hard deadline that you can’t put off? Check.
Oh my goodness, Halloween saved me from burnout, even though my kids’ costumes were anything but simple.
Even though it wasn’t the staring-out-the window-with-hot-drink kind of rest that I also need, it certainly energized me and helped me look forward to making again. It took a ton of time, a bunch of experimentation, and a lot of problem-solving to get to that October 31 finish line. But it was so worth it.
Halloween costume details
If you’re curious about how I made these two costumes, you can follow along at the highlighted Instagram Story. I’m also thinking about putting together a mask-making video tutorial to post right here on the blog. What do you think? Would that be of interest to you? I know it’s not sewing related, but I find this kind of paper mache work very fun!
Which Learn to Sew course is right for me?
We have courses for sewists of all levels, from complete beginner to advanced.
Unsure about where to begin? Our Guided Placement for Sewists (GPS) will locate your perfect starting point on the Learn to Sew Your Clothes pathway.