- Kathy Malony
“Emerging from a Creative Dormancy”
Stuck. Blocked. Burnt out. Whether we like to admit it many of us have experienced those periods of time when the creative muses go silent. The energy that fuels our imagination runs out. We sit at the drawing table, stand in front of the easel, perch on the piano stool, or suspend our fingers above the keyboard in anticipation of the words to spill out. We’re ready to create SOMETHING only to stare into a black hole. That hole can be brief, hopefully, or linger for months or more, happen suddenly or sneak up on us for all sorts of reasons. The creative silence can be deafening. It can lead us down a rabbit hole of self-doubt, negative thinking, and even fear that we’ve got nothing left to say. Perhaps a more positive way to describe this experience and emerge from it might be to think of it as a creative dormancy.
Last year from mid-January to late October I felt like the muses were singing loudly, the energy was flowing effortlessly, more or less. All was right in my creative world despite the turmoil and challenges that 2020 brought as the Pandemic spread and pervaded our lives. It certainly helped me to to cope with it all. I experienced a tremendous outpouring of work. Then, early November hit and the muses suddenly went silent. The reasons why don’t really matter. To be honest, I do usually take a few weeks off in mid-December to fully embrace all the holiday preparations. This year gifts and cookies had to be bought, baked, and mailed all around the country rather than exchanged in the warmth and comfort of our home. It wasn’t until after the New Year that I realized the silence still lingered.
Despite my desire to get back to work I kept feeling that my attempts to ‘make art’ were futile. I’d putter in my studio, sorting through the endless piles of creative clutter that seemed to appear out of nowhere searching for a spark of energy. I’d sit down and say “today I’ll create!” and then just stare at the blank paper and wait until the frustration of not creating finally led me to abandon the attempt. Or worse, I’d do something only to hear my inner critic say “how lame!”. No creative muse whispered in my ear and moved my spirit to draw, carve, print, or paint. I was BLOCKED!
This went on through half of January and into February. Then, I saw the books I have on my drawing table that speak to this very issue and pulled out one of my favorites: “Art & Fear - Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking” by David Bayles & Ted Orland. From all the previously underlined, annotated passages in my copy I remembered I’ve been here before and this book, along with the others, has helped me find my way through it. I was not alone. Artists of all kinds have written about their struggles with feeling blocked, the overly critical inner voice that prevents any attempts to break free, and the feeling of moving through creative muck. That knowledge alone gave me hope again. I read on, underlined more, and made some progress.
It wasn’t until I started to relate my current block to my garden in winter that I really began to push through. February was a wintry month here and my garden was consistently covered with snow and ice. Although it appeared dead and desolate I knew that this period of time in the garden was important for the season to come. The dormancy of winter would yield to the explosion of spring when the daffodils, hyacinth, lilacs, and other plants would once again emerge from their winter sleep. Much was happening below the surface. Perhaps in my creative dormancy of the past several months the same was true? It was certainly a more positive way to view it all.
Changing my negative thinking to a more positive one seemed to open a door in my creative spirit. Possibilities started to percolate. My college roommate, a very talented writer, reached out to me to work on a collaborative project that we had talked about doing years ago. We’ve met virtually 3 times so far and each session has been a wonderful nurturing of ideas. We’re both energized by our collaboration on this timely book (more on it in future entries). Having a creative partner to share the ups and downs of the process is definitely a plus! The very first woodcut of 2020, “Awaken”, is part of this project. I feel like it had awakened my creative spirit.
Finding ways to connect with other artists can be challenging in a Pandemic but worth the effort. During this period of time I’m usually in class at a local art school and the energy of working side by side with others is in itself a powerful force that can help break through a creative crust. Sadly, that experience is on hold for now. But, the sharing of ideas that can happen on various sites like Instagram is another way to connect.
Recently I responded to an invitation by @yasemin.sahin_yasha to exchange an ATC (artist trading card) which she had done with another artist, @oppaintphoto. I thought how cool! This opportunity got me moving again and led me to design, carve, and print a tiny 2 1/2” x 3 1/2” woodcut that’s now exchanged with Yasemin’s beautiful watercolor painting. Olivia’s sensitively painted sweet long tailed tit flew over from England already to me while I’m busy carving/printing another small woodcut to send to her. Plus, I‘ll be connecting with yet another artist who I’ve met through this opportunity. I plan to invite other artists to exchange ATCs and keep this uplifting, creative energy flowing. Especially during these difficult days it’s good to experience the healing power of art and be reminded we are all connected to one another.
(Yasemin’s delicate daisy, L; Olivia’s sweet long tailed tit, top; my raspberry eating catbird, bottom)
It’s late March now, the snow has finally melted, and the daffodils and other spring flowers are pushing up in my garden. I’m happy to say I’m also emerging from my creative dormancy. It’s still early in the process. I’m mindful that I need to consciously cultivate the creative spirit: show up in the studio, do the work (and not critique it while doing it...thank you Ron, my woodcut teacher, for instilling that in me), share it with others, and be willing to grow beyond what I know I can do into that scary, exciting place of ‘I have no idea where this will go’ (another nod to you, Ron!). I hope in another few months my creative practice will resemble my garden in full bloom again and I’ll forget the bleak times of this past winter. But, perhaps just like my garden creativity is cyclical and I won’t be too surprised when I find myself in another dormant period. For now, I’m excited to see what grows this spring in my studio and my garden. Happy creating!