Updated: Jan 28
Like many creatives, I feel a self-induced sense of pressure to be creating constantly. I seem to measure my worth and “success” (whatever this means) as an artist through productivity. Until I hit a wall recently. For several months, I completely lost the drive to create. In this state of being stuck, I asked the big questions: Why am I creating? Who am I creating for? And really, who cares?
The word “block” ultimately pins the natural pauses in our productivity down as negative. We know that we aren’t robots, yet we tend to panic and worry when we need a break (and when I say we, I mean me specifically). Here’s why:
I’ve been working as a full-time artist for the past 4 years. Ever since I started relying on creative work as my only source of income, my self-imposed need to be constantly producing has heightened. I felt that if I stopped drawing, I would drop the ball and not get any new lettering work. I thought I had to be ready to hit the nail on the head and perform at all times, while also carving out the extra time to create passion pieces and express myself freely as a letterer.
It’s taken me time, but I’m beginning to question my tendency to glorify productivity.
What am I chasing after?
I’m currently redefining the word “creative block”. Perhaps it isn’t so bad. Every time I come out of a block, I feel recharged and excited to create again. Aren't "blocks" just a part of my creative process then? A creative hibernation?
This slower, passive break encourages me to check-in with myself as a maker, to re-evaluate what I am doing and ask myself where my work is taking me. If not, at least it’s a chance to rest and recharge. Hibernation is, after all, a state of inactivity for the purpose of getting rest.
So, what does a creative block look like anyway?
For me, it’s when the thought of creating starts to feel like a chore. When my ideas aren’t flowing as much, the work feels forced. The next thing I know, I’m talking myself down and I feel bad for not creating.
I also work from home, which can be isolating at times. I withdraw socially and avoid meeting new people or "networking", which on its own is already a daunting thought for the highly introverted folk. The irony is that creative people inspire me. Removing myself also means I’m further backing myself out of inspiration.
Yes, it’s all a self-imposed anxious spiral, I know!
Instagram is great for finding work,
but numbers aren't everything.
To think that 15 years ago, we were still using dial-up Internet and making sure our siblings weren't using the home phone so we can hop onto MSN chat, the digital world has come a really long way. Who would have thought anyone would be able to grow a lettering business online?
Instagram's role in the growth of my business has been undeniably significant. It's connected me with people both locally and overseas. I've been able to meet Dominique Falla through Instagram, leading me to speak at Typism conference in 2018. I created work for companies like London's Pottermore and New York-based Nooklyn. Both organisations found me on Instagram.
From left to right: Typism Conference, photo by Ryan Hamrick / Pottermore, photo by wizardingworld.com / Nooklyn, photo by Arnaud Montagard
In 2019, I was flown to Boston for work with The Letterettes. We were invited to teach lettering workshops and customise merchandise for Inbound Conference. It was an amazing opportunity which I'm still pinching myself for! I'm thankful for how Instagram has helped my work expand.
Now onto its darker side - Instagram promotes comparison and competition through numbers which don't actually equate to much. It’s a platform that lures us into creating for likes, numbers and validation. We can easily lose our sense of self as a maker and compromise the authenticity of our work if we get caught up in validation and popularity.
OK, so what's next?
By the end of 2019, I was so tired of being in my own head and second-guessing everything I do in my lettering work that I knew I just had to do something about it. I was saying yes to a lot of things that I didn't want to take on.
If I'm super honest (and I am aware this will sound spoilt), the excitement might be wearing off. Some of the things got me so excited a few years ago just aren't as intriguing, so I'm now seeking for more.
To give lettering a bit of a break, I considered getting a part-time graphic design job, but I knew I needed to do something completely different. So, I found myself a 3-day job at a cafe near home. Who would have known that such a simple move would have lifted my moods so significantly and fuelled my creative energy?
This job has helped me get out my own head, and also out of the house where it's nice and social. For 8 hours straight, I’m completely in the moment and I'm not fretting about myself. It's helped me let go of my perfectionist tendencies which was one of the things that was holding me back from lettering.
I've also started saying no to more jobs and made more time for passion projects. I made time to write. I've been feeling so much happier and I'm drawing a lot more. I've made artistic donations towards the causes I care about. I'm reconnecting with why I love creating.
We tend to glorify the status of being a full-time artist. I've done a solid time of this and it is hard work, but I believe that anyone who has a passion for creating is an artist, regardless whether they do it as a hobby for 30 minutes a week, or whether it's commercially for income.
I have no idea what's next for me, but I do know that this break in my routine is so crucial!
Some (potentially) useful tips:
How do you step out of a creative block?
1. Don’t be afraid to make the change, whatever that looks like for you.
I’m by no means saying that anyone who’s happily supporting themselves full-time with their art needs to go get a part-time job. I’m suggesting that if you've been stuck for a while, then doing something that breaks you out of your usual routine might turn out to be more beneficial than you think. Maybe it's an intentional break or a sabbatical.
2. Create because YOU care. Create because you have a voice!
Find something that you care about, and invest your energy into it. Another big plus-side to my new part-time work is that it allows me to make better decisions and say no to projects that I don't connect with. Instead, I'm able to make time for the things that I care about. By doing so, I feel content as a maker, and I'm reminded that I have a voice. I can make a difference and my art matters.
A logo I designed for Melbourne ceramicist Vipoo Srivilasa's project, Clay for Australia, a fundraising project that has so far raised 21K so far for the bushfires. Donations are made from international clay makers from all around the world.
3. Reconnect with why you love creating. Why did you start?
I started lettering because it has a meditative effect on me, so it’s the actual process that I'm completely in love with. Plus, enjoying something for its process can also take the pressure off the end product!
4. Just rest and hibernate! If you're someone who's always running around, it can be so liberating to rid yourself off the pressure to create. If you're not really feeling it, why force it?
It's a luxury to be able to take the time to be still and do nothing*.
*If you are a full-time artist and solely rely on your art-making for financial reasons, I totally get it. I'm still trying to find a balance that works for me! I know artists who take a month off all commercial work to completely hibernate, and I think this is a great idea. In a way, I'm half-hibernating currently.
5. Focus on your favourite things. As Julie Andrews says in The Sound of Music, when the dog bites and when the bee stings, it's as simple as remembering your favourite things. Treat yourself to this hibernation time and surround yourself with whatever makes you feel good. Mine is doing yoga, drinking tea and tending to my plants. I do all three as often as I can!
The next time I experience a block, I’ll remember to reconnect with my creative process and treat myself to the richness of rest, without the pressure to be somewhere else or to get somewhere else. The next time I "get stuck", I won't beat myself up for it. I'll also remember that there's something useful to gain out of reevaluating where my work is going.
If you've read this far in, I hope that you’ve found this blog helpful in some way. We all have our own challenges, and I hope that me sharing mine is a reminder that we are all working things out as we go.
You have a voice. Your art totally matters.