As an artist and teacher, I constantly need to have my creative energy flowing. It can be a bit daunting to keep my own work going when I’m full on teaching and also trying to keep pushing my students to be self-sufficient and self-motivated in their own creative endeavors.
Most of the time, my creative side runs on autopilot and ideas just come to me. Things that I see or experience in the real world trigger something, and my artwork builds into something completely original only slightly based on my initial thought. It’s quite amazing actually.
But every once in a while, I shut down. My imagination literally looks like a blank page in a sketchbook, or sometimes like a black hole. It’s not just a creative block, it feels more like my creativity was sucked into a vortex and may never return. So dramatic, I know! This is when I go back to my previous work to figure out where my past inspiration came from.
The summer before I switched careers, I was in the final stages of my Masters in Art Education. I had just spent six years in night school while working full time, and six months student teaching without any sort of income; I was pretty much at the end of my rope. But I told myself to keep drawing, keep making art, and if I keep doing what I love I will be okay. Keep in mind that when you put that much pressure on yourself and you can’t pay your bills, it’s really hard to focus on creativity.
So I went out for a walk. Everyday. I took photos all around the city. I took photos at the park, at the zoo, at the beach, and I just kept on walking for what seemed like hours and hours each day.
Then, I went back to my condo, and looked through all of my photos. I studied all of the beautiful places that I captured with my camera. Then I fell asleep and dreamt of these places in a completely different way. They turned into one big alternate universe. They turned into the drawing above, and a whole collection of drawings similar to that one.
As I drew a sort of calmness fell over me and much of the anxiety went away. Eventually everything worked out. I don’t think I would have made it if I'd lost the ability to create. It is what got me through that summer and into my first year of teaching. It’s what got me through the most difficult times in my life really.
You may be wondering where in Chicago I took the picture that inspired the drawing above and ended my creative vortex. If you’ve ever been to Lincoln Park Zoo, there is a statue of a man on a horse know as the Ulysses S. Grand statue. Underneath this statue is a small tunnel. Who knew that the real beauty, for me anyways, was not the statue but what lied beneath it.
So now when I feel uninspired, I go out and I see the world, I meet people, I travel, I live a little more, I look a little closer and it always comes back to me. I think about all of the artists and musicians whom I’m inspired by, and what it comes down to is that I like what they have to say and most often I feel a connection through similar experiences and points of view. Art really does bring us together in the most intimate way. And for some of us, it is our lifeline.
Stories about how art inspires and changes us.