Erratic Creativity and Shaking off the Winter Slump

It is the middle of winter in Melbourne and July is the coldest month of the year with lower levels of sunlight. This is the time when many people have difficulty with their creative flow. Unlike during the warmer months when my energy is high, now it is very erratic and this inhibits my ability to focus on one thing for long. I find it much less stressful to switch between different creative activities, depending on my mood and energy level. When this is low, if something else sparks my interest, I embrace such experiences to restore my sense of joy in dull and grey weather. These strategies can help anyone who is in a creative slump, especially during the winter.

When I am feeling overwhelmed my spirits have been lifted by watching live Youtube streams from places where it is now summer. There is nothing like the power of the Icelandic volcanic eruption and the antics of Danish and German Wildlife to realise that the world is still a wonderful place. Here are some links to these livestreams for your enjoyment.

It is good to know that beautiful places and amazing events are still out there even though we cannot visit at the moment. Watching the live sporting broadcasts of the Tour de France has brought back the heat. It is entertaining to view the cycling action and spectacular scenery of the French countryside. This really puts a smile on your face when it is cold and it has been very inspiring to see the achievements of these talented riders. It is good motivation to get on the exercise bike.

Being in nature is beneficial for your health and sanity even during the colder months, so it is wonderful to have a garden. Our local parks can be crowded with joggers, dog walkers etc whenever there is fine weather and it is lovely to have such a peaceful place to enjoy by just walking out the back door. During  Melbourne’s repeated lockdowns there were millions of people wishing to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine in public parks at the same time. With all the development and destruction of established gardens in our area, I hope that people finally realise how important it is to preserve these personal outdoor spaces.

If you have any outside space, whether a balcony or small courtyard, make the most of it and try to create some shelter from winter winds with screening plants and appropriate seating. Use your imagination and be creative. In the summer Ellie and I fixed up our run down terrace, by adding more paving and painted the old garden furniture so that it is more pleasant to sit outside in fine weather. Plants were added to make the adjacent fernery appear lush and tropical with leafy, evergreen plants that can survive Melbourne’s cold, windy winters.  Here are some before and after photos.

Here we saved money by planting several shade loving Clivias that Ellie propagated from one pot plant. We found some Canna and Arum Lillys and Bleeding Heart trees, that had spontaneously grown in the empty bed next to the new fence. These have been potted for future deployment in the front garden. Also tomato and pumpkin plants popped up from the compost which was spread in our herb garden, along with lots of nasturtiums which grew from last year’s seeding. Our single wormwood shrub has also provided new plants from cuttings that will be added to the herb garden. Green and variegated spider plants, birds nest ferns and aralia plants easily reproduce in our garden and we have a plentiful supply in pots. It is wonderful when a garden self regenerates. 

When your creativity levels take a dive it makes a real difference to see growth and life in the garden. We are lucky in Melbourne because our winters do not produce snow and there is always an abundance of greenery and citrus fruits during the coldest months. If you are in a snowy region you can also benefit from the watching the continual growth of indoor plants. It is harder to feel down in the dumps when these are bursting with green energy which is restorative.

Plant life can provide creative impetus. Our garden is a constant source of inspiration and has given me ideas for artworks. There is always something new to see during winter. Even when not in the mood for drawing and painting, I have photographed any seasonal changes in our garden for use in future work. These have already inspired me to practice new techniques and try various art materials. 

During periods of low creative energy don’t worry if you are not producing masterpieces. Some artworks are just for learning purposes and not to create great works of art. I have a watercolour sketchbook and a fun collage journal where I do things that make me happy. Some things work, others don’t. I’m not always happy with the results, but I don’t need to show anyone because they are for my benefit alone. It’s Ok to keep some artworks to yourself. These a just a step in your journey to making art that you want to display in public.

However sometimes it pays to ignore your own advice and to go with your instincts. Yesterday I did show one of my practice art journals to someone I trust and they commissioned me to do a small painting as a gift for a relative. So just playing around in a sketchbook for fun when you are trying to lift your mood is never a waste of time. It might just lead you down a more creative path.

Winter might not be the most creative season for everyone but there are many ways to give yourself a boost. This is also the time when there is never more than three months until the arrival of spring and all the renewed energy that comes with sunnier days.

Kat

Creativity and the New Year Blues

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Above is a photo of the famous and picturesque Brighton Beach in Melbourne on a lovely summer’s day. This is how we want our holiday season to always be, but it has been a very difficult New Year in Australia and the celebrations have felt rather hollow. It is very hard to be cheerful when so many people are suffering with the devastating bushfires affecting our state of Victoria and the whole country. Climate change is very real in our part of the world, which is quite depressing, especially with our Federal government’s hopeless response to this threat. The current situation appears to have no end in sight and it must be terrible for those caught up in the crisis. While it is important to remain informed and engaged with what is happening, it is also vital to do things to get your mind off a terrible situation, otherwise it can effect your well being which is no help to anyone. This is where a person’s creativity can be their best friend.

Last Monday a deadly wind fanned fires in the outer suburbs of Melbourne and brought down many trees on what was a day of nearly 43 degrees Celsius. A strong wind gust caused a tree limb from our neighbour’s African Coral tree to crash onto our dividing fence and damage some of our citrus trees, a minor inconvenience compared with the extreme fires happening all over the place. Everything seems turbulent and out of balance. How do you stay calm and focused when your country is in a state of emergency?

As well as donating to the Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery for those affected by the bushfires, it also helps to take action with things that you can immediately change. Ellie and I decided to deal with the fallen tree branch because our citrus trees needed quick attention so that they will recover. Our neighbours are away for the holiday period and the large branch is too big for us to remove on our own, so Ellie and I cut away the overhanging branches from the fallen limb and removed any broken ones from our trees. Now there is just one big branch stuck on our side of the fence. The rest can be taken care of when our neighbours return. 

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It was great to get outside in the garden on a cool day to make the most of the fresh air and sunshine before the smoke returned to Melbourne. A bit of physical activity can make you feel a lot more relaxed.

Good old New Year’s resolutions in this time of stress can help to regain your focus provided you implement them quickly. This type of planning can be done at any time of the year. For example there is nothing like learning a language to stimulate the brain. I studied Japanese for two and a half years at university (up to third year level) but had let it slip. This year I decided to refresh my language skills and have found a phone app to get me started. I still have my Japanese text books, but using the app allows me to listen, speak and read at the same time. I have begun with very basic Japanese to get me back into the flow and am surprised to see how much I remember. It is fun to learn without the stress of exams and I would recommend using an app first before taking formal lessons as it is like playing a game.

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Doing any sort of creative project can be a welcome distraction. Another resolution of mine is to continue with water colour painting, learn all kinds of techniques and try out different materials. After watching some inspiring You Tube videos, I have decided to have a go at making some shimmering water colour paints from old powdered make up to use in craft projects. For pan containers I found 10 plastic make up pots to hold each colour and these will fit into a plastic lidded box which means they will be easy to store. I bought some gum arabic to mix with the shimmer powder as a binder. You will need to leave the container open until the paints dry and once dry the paints can be reactivated with water like normal water colour.

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Here is the video that inspired my project.

I did some research online to find out the lightfastness of the pigments that were used in the make-up powder. For those interested in this type of thing here is what I learnt as they are common pigments used in make-up along with the shimmering mica which is the main ingredient:

Ferric Ammonium Ferrocyanide (Prussian blue) cannot be mixed with titanium white or zinc white as it becomes fugitive (non-lightfast).

Carmine Pigment is fugitive in water colours.

Chromium Hydroxide Green – do not heat over 200 degrees Celsius or the colour might change.

With these results I would suggest that any paint made from these pigments only be used for greeting cards, other types of ephemera or inside sketchbooks where the contents are not exposed to the light. There are artist quality pearlescent watercolours available for archival work. I can’t wait to experiment with these shimmer paints and plan to buy some professional ones in the future. 

In trying times you need to look forward to some good things and to never lose that feeling of hope. 

On a very smoky Friday in Melbourne wishing everyone a Happy 2020. Let’s hope that there are better things to come.

Kat

SUPPORT YOUR ARTIST FRIENDS: IT MATTERS

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Having supportive friends can make a big difference to your life. Getting support for your creative endeavours from people you know can give you confidence and inspire your work.  There is nothing more uplifting than seeing friends in an audience at one of your performances, at an exhibition or other similar events where you have work displayed. It is also important to support creative friends and to celebrate their accomplishments. 

Recently the ukulele group that Ellie and I help run performed at a local community festival. We had a lot of fun entertaining the crowd and it was great to see the smiling faces of family and friends who came out to support us in the audience. It boosted our performance. After the event I realised the several of the friends that we had invited had not turned up, even though they had said they would attend and had not sent any apologies.

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I was disappointed because in the past these friends have been quite insistent that we inform them when our ukulele group has scheduled a performance so they could come. For many years we have been playing our instruments at their parties, but when our uke group actually performs, not many show up. It was a free concert and in the same area where some of them lived so it would not have taken a big effort to be there, but I guess you can’t make people attend.

Who would want to be the sort of person that can’t be bothered to be a supportive friend? It is important to help out your friends even when you are busy. Don’t just nod and say something is great. Follow through and go to their events and exhibitions.

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If you really like a friend’s artwork and have the funds, buy one and display it in your home. If you can’t afford an original artwork buy a print or a card of their work.  An author would really appreciate you buying a copy of their book to read. Or if music is their medium, buy a CD or a download. The least you can do is spread the word that their work is available for purchase.

Take some photos or video the event and give your friend copies. When an artist is performing or talking to people at an exhibition opening, often it is family and friends who can record the occasion. After all the hours of preparation for something that is over in a short time, it is priceless to have a record. 

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If you cannot attend send an apology and congratulate them for their achievement. It is also thoughtful to send them a bottle of wine to celebrate or a card of congratulations. Show you care.

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And if you never get the support for your art from some people, don’t invite these repeat offenders to your creative events. They do not define you or your work. Positive energy generates more so save your efforts for those who do give you support and don’t take them for granted. Make sure you thank your family and friends for coming and that they know any help they may have given has been greatly appreciated.  

Anything that you can do to support your creative friends is valuable and is the most basic thing you can do for both the arts and friendship. Be the type of friend you want to have. It matters.

Kat

(all images from pixabay.com, unsplash.com or pxhere.com)

One of the ultimate songs about friendship is The Beatles With a Little help from My Friends. Here is a version from 2009 with Paul and Ringo performing the song live.