A client asked me recently, "How do I begin?" They were referring to their creative practice, noticing that the methods they have used in the past to access a creative flow state, were no longer working for them. They reflected that without a clear idea of what they're going to create, or when the critic is too loud in their head, or when they're alone in the studio, they feel unable to begin.
I've experienced similar struggles in my own creative practice. I've thought about painting many times over the past few months and I just haven't done it. I've felt frustrated in my process; that I'm not producing anything of worth, that I don't have an idea of what I should make, and that the pile of canvases in my shed shouldn't grow any larger!
Writing this blog is a reminder to myself to move past the thoughts that block my practice and simply make art. From early in my creative journey, I’ve been inspired by Julia Cameron who encourages regular creative practice. Her philosophy is to keep showing up to the page/canvas/instrument. But I feel there are some extra things I can put in place to support my creative practice.
For me the first step is to notice the critic and acknowledge that they have been running the show. I remind myself that I don't need to have an idea of what I’m creating before I begin. I remind myself that art is the territory of the Soul, and I can simply make space for it to emerge, in its own way and timing, paying attention to what is. For me, art is sometimes born of a passionate heart, exploding in fiery cathartic expression across the canvas or onto the piano keys. However, as an expression of Soul, my art making can also require a tender and safe space in which to emerge.
There are ways to generate a space of safety for this tender art-making. Similar to beginning a meditation practice, it is supportive to have a dedicated space to work in, particularly if that space is already set up and ready with materials that inspire me. As added inspiration, I can choose to keep my creative space alive by creating an altar with objects - bits of nature, clippings of poetry, soft material - that beckon the Soul to come forth through art making.
To help to open the creative channel, I can take some moments of quiet before beginning my practice. Sometimes I might choose to connect with my heart and ask, what is here that wants to be expressed? What wants to be given form now? Perhaps that decision that's been niggling at me wants a different perspective? Sometimes I choose to set an intention for my art making, and sometimes I come to the page with no plan or expectation. Over time, I develop deeper trust in this pre-reflective art making. No, I don't need to know in advance what is being created.
Recently I engaged in a short mindfulness practice before beginning art making, bringing my awareness to breath and sensations in the body, coming home to the present moment, noticing what is here, now. I found that an image spontaneously arose and I took that to clay, shaping and forming what I had seen within.
I can let my attitude be one of curiosity and play. What is going to emerge today? What happens if I bring together sewing materials, wood and clay? What would happen if this painting were to write a poem? What might this story look like as a dance? I can keep a journal of creative curiosities and small inspirations, bringing together what normally would not be brought together. I can re-visit the works of creative doulas like Julia Cameron, Pat Allen, and Natalie Goldman.
If it feels daunting to spend a lot of time, I can choose to set a timer. This can be a great way to bypass the critic – simply to fill a page with colour, or to work the clay continually, or to write stream of consciousness for 15 minutes can help to get the creative flow going. I can work with what is present. If the critic is still giving me a hard time, I can make a visual or movement representation of it, amplify it, or make it a caricature of it.
If I’m still finding it challenging to get started, I can invite a friend to come and play in a creative space with me. Sometimes I choose to attend an art therapy workshop or see an art therapist individually. This is particularly important when I don’t have capacity to hold a compassionate witness space for myself. Inviting a companion for my journey is an act of self-care.
So, a summary of how to begin:
Chelle is a practicing art therapist, researcher, and multi-modal creative. She regularly dives into the unknown to discover what is ready to be born, deepening her trust in the abundantly creative source. For Chelle, art is a means to inquire, express, and transform. If offers the capacity to soothe, making space for new perspectives and ways of being.