Friday, November 4, 2016

Art Block

I recently got over a big bout of art block and near-burnout. That’s actually why I’ve restarted this blog. Normally with art block, I just switch to a different type of craft until I’m interested in what I was working on again. I’ll also take breaks where I just enjoy other people’s art rather than make my own. (Or I’ll just repost a bunch of fall related stuff on Tumblr!) Generally, taking a break to do something that grabs my interest is enough to get me over any art block.

But this year, I hit a huge block that lasted for months. I am a huge fan of Halloween and fall, so it was baffling to me that the season was here and I just felt -nothing- about it. I tried switching things up, but nothing changed. Nothing was fun or meaningful. In short, these months sucked real, real bad.

Thankfully that’s over, and now I’ve had a bit of time to figure out what happened. Since I know art block and burnout is a huge problem for many people, I want to share in case it helps anyone else.

What went wrong:

The first part of this is that I didn’t have a clear direction I was trying to head into. I was busy making lots of things, sure, but no real reason for doing so. I was doing Halloween related crafts because “I’m one of those people who likes Halloween” and not “This is something I really want to do that furthers my goals.”

The second part is that I have had an increase in obligations and responsibilities lately. I love what I’m doing, but I also have problems that need accommodation. I have social anxiety and a limited amount of energy. I have to choose wisely how I interact with people, and how I spend my time. Instead of doing that, I was running around trying to do everything, and not setting proper boundaries. It seemed fine at the time, and also seemed necessary with all the deadlines. I really wasn’t aware of the extent of the problem until I was really deep into it.

And finally, I was trying to continue my tradition of doing a bunch of stuff for my favorite season when I did not have the same amount of time I’m used to having to complete them in. So plans had to become smaller and smaller until there was no way to shrink them anymore if I was going to actually do them. I didn’t want to let these things go, so I decided to just push through it. But then reality stuck its head in the room and let me know that actually, no, I didn’t have time to everything.

At the lowest point, I was feeling pretty robotic and lifeless. Nothing had a point. I was just passing boring, pointless time. And there was no indication that anything would ever really have meaning again.

How I fixed it:

The turning point started when I came home one day and the fireplace was lit. It was cozy, and had that familiar fall and winter smell. I felt something fizzle somewhere in my brain, which eventually manifested as the thought, “I could toast some marshmallows.” I grabbed the Halloween quilt I finished last year, wrapped myself up in it, and toasted some of Trader Joe’s vegetarian marshmallows. It didn’t fix everything, but it was at least something.

After that, I had the feeling that I could actually get over this. Since I felt better after doing something basic and seasonal, I decided that what I should do is get at the base of what it is I love about fall. Since fall is the season that inspires me most and informs my art, I figured that if I could below the surface and really get at what it meant to me, maybe I’d emerge with what direction I should go in. 

I decided to give in to reality, and get rid of every task I possibly could. If it wasn’t necessary for me to do, I wasn’t doing it. Cleaning was dropped to the bare minimum. I went from trying to make lots of my own food to eating ready made meals. Then I dedicated myself to just pursuing whatever seemed fun, provided it didn’t involve making plans. I started watching Jas Townsend & Son videos about 18th century cooking. I also listened to a lot of stuff from I watched music videos I’ve always enjoyed, especially “I Love It” by Steam Powered Giraffe. That helped immensely, and I could feel myself returning from burnout.

Things finally snapped back into place while I attended a local Halloween event called The Festival of the Macabre. I was still back to normal, but I was enjoying myself. And it was great to be surrounded by people enjoying Halloween as much as I do. After asking someone about getting involved, it was suggested I put together a portfolio of costuming work to show what I could do. And that was so weird to me, because I’d written off costuming a long time ago as something that I couldn’t reasonably expect to be involved in. Later that night, as I pondered how I would put together a portfolio, I could suddenly see how I could tie together all my interests, and had a very clear direction to head into. Best of all, it was all doable. I’d seen other people do such things. Two days later, I was back to normal, bouncing around over the fact that Halloween is coming. 

What I learned:

  • It’s important to have a clear idea of where you’re going and why
  • When you recognize that something is not working, alter how it’s done or simply drop it ASAP.
  • If you don’t stop when you need to, things will only get worse and you’ll still have to stop later whether or not it’s convenient.
  • Being in the middle of a project or well into a job is no reason not to change things up. You’ll only benefit from better work conditions, and not changing could destroy all your hard work.

I wish you the best of success if you get stuck in art block or burnout. I hope my story helps you!

Happy Haunting!
- Mr. Bumblepants

Referenced stuff:

Jas Townsend and Son

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