On perserverance, 4.
Tune for a Monday Morning

Autumn Cleaning: On Creative Burn-out

Sweeping out the studio

"When I am between ideas I clean my studio: I am still in the space, fulfilling my time, and surrounded by my tools and, since making art is more pleasant than cleaning up, it usually isn't long before an idea will appear that demands to be executed."  - Brigitte Nowak

I do this too, when I'm between writing/editing/art projects: sweeping out the dust of old ideas, making a clear, ordered, inviting space for new ones to arrive. But a Ritual Cleaning is also helpful during times like the one I'm experiencing now: when the Big Hairy Monsters of Difficult Life Stuff have made tatters of my work schedule, stomped muddy feet over all my deadlines and plans, and taken up residence not only in my brain but in my workspace as well...while the Spark of Inspiration is hiding behind the sofa with her hands over her head.

So in this case, it's not just dust I'm sweeping out the studio door, it's also those Big Hairy Beasts clamoring for attention. Out, I say, out! Be off with you! I'll deal with you in the times and places that are appropriate -- not here! This place is for words and paint and books and dreaming and making and myth and magic. This place is sacred. This place is mine. Out! Out! Out!

From Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

"Blocks are simply part of an artist's natural cycle, and mine come whenever I reach a plateau in my work. I'll feel bottled up with negativism, but when I blast through all the garbage, I find I've emerged in a new place as a better artist."  - Nick Payne

I don't often get blocked creatively, but when I do, the Big Hairy Monsters of Difficult Life Stuff are most often the cause. And yes, once you blast through blocks and Beasts, it is usually (maybe always) to an interesting, new, better place as an artist. So I'm sweeping and cleaning, reclaiming my space, and waiting for that moment of...renewal.

Drawing table

Marionettes by Wendy Froud on a studio shelf


Tilly's spot near the drawing table

"Sometimes, if you just wait it out, and go on about your business without trying to force a solution, it comes - almost as if the old artist has to die before the new one can be born."  - Jane Champagne

Yes, I find that's true.

Collage assembly table

Collage-making desktop


"Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don't try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It's the one and only thing you have to offer."  - Barbara Kingsolver

Indeed. Sometimes you must shut the door, both literally and metaphorically. Draw the curtains. Go off-line. Switch off the phone, the radio, the stereo. In stillness, in silence, your own voice emerges, saying things you never dreamed you had it in you to say.

Studio desktop

Owl drawing by Frans Wesselman

"There's one thing your writing must have to be any good at all. It must have you. Your soul, your self, your heart, your guts, your voice -- you must be on that page. In the end, you can't make the magic happen for your reader. You can only allow the miracle of 'being one with' to take place. So dare to be yourself. Dare to reveal yourself. Be honest, be open, be true...If you are, everything else will fall into place."   - Elizabeth Ayres

I know this to be true. Yet it's a lesson I seem to have to re-learn with each and every project.

Segur, Shakespeare, & such


"You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget that errand."  - Woodrow Wilson

Note to self: Never forget this.

Tilly's spot on the office side of the studio

Having cleaned out my workspace, I'm now off on a few quiet, much-needed days of "studio retreat." Have a good weekend, everyone.

Stalwart studio companion

Oh, some very quick recommendations before I go: Don't miss the usual Friday posts on John Barleycorn and  Seven Miles of Steel Thistles; or the trees, dreams, and raven calls at Ravenwood Forest; or the stitches and secrets at Spirit Cloth. There are some useful reflections on the Creative Blues at I Saw the Angel, and a brand new post at Rima's The Hermitage (always a cause for celebration). For an extra lift, E.'s photos on the Mystic Vixen blog never fail to make me smile...and I love her dogs.


* Updated to add the following links:

On Creative Burn-out, Part II

On Creative Burn-out, Part III

On Creative Burn-out, Part IV


Wishing you a good "studio retreat."
Many thanks for yet another inspiring post.

I loved looking around your studio. It's very inspiring for an artist to see another's space. I recognise the owl card! I saw it in a shop the the other day, a lovely artist too! I love the quotes you've chosen and quite strangely, I too have just blogged about the ned to be alone while creating. I hope you have a wonderful weekend accompanied by a wave of inspiration and renewel.:)
Jess xx

A lovely post, Jess! I like the idea of an Artist's Date.

A beautiful post, Terri, wonderful quotes and a good dose of your own "On Your Desk". I did a post long ago on studio cleaning, I do this as well, its very useful. Thanks for the recommendation and have an inspirational studio retreat. Oh, and, I love that print of the owl and the person on a branch.

I'm going to print off this whole entry and hang it in my studio. If this doesn't chase my monsters away, then I don't know what will. Enjoy your weekend!

I agree with Erzebet, I need to print this out and use it as wallpaper for my makeshift writing room. After another sleepless night, I really needed this inspiration. Wishing you a wonderful studio retreat! I can't wait to see/ read/ experience your next creation.

Note to self: never forget this.

Thank you. I've been standing in the stubble left over after harvest, not knowing what to do with myself. Maybe I will dig a hole, and lie down in it, and see what sprouts.

Oh, how I needed to read this post, and I have actually read it three times. Methinks there are a few monsters in my own studio that need banishing, so a ritual cleansing is definitely in order here too.

I completely get this - often when I'm about to start a new project and find myself procrastinating or not able to focus... I clean! The studio is swept, dusted, tidied... rubbish recycled and old pieces of work I feel 'stuck' in, get put aside. It's a cathartic process and this cleansing process is just the ticket.

Thank you for another much needed blog post, Terri. I am VERY overdue for a massive studio clean up, it has stopped feeling like my sacred space and become a place I don't linger because it's become cluttered and full of stuff I can't fit anywhere else (after rearranging bedrooms and losing our so-called 'spare room' over the last year).

I especially like the Jane Champagne quote. It reminds me of the affinity between artist and Shaman, that a kind of death needs to take place for the new life to begin. And also of that need not just for solitude, but of 'fallow' time to allow the seeds of new ideas to emerge into the light in their own time.

Love the bookshelves in second last picture of this post.

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