Wednesday, September 14, 2016

When Your Muse Takes an Extended Vacation without your Permission

Big plans. That's what I had for the year. Except I've spent a good chunk of the year stuck. As in, my muse went on vacation without turning in a vacation request or bothering to return.  Except it's been worse than that. In the past, when I couldn't torch my way out of a wet paper bag, I could switch gears for a while: wire work, chainmaille, knitting, or SOMETHING. My hands were always busy while watching tv, in the car, etc. However, soon after the dawn of 2016, I lost the desire to do anything creative. I didn't have the drive to keep my hands busy, which is completely outside the norm. I was (still am) taking a yearlong online class in mixed media and didn't feel like trying any of the new techniques because once I got everything assembled, it was too much bother to actually MAKE something. 

This was all so far outside my norm, and I almost didn't even care that it was happening. Until I did. And then I knew I needed to make some changes. 

Maybe you have experienced something similar? The following are some of the steps I've taken to try to lure my muse home. 

"Art" journaling

Ok...there is absolutely nothing artistic or even mildly appealing for what I'm labeling as art journaling. However, I'm not exactly sure what one calls this...thing...I'm doing. Nearly one year ago I explained my planning and organization system, which includes a bullet journal. I still use this as my go to for to do lists, planning, tracking, and more. Over the summer I decided to start journaling in it too, even though I hate to journal. It's a super simple basic journaling. It may be a couple sentences, a word, or even a couple pages. It is whatever I need it to be so I don't forget every single thing that happens in my life, but also so it is a manageable task to accomplish each day. However, it's blah. And the daily calendar and to do lists are blah. Around the same time I was doing some reading about how important it is to just play without expectation and keep a super basic art supply in a location where you will journal and paint or draw. 

As you can probably guess by now, if something isn't easily accessible, I lose interest quickly. So I decided to accomplish two tasks and use the bullet journal as my "art" journal too. So now I use a waterproof Sakura Pigma Micron 05 marker to do all my writing. I keep a travel set of Winsor Newton watercolors and a couple water brushes pre-filled with water on my nightstand so it's easy to access last thing at night or first thing in the morning. 

Just so you understand, there is no thought involved. I pick a color that appeals to me and just start making marks. I have had zero contact with watercolor paints since I was in elementary school, so I mostly play with the colors and how they run together, intensity of color, etc. It isn't pretty. It doesn't make sense (usually). I just let go. If I were to try to sketch in this journal rather than just mess with color, I would feel too much pressure. This process I've adapted requires exactly 0% pressure on myself to make it look good. And I also don't worry whether all the words can be read afterwards. The fact is, my handwriting is atrocious anyway. 

Finish WIPs

There are so many unfinished projects in several different media laying around my studio and home. Sometimes I feel guilt about starting something new when I have so many others to finish. So I've started making my way through them. Interestingly I've discovered I love to do bead embroidery until it's time to finish the project. Then it just gets too tedious for words. This may explain why I finally just stopped doing bead embroidery altogether...I had about 6 projects in different stages of completion. 

For example, here's a cab by Caroline Dewison that I finished everything but a way to hang it as a pendant. It's gorgeous and I love it so much I don't know if I could sell it. However, until about two weeks ago, it was a very pretty dust collector because there was no way to wear it. 

This was the first WIP I tackled in an effort to restart my creativity. As you can see below, I created this copper bail contraption that I sewed to the back of the cab, and will attach to a weathered brown leather cord. 

The next project I decided to tackle is this gorgeous ammonite cab by Lesley Watt. Below you can see what it looked like January 31st when I took a photo of it for the Use Your Stash challenge. It continued to look like this until September 5th. 

I worked on several unfinished projects over the Labor Day weekend, and the ammonite now looks like the photo below. I didn't have additional beads or ultrasuede with me to progress any further, but I'm still happy with getting closer to being done. 

I think I've decided to add a row of the Czech glass beads in the photo below, then finish it off. 

I could show SO MANY unfinished projects, but thought I'd show this gorgeous donut by Kristie Roeder of Artisan Clay. I had this thing glued onto the stiff stuff fabric for MONTHS and never added a single bead to it until Labor Day weekend. I literally forced myself to sit and bead even though I didn't feel like it. However, as I worked, I could feel the excitement for the craft coming back. 

As I mentioned previously, I love to knit. It is definitely something I do in waves, often knitting obsessively for a while, then not knitting for months. Again, I have a ridiculous number of unfinished projects that feel like they are weighing me down. For example, the wrap in the photo below? I've picked it up off and on for the last SIX YEARS!!!! I finally finished it except for adding the buttons. To be fair, I had planned on using different Lisa Peters handmade buttons, but they didn't work. So I'm considering these instead, also made by Lisa Peters. 

These socks? They were completely finished except for grafting the toe of one sock and weaving in the ends. Why do I procrastinate the final details of a project? I drive myself nuts! And I also keep myself from the enjoyable process of digging into the next project. 

A Clean Studio

I totally should have taken a before photo. My jewelry making area was piled high with tools, supplies, findings, mangled wire, garbage, new art beads, etc. just a few days ago. When I find myself avoiding the studio because the idea of working in the mess is too much for me to bear, it's time to clean. Now you can see counter space AND the beading board thing that I mostly use to store small bits and pieces. Whenever there is a clear space, I want to make a creative mess again. 

Keep a Visual Record

This one might be a bit outside the box. Let's say you have 1 hour to create 5 days a week. That's it. Take a photo of what you made that day. Post it to Instagram or Facebook or wherever you want to share it. At the end of a week, a month, a year, you can see how much you have actually accomplished with what felt like very little time available. 

About a year ago I discovered Chatbooks, which is a super easy app to use. Basically you download it to your phone and it uploads photos from whichever source you choose, like your phone, Instagram, or Facebook. You select which photos, pay, then they print it. I've ordered two of these books so far and they are fantastic! 

I started the beginning of 2016 with the intention of doing a single photo each day. Except eh, I decided to break that rule because it's my Instagram account and my favorite method of journaling. Each chatbook can have up to 366 images. Because there are some days I post more than one photo to Instagram, I had the first half of 2016 printed as soon as June was over. I keep it out in the living room and just about everyone who comes over looks through it. 

Seeing my photos printed in this album got me thinking about how having a hard copy visual record of one's work could provide motivation and inspiration for those days when it feels like drudgery. 


Do not underestimate the power of spending time with your people. If you haven't read Lesley's blog post about art camp yet, do yourself a favor and read it and also the one she wrote last year about her visit. I know when I am able to spend time with creative people, I leave with more energy and ideas and passion than before. I haven't taken the time to benefit from community in quite a while and that is next on my creativity reboot list.

What are some of your favorite tricks for pulling yourself out of a creative slump? 


  1. Thanks for the nudge! In the spirit of community, your blog was exactly the boost I needed this morning. My 'bullet journal' has been customized to my muse, in much the same way as yours. So, I'm off to the studio to get into it, right now, before I lose the creative urge again.

  2. That. Was incredibly thought provoking!

  3. I agree with so many things.... Finishing bead embroidery pieces is so "meh". To me the excitement is DOING them... I too leave them til I have 6 or so and then finish. I think having a piece started at all times is a huge help. Then when you aren't feeling it you just have to SHOW UP in the studio and work a little. Like you said on Kristie's donut - it comes back.

  4. When my muse gets lost, the best way for me to find it is to go in the opposite direction! Usually when I'm stuck, it's because I need a break - some time away.

    I think of it kind of like it's cleaning out the fridge. It might be full to overflowing but if what's in it is past date and green and fuzzy on the edges, it's probably not going to be useful in making a satisfying meal. Clean it out - empty it and then, while I take a break, new ideas and inspirations find me until I just can't wait to get back into the studio and try them all.

    In the book "Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow" -- which I read in the late 80s when I took the plunge and quit my day job to make jewelry -- the only part I remember after all of these years is "Honor Your Laziness" -- it's basically the same thing as my metaphoric fridge purge. You muse -- or lack of one - is telling you something. It says it's not there, not time to create. Go satisfy your soul in some other way and come back renewed and ready to rock and roll.

    And Jen -- thanks so much for posting this as it's something we all grapple with on and off. And big thanks for turning me on to Chatbooks! Wow! I love it -- a hardcopy Instagram/Pinterest/Facebook! Ooooh!

  5. I absolutely love this post, your honesty is refreshing. I know most ppl say that the internet eats up valuable time but spending time reading my favorite blogs REALLY does help me get back in the groove--most of the time. My family is very artistic and they inspire me to no end. They manage to maintain a consistent work flow despite life's curve balls.

    Thanks for this post.

  6. This was a great blog! Been feeling like my muse has left the building without so much as a see you later. Thanks for sharing.

  7. My muse has been very unreliable this year too. I love the idea of the chat books as a way of keeping in mind how much you have actually done and stopping a further downward spiral. And I can't emphasise enough how invigorating spending time with like minded folk away from your own environment really helps you see new things and old things in new ways.

  8. I love the idea of the chat book!! What a great way to keep you aware of the amount of work you actually are doing. Sometimes our creativity manifests itself in other ways and we aren't even aware that we are being creative. There have been times when I have 'beaten' myself up for NOT being creative. Then I look back at some of the things I have done and realize "hey, I really was doing something creative even if it wasn't jewelry related or even something considered art." When I do feel like I'm in a slump, I like to doodle or zentangle. It's very transformative;-)

  9. What a refreshing post, Jen! Thanks for the kick in the hind end I needed to get on track again with my stash of UFO's!


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