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A Creative Winter

Lee May Foster-Wilson / January 5, 2024

Like the the growing seasons of the gardeners year, there are also seasons in the life of a creative. Not as regular or as prescribed but definitely as significant. I write this as I process what I didn’t realise at the time was a creative Winter. To experience it can be quite disorientating and a little bit scary. I think it is what is often described as creative block, a lack of inspiration or creative burnout.

The main difference I have noticed with this kind of winter is that it happens quite suddenly, personally for me anyway, it always comes after a really prolific time, making it even more discombobulating (I love that word!) when you have been in such a good flow of work and suddenly at the end of a project, a launch, the making of a series, the flow stops and the more you try to get it going again, the harder and harder it seems.Lee Foster-Wilson Sleeping Deer

So when I say I needed to process this winter, I mean that it is only in the aftermath and feeling the little glows of creativity return to me that, even though I have experienced this before many times, I can recognise where I was and what was happening. It all came on quite suddenly, the end of my massive 100 day project coinciding with some personal muddles came together in a perfect storm that triggered a complete freeze in me when it came to making new art.

While I was initially a little worried that the urge to draw had vanished, I wasn’t too unduly concerned. I felt busy, I was busying myself putting together the 100 day project book which was still creative, I wrote a lot about the work, reflected on the drawings I had made and what inspired me to do them. I chopped up images in photoshop and made new decorative pages out of them which was really fun.Lee Foster-Wilson 100 Days of Art play Title page100 Days of Art Play collaged title page...a fun thing to work on in a time of creative uncertainty.

But as that came to an end and I still didn’t have the urge to draw I started to feel a bit more disorientated by it. Though I could try and ignore it and put it down to having been busy with the children in the summer and making the book, it was still worrying me a bit.

To keep me busy I also had some client work on the go which I was very grateful for and without me realising it, was also just what I needed then with it being all about wellness and mindfulness. I was still drawing, still having fun making art but being art directed meant I didn’t have to think too hard, ideas for the work in hand were a collaborative effort and to boot it was a lovely project which rolled on right through the Autumn.

Every time I felt concerned about my lack of motivation to make art for myself the client project picked up the slack, keeping my drawing muscle flexing while I tried not to worry where my creative energy was hiding.

That’s the thing about creativity, these times where it just stops can be a bit overwhelming in themselves. I realise now that my creative brain wasn’t hiding, it was hibernating…in a long and deep sleep, recharging after the huge harvest of the 100 day project!

And that is where the metaphor of the seasons come in. Similarly to the natural world, we can’t be harvesting all the time. Like the soil in the ground needs a rest to regain nutrients, our minds need to rest and be taken care of so that we are ready when the time comes to be able to nourish new seeds of ideas and let them grow. Lee Foster-Wilson Sketchbook PageFeeling for new ideas...

There is outside pressure to be making and creating and doing stuff ALL THE TIME from the internet, from our perceptions of other people seemingly like an artistic fountain, ideas and amazing art spewing forth all the time. But it would surprise me if that was truly the case for anyone, we will all go through these seasons and within that, winter is inevitable.

If you are feeling stuck, in a creative block, burned out or finding a lack of inspiration then perhaps you are in a winter too. It helps to remember it won’t last forever and hopefully yours won’t be as long as mine has been. It’s disorientating and frustrating but try not to force it, it’s all part of the natural cycle of things.

It becomes less scary if we can recognise that creativity ebbs and flows. Sometimes we are like those creative fountains I mentioned before, it’s exciting and it feels then like the flow will never stop, like we see the world each day with a renewed wonder and curiosity and everything is ripe for inspiration and interpreting into art. But sometimes it dries up too and we go dormant.

In that time, just keep listening to yourself, keep an open mind and when those little glimmers of hope start to return, which slowly and surely they will, take time to nurture them. It helps to think of them like buds emerging, coming forth but with a protective coat of leaves taking care of the fragile and precious goodness inside. Then with the right gentle nurturing (you can never force these things) when the time is right, little by little we can bloom into our best creative selves once more.Lee Foster-Wilson Sketchbook CatMy creative energy is slowly coming back, peeking out into the world a bit like this curious cat!

So what's emerging after my creative winter? Well, right now I am at the seed gathering stage, keeping my energy, mind and body open to fresh ideas. Looking back at past work to see what I can take forward and what I learned from it. Re-reading and looking at art books that I remember feeling excited by in the past. I have also been playing in my sketchbook, not stressing myself about making brand new finished pieces yet, just seeing what is making me feel keen and happy. I’m taking care to notice what is starting to grow out of what I am planting and then when I am ready I will be able to run with it.Lee Foster-Wilson Sketchbook FishIt’s nice to feel that little glow of excitement for making physical art come back again. Yes it was scary when it had been nearly 6 months of not making anything for myself - that’s a long time and I was starting to worry that it would never come back, would my mind ever feel sharp enough to be receptive to ideas and capable of independent creative thought enough for me to make work again?! But it’s here, little seedlings are popping forth once more.

It’s all cyclical. I have struggled to remember this the last few months myself, occasionally panicking that I haven’t made the work, that nothing new is coming to me but now I am finally coming out of the other side I can see it for what it was. The winter of my latest creative cycle. While in the real world we are right in the depths of winter, in my creative space it feels like Spring is arriving again and that feels good.Lee Foster-Wilson Sketchbook NasturtiumsHello Spring!

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