When I was younger, I imagined that by this point in my life I would be so “together”. Truthfully I feel anything but. In fact, I told my husband just the other day that I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. Yeesh. Two things I know I can truly say about myself are that I am a gardener and an artist (and it took me decades before I would even admit the latter) but with both I don’t feel that I’ve found my creative voice yet–where I’ve honed my artistic style to truly express who I am. I thought I was relatively alone in this, but it seems to be a common problem among artist types (do a Google search and you’ll see what I mean) and if you’re reading this, then perhaps you have also at some point in your life felt the same frustration. Do you look upon your garden and feel something isn’t quite right? Have you dabbled in so many art forms that you have a closet full of supplies you’re wondering if you’ll ever use again? OK, so you understand.
There are so many great posts out there that list some things you can do to find your artistic/creative voice, and I’m not here to impugn them. Instead, what I’ve done here is narrowed it down to my favorites (plus one or two of my own ideas) that I have begun to try myself knowing that this will be a process and take time. If you have anything that you would like to add that has worked for you, I’d love to hear about it!
Keep a Journal (and write in it regularly)
Keep a private journal to reflect your thoughts and ideas even if they’re embarrassing and sensitive. Hide it from your kids. Don’t let anyone else read it, ever, because this is for you and only you. Some people say to keep your journals to reflect back on, but I don’t necessarily agree. I think that it may feel good to get something off your chest that maybe you don’t feel great about and then rip out the pages and toss them in the fireplace like a sort of a cleansing. Keeping a journal helps you to work out that inner garbage that may be holding you back emotionally as an artist and designer. It’s also a great place to jot down inspiring ideas and phrases. I’ll be the first to admit that I am the worst when it comes to being consistent with my journal entries but, like exercise, I always feel better after I’ve spent some time on it.
Keep a Scrapbook/Idea Board (and then commit to those ideals)
I recently found my old gardening scrapbook, one that I began years ago when I was living in an apartment in the desert and barely a patio for growing space. I was amazed that as I sifted through the pages, I saw that my tastes really haven’t changed, even decades later. I still lean towards lush, English cottage style borders hemmed in on all sides with clipped boxwood hedges and clean gravel paths. So why haven’t I ever designed a similar garden in the spaces that I have lived? It’s totally bizarre and it’s gotten me to thinking: While it is so important to consistently build a scrapbook or idea board (the modern version of an idea board is Pinterest, of course) to find the common design denominator you must then commit to putting it in place. Ask yourself: What sorts of design elements do you lean towards? And then edit out the things that no longer interest you or do not fit your current ideals. Hone it and then complete a project using these elements. In other words, it’s not enough to just dream about it, you’ve got to put it into action. EDIT: I saw THIS on Etsy the other day and thought it was so appropriate.
Tune Out/Turn Off the World
This is one of the hardest things, I think, because nowadays we’re always so connected. It’s hard to break away even for a little bit. But when you’re trying to find your own creative voice the background noise of the rest of the world can really get in the way. For me, I find that if I spend too much time admiring the gardens and work of others I find I have a harder time defining what it is that I like and not what I think I’m supposed to like. I’m realizing now the importance of process time and reflection. I have to tell myself OK, it’s time to turn off the computer and/or walk away from my desk and do something else. Fussing over the roses, taking long walks with the pups or just gazing at the clouds help me take that important mental breather. What do you do to tune out the world?
Photograph Your Life (an ongoing, personal photographic essay)
Years ago, I sold the house that my daughter and I had lived in for 9 years–the longest I had ever stayed in one place–and even though I knew it was for the best I had a hard time letting go. I never wanted to forget all the quirks that made it home for us, so I took a day and went around photographing all the little things: the cut glass doorknob on the old bathroom door, the growth chart for my daughter that I drew on a support beam in the basement, the chestnut banisters on the stairwell, the way the light shone in the living room window on my open guitar case. After I was done I realized I had a photographic essay of sorts that told a story not just of our home but what was important to me. If you’re feeling in a creative rut, get your camera out and start taking photos of the things that catch your eye in your day-to-day life. Don’t worry that they aren’t artsy enough because this, like your journal, is just for you. (I recently started photographing my desk on random moments and it’s funny to see what sorts of things I keep on it day to day. It’s very telling.) I think you’ll find that as you take these photos, the things that are important to you will become evident and start to tell your creative story. Yes, for me, hot fudge sundaes are very important.
Recapture Those Moments When You’ve Felt Most Inspired
I’ve saved the best for last! I’ve seen variations of this tip and I think it might be the most helpful. This is going to require some serious visualization so you’re going to need a non-interrupted quiet time to do this. What you need to do is think back on your life and try to remember the times when you were feeling so inspired you’re very inner being was resonating like a bell–that moment when there was utter clarity. Really visualize that moment and you will actually start to feel that creative energy flowing through you again. Make some mental lists of what you were doing, and what sorts of things spoke to you about that moment. (My most recent examples are my memories of time spent on the coast. I am absolutely in love with the sea, but since we aren’t able to take a trip there anytime soon, I translated some of the things I love about the beach into metal and stone.) Doing these reflections, I’ve realized that color, texture and things that evoke a beautiful memory, both real and imagined, are very important to me. And now I know I should delve into these concepts a little more, try them out, change what I don’t like, explore more of what I do. (Practice. Practice. Practice.) I know all of this sounds very new agey and hocus pocusy but it works–try it.
Last, remember that just because you’re not making any money at what you’re doing doesn’t mean that you haven’t found your creative voice, and conversely just because you are making money at your art doesn’t mean you have found it, either. Something to keep in mind. Good luck!