• Claire Burke

How to progress if your artistic mojo is hiding

Every artist - every human - has good days and bad days. If you have a creative job you are at a slight disadvantage when it comes to losing your mojo, because its really really hard to keep at it, if 'it' is something formless and fluid. Its not just about technique and time and 'to do lists' and methodology, its also about mood and energy and inspiration and motivation.

Recently, my motivation absented itself!

The British late summer evolved into a dark, soggy autumn and the news....well this is 2020 so you all know what's happening in the news right now. It's really hard sometimes to shut out one's environment if the excitement and motivation are missing, and since concentrating so much on abstract painting I've never found it harder to just keep creating - if I don't know where a piece is going how can I move it forward?

Well over recent weeks I've been trying to tackle a fresh creative hiatus. I started my ambitious project with vigor and excitement and it feels almost like it burned out, I ran dry and found myself beached surprisingly quickly. But thank goodness I'm not a rookie in this any more: as in almost all areas of life one can be reassured by the thought that 'this, too, will pass'. So now I don't panic: I no longer tell myself my work has no value, I am talentless, I'll never be 'a success'*. Those thoughts are my enemy and I must stare them down when they visit: I acknowledge them and politely refuse to let them through the door.

* note to self: tackling this belief could easily fill a whole different blog post!

So firstly I needed to establish WHY I felt so barren.

This is rarely obvious and sometimes needs time and deliberation. If I worked in a supportive office I might arrange a meeting with my team and thrash out a problem with them: as an artist I *am* the team, and I need sometimes to remember to take the time to work things out not just paint, paint, paint. And I realised there was not one but perhaps a dozen things getting in my way. To list a few:

- How can I paint serenity and capture the essence of tranquil open landscapes while inside I feel knotted up and the impending onset of the dark months?

- What is the point? I've sold very little in 2020 because no-one can visit me, see the work, have a dialogue with me, drop into my Open Studios event in June or see exhibitions I've lined up across the calendar. I'm accumulating stock, but to what end? Covid may mean I still can't get this new work out when its finished and start the kind of discussions that validate the process...there's a lot of unknowns swirling around.

- I have deep concerns about what the world is dealing with due to Covid, from the global problems of death, poverty and economic crisis to the personal concern for close loved ones like my 88 year-old Aunt (struggling with dementia, and finds herself in a super but utterly unfamiliar care home since breaking her hip in March , who still needs constant reassurance that we know where she is and she is safe, despite not having the capacity to remember either fact).

Then I needed to either accept or challenge my reasons

We are hearing a lot about 'being kind to ourselves' at the moment but this isn't easy if life is hectic, demanding and worrying. If you don't have the choice to walk away, you won't be able to move forward until you identify what's stopping you and tackle it.

Impending dark months

Not an easy one: I'm one of those folk who feel happier when the sun shines. No doubt. I feel like smiling and cheerily engaging with other people, I enjoy the moments nature gives me of light on water or sun through layered leaves, I feel strongest and most 'me' in brightness. But that self-knowledge is like armour now - I can accept it, and it takes some irrationality away.

That said, since the gloom settled I have made a physical change this year: Last winter my Christmas Present was some daylight lamps for the cabin and they aren't really enough so now I've invested some hard earned art-pennies in better lighting in my studio. Poor light has always cut me short in winter and maybe now I can overcome a little of the seasonal interference. Two 5' LED strip lights now diffuse a quite natural light into the part of the cabin I use for painting and so far so good, definitely a massive improvement on having to pack up at 3.30 by early November! I may also paint the ceiling white but with cross beams this will be a pain and time consuming so I've not committed yet :)

What is the point?

Well this is tricky: when feeling low what is the point? In anything? Except that for me, creating is the point, not the creation. I'm happy when I'm creating and I'm unhappy if I'm not. So I have to dig into this one a bit more and recognise that what I'm missing is the validation. To me I feel I am valid as an artist when I feel appreciated: when people like and comment positively about what I've created, when people show an interest and ultimately when someone parts with their hard-earned cash to own something I have made.

So I can't make people buy from me but I can work on getting the art in front of people: I do believe essentially that for each and every creation I've made that I'm proud of, someone out there will love it. They may or may not want or be able to buy it but they will connect with it, be it colour or essence or scale or meaning, all of which validates my art career. That means I need to find new means to publish and promote my work.

Never has more been available for an artist in this respect and instead of sitting solo in a cave, I need to look for more ways to grow my audience and seek exposure. That's something I CAN do even when the artistic mojo is hiding, and I now have a host of tools I can turn to to try to widen my audience. I don't make it very far in a small window of time but so far the types of pools I dip my marketing toes into are:

- Instagram posts and Insta stories (likewise for Facebook but they conveniently merged into one huge corporation so I no longer have to dream up two separate posts!)

- working on my blog posts (hehe!)

- connecting with local folk through Insta and Facebook - joining groups and following relevant businesses and people, commenting and interacting which has a ripple effect for both parties

- free online marketing course which helps me understand Search Engines and tools that maximise my marketing activity

- updating my web site

- reading books and blogs and articles and more books by people with the same obstacles as me! My current reading list is at the bottom of the page for anyone looking to dip into a book now and again that might inform their art practice. I don't make as much time as I should for this so the list is short: I have a dozen more on my purchase list but won't buy more until I've condensed these to my satisfaction!!

I can't tackle Covid

Much as I may choose to lay down my life if I could stop it in its tracks, I can't. I can't affect policy and science and life - or - death decisions. It's out of my control: and accepting that allows me to take a breath and just let that one sit there. It can't be the overwhelming fire blanket that stops me burning: I've had plenty of artisitic moments since the pandemic began, so now I know the feeling will pass.

What have I leaned from all this?

By the time I had understood and forgiven myself for why I had no mojo, spent hours doing practical promotional bits and getting some lovely comments from viewers, I concluded that to experiment might feel best and take the pressure off the 'Big Project'. I'm convinced nothing I've done artistically in the 10 years I've been painting has been a waste of time: its has ALL informed and educated me, my style, inspiration and output. So if there's no focus for a bit never mind. Let it flow. Do some art exercises - limber up - find something new to try online (dozens on You Tube and Instagram) and don't sweat the small stuff.

At the end of the day an artistic career is meant to be fulfilling and enjoyable or I may as well just go and get a 'real job' :)!! But sometimes this just requires taking one little move forward at a time. Happy weekend everybody x


1. Identify your block

2. Look at what you can change and accept what you can't change

3. Put the work to one side and make practical steps in other important directions

4. To some extent, go with it...experiment, play, have fun, take the pressure off

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