For many of us, art is a refuge, a place of comfort. It is something we turn to at all points in our life, a place to escape to. For some, it’s vital as it pays the mortgage whilst for others it equals in importance as a therapy for anxiety and depression.
I think I can safely say we have all struggled with motivation and inspiration at some point, it can feel that our creativity has left us. Whether it has been taken away due to commercial reasons or has just upped and left without rhyme or reason, we can be left feeling devastated. For an artist, its disappearance can stop us in our tracks. Emotional upheaval, stressed with mounting bills, uncertainty, feeling unsettled can all interrupt with the creative flow and we feel guilty and frustrated at not being able to produce artwork. It knocks our confidence as we are, after all, artists so producing pretty pictures is what we do!
With the onset of Covid-19, I certainly felt all of these emotions. Everyone hunkered down, my workshops disappeared along with my wonderful students and my lovely art community. We take so many things for granted, we forget how important they are until we no longer have them. However, I had underestimated the larger art community, I didn’t see the bigger picture emerging, the support system and innovation that was quietly but determinedly establishing itself. There was a resilience just finding its feet with an armoury of bright, new ideas.
Social Media, often a subject of criticism, stepped into the breach and came into its own. Whilst we saw this medium at its worst during the pandemic, spreading rumours and fear, we also saw it at its best with really good people out there doing really good things.
I spotted a little post by a fabulous artist, Tom Croft, on Instagram. He was offering free portraits to NHS workers and asked whether other artists would like to do the same using the hashtag #nhsportraitsforheroes. I jumped at it, what a fabulous idea! Not only did I have time on my hands, I had a stack of Pastelmat paper that I had been meaning to get to grips with and this was a great cause. I am a velour fan, I use it for everything and the discovery of velour paper along with the joy that is Unison Soft Pastels, well it was a match made in heaven for me and a turning point in the standard of my work and lead to a lot more. I had struggled with Pastelmat in the past but, knowing it is a great paper and used by so many with fabulous results, I was determined to use it and here was the opportunity.
I did stop and wonder though, would NHS workers really want portraits of themselves? I was already feeling a bit useless, bombarded by scary headlines, sat at home whilst our key workers were all being exposed to the virus. I mean, really, how could art be of any benefit?
I needn’t have worried. I put up my green canvas on Instagram and waited…..approximately 6 minutes before the first message came in and then they just kept on arriving. Delighted with the response I told fellow artists and they got involved too. So, 10 NHS portraits later, not only had I been part of a massive art community but I had interaction with people and managed to use up my Pastelmat supplies so winning all round. Lots of lovely NHS workers and their families, all keen for a portrait and loving this unique, inspirational project. Along with this came some amazing backstories, it truly was a very humbling experience resulting in an online exhibition and now a hardback book all raising funds for NHS charities.
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In addition to this, Grayson Perry was comforting us all in his own inimitable way every week on our TV’s. The BBC were hosting live life drawing sessions and I took part along with my arty friend, we were sketching whilst chatting on Whatsapp. Sky Arts were there too with their weekly live portrait sessions, celebrity sitters chatting away and artists from all over the world joining in. I saw fellow artists thinking creatively on how to maintain their businesses, turning to online events to teach their skills and posting How To videos and progress timelapses. I started posting timelapses too, it was the kick I needed as people love to watch them.
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I am lucky in that art isn’t my job, by day I am in a Technical role and, as UK Manager for a supplier into the food industry, I have worked throughout this year. Art is a hobby and commissions and workshops are fitted in around my full time day job, it has grown over the years and is now a huge part of my life. Due to Covid, my evenings and weekends have become clear with no stay aways, no late night returns from work, limited shopping trips, no social events. Normally my evenings and weekends have always been chock full of things to do but along came Covid and all that changed. I have a wonderful family and friends and now, I see clearly that I have a wonderful community in the art world. No wonder art is used as therapy.
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So when motivation and inspiration are illusive, turn to your fellow artists and see all the ways they are interacting with the world. It’s not just about producing pretty pictures, it’s about engaging, getting involved no matter at what level, popping yourself into that huge community, there is room for everyone. There is nothing wrong in gaining inspiration from others, following artists, looking at their subject matter and how to approach it. As an artist, our biggest muscle is our brain and we have to feed it. Yes nature is a fabulous thing, our surroundings are a fabulous reference but sometimes we need a little more, a nudge in the right direction, a little support, to feel part of something.
So what would I say is my biggest inspiration, my biggest motivator? What do I use to help me search for my lost creativity?