The Creative Process
The following post was originally written down as a journal entry, with no real thoughts about sharing it. I’ve decided, though, to clean it up grammatically and publish it: I’m curious to compare my particular artistic process to that of others, and am wondering how many people go through something similar. The prose is a bit more flowery than what I’d typically use in a blog post, and some of the metaphors are definitely tending towards the hyperbolical, but I felt that it read better as a slightly poetic piece, instead of being something strictly factual and analytical. Apologies if my stream of consciousness is somewhat hard to follow.
Creativity is itchy.
Or at least, that’s how it always starts for me. An itching at the back of my skull and under the skin of my knuckles, crawling up my arms and down between my shoulder blades. An unformed desire, not entirely unlike lust. But at first it’s just desire, not yet pointed in any specific direction. I’m never sure, until the moment comes, whether I’ll be writing or drawing, painting or sculpting, beading or sewing. I’m sure that many artists are able to choose the direction in which their creativity will go, but that’s never been a trick that I’ve been particularly good at performing. I just wait, itching and restless, for the art to take shape in my brain so that I can spew it out onto paper or canvas or fabric or whatever other medium I might eventually require.
Sometimes it takes a while for that first stage to pass. I’ll spend hours — sometimes days — picking up and putting down my various artistic tools, trying to force my body to calm down and let me actually create something with all the energy running through me. But my muse, if that is what it is, won’t be rushed. The eventual product of this frustration will be something beautiful, but until it’s ready to be made all that I can do is create artistic abortions: failed paintings, poetry so hackneyed that even children’s book authors would cringe, and jewelry that looks like it got dressed in the dark. Sometimes I’ll go days without sleeping, scratch at my skin until it bleeds, and cry or laugh uncontrollably and for long periods of time, so intense is the desire to just make something.
In this respect, I suppose, my artistry is very closely related to my mental instability. A prolonged period of artistic frustration is, superficially at least, no different from an anxiety attack. The only thing that’s different are the thoughts: throughout the entire time that I’m preparing to be creative, my brain is relatively empty. Calm, even. The panicked and self-destructive thoughts that accompany my genuine manic phases are conspicuously absent from the pre-creativity rush, and it’s as though my mind is just patiently waiting for inspiration to be fully realized.
Over the years I’ve found several different ways of dealing with my artistic frustration when it grows especially intense. Martial arts are a good way of using up physical energy while maintaining mental calm, and so I’ll often spend several hours running through katas or just sparring my shadow. Sometimes instead of proper karate I’ll just repeat several moves over and over in a sort of stylized dance form, and I’m sure that if anyone were watching they would think that I’d gone crazy (well, crazier — most people assure me that I’m insane). If I can’t sleep I’ll watch movies or re-read old books that I already know rather well: nothing requiring real concentration or thought, because I won’t be able to keep a complex plotline in my head, but something that might distract me from my physical discomfort and let me doze off for a few hours. Drugs are usually a last resort, but sometimes nothing jump-starts creativity like a bit of marijuana (and getting high always makes me sleepy, so even if it doesn’t get me creating it might let me get some sleep).
When the actual creating phase begins, it’s pretty demanding. I’ll see something in my mind, and suddenly need to make it real. I try to keep all my artistic supplies well-stocked so that no matter what the creative impulse, I’ll be able to follow it. It’s pretty enraging when you’re ready to go paint something, only to realize that there are no primed canvases in the house, and it’s past midnight so no stores will be open.
Depending on the medium I’m working in, my creative impulse may be more or less flexible. Words flow and change in my mind, and a poem that I started out to create may turn into something entirely different — it may even cease to be a poem and turn into a short story or play instead. Images are less free-flowing: usually a painting or drawing stays more or less the same in my brain, while my hands struggle to match reality with imagining (and usually manage to come close, but never exact, and it does bother me when I look at a painting and can see all the places where it deviates from the plan). Beading is something of a special case: usually all that I begin with is the colours, and the shape evolves as I create it. No matter what, though, the pieces that I create during these times of intense creativity are always more personal and more powerful than those created at other times. The poetry that gets the best reviews, the paintings that are the most enjoyed by others, and the jewelry that sells the easiest and the fastest, are always the ones created in these moments.
I’ve always wondered at the artists who are able to maintain studio hours. Anyone who can go to their studio for 6 or 8 hours a day and manage to create things from such structure is something of a mystery to me. I am a bit jealous, of course: controllable creativity seems like such a blissful arrangement. But then, I suppose my art wouldn’t be very personal if it wasn’t coming from a place of semi-insanity and subcutaneous itchiness.
Sometimes it amazes me that I ever thought I could be a scientist. I love science, but it doesn’t command me the way that art does. I can go months without reading a single scientific journal or having a scientifically-minded discussion with anyone. If I were try to go more than a few weeks without doing something artistic I would probably explode, climb a clock tower, and start taking out innocent civilians. Although, I suppose if I were to do that exact thing with a paintball gun it could be considered guerilla performance art. Something to think about.