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How To Get Out of a Creative Rut

I've always had a weird relationship with the "artist" label. I'm always like, "No, I'm a photographer, not an artist. I suck at drawing and painting and what I do is technical, not artistic."

I've always identified more with being a "creative" than an "artist". I think about other artists I know - my friend Dona, who has done remarkable work since I knew her in high school, a piece of which now hangs in my home; one of my favourite New Yorker cartoonists , Zoe Si, whose work never fails to put a smile on my face, and who has the most calming painting time lapses; my friend Kayla, a dancer and choreographer who moves in a way I can't even understand.

All of these people to me are obvious Artists. But me? I have a hard time linking what I do to tangible and more "traditional" visual art.

But my personal feelings on creative vs artist aside, as a CREATIVE, sometimes (often), we feel drained creatively. Call it writers block, feeling stuck, boredom. However it manifests for you or how you experience it, it happens to everyone at one point or another (or, like, all the time). And weirdly, the knowledge that other creatives are feeling that same way is immensely comforting.

I still remember having dinner with one of my favourite photographers and her team when I was in in New York on my student practicum, and getting on the topic of imposter syndrome - the feeling that you don’t belong or somehow don’t deserve to be where you are because it’s not “important” in the grand scheme of things. They ALL said they felt that way often, including my practicum host, who is a very successful fashion photographer. Sometimes it’s a good reminder that even at the top, creatives still suffer from the same things as us mere mortals

Ask anyone who is a creative how they keep their creative juices flowing (and I've asked almost every speaker I've ever seen), and you will almost always hear them say that looking at other artists' work (but not comparing - I'm certainly guilty of that), and experimenting with other mediums helps get them out of their head and into that creative space again. A fellow photographer friend of mine, Grant, sometimes works with printed photographs that he then cuts into pieces and makes 3D shapes to photograph again. What it creates is visually striking and sometimes mind-bending imagery.

So, dear fellow creative, here are a few of my tips for jumpstarting creativity and getting out of that rut you may find yourself in.

Jumpstarting your creativity or reminding you of your "why" when you get to that what-even-is-the-point-anyways feeling:

1. Watch this.

Watch it again. Re-watch it a few months from now. I go back to it often when I need a reminder of my “why."

Alan Watts - What if Money Was No Object

2. Learn something new

Learning something new stretches your brain and kickstarts the brain's frontal cortex, which is where your creativity comes from.

You don't need to master everything you try, you just need to start! Try to ignore that inner perfectionist telling you that if you're going to do something, you had better do it well (*raises hand sheepishly*. Nobody picks up a guitar as a fully-formed Jimi Hendrix reincarnation, just like you won't be painting like Michelangelo when you first pick up a paintbrush. But trying to learn a few of your favourite songs or putting some paint on paper can be really soothing and fun.

I recently bought myself a little watercolour set, and I've been having fun learning new techniques. A bonafide watercolour artist I am not, but I have been having a lot of fun.

3. Do something weird.

I know I'm not the only creative that can get a little tired of doing what they always do, day in and day out. Don't get me wrong- I love what I do - but sometimes you need a change so you don't get stuck in a rut of always creating the same work.

One way to do that is to do something weird! Take a piece of plastic wrap and put it over your camera lens for a shoot, shoot through water glasses, slow down your shutter speed or shoot in black and white for some movement and artistry, shoot upside down. Do something out of the ordinary for you - you never know when you'll land on something awesome.

4. Change your environment

We've all been stuck close to home for over a year now, and I'm sure you're feeling a little bit of cabin fever as well. So, while we can't travel far yet, I try to get out of my apartment regularly to change things up.

We are creatures of habit. Our minds and bodies get used to routine, and if we don't change it up, sometimes it can lead to feeling down and uninspired. I love taking walks around my neighbourhood - I'm lucky to live near a lake so there's always something new to look at, from new blooms to baby geese.

I also like driving around and going to different areas of the city. If I'm having lunch with someone, I try to plan it for a different neighbourhood than my own. It gets me out and experiencing different things and changes my perspective, even just for an afternoon.

Simply going downtown does the trick for me!

5. Re-work old projects

I'm the first to admit that going through my photography career archive can be cringe inducing, but it can also be fun to go back to projects completed throughout the years and breathe some new life into them.

I recently got interested in the idea of single-line drawings, and started searching pieces to try to imitate, and after a few pages of my sketchbook filled with not-so-great line drawings, I decided to try tracing them digitally on photographs - something I'd seen artists do before. So, I spent a day drawing on my own images, trying and re-trying to get a smooth line (harder than you'd think, honestly), and I'd like to share the results with you, because I don't even think they're too terrible.

It's a small start, but you have to start somewhere, and for me this was it.

And that's it! Creativity tips from someone who has definitely been there, done that.

I really do find experimenting with new mediums and ideas hard because as a self-professed perfectionist, "real art" is hard for me to just try. I know from experience that I'm not great at drawing, so I don't think it'll make me feel any better to try. Recently though, I've ben trying to challenge that mindset and doodle and draw just for the sake of doodling and drawing. Because here's the thing - nobody has to see it if you don't want them to. I have hard drives full of images that will never see the light of day because they were failed attempts that I learned from. So why not just try things?

Try things out for you, not for anyone else. If you want to share, that's great! And if not, that's totally cool too.

Let me know your other favourite ways to jumpstart creativity in the comments!


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