How do you create when you don't feel creative?

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I get in conversations with interesting visitors to my art studio all the time. And quite often, they ask about "the fuel" for creativity and how it works. I get the impression that a lot of people think that artists are kind of "air heads" -- that we create only on our terms (just when we "feel" like it). I get the impression some people think that if it's "not working" for me as an artist today, if I'm just not feeling "inspired", that I just sit around the house and drink beer and play Legend of Zelda all day long until I "feel" like painting again. 

How do you create something when there's just nothing left inside your head or heart to work with?

But that really doesn't describe the way any of us do anything does it? Sometimes, you just have to do your job even when you don't feel like it, whether you're a heart surgeon, auto mechanic, project manager or yes, even an artist.

People have asked "but how do you create something when you just don't feel creative? How do you create something when there's just nothing left inside your head or heart to work with?

That is a really good question and I'd like to share my own answer. I say "my own" because I am not going to try to speak for any other artist. This is just my own way to deal with that "empty" feeling every full-time artist out there gets. Keep in mind that I don't have the option of just just staying home and playing video games. My wife Joy will not let me. I have hours posted on my art studio door and I am not going to sell artwork if I am not there with the door unlocked. And to pay my mortgage and all my other bills, I have to be selling artwork. So I HAVE to keep creating. But how do you do that when you're running on empty?

Creating is like exhaling...

Don't let the needle get down to the little red "E". Don't get empty. Creating is like exhaling, and unless you inhale, you cannot exhale. The ancient Hebrews pictured God creating the universe with a breath. It's a beautiful, poetic way of putting it. God exhaled and the universe was born. When we write, or paint or cook or whatever you do that can be considered "creative", you are (in a sense) breathing out, taking various ingredients (whether they be Cadmium Red and Thalo Blue oil paint, or puff pastry, beef tenderloin and mushrooms) and with skill, you assemble something that was not there before. That's how creation works. And if you ever get to the point where you feel like you're running on empty and that creative juices have just dried up, it's because you've been exhaling until you're ready to pass out. Don't do that.

I think what "breathing in" looks like for each person will vary. If you're an introvert like me, then breathing in might be just sitting at a window staring at the rain drops hitting the porch, or reading a good book, or praying, or going for a walk, or having a super deep conversation with one or two really close friends. If you're an extrovert, I would assume you might still need to do some of the things I've listed (though I don't know for sure -- you are a sublime mystery to me), but you probably will want to be with more people at one time than I would feel comfortable being) but hey, whatever recharges you and leaves you going home feeling energized....THAT is inhaling.

If a "creative" does not inhale, he or she will eventually stop exhaling. That's just how it works. When I go on vacation and have a huge amount of inhaling time, it's like sucking in too much oxygen -- I can't wait to exhale! And that's when I come up with the big ideas that push my artwork forward several steps all at once. 

So you don't feel creative but need to create?


Inhale. Inhale deeply.

If you inhale, you will have to exhale. It just will happen. I promise.