Have you Experienced a Creative Dry Spell During a Time of Grief or Loss?

Every now and then I get an email from a student asking, Angela, I’ve recently lost a loved one and haven’t been able to paint since it happened. Do you think I’ll ever be able to paint again?

It’s incredibly humbling to receive an email like this, and I can’t tell you how much I treasure your trust, when you open your hearts to me in your messages. I don’t have answers, but I’m so blessed to be able to listen and share with you in a small way. In my own times of pain, I’ve seen creativity ebb; it seems there’s no feeling more helpless than living in the grip of grief. I have felt like a small boat on a rolling sea, tossed and set adrift, with no choice but to ride the waves and hope the storm will end soon.

When you go through a traumatic or painful event, you might also experience a time of creative drought. Grief and pain have a power that cannot be ignored or avoided, and while logic might suggest that making art would provide an avenue for healing, sometimes you just might not feel like you can pick up your brush again. If making art has previously brought you joy, it might almost feel obscene to retreat into art while grieving deep loss.

Don’t feel guilty if you find yourself unable to paint during a difficult time! You don’t need that added weight. Just as grief follows stages through the healing process, and we don’t get to choose how long it takes to process our pain, we need to allow our creativity the same time and space, free of guilt.

I’m not great at dealing with pain. I would so much rather deny my struggles, and pretend everything is okay until things improve. When I am grieving, I often find myself “stuck” in the studio, trying to paint something that reflects the joy and calm I wear on the surface. That doesn’t work for me! I can’t manufacture an emotion in my painting that I’m not feeling in my heart. This doesn’t mean I only paint when I’m happy, but it does mean that when I’m overcome by something bigger than myself, I need to give myself space to work through whatever that is.

When you don’t feel like can paint, try:

  • Looking through past paintings, exploring and remembering your feelings when you created them.

  • Create a scrapbook or Pinterest board of ideas, images that appeal to you visually, colours you love.

  • Sort reference photos into categories.

  • Organize your supplies and donate extra or unused materials to charity. Organizing supplies is actually very beneficial, a small bit of order created in a world that may feel upside down. Organizations for young people (like Girl Guides) may appreciate donations of art supplies.

  • Visit an art gallery or botanical garden; a beautiful space with a calming environment. Give yourself time to sit and reflect.

  • Set up a comfortable seating area in your artistic space, with a notebook at hand for journaling or sketching and a book that has inspired you. Choose a time and sit there daily, looking and reflecting. Write if you wish. Sketch if you want. Read a little if the spirit moves you, but don’t feel obligated. This is your time to let your soul lead, and when you are ready, you will create again.

  • If you feel you must start creating again, whether you feel like it or not, set small goals. 5 minutes, or a postcard sized piece of paper. Or take a class in a creative discipline you’ve never tried, and let the instructor and your classmates help you move ahead again.

  • Get help. Please don’t try to go through tough times alone. Making choices to move toward healing means knowing you can ask for help.

I can’t share your boat, but as you ride the waves, know you are not the only one.

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