There’s a legend that the phrase “may you live in interesting times” is an English translation of an ancient curse - that whilst it sounds well-meaning, is used ironically, for it would be better to live in uninteresting times of peace and tranquility. Well, we are certainly living in interesting times right now. With everything on lockdown, universities and colleges closed for the foreseeable, art supply stores closed and everyone being asked to stay at home to keep people safe, it’s a hard and anxious time for all of us.
Creating at home is an isolating and oftentimes challenging experience for us art students. However, creating art is good for us, it lowers stress, helps us to improve our problem solving skills and even benefits our nervous systems. So, here’s a few ideas that might help you to continue creating, even though things are hard.
Create a space.
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With art schools closed, most of us will have lost our studio spaces earlier than expected. Studio spaces are crucial to creating for a lot of people - myself included - as being physically “in” a creative space helps us feel inspired. If you can, create a little creative space in your home. It doesn’t have to be big, and you could put down sheets to prevent anything spilling onto floors or walls, but physically give yourself space to be creative. It can make all the difference.
Go back to basics.
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It may seem obvious, but if you’re feeling stuck in a rut, or are suffering from anxiety caused by what’s going on just now, going back to something familiar can be reassuring, and maybe even remind yourself that you can create. Of course, traditional life drawing classes are all cancelled just now due to social distancing rules, however I’ve managed to find a few online classes artists are running over Skype. If that’s not your thing, maybe try setting up some basic still life scenes with things you have lying around the house, and experiment with lighting and materials.
...Or try something new.
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Alright, it seems a little counterintuitive to try to learn something new whilst at home alone, but thanks to the Internet there’s lots of creative people and educators offering classes on a huge variety of things. Whether you want to learn new Photoshop skills, or try out new illustration techniques, there’ll be someone offering online opportunities for you to do so. And with the universities closed, remember to view it as a no-pressure environment, just learning something because you’re interested in it.
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Restrictions can be useful in art practice - we use them all the time. For example, I sometimes restrict myself to using only type of material or only producing a certain amount of images, to keep myself creating and not stagnating. Raid your art materials to find something you’ve not used much before, and challenge yourself to create 10 drawings with that material. If that’s not your thing, try using a random word generator everyday and illustrating the word you get, or join in with drawing and art challenges on social media.
Think outside of your home.
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Sometimes creating art “just for you” can be more difficult than creating art for a deadline even though we know it’s good for us, because the urgency isn’t there. However, right now lots of places are asking for artists and creatives to send drawings, cards and letters to them - places like care homes, hospitals and sheltered housing. Have a look in your local area and see if anywhere has requested this, and send some small drawings or paintings to them - or even to your friends. Not only will you be helping your own anxiety by creating things, you’ll also get a feel-good boost knowing you’ve made someone else smile.
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My tutors at art school used to like telling me that “making art is only 30% of an artistic practice”. The other 70% is researching, developing, doodling and thinking. Think of your art practice’s inspiration as like a database, and take the opportunity to put more information in. Lots of museums and galleries around the world are offering virtual tours, National Theatre Live is streaming theatre productions every Thursday. Take some time each day to switch off your phone, the TV and the news and spend some time feeding your brain creativity - whether that’s in the form of a book you find inspiring, a subject you like researching or a virtual tour.
For art students, leaving the art school studios to stay home essentially means losing your creative social contact. As art students, we tend to feed off of each other, and having people around you to talk about your work, their work, share ideas and pool resources is an integral part of an art school experience. Social distancing and the importance of staying home prevent this from happening - but there’s ways around it. Contact your friends and organise video calls to talk about work. These could be as formal or as informal as you’d like - maybe you all just grab a cup of tea and spend an hour chatting and doodling. You could also have a “crit” session, just like at university, where you and your friends/classmates can offer opinions, advice and criticism of what you’ve all been up to. Not feeling so alone whilst you create, and knowing that on a certain day people are going to virtually “meet up” to be creative together, will encourage you to keep creating. Perhaps most importantly, don’t put too much pressure on yourself to create your masterpiece just now. These are difficult times for everyone, and no one can expect miracles from themselves or anyone else. Create what you want to, because you want to. Stay safe. Stay healthy. And most importantly, stay home.