• Holly Richards

Painting in a Pandemic

For the last year, there has been this big thing hanging over our heads and changing the way we think, act and well.. create. Or write even, I've been trying to write this post for the last week.

Sometimes, with everything that is going on, it can be hard to relax, let alone to focus. Your brain gets foggy, and you can't concentrate or shake the feeling.

For many people we've had a lot more time on our hands to create but just because that opportunity is there doesn't mean that it's always that easy. I am constantly telling myself if only I had more time, then I'd create more artwork or better artwork. Do all those projects that I had been putting off, finally get around to starting that blog... But timing isn't everything, you also need motivation and inspiration.

I have an unfinished painting in my studio, that I started purely for the enjoyment of it, and I thought I had the time. I painted it for a couple of days before things took over: life, work, more important projects. It still sits in my studio now, waiting to be finished and to remind me about getting that balance of time, motivation and inspiration right.

At times the motivation and timing just don't add up. Sometimes our best ideas strike us when we are unable to act on them. Right before we fall asleep, when we're driving, even mid-conversation, or most often in my case - at the day job.

It can come in waves, like a sudden desire or need to pick up a pencil or paintbrush, and it's one of the reasons why I carry a sketchbook with me most places I go. But then when the time is there, with a pencil in hand and paints at the ready, the mind goes blank.

When everything is effortless, and inspiration is flowing, the pencil lead never breaks, the ink doesn't smudge and the colours mix just right, and everything you create just comes together. But these days are rare, and we think about them, idolise them when the rut gets you down.

I was recently asked to describe my perfect day to draw/create and what the ideal conditions would be for me. I told them, that for me it would be a day with great lighting, personally, I find natural light puts me in a better headspace to make art. But the truth is that inspiration can come from anywhere.

When I struggle to draw something the actions I take next depend on what I was supposed to be drawing, and what it was for.

If I'm trying to create a piece for a publisher, or commission and I can't get it right or even get started, then I will put that to the side and try something for a personal project. It takes the pressure off a little bit, I'll use the personal piece as a warm-up and way to get back into the swing of things.

Sometimes that doesn't work. And you've got to address the problem at hand, is it your mental state, are you burnt out? Is there a problem you can't solve? Or is it simply that the project isn't speaking to you?

If you're burnt out, you need to take care of yourself first. Take a breather, a cup of tea/coffee, a shower, recharge and come back to it.

Put it down, go distract yourself, take a walk, get fresh air. Then come back and look at it with fresh eyes.

If I can't get a grip on a particular art piece then sometimes I will switch out the materials I'm using. Take my current personal series, I am working on a series of 100 pieces inspired by a trip I took there in 2019. All the pieces are done with watercolours and dip pen and ink. But when I can't focus enough to paint, or can't decide what direction to go in next, I'll go back to basics and draw in my sketchbook with just a pencil.

My way of thinking, of approaching a piece, will change depending on what materials I am using. While a lot of that is subconscious in a way, different materials obey different rules, in the application. So changing those rules and looking at things from another angle can open the way back into a piece.

Same works for changing the place that you draw. A different environment can trigger different thought processes and it can be easier to stay focused on the art.

So go draw in the kitchen, in front of your tv - do some absent-minded doodling while you watch stuff. Take a sketchbook around with you and just see how you feel. Even drawing from life, and going outside to draw, mix up your routine because the routine is what stopped working for you.

It won't always be the same fix every time this feeling hits you. What works one day may not work the rest. But hopefully, something here will be able to help at some point.

Let me know what works for you, or if there's something you do differently. Let's share all our tricks and tips so we can keep each other creating.

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