What it means when the painting just isn't happening - some alternative ways to look at it that don't involve beating yourself up or endless frustration. What if there's another reason - one you can work with?

So if you follow me on Instagram, you may have noticed me whining a lot around the end of last year about how there wasn’t any painting happening.

The dam broke suddenly, in January, but it took two and a half months {!} for that particular cycle to come around, and to be honest I had moments when I secretly started wondering if my painting days were actually over. Call me dramatic, but if you’re a painter you likely know what I’m talking about. 😉

And for sure, creativity happens in cycles. I’ve talked about this a million times. I’m even pretty in touch with my own cycles. There was something about this one though that felt a little different.

I’m accustomed to an intense all or nothing approach to painting. Before I left for my hermit retreat in November I did two complete paintings over a couple of days, which had a familiar characteristic of seeming to come out of nowhere. And that’s where my painting impulse went straight back to as soon as they were done.

For ten weeks.

I don’t think the cycle normally takes that long to come back around. I’m by no means a daily painter, {sometimes wish I was but there it is}, and any time I’m not painting I’m doing something else creative so it’s not like there’s nothing in between.

But the painting has a special quality for me and after a certain period without it I start to go a bit crazy. It begins to feel like pressure is building up and for my own sanity will need to be released asap.

I’ve talked before about wanting to make art and just not, and there are plenty of things we can do to encourage the muse to make an appearance.

What can be frustrating is that just as there isn’t a one-size-fits-all-people solution, there isn’t a one-size-fits-every-painting-drought solution.

Sometimes going into the studio and doing a bit of tidying can be all you need to start the flow.

Sometimes that just makes you feel worse.

And then sometimes it’s something more nebulous than the usual fears and blocks. Something it’s not so easy to label or put words to. I had a think about this and what it all means after a day of intense painting with four new pieces started and two {possibly three} completed.

Why could I not just get in the studio before that? How could I want something so much, actually feel like I needed it and was suffering without it, and still not do it?

It had to be more than procrastination.

This is what I discovered. Perhaps there is some truth in it for you too. I found it most likely means a combination of three things:

  1. A new phase of my art is coming but it isn’t – or I’m not – quite ready for it to be released yet.
  2. Things are percolating. I am constantly absorbing ideas and inspiration, including subconsciously, and it needs to be filed away in my internal library, with cross referencing and categorisation, so that what I need can come forward when the time is right.
  3. Another creative project is taking up most of the bandwidth, and painting requires a certain state {for me} which needs less other stuff going on simultaneously.

Maybe this sounds weird. Maybe it makes perfect sense. I can say for sure though that when I started painting that day, all these points became extremely obvious. I’m not sure how articulately I can explain why but I’ll give it a go.

I’ve lived near the sea for years now, and have never been inspired to paint it. It’s absolutely true that the sea inspires me, but it’s never been in a direct real-thing-to-canvas way. The couple of times I’ve tried, just to see, have only confirmed that for me. These new paintings opened a door to bringing the sea into my art. They are not ‘of the sea’ per se, but they bring together my feelings and impressions {and the colour palette – yay!}. Suddenly I found that something I’d wanted for a long time was happening. Which brings us to number two.

In all this time, over the years, and more recently the weeks of not painting, something has been going on beneath the surface. I’m always consciously open to inspiration, whether that’s from Pinterest, stumbling on the work of artists that speaks to me, reading something, hearing something, being down by the sea, taking photos, or ideas that just swim by and I happen to catch them.

Fragments, ideas, dreams, feelings, they’ve all been integrating into my inner library system. {I’d say this is true for all of us, whether we’re conscious of it as part of our process or not.}

The thing about that is they can’t be forced. Encouraged, yes, but not forced. If they’re not ready to emerge, they’re just not, and it’s in my best interests {unless I want to go a little bit crazy, feel constantly nagged and start panicking about not being able to paint any more} to be patient and get my creative kicks elsewhere while I wait.

No one ever said process was all smooth sailing! {Or if they did, they lied.}

These new paintings, when they came, were accompanied by not just relief and joy, but a rush of excitement. Suddenly my brush was describing in shape and colour something that is so close to my heart it feels like a part of me. A life dream, or a set of pictures of one, I carry in my head and heart all the time. I’m not into making things precious and it’s not a secret, but the details of this I need to keep just for myself, at least for now.

Suffice to say, as I was painting I was feeling that not only was I finally making the paintings I’ve wanted to make for a very long time, but it felt like that dream was coming closer because of it. I wasn’t ready before, as a painter or within myself, for this kind of painting or the life dream they conjure up, and this is the first real indication I’ve had that it’s truly possible. That’s huge to me.

What’s all this got to do with you?

So what I’m really saying is, if you’re wandering in a desert of no painting and feeling parched and like a part of you is missing, and you simply can’t understand why you can’t just get in there and do something, consider that there’s a very good reason for this. One that your heart probably knows and your head certainly doesn’t, in spite of its various agendas.

Perhaps you are percolating and your inner librarian is working overtime to get things in order so when the time comes you’ll have everything you need to hand. In the meantime there are all sorts of ways in, some of which you can find here. And I bet that when the time comes, you’ll find it will have been worth the wait.