If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my many years studying and practicing creativity it’s that you need a routine and a schedule to create. I know this makes it sound less romantic, more like a chore than magic, but that’s reality. One needs to have a solid structure to feel free to churn out drawings, paintings, poetry, or music. This business of creation takes a lot of time, patience, and, most of all, practice.
Routines are not set in stone, though. At least not for me. When I was studying in Barcelona, I woke up at 5:00AM, ate breakfast, showered, left the house at 6:00, and then started working at a mom and pop printmaking place at 6:30AM. I would stay there until 8:30 then head off to my first class at 9AM. We usually had a “warm-up” session on the first hour—sketching—then we proceeded to painting class or sculpture or photography, depending on what you were focusing on that term. We ended at 2PM and my classmates and I would have lunch nearby. After an hour I returned to school and would log in some time at my studio. From 6 to 9PM, I worked at the school’s office as the secretary of the Masters in Art Therapy Program. I would usually go home after that, but I would meet up with friends first for dinner and drinks near the apartment. Bedtime was about 11PM or 12MN and then the cycle would begin again the next day.
My routine was completely obliterated when I returned to Manila. I obviously did not have school anymore, no more studio to work at, and no more part time jobs to attend to. I must admit I floundered for a while and let darkness take over. I spent days without changing out of my pajamas and just dragged my feet around my parents’ house (yes, I had to move back with them since I had no job). After some time, I got in touch with old business contacts and started working again. I had a routine again alright, but it sucked my spirit dry and could not return to art making. I did manage to sporadically create again after a year or two.
Flash forward to the present. As a freelance graphic designer and a Spanish and art tutor, my schedule is pretty… malleable. My classes are rather regular so at least that part of my schedule is constant. Sometimes I’ll be working on 5 graphic design projects at the same time so I’ll have to juggle my time between those things plus my T-shirt business. On top of my classes. I am no spring chicken anymore, plus my chronic illness leaves me depleted at the end of the day so I have no time for making my own art.
There is something terribly wrong with this picture: no time for creating means I am not a happy camper most of the time. I am crabby and a horrible monster to the people around me and myself.
I think I cracked a couple of months back and have only started paying attention to myself again the past couple of weeks. The crack wasn’t enough to clear my head; I needed to be shattered to realize things were not working out no matter how good things were in terms of my projects and tutorial classes. I wasn’t making ART, damn it!!! Where are my sculptures? Where are my paintings? And where is that damn book I was supposed to write and illustrate? They were buried underneath my Spanish classes, books I had to design, and documents I had to translate. My soul was not malnourished; it flat-lined a while back and all I am now is a shell of the me that I wanted to be.
So I want to add to what I said earlier: sure, you need a schedule and structure to create, but you also need prioritize and say no to things that would not get you closer to your goal. What is my goal anyway? A one man show at an art gallery? So why do I spend so much time “Photoshopping” (no, it’s not a real verb!) images for brochures and magazines instead of painting? Why have I not cleared a spot in my schedule to just create art for myself?
I always share with my students this imagery of creativity that Psychologist Teresa Amabile created: that creativity is like a stew. First, your domain skills are your meat and vegetables; you cannot paint if you don’t know how to mix colors, you can’t create a song if you don’t understand how musical notes work. Albert Einstein would not have come up with his Theory of Relativity if he had zero knowledge of physics. Second, your “creative thinking skills” or your approach to solving problems and having the courage to experiment are your spices. Finally, you need passion. It is the fire that cooks the stew. It is your intrinsic motivation that keeps you on track. You do something because it makes you happy and not because of the extrinsic things that you get, such as money, accolades, and awards. These things are hunky-dory, but you need to do things because they are pleasurable and not because you have to do them to earn a living.
I have given up so much, been through a lot just to BE an artist, and yet I still find myself in this trap of losing my focus and working for extrinsic things. I don’t want to be a cliche and be a starving artist, so I work my ass off… and to what end? My fire has been extinguished for a long, long time, and I have not lifted a finger to revive it. Sure, I keep a journal and draw every single day, but that’s not enough. I have used that as an excuse to not do anything more because I’ve already done something. It’s still creative and I am honing my skills and gathering my thoughts, that’s what I say. But how long have I been doing that? When will I just jump and trust that I can create again?
Wow, when I started this entry I had no idea that this was how I was going to conclude the piece. Seems like a Eureka moment, no? But it hasn’t been all that bad, right? I have made some changes in the last month—cutting down on TV time, more reading, less “Facebooking” (another non-verb), and such, but I am still having a hard time buckling down and getting my hands dirty again. I think there’s another “issue” at the bottom of all of this, but I shall leave that for another entry. I think I’ve eviscerated myself enough for today. So until then, let’s see if I could stick to my plan and get myself back on track.
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