How to be creative when stressed or under pressure

How to be creative when stressed. Botanical Tidbit collages Kathy Ferguson artist mixed media

Does your creativity disappear when you’re stressed and under pressure? See how I found my creativity again and got back to painting and having fun.

The dilemma of the creative process (for me) is that I impose pressure on myself to make impressive, or at least good, artwork. I worry my paintings must be meaningful and pleasing, and if they aren’t, then self-doubt, fear and discouragement paralyze me from working. This self-directed pressure was putting a lot of stress on my creativity and keeping me from painting. I needed to adjust my thinking and art practice to break this negative cycle and get back to the joy of making art.

In many ways, the COVID quarantine has been a positive experience for me. When the virus rates escalated in New York City almost overnight, there was speculation that Manhattan would close its borders and travel outside the bough would be restricted. The thought of getting trapped in a city had me fleeing that very day to Florida with nary an art supply in my suitcase. With no upcoming shows or commissions to finish, and few supplies to work with, I decided to let my self-imposed pressure go and just play around with the limited materials I had available (acrylics and junk mail).

I started small, making simple 6″ x 6″ painted collages. Working on up to 12 paintings at a time, I skipped around between them when I got stuck. I let myself step back and make work that didn’t need to be good. And you know what happened? My creativity came back. I was excited to go to my studio every day and see what would happen next. After finishing forty-two of these “Tidbits” paintings, I was ready to move on to something more substantial.

 

Architect Tidbit Series Kathy Ferguson collage 6" x 6" Tidbit paintings
Mounting the 6″ x6″ collage works on cradled wood panels

 

Tips to spark creativity when pressure and stress are weighing you down

So the next time you’re stressed or under pressure, try these other ideas to spark your inspiration and creativity.

  1. First, stop trying to “make yourself” come up with something creative. Instead of telling yourself, “I must make something great now,” instead ask yourself to “play around with some ideas.” You need to feel in a safe space of non-judgment and expectation.
  2. Step away for the problem and let your sub-conscience work while you go for a walk, bake a cake, or fold the laundry. The less these activities use your mind, the more open it will be to create new solutions.
  3. While doing one of these activities, do a little brainstorming on a single idea. Go deep and think of every good, bad, and weird idea that you can. Don’t critique these ideas; you are going for quantity. Give your thoughts some space to roam and let creativity work its magic.
  4. Are you still stuck? Try looking at other people’s work. I’m not suggesting copying them, but sometimes seeing what others have done will trigger new ideas or approaches to your problem.  
  5. You don’t have to go it alone. Why not collaborate with another? You can pick their brain or work together. The process of talking through ideas can stimulate new thoughts and take you in a new direction.
  6. If all else fails, perhaps you just need time. Give yourself time to mull on it. I often wake up the morning after with the answer just waiting for me.

Get more great creativity tips by signing up for my monthly newsletter HERE.

Still need more advice, check out my blog post – 7 tips to get you going when you’re feeling unmotivated.

 

 

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