Intuition, burnout, and weeping at your drawing desk.
[in-too-ish-uh n] noun: Direct perception of truth. Pure, untaught, non inferential knowledge.
The best work comes from intuition, for me personally (and I'm sure for many others). I don't know why the concept of following your artistic instinct and intuition wasn't revered in my schooling, but it's something I've come to appreciate in my own process and in the work of others that I admire. In fact, I've been looking for common threads in the work that I love, which spans artists, eras, techniques and style. One of the consistent attributes is the feeling of intuition: the sense that the artist felt compelled, without reason, to shift their work in certain ways. For me, the lack of intuition in my own process leads to a lack of spontaneity, and quite frankly a lack of enjoyment.
You hope that if art becomes your job and you're constantly creating, that intuitive making would be the rule, not the exception. Sadly, I have found that the more I make art, the less intuition I have, the less likely I am to trust myself, and the more likely I am to become critical of every decision I make. Trust, to me, is a precursor and pre-requisite for intuition. If I do not trust my inner compass, I can only look for that direction externally, which of course leads to disaster, lack of motivation, and a questioning of my own identity. Being a commercial illustrator can also certainly decrease the amount of trust you have in your own work. You have to balance your voice with the needs of the art director, the editor and authors too. I do love this challenge and am fortunate to work with some of the kindest and most brilliant art directors, but at times I overcomplicate the process instead of just creating from the heart. My heart.
All of this overthinking about not over-thinking came to light this year and I struggled to maintain my enthusiasm, ambition, and to be honest, my friendliness. It was personally a rough year for me and was also one of the greatest years of my career. I felt more than ever the need to be outwardly grateful -- because I truly was, and am. But I also felt the incredible need to disappear -- to crawl into a cave and never make art again. I've been freelancing for 8 years and have always experienced an ebb and flow. I've had loads of creative blocks and dug my way under, over or around them. Usually, I take a couple of days off, feel like garbage, mope around, weave in and out of the ever-looming existential crisis and boom! I'm able to get back to it!
If a creative block is a rainstorm, a burnout is a hurricane (and you're out at sea, alone.)
I'd heard the term 'burnout' before, and always just interchanged the term for creative block. Everyone's burned out at one point or another, whether you're in the creative field of not. We all need breaks and rejuvenation. So when I began feeling a bit overworked and overwhelmed last Summer, I shrugged it off. "After (insert current project), I'll take a break," I told myself. Only the projects and responsibilities continued to pile up.
The rest of the year was a blur for me - a blur of painful loss in our family, a readjusting of reality, an immense joy career wise, with loads of projects that needed attention and care. I do love my job - I show up again and again despite fatigue, as we all do, because I value the content in which I am illustrating. I value those I am lucky enough to work with. Near December, it became quite clear that the stress I felt was manifesting itself physically. I would show up to my drawing table and just weep. Or I'd show up and feel the need to run, and fast. I would yell on my way to work just to relieve a deep pressure I was harboring in my neck, in my chest and in my back. (This last one is not easy to admit but it's true, and it actually helped!)
Once my projects were finished and had the stamp of approval, I dug my cave and in I went.
I spent most of December doing what I loved outside of art. I made my own pie crusts, and two beautiful galettes. Did yoga. Started reading Oliver Twist. Saw friends. Found out my wax fortune for this year (I will have love for everybody). Visited a museum. Felt guilty for not working. Rearranged my studio. Took hours wrapping Christmas gifts, daydreaming of being a professional gift wrapper. And so on and so on. In retrospect, it sounds like a great and rejuvenating break! In reality, I felt wayward and guilty for my resentment, wondering constantly if I would ever love making art again. I kept waiting for my profound 'AHA!' moment to happen where I just fell back into the arms of the art I love. I teeter as I write this, on the edge of rest and motion. The more I rest and dig into my cave, the more hopeless and despondent I feel. So, I have to embrace motion. Intuitive motion.
Moving forward, I'm actually happy to be back at work. Do I feel totally renewed and restored? Not quite. But I think slowly moving with trust and intuition will help guide me back, and keep me leveled in my life and in my work. I've decided to find more time for practice and play. Every Wednesday, in fact, will be devoted to practice, play, and personal work. I will view personal creating and practicing an integral part of my career instead of a luxury. I will seek and find new inspiration and trust my curiosities. I will watch Kiki's Delivery Service. (Thanks for the recommendations IG people!) I will keep studying Japanese. I will keep perfecting my pie crust.
As I close, I want to thank each and every person, some of you I've known for years, and some of you I've never met, for your unending amount of support and encouragement this past year. Though I can't respond to each and every comment, email and message, know that I read every word, teared up, felt very grateful, and want to give a big hug to you all. The discussions have made clear that everyone goes through these obstacles, no matter where we are in our creative journey. I do hope sharing my own experience will help you if you ever find yourself weeping at your drawing table or running full speed to escape.
Ok. Back to work - slowly but surely.
*Special thank you to my girl, Meera Lee Patel for editing my post!