This article was taken from the Spring 2021 issue of Wet Paint Magazine. We thought it was still very relevant as we approach the 2 year anniversary of pandemic shutdowns! Check out the full issue for a ton of springtime design inspiration, step-by-step’s, and more articles about getting back to work post-covid, some covid-friendly designs that work around masks and on arms & legs, and tips for ways to connect with your clients, among much more!
Has this pandemic caused you to lose your creative “mojo?” I’ve seen so many artists on social media who are down, depressed, and feeling hopeless. Many of us have not even touched our face paints since last March! I, for one, just recently passed the one year anniversary of my last face painting gig, and it was definitely not an anniversary I want to celebrate.
As face painters, having all of our gigs canceled hits us hard in other ways beyond the financial. We have become accustomed to delivering joy, being the life of the party, and having the satisfaction of creating more smiles per hour than most other careers. When that joy that we thrive on is taken from our jobs, it is easy to get down. Money can be earned in other ways, but the joy and satisfaction that comes from our jobs is much harder to replace. Many artists are even announcing that they are selling their kits and giving up face painting. I would like to encourage you today not to jump to that point just yet!
My suggestion, if you are just not feelin’ it with the face paints, is to not sell everything, but set it aside for now. So many people out there would do just about anything to have a fulfilling job like we have, and that gift is not something we should let go of easily. It is still way too early to predict any lasting effects that the pandemic will have on our industry. Instead, whether you are taking up another way to make money or not, seek out even more creative outlets!
But what if you aren’t even feeling creative anymore? After all, the more creativity you use, the more you have, and if you’re not painting, chances are your creative “bucket” has run dry. How do you refill it?
The key to getting your creative fire rekindled is to not require your passion to pay the bills…at least not for a little while. To rekindle our own fires, we need to focus on ourselves, using our talents to bring joy to ourselves, not necessarily to make money. Think of it like reverting back to childhood, when you made art just because it was fun and enjoyable. Removing that pressure to pay the bills from your passion alone will light a spark.
Even the genius Albert Einstein often found himself “stuck” now and then, unsure of what to do next or how to get past a roadblock. He did, however, discover an ingenious way to open up his mind to new ideas when he found himself in this situation. He called it “combinatory play.” When Einstein was stuck, he would stop working, set aside the problem, and go play his violin for a couple hours, inevitably resulting in new ideas and a way to move forward. He defined combinatory play as “the act of opening up one mental channel by dabbling in another.” Essentially, combinatory play means taking two unrelated things and putting them together to create new ideas. The key to combinatory play is to just do something else…as long as it is different, and most importantly, you are enjoying it and having fun! It doesn’t have to be face painting, and it doesn’t even have to be painting. It can be playing an instrument like Einstein did, working in your garden, a physical activity, or learning about a new subject.
Why does this work? Einstein believes that combinatory play relieves some stress, for one thing. Again, removing the stress of the expectation to make money, leaves only fun and exploration. It also allows your creative mind to start connecting dots between ideas, creating totally new ideas that you may never have stumbled across had you kept forcing your way through the problem. Combinatory play also offers a change of perspective. Doing something else gives you a mental break, and in turn, a fresh eye.
Now, many of you have found other ways to use your creativity to pivot your business, still bringing in money in other creative ways. If this is working for you, please don’t stop! I myself have been having fun and making some money painting windows and now offering virtual paint parties (on canvas)! Keep doing whatever is working for you, but if you find yourself still not feeling fulfilled, or not even in the mood to pick up a brush, give some combinatory play a try.
Besides my own creative business pivots, I’ve also been dabbling in other things, solely for myself without the pressure of monetary performance. I’ve been doing some painting on canvas and rocks, and have even started learning Spanish! In previous issues I’ve featured some ways other artists are pivoting their business, but in this issue I’d like to set aside the work aspect of our creativity and focus on play.
I will be the first to admit it can be hard to carve out the time for creative play, even when Covid has taken away all of your gigs. I’ve been working non stop since the shutdowns last March, exploring multiple pivots for my business and other ways to bring in revenue. It wasn’t until nearly a year later that I finally forced myself to slow down and accept the gift of time that Covid has given me, carving out some time for combinatory play.
I live in Minnesota, and we really know how to get out and enjoy winter. However, with both of our boys doing distance learning and my husband working from home as well, this winter my family and I decided to spend the month of February somewhere warmer. We loaded up the truck with our stuff, our boys, and our great dane “Wahoo,” got up early one Saturday morning, and drove 19 hours straight through until we reached our Airbnb on the Gulf Coast in Mississippi! We were set to stay there for a full month, and I vowed to pack more art supplies than clothes, and spend time during the week days making art while my guys were working. I packed up my acrylic and watercolor paints, and all the empty canvases that have been collecting dust in my studio for years.
My self inflicted artistic sabbatical did not disappoint! With temperatures warm enough to go outside, I made myself at home on a little table on the deck facing the backyard bayou, and set to work making whatever I felt like. I even did a short Facebook Live video on my Paintertainment page about combinatory play. Whatever crazy ideas came to me, I acted upon. I loved the shape of the fallen magnolia pods in the yard, and thought they might be fun to make colorful, so I painted them. I collected gnarly oyster shells on the gulf shores and adorned them with colors using my dot painting tools. I painted countless sunset scenes on mini canvases, finishing them off with glitter on the water and real gulf shore sand glued on the shoreline. I painted sunsets with silhouettes of seagulls, egrets and pelicans on the insides of oyster shells, and on fallen palm tree fronds. I made watercolor paintings of the things we’d seen on our weekend adventures, and acrylic paintings of my favorite vintage campers in fantasy camping settings.
I fully realize that not everybody has the luxury of being able to run away to another state for a month. But in the process of fighting the pressure to once again monetize my passions, I did learn a few tidbits that can be applied to just about any artist in some way…
Carve Out The Time
This can be the toughest part…making the decision to be intentional about rekindling your fire by setting aside precious time to do so. Start with what you can, even if it’s just one hour a week. Maybe try to set aside one DAY a week to work on something fun and new. If you can swing it, look ahead at your calendar and carve out an entire weekend! It was scary for me to set aside 4 weeks…so I was flexible with myself. The weekends would be dedicated to family fun, and I would still set a goal to complete my most urgent business to-do’s every morning and run needed errands, but any other time while my family was working would be spent making art. Even with all of the fun vacation-y things we did on weekends on the gulf, I still found myself actually looking forward to my art time during the week and whatever I was going to make next!
Change your scenery
Changing your surroundings can really help to give your mind a break from the day-to-day, and allow creative ideas to come into view. Even if you are still strictly following stay-at-home orders, you can change your viewpoint by going to a local park and setting up space at a picnic table, or even changing what room of your house you’re in or rearranging your current creative space. Perhaps you can even find a family member or friend in your Covid bubble and visit each other, or swap houses for an afternoon! Eager for inspiration beyond your immediate surroundings? Try immersing yourself in another culture with some visual research, or seek out virtual online tours of beautiful places. If you’re able to take a weekend or day trip, that’s even better! You don’t have to travel to the other side of the world, the country, or your state. Just put yourself in a different setting, look around and take it in. Just don’t forget to allow yourself to creatively respond to your change in scenery in some way, or you may miss out on the new ideas it brings. When I wasn’t sure what to “make” first on my trip, I painted random colors on found objects, and scenes from my surroundings. Each Monday I would scroll through my camera roll from the weekend, and paint some of the pictures I found Instagram-worthy!
Our worlds exist online more now than ever, which means we need to have analog experiences more than ever! Yes, there is a LOT of inspiration to be found online, and social media can be a great place to kick start new ideas. However, especially when you’re feeling down or depleted, it can also be a great source of procrastination, distraction, and unhealthy comparison. If you suspect this is the case for you, try turning off your computer, or closing your social media apps for a while. I’m not suggesting you go on a year long Facebook fast…just try spending even one hour, hopefully more, doing nothing digital. Listen to some music. Read a hard copy of a book or magazine. Go outside for a walk. Try a new recipe. Step outside and visit with a real, live neighbor or two. Take a nap! Whatever it is, give your brain a rest from screens and interact with the physical world. Keep your creative eyes and ears open, and try to act on the first crazy idea that pops into your head! Which brings me to my next suggestion…
Say YES to crazy ideas!
The best part about making art only for yourself, is that you don’t have to run anything by anybody, or convince anyone else that your idea is worth trying! I mentioned that I painted on magnolia pods while spending time down south. I had no idea what they even were until some Facebook friends told me. I thought they looked neat and had a unique shape, and my first thought was “this might look cool painted with bright colors!” So, I picked it up, got out my paints and tried it!
The more often you act on those funny little ideas that come to you, the more often they will come to you, and the easier it will be to find that natural flow of new ideas. As business owners with busy schedules, we tend to set aside many of the ideas that pop into our heads, because we have other more pressing things to do. But by giving your idea some legs as soon as it comes to you, you are telling those ideas that they are welcome, that they can come any time, and that they will be heard and acted upon.
Perhaps the possibilities are just too endless when you think of ways to “play.” There are just too many books you want to read, or too many blank canvases in your studio to know where to begin. Instead of completely freeing yourself to do anything, try the opposite, and restrict yourself! Make yourself paint with your non-dominant hand, or using only one or two colors. Give yourself a limited task, whether it’s materials, time, or subject matter. Sometimes limiting your resources can force yourself to get creative in ways you never would have thought. You can even limit yourself to subject matters you would like to improve upon!
I decided to force myself to paint clouds, which I feel I am not good at. I spent some time watching a few YouTube tutorials on clouds, and while I still wasn’t totally happy with my result, I learned some new techniques, added more tools to my shopping list, and had a lot of fun in the process! I also limited the size of most of my work, bringing along canvases as small as 2”x2” square. This forced me to complete pieces in less time, focusing less on the tiny details. Some days I only allowed myself 5 or 10 minutes to paint something in my watercolor sketchbook. I found myself loving the style that came from a time restriction!
Consult a Kid
Remember when I mentioned how combinatory play takes us back to childhood, when we made art just for fun? If you have trouble taking your mindset back to childhood, consult an expert: a kid! Pull aside your own kid, your grandkids, or neighbor kids, and ask them what they think about what you’re working on. Ask them what you should make/paint/do next. Ask them to show YOU how to draw something. Or better yet, get out the finger paints and just play right along with them! Kids have that innate ability to think outside of the box, because they haven’t yet moved into one. They don’t carry with them all of the preconceived notions and limitations that adults do, which makes them particularly great at allowing limitless creativity to flow.
Fight the urge to monetize everything
Ironically in this pursuit of painting just for my own enjoyment last month, as I shared my work on social media I found myself having to fight off requests for commissions and people telling me “you could sell these!” I had to explain to several family members and friends that I had spent the majority of my life trying to monetize my art, and I was currently just trying to paint for myself, for fun! I may explore some of those opportunities down the road, but for this one month, my art was off limits!
My only goal during my time in Mississippi was simple. Make art. Make more art than I ever do at home, only for fun. Fill as many of the blank canvases I’ve been hoarding as possible in the time I had. There were no quality requirements…only quantity. And that, I believe, is what revived my own creativity, and sent me home with loads of new inspiration and ideas!
If you have the means to create some art just for fun, while paying the bills in other ways, I encourage you to do so. Setting aside your creative endeavors all together can quickly result in your ideas drying up as much as my festival glitter did over the past year…it’s rock hard! However, neither your festival glitter nor your creative juices are too far gone. In the case of my festival glitter, adding water brought it right back to it’s original splendor. Keeping your creative juices flowing, even through a dry spell, will help you stay skilled and clever, and make you all the more ready to jump right back into the profession that you love, just as soon as we come out the other side of this pandemic!
One Year Later…
So, this article above was published nearly a year ago now, and as I look back I can still see the positive effects of my “forced creative sabbatical.” While I am certain I made more “just-for-fun” art in my one month in Mississippi than I had in 10 years prior combined, I didn’t stop once I got home, as I feared I might. Realizing how much joy just making art brought to me, and how much it fueled my creativity in my business as well, I made it a point to keep carving out time for art with other mediums. On this trip I created my first vintage camper painting, and 1 year later I am not working on my 12th camper painting. I’ve continued to enjoy rock painting and share this new hobby with friends, and this winter have taken up paper quilling as well! My hope is that now that we are coming up on year two of this pandemic, that you too have been able to re-evaluate and re-prioritize how you spend your time. And if you haven’t yet, it’s not too late! Look back at what has brought you the most enjoyment over the past two years (not necessarily the most income), and figure out a way to work it back into your schedule. You just might discover an entirely new passion, make new friends who share that passion, and see the positive creative effects trickle down into your business as well!
Gretchen Fleener is the editor of Wet Paint Magazine, and also runs Paintertainment.com, and online face & body art supply shop and source of oh-so-much free instruction and inspiration. Find her on Facebook and Instagram @PaintertainmentDotCom, @GlitterGlamper and @GretchenFleenerArtist.