Creative stillness is usually one of the worst things that can befall an artist. But I’ve been living with creative stillness for many months and have discovered some preciously silver linings among the clouds.
I have a confession to make.
I haven’t worked on a painting since putting the finishing touches on a large and complicated portrait on June 24, 2014.
In the months since, I’ve lifted a paint brush only to illustrate a lesson for an online oil painting student. Nothing started. Nothing to finish.
I’ve done a little more work with colored pencils, but the last major drawing I attempted got no further than a finished line drawing (left). Again, the only work I’ve done since is making illustrations for online drawing students and EmptyEasel.
In fact, had it not been for the online art courses and writing articles for EmptyEasel, I probably would have done nothing at all with drawing or painting.
The confession is that—for the moment—the lack of activity in the studio doesn’t bother me. Sure, I feel a twinge of guilt every now and again, but I’m enjoying the lack of pressure too much. Guilt doesn’t stand a chance!
It used to be impossible to foresee a future when I wasn’t painting. Even the one time I deliberately took six months off, I never doubted that I’d paint again, although the six months stretched into a year by the time that happened.
Living with Creative Stillness
It’s been seventeen months since my last major painting and the thought has crossed my mind more than once that that portrait may truly have been my last portrait.
You know what?
That idea doesn’t raise terrible specters.
Nor does it cause guilt or pain. A little sadness, maybe, but nothing more.
Don’t get me wrong. I loved portrait painting. I loved the clients I worked with, the places I went to photograph horses, the horses I saw, touched, smelled, and was awed by. Nearly 40 years of painting pictures of other people’s horses for fun and profit is a great experience and I’m grateful for it.
But if it’s over, I’m okay with that, too.
Because the studio isn’t the only place I’ve experienced creative stillness. Fiction writing went on hiatus, too. The silence in that creative arena wasn’t as long, but it was no less silent. From January through August 2015, I didn’t work on a story. Not. One.
I learned through the months that my ideas about what I do with the talents I’ve been given isn’t always up to me. Sure, my personal interests have an impact on what I choose as subjects and how I manifest those choices.
But there is also a greater Source—the place from which all good and noble ideas come—and He wants a say in what I do. In fact, He demands it.
Personally, I think I got to the point where I was too comfortable in my ability to paint pictures. I got too full of myself, you could say.
So I was taken outside of that place of Adequacy and Ability and put in a place of stillness.
Learning to Embrace Creative Stillness
The time has been well spent. As I’ve thought about, prayed over, and explored the creative silence, I’ve come to realize how much control I’ve exerted over the studio and how closed I’d become to doing anything outside my comfort zone.
And believe me, being sequestered in a creative silence is so far outside my comfort zone that I can’t even see the comfort zone!
I’ve also learned that I can teach others what I know. That’s a fresh and new idea, something I only dabbled with before the creative silence. Now, it’s a primary source of pleasure and income. There’s something about seeing a new student gain skill and enjoyment in his or her work that painting a well-crafted portrait could never provide.
Do I miss portrait painting and everything it entailed? Yes. Even the hard stuff.
Will I be sad if I never paint another portrait? Yes.
But I don’t grieve because I believe with every fiber of my being that something will be given to me to replace portrait painting. Something far better and far more exciting. Something for which this creative silence has been the preparation.
You know what?
I can’t wait to see what it is!