Creativity and art are so important - I cannot stress it enough - to keep the world sane enough to survive, to keep our minds balanced. If more people allowed themselves to explore their creative, chaotic sides artistically, there would be less madness, less chaos out there. There would be more contentment. Art of any kind is a balm to the jaded soul.
That said, I had a bad state of depression this time last year, owing to life changes and adjustment issues. I was unable to write. My second novel got stranded and I simply could not out word after word. I avoided opening the manuscript file on my computer. I realized I had to work with my depression and as a creative person, as a writer, it was enough for me to be able to get back to my art. Writing often helps me get through low times but then, during depressive states, writing altogether took a backseat in my life. All the while, it just made me feel worse because I was not able to do the one thing that would lift me up — write.
That’s when I kept coming across profiles of artists on Instagram. Artists working with acrylics and oil paints on canvas. I had been a fairly artsy kid and used to sketch a bit but never played with paint. I shied away from pursuing art and focused on writing. Then, I had this crazy idea — why not, just why not try painting? And I ordered acrylic paints, canvas panels and sheets, palette, palette knives, brushes, oil pastels and pastel papers.
I painted in abandon and was surprised to find that it is something I trust myself to do. I painted my way out of depression. Four pictures in, I resumed writing my novel and completed the rest of it within two months. So, here’s what art therapy at home taught me. An alternative form of art — here, I ventured with painting and it could be anything for you — dissolved my writer’s block or whatever creative block I was experiencing.
An alternate path for creative energy to flow
The first realization I had was, it was essential to keep the flow. Creativity needs to be let out — be it words, colors, images or anything. When there is a block in the pipelines, you need to give it a shunt or a bypass. You need to open another valve and tap to let the waters out.
An excess of creative energy had accumulated in me, finding no outlet, while I was depressed. When I painted, I found the creative energy which was accumulated, clogged and fermenting in my brain was slowly being drained out. The alternate path for this creative energy to flow relieved the internal pressure and helped to lessen the guilty feeling of not helping myself. Healing came, slowly but steadily.
Unleashing the internal chaos
If not through writing, I had to tell the world about the chaos in my head somehow. Through brush strokes, I was able to put the wrought-iron thoughts and feelings of worthlessness into colors. That meant something. Chaos is inherent to every creative soul and it has to be converted into something beautiful — poetry, stories, paintings, statues, crafts or songs.
It felt good to find that if not one, I had another way to unleash the confusion in my head, another way to convert the internal chaos into something enjoyable. Another way to tell my story.
The very essence of art is the liberation enfolded into it. Art is a form of expression — there is no argument over that. Expression in any form is a discharge of thoughts, perceptions, and emotions. This is simply tipping a brimmed cup and letting out some of the fluid sloshings in it, freeing up space.
Painting allowed me to tip over a cup of colors over the blank canvas, create something enjoyable and feel liberated to the extent of being ready to face the world again.
Refreshing the brain and calming the soul
While writing is a very active process, brainstorming and sequential thoughts being a part of it, knotting one thread with another, painting proved to be the opposite to me. While writing made my brain fatigue, painting calmed my soul. Writing is indeed something essential to me as long as I live, but I found that painting had a tranquilizing effect on a highly wired-up brain after writing. The unwinding effect of playing with colors and letting the brush swipe over the canvas and forming shapes and things was paramount.
After a long episode of writing fervently, I would have pushed my limits. Painting allowed to soften the edges and let the soul take over. Painting was simply a conversation the soul had alone and unlike writing a story with many characters and lives, painting had only one destination — create something colorful on the canvas. There was no scope for a loophole when you are just painting to refresh and calm yourself.
Productivity even during a creative block
The hardest thing to do when you are in a creative or writer’s block is to be productive. Staying productive somehow is an ideal state to be in but often it is not possible. When I took up painting to heal, I discovered that productivity comes whenever you do something. It doesn’t always have to be what you are meant to do, as long as you produce something. I allowed myself to forget about writing and indulge in painting, learning basics, and new techniques, learning about art supplies, watching painting videos on YouTube and my confidence in this new arena grew.
I told myself, even if you cannot write, you can still be creative, you can still paint. And that opened up a whole new world for me. The moment I feel blocked, I stop pushing myself and take out the paints, including watercolors that I recently ventured with, and do something with it. Sometimes, it is the same kind of picture, sometimes entirely different. Sometimes, a gift for a loved one. The idea is to produce something and when it is achieved, I am no longer unproductive and non-creative. There is less guilt to handle. You would have done something creative and sometimes, that is enough to keep your spirits up, which is the first step to overcoming writer’s block.
Painting uses an altogether different center of our brain and a whole bunch of different neurons. Each form of art is different and requires a different set of neurons to work with. When we switch from one form of creativity to another, we are allowing the writing-brain to take a break and rest. Often procrastination is said to be the brain’s way of taking a break and refreshing itself. We might as well use that time to engage other parts of our brain and do something we enjoy. Many writers love sketching, traveling, cooking or baking or many other hobbies. These allow the various parts of our brain to take shifts and let our main working part — the writing brain — to take the well-deserved rest.
New potential ideas
When you embark on another creative art, you experience a whole different lifestyle. Even if it is for a short time, it counts as an experience and it is very likely to give you new potential ideas for your writing. For example, venturing with painting gave me the ideas and the experiences to write this article. But that’s just one possibility. There are several. Art, after all, is opening a door to possibilities.
We all encounter burn-outs, creative blocks (writers being the most prone to it) and episodes of depressive states when things don’t really go as we planned. The idea is to go crazy with something you will enjoy. Explore other creative outlets and try something new. It doesn’t have to be good. Even if you are a shitty artist, it doesn’t matter because no one has to know. You can keep it with yourself. Or you could just buy a children’s coloring book and liberate yourself by filling in the printed images with some good old crayons or color pencils. The therapeutic effects of art are something everyone can use in this stuffed, fast-paced and high-performing world.
At times, it is enough to slow down to speed up again. Just like you pull back an arrow before shooting it.