Deadlines: Finding Inspiration Before, During, & After

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I like to think of my life as a silent film, the black and white stills merging into present space. I remember moments in freeze frame, like the parties in NY where we wondered if someday someone would write about us the way they do about the lost and beat generations. These memories take me down a road of incredible writers, artists, and tales of wild parties. I remember a quote by Gerald Murphy to F. Scott Fitzgerald in a letter, “Only the invented part of our life—the unreal part—has had any scheme, any beauty.” And for a while I believed it. When it came to the mundane I was bored. The day to day of paying bills, drumming up work , and sending invoices was not how I wanted to live and yet it provided me with a roof over my head. The same could be said when I worked jobs in retail or at the print shop and yet when I think back to these moments I find them to be exercises in character building. I would not have the tools I have now without those jobs.

I find my mind wanders on deadlines. Sometimes it gets in the zone of not wanting to paint the same style, not understanding how a character moves through the space, and overanalyzing how I’ll get large amounts of work done in short spans of time. I always start projects inspired. I read through them, tap into their energy and want to be completely immersed. Buy the time it’s halfway through I start to wander, going down memory lane like the writing above. I’m restless, I’m tired and I could love the project completely but I’ll have to admit that maybe I’m tapped out. Before heading straight into burnout I’ll do a few exercises to get me back into the creation space.

Before the Project Starts:

I like to spend a day gathering images. A lot of my work is based on Victorian images, so often I will spend some time reviewing images for inspiration and collages. I usually make digital sketches which I then make into crude little drawings. Sketching is my least favorite part of the process so I have to think creatively and say to myself. This is a very important part of the project. These are the bones. My friend Rita J. King finds creativity in everything from emailing back potential clients to marking things off her to do list. I have started to take this into account whenever I do mundane tasks. I also try to do the sketches with the most detail first and then disperse easier ones in between. That way I get a big portion of the harder work done which inspires me to get into the project. I also listen to podcasts and documentaries on the subject. When I was working on The Hoodoo Tarot I watched documentaries throughout the process on the South, on rootwork and its historical figures, on slavery, black history, Romani and Indigenous peoples history. This helps me tap into a project and really feel the core of it, which once again inspires me to keep working. It also gives me the understanding to get through the sketch process. It also helped that Tayannah sent me a pdf rich in imagery that was inspiring and easy to get the idea of how she wanted the card depicted. When working on the Smashing Pumpkins tour I was given a few images for inspiration and keywords that I was allowed to interpret and really play with the imagery. I don’t always get that lucky with projects. Some I really have to dive deep for imagery.

During the Project:

I call the mid project creativity jumpstart “The Reset.” I reset by doing something different creatively. If I’m painting then I’ll take a series of photographs to reset my mind back into creative mode and to push out of painting burnout mode. When my hands are becoming wobbly as I paint, I know that it’s time for a reset. I’ll also take a little break and check out a museum, go for a bike ride, go for a color walk. (A color walk is where you choose a color, go out for a walk and focus on everything that is that color. It’s a great way to look at the world with fresh eyes.)

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I took these images while working on the Pumpkins tour and waiting on approval for sketches. I was deeply inspired by the imagery during the tour and both William and I have a love of silent film. I’ve always loved this image of Theda Bar and wanted to do my own version. I wanted to keep the momentum of working up without losing it. Sometimes when I take too long of breaks it takes a while to get the creative juices flowing again. With photography it’s me, a camera, and then some photoshop for the vintage look. Editing photos puts me into a very calm space, it gives me the focus and change I need to press reset and go back into whatever project I have at hand. It’s been a lifesaver when I’m trying to avoid creative burnout. During these times I’ll often clean the house and get my space back in order or cook to ground. Any number of these things can help me refocus my energy on the deadline and jumpstart inspiration to go forward. The photo at the top of this blog was taken over Christmas break when I was traveling through Boston. I was working on sketches and had a very early flight. I booked myself a night at The Fairmont. I was lucky that my cousin decided to join me and together we explored the hotel taking photos like we were stepping out of an old Hollywood film. It was the perfect amount of creative time and downtime so when I got back to Chicago I was inspired and ready to paint.

After the Deadline:

This can be the hardest part for me. Once everything is turned in I don’t know what to do with myself. I half mourn the project because I’ll no longer be working on it and laugh because I thought I couldn’t get it done. (This happens every time.) When I finished the tour I spent time outside, getting sun and enjoying the summer. I also had trips planned so I didn’t have a lot of downtime. Vanessa Sinclair and I were filming for the publication of our book Chaos of the Thirdmind . We planned our annual trip to Atlantic City to enjoy the beach and spend a night in NYC. It was definitely a trip I needed to get me back into the creation space and figure out how I was going to manage time for The Hoodoo Tarot. The day I uploaded the images I cleaned the house thoroughly and cooked and baked. I wanted to ground as much as I could and get back into the mode of having a beautiful home again. I created this space so I’d be surrounded by beauty. I’d wake up to a paper moon every morning and art on the walls but sometimes when I’m working a create small disaster zones filled with dirty paint water and crumpled up paper towels. I’m inspired by my home and want to keep it a happy healthy environment. The next day I took myself to the spa. I never was a spa person until recently. I didn’t realize the reason I couldn't understand it was that I didn’t know how to relax and do nothing. I had always thought I had to multitask and never sit down. Through my practice of swimming and biking I’ve since learned how to take a deep breath and just enjoy the moment. I brought a reference book to read for a new project, brought out a comfy slip dress, and made my way to the spa located in a Burnham designed building.

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I took a full day, swimming, using the sauna and hotter and bathing in the aromatic showers . It was a great way to recalibrate and get my engine running again. It also gave me time to journal and think about what I’d like to accomplish this upcoming year wether it be personal projects or commercial ones. It was during this time I made the decision to take archery lessons and learn more Rromanes and Cree so I could tap into my ancestral guides. Sometimes you just need a day to let everything go in order for it to all fall into place.

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Final Thoughts & Actions:

Get out of your comfort zone. The best way to get inspired is to do something different. Often I’ll check google maps to see which museums are near me and ride my bike to one of them. Other times I’ll pick a neighborhood I haven’t been to do a little research and check out what they have to offer. When I’m stuck on time I’ll google a random phrase like “Vintage lobster posters” and come up with a treasure trove of imagery. This is a quick boost of inspiration.

Watch documentaries and then let youtube autoplay the next. Sometimes I’ll find a gem in there that completely changes my perspective.

Learn a new trade. Besides archery, I’ll be learning how to use a bead loom this year as well. Many museums have free classes. I took a class on making paper flowers on at the Mexican Museum of Art and honestly it was the best Halloween I had ever had.

Look into your ancestry. There may be a language that you’d like to learn that’s no longer spoken in the family or some sort of recipe, text etc that may boost your inspiration to dig deeper or take you on a whole other path.

Go to a beautiful hotel, a place with gorgeous architecture, a church with beautiful stained glass, or even an airplane graveyard. Put yourself in a different time frame. Check out events at your local library. I once went to a magic show at the local library and it was a fantastic way to spend a few hours.

Volunteer at an Elderly Home get to know the people in your community and learn the stories of the elders. I love talking to the elders. Their lives are so rich and I feel honored that they take these moments to tell me their tales. Join a museum or a center and see what programs they have coming up. The world is your oyster, take that to heart and believe it with every breath you take. I believe in you.