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  • Bianca Vinther

The light you carry: overcome artist block and unlock your creativity in 2023

What does Christmas mean to you? And what is the source of your light?


Photography of yellow bokeh lights against a dark background.
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For me, Christmas is when I hear the five drumbeats and Jauchzet! Frohlocket! (Be joyful and rejoice!) in Johann Sebastian Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, written for the Christmas season of 1734 in Leipzig, Germany.


For Emiliana, a seven-year-old girl in my daughter’s primary school, where I teach music and visual arts once a week, Christmas means seeing the joy in her younger brother’s eyes when he opens the last door of the common Advent calendar on 24 December. What could be more caring and unselfish than that by the way?


Whether in a cold, gloomy area or a sun-drenched spot on Planet Earth, Christmas is a feast of light. The light within us, the light we all carry in our hearts.


Nevertheless, finding the source of our light and of all good things that come with it, including inspiration and creativity in art, may be difficult, confusing, and even frustrating. Life has taught me helpful methods for tapping into my source of light and releasing it into the world. It also taught me how to access the root of my creativity and allow it to emerge rather than forcing it towards a measurable goal.


Here are a few seeds of wisdom I've picked up so far: how to set your light free, overcome artist block, and reignite your artistic creativity. In 5 easy steps to follow in 2023.


Rock balancing art describing a meditative mood.
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#Step 1: Create the right atmosphere.


Being an artist takes time, patience, passion, inspiration, and most importantly practice. Some of us need scent, and some music. But, above all, with artistic creativity should come a mood for making art, a tranquil spirit, and some sort of organisation.


First, establish a mood.


You can do this with candles, the ultimate being the scented ones. However, bringing in as much natural light as possible is, in my opinion, the best place to start. And don’t forget to light up your face consciously and deliberately, regardless of the difficulties you might currently experience in your personal or professional life. Regardless of the odds set against you or your health and dreams. Despite everything.


There’s a saying that goes like this: fake it until you make it. I tried it myself at some of the most difficult times in my life, and it actually lifted me up. Some practise it every day, like when they greet themselves every morning with: "Hey lovely! Nice to see you again!" Simple statements like this have tremendous power because they validate your brightness and awaken the dormant light within you.


Music may be a very useful tool, but it can also be a barrier or a source of distraction for you. Some musical genres may send you into a creative frenzy, while others might throw you off track. Isn't it impossible to operate with precision, as you might occasionally do, while dancing to the beat at the same time? Whenever you need music to make art, like I often do, I recommend classical, jazz, synthesised, or any other type of soothing, mood-enhancing-songs over distracting, time-delaying music.


Second, quiet your mind and the whirlwind of your random, intrusive thoughts.


Apply some serenity to your tormenting thoughts. This can only be accomplished from the heart, because the heart knows no impediment, no artist block. The heart just knows. Everything.


Implement a no-disturbance, low-noise policy (e.g., child, husband, house pet, postman not allowed). You may, for example, tidy a corner of your studio, and make yourself comfortable there. As you sit silently in that corner, you’ll begin to feel the physical space you’re in. Feel it with all your senses; then, close your eyes and gently turn inward. Watch your mind calm down. Visualise your thoughts pouring out of your head. Shift your focus from your head to your chest. Feel your rib cage and the space within it. Pay attention to your heartbeat. And witness how the space within your rib cage expands.


Use the natural light that penetrates through your closed eyelids straight into your eyes as a guide towards the centre of your heart, the source of light that you carry. Enter your inner space filled with infinite love and creativity. Come back home. And as thoughts flow out, creativity flows in. Without the slightest doubt.


In a previous blog article titled How to create art with your heart: a 5-step daily ritual, I detailed my daily technique for quieting the mind and giving the floor to my heart and the light I carry in order to overcome artist block, reignite my creativity, and find fresh inspiration for my work. Make sure you read it.


Third, put order in your studio.


This may be as simple as clearing up or reorganising your workspace, finding a new home for your colours and tools, or even choosing the mediums and materials you'll be working with today.


Photography of a dried leaf held against the sun light.
Courtesy of Pexels.com

#Step 2: Reverse the flow.


In her recently published book The Light We Carry, which prompted me to write this blog post, Michelle Obama discusses knitting as a way to relax the mind. Her spirit can then be freed as she is able to redirect herself away from anxiety, and let go of thoughts.

Any time I picked up those needles, I’d feel the rearrangement, my fingers doing the work, my mind trailing behind.”

This is precisely the trick. Pick up your tools and let your heart operate and your fingers do the physical work, while you leave your mind behind. This is how you can turn the tide, change the course of things, and let your light burst out of your heart.


To routinely reverse the flow, I doodle paint in 3 easy-to-follow steps. In the blog article titled How to doodle paint: a daily practice in 3 steps to unlock your artistic creativity, I show you how to doodle paint (or draw) to get unstuck step by step.


#Step 3: Aim to feel comfortably blocked rather than completely unblocked.


The magnitude of artist block can be overwhelming at times. There’s a lot of worry and discomfort involved, which can place a heavy load on your anxious mind: "when will I finish the work", "will I ever be able to achieve it", and so on.


Artist block may be paralysing. And when it is, you can be certain that you hit rock bottom. You’re not feeling safe anymore. Your body and mind are alerted, and the degree of attentiveness skyrockets. Your return to making art turns out to be a terribly difficult undertaking to complete.


How can you overcome it? Acknowledge, accept, and embrace artist block. Stop sabotaging yourself. Instead, practice living and coexisting with it. To speak in Michelle Obama's terms, aim for a middle zone where you aren’t fully paralysed, but comfortably blocked. The ghost is still around, but you've become friends with it.


I used to be an absolutist, someone who lived by the premise everything or nothing. Until I hit artist block full force (or I should say life block instead) and had to live with the painful consequences for a long time while frantically attempting to overcome the worst. I'm no longer an absolutist since I've learnt the three French A's (accueillir, accepter, abandoner - welcome or host, accept, abandon) and the practice of letting go of personal blockages.


If you’d like to better understand artist block and to try my 13 tested strategies to deal with it, read my essential guide to overcoming artist block and unlocking your artistic creativity.


Spots of natural lights on the forest floor.
Photo by Bianca Vinther.

#Step 4: Go back to small, and rehearse bigger success.


Your studio is a small laboratory where you can be yourself, experiment with your ideas, materials, and tools, make lots of mistakes, and practice bigger success, while being in your creative process, without any expectations of success.


Working from your heart with no distracting thoughts brings a sense of calm. There's much confidence in the stillness and privacy of your atelier. Like Michelle Obama says,

I’d had to go small in order to think big again. I’d needed my hands to reintroduce me to what was good, simple, and accomplishable. And that turned out to be a lot.”

This is namely the point:

When everything starts to feel big and therefore scary and insurmountable (…), I’ve learned to make the choice to go toward the small.” (Michelle Obama)

Whatever small means for you, whether it is the size of your paper, the materials you use, the small victories you achieve in your studio, or the expectations you set for yourself. Small for me is the size of my creative lab, where I feel peaceful, and at ease. It is the size of the sheets and cardboards I use to doodle draw and paint, and the everyday steps I take toward a potentially bigger success.


#Step 5: Make your world wider.


You've set the tone, reversed the flow, managed to feel pleasantly stuck rather than absolutely paralysed, and claimed a range of small victories in your studio. It's time to expand your vision, and make your world wider.


You can take, for instance, new risks and chances, and choose to face the newness. Get out there and meet new people, such as prospective friends and project partners, unconventional gallerists, and great art suppliers. Experiment with new mediums, work in different forms than previously, and try out unexpected tools!

In clinging only to what you know, you are making your world small. You are robbing yourself of chances to grow.” (Michelle Obama)

Consider the following two essential questions: What does small versus big scale mean for when it comes to making art? And how can you expand your world?


Merry Christmas to you!


P.S. Last year on 21 December I wrote about the fundamental difference between looking, observing, and seeing, as well as about the relationship between the concept of seeing and Tim Burton’s Disney movie The Nightmare Before Christmas. 🦇 You can read this blog post here.