Towards a sustainable creative life

Mama's BBQ

Avoid burnout. Don’t build your bbq like Mama © Laura Eades 2013

Dada's bbq

Plan better. Get some air around it. Like Dada © Laura Eades 2013

If you like to be creative, whether in art, film, photography, writing, plasticine, cookery or whatever, then you might know what I mean when I say that the creative urge sometimes grips you strongly, takes you on an obsessive ride, and dumps you at the other end feeling wrung out. In this Sustainable Creativity series on illustratedguidetolife.com, I’m going to be asking how we can keep that wonderful feeling alive in your life in a sustainable way.

Topics will include:

Though my background is theatre, I’m going to be writing mainly through the lens of developing through trial and error my dual practices of writing and drawing. Here’s a little introduction to my creative perspective.

Theatre – where’ve I been all my  life?

Craft, poetry, dressmaking, writing, public speaking, dancing, music-making, animating, storytelling, puppetry… theatre rolls them all all into one. It’s pretty intense! From 2006-2011 I had a theatre company called The Honourable Society of Faster Craftswomen. But I also found the creative process of it gruelling, self-sacrificing. I felt I had to give it everything to ensure success, at any cost. I couldn’t look after myself – it was bound up with a kind of rock’n’roll idea of masochism for art; martyrdom. My loved ones paid a high price for my devotion to it as I absconded into an artistic life and then turned up weeks later on the doorstep of our relationship, looking drenched and bedraggled and rueful.

Theatre felt like life or death to me since my teens. Having a child let it loosen its grip on me, and I started to find other outlets for my creativity instead. Since these are simpler, purer forms, I can take the opportunity to experiment with my creative process, to go back to basics and find a creative process that really works, that doesn’t leave you zombified and unfit for the living of your life.

Writing

I always wanted to write a book but assumed it would wait for retirement.

I love writing, and I’m writing a novel. I’ll say straight up that it’s the movement National Novel-Writing Month that got me started. I read Chris Baty’s book, No Plot, No Problem, and followed it to the letter. It made the whole thing sound inordinate fun (it was) and helped me prepare in many tiny ways that ensured success. (Success, in NaNoWriMo terms, is to have written 50,000 words in a month. There are no quality controls).

But more than just leaving me with a very ropey draft of a very exciting novel I’d really like to make readable to my friends, (and maybe even a publisher) one day, this whole process started me experimenting with my creative process. It started me thinking about how I prepare for challenges, and how to sustain myself through artistic intensity. That’s something I singularly failed to do effectively in my theatre work, with its intense periods leading up to performance, and then the high and crash of performance, applause, and comedown.

Drawing

I thought my love of drawing and painting was just a hobby, and told myself if I left it behind at University that it would always stay with me. In truth, it languished and I had to ‘rediscover’ it.

It was through a little postcard project I did with my friend Retta that I started drawing again. You can listen to a clip of a BBC Radio 4 programme about that project here. And having reawakened it, it was through my theatre work that I found an outlet for my drawing initially.

Some of my theatre shows had a strong drawing/animation element. I was forced to draw fast and not worry about it too much! I realised that, in contrast to the pressure of actually performing (though that is its own high and I’d never cross my heart and hope to never be on a stage or a podium again), scribbling, sketching, tapping and stippling are among the top things that make me happy. Doing what you’re passionate about is a priority. (It’s not THE priority – that’s living well, with happiness. But if these activities are on your happiness list, then revelling in them is very very important).

Where’s it going?

I’d like to hone an illustration style (or two). I’m developing my skills myself. If there’s a quick, cheats’ way of doing something, I’d rather that than a long retraining.

Artschool, or a creative writing degree, aren’t an option with a small child (or any other full-time job?). Plus, I’m 35. I know! I can’t just keep retraining, I need to redraft my life faster than that. Perhaps there’s another way.

Of course there is! If you want to write a book, or develop your drawing into more than a sideline (and get paid for it!), whether for a vocation or just for the sheer shit-kicking booty-waggling get-down-and-yodelling hell of it, there are guides. And encouragements, and finger-tingling inspirations, and me, learning by trial and error. I’ll share them with you. It’s all here to help you.

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What are your wishes for your creative life? Do you feel like a big project leaves you high and dry? I’d love to hear from you. Click on the pale grey dot with a plus sign on it under the blogpost to open up the comments section.