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Rechargeable Batteries

"“Renewal is necessary for recharge.”

~ Lailah Gifty Akita

Barb and Brian relaxing in the Dominican Republic in oversized beach chair

From time to time, it is important to get away from the norms of day-to-day life to rest and recharge. We have been lucky this past month to be able to enjoy beachy getaways not once, but twice!

On our first trip (to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic) I didn't even bring paints - just a camera and sketchbook to capture a few scenes and get some great reference photos for potential future paintings.

For our second trip (to Hilton Head Island, love that place!) I brought my travel painting kit. I got some great new reference photos and ideas there too, but was also able to knock out a few quick small pieces. After the break from painting during the first trip, I was rested and ready to paint again! It brings to mind the somewhat cyclical nature of creativity, so I thought I'd share a bit more about some of the ways I go about recharging my creative batteries.

After painting for roughly a decade now, I have found it is natural to go through periods of great energy and inspiration and other times where you just don’t know what to make or you don't feel like creating. I’ve been fortunate to have mostly been excited to get to my easel to paint, but there have been times where I lose my enthusiasm, focus or direction. While breaks for rest and recovery are essential, sometimes you just feel uninspired. Either way, a dry period can become a self-fulfilling prophecy where the longer it goes on, the more you face resistance to getting back to making art. With a long hiatus it’s easy to get in your head and think you have forgotten everything you know. You almost have to “re-boot” your artistic spirit. So, here are some of my go-to ideas for getting restarted after a break. While these ideas are written around painting, many could apply to almost any recurrent creative activity.

  • Rest


First, it’s okay to take a break. Whether you think you need it or not, a break will always help refill your batteries. If you need it, are upset or in a bad mood, forcing yourself rarely helps. While there is a lot to be said for consistency and continuity, I do not force myself to paint. I find my energy and mood can show up in my finished work. If you are in a negative state, that energy may show on the canvas. If you feel good and relaxed that will show too. So, whether it's simple fatigue or something else, I think it’s better to identify and deal with what’s bothering you before you begin to work. Sometimes you just need a break as an “incubation” period for ideas to be planted and sprout, so I would tell anyone (myself included) please be patient and kind to yourself.

  • Have Inspiration Ready to Go


I take tons of photos (literally thousands) and keep them organized on my computer in folders by trip, location, or topic. I use quiet time otherwise wasted on idle phone scrolling to preselect those that speak to me the most. For example, after our recent trip to the Dominican Republic, I spent time in the plane on the way back going through the photos on my phone and marked the photos I had an emotional reaction to and put them in a separate folder and even began compositional planning for how I would structure them as a painting. Not that I am ready to paint them right away, but this way when I’m at a loss of what to paint next, I know there are references that lit a spark for me and I’m sure to find something exciting already pre-screened there. I also have a general file named “Things to Paint”, where I have stored reference photos I love and don’t want to forget about. If I don’t know what to paint next, I can generally go there and find something I love.

  • Seek New Inspiration  

If I’m stuck, I will go looking for inspiration. That might be just shopping for flowers at the grocery store or the local garden center or visiting a lovely local trail or park. Or I might search online for a great new piece of pottery, lovely background fabric or other still life prop. Even getting new art supplies to play and experiment with can be enlivening.

  • Feast on Beauty


My aim as an artist is to create and share beauty. But beauty also stimulates ideas in me. If I’m feeling low on inspiration, I will go out in nature. Going to beautiful places can be uplifting and energizing and nature is a great source for original references. If I can't do that, I look at books or magazines filled with “eye candy” or scroll online images. I am not necessarily looking for reference material in these sources, but just feeding my own soul and creative well with beauty.

  • Let Other Artists Inspire You


Sometimes just looking at the work of other artists I admire is enough to recharge my batteries. Museum visits are always great. I have a selection of art books by artists whose work I admire. I also have saved images on my computer with favorite images of paintings by other artists that touch me.  Looking at them makes me feel good and can make me long to paint once again.

  • Start Small


Sometimes, the thought of starting a new piece can feel intimidating. In that case, the answer might be to do some small studies. Although these often turn out to be lovely small pieces in their own right; approaching these as studies lets me treat them as less precious. If they are just ideas with no attachment to the outcome (not necessarily intended to be finished work for anyone but me to see) that removes the pressure. Not all of them will be great, but in the process, there may be one or two worthy of being translated to a larger finished piece.

  • Do Something Easy


When I’ve felt stalled or overwhelmed by a difficult painting, I sometimes find taking a break by going back to painting something familiar or simple is the best answer. Flowers or birds usually do the trick. Doing something I am comfortable with and confident about can give me a feeling of success again that gets me beyond my frustration.

  • Learn


I would describe myself as a lifelong learner. I just love finding the answer to questions and learning new things. Learning something new with each piece I paint is an important part of the enjoyment and challenge of art for me. That said, a regular and very comfortable habit for me is to use a dry spell as a chance to learn something new. I remind myself of a painting skill I’ve been wanting to develop and focus on that. Learning is energizing. I’ll find books or videos on that topic and immerse myself in it. It can be incredibly exciting to see someone painting something using a style or technique you are itching to conquer for yourself.

  • Just Do It!


Finally, there are times when I may think I am blocked, but that's really just the voice in my head.  I have to tell myself "You made it up, so let it go - it’s not the truth". To avoid failing or not being perfect, we sometimes procrastinate. In the words of Picasso, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working”.  It is amazing to me how hard it can be to force myself to put the first brushstroke on the canvas when I've been away from it for a bit. It can truly feel like you've forgotten everything! Once I get brush to canvas though, I almost always find that it's like riding the proverbial bike - it all comes flooding back and the paint just flows with all the passion and joy of creating.


In other news...

In the recent 2024 Crooked Creek Art League Annual Juried Show, "Coral Rose" received the Wendy Well Memorial Award in the Masters Division. Thank you to the Crooked Creek Art League and juror Steven Walker for the award!

This piece is part of a recently completed Floral Quartet Series commissioned by a very special collector (thanks Donald!). The originals are all sold. Prints are available.


Thank you so much for taking the time to read my messages. If you have any questions or comments, please let me know. I love hearing from you!

handwritten word: Barbara


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