I originally wrote this post in 2019, but even today as we start 2023, I can’t help but think of how relevant it still is now, especially as we all face the usual pressure to make goals and plans when January rolls around. I hope it inspires you today and that it helps you feel okay about whatever season you might be in on your creative journey!
Happy New Year Creative friends! It is officially a brand new year and it’s time to get back in the swing of things after a nice break these past two weeks.
Of course, the first order of business here is to decide just exactly what kind of swing I want to get in!
New Year, New You? Well…. Not Always!
Sometimes this time of year I am bubbling with excitement for new projects and beginnings. Other times I find starting a new year to be a little overwhelming.
Sometimes when the New Year rolls around it feels like I’m stuck when I want to flow and make progress.
I’m not exactly sure where to start this year, but I do know one thing: I don’t want to put pressure on myself to decide.
The creative process is not one to be rushed or forced. Rather than rush into the decision making and planning phase too soon, it makes sense for me to first allow some time and space to prepare.
So, rather than putting pressure on myself today to make plans, set goals or even to create art just yet, the first order of business for the New Year was to plant this paperwhite flower bulb my mom gave me a few days ago.
Of course, it’s very fitting for me that the name of this particular bulb is called Paperwhite – The start of a new year is like a fresh sheet of blank paper in many ways. It’s a brand new year! It’s a blank slate!
Planting the bulbs in a container of pebbles and water like this indoors helps give it all the right conditions it needs to grow and bloom in a few weeks.
Pictured with the bulb above is also the book Forcing, Etc. by Katherine Whiteside.
It’s a very beautiful book full of gorgeous photos to flip through. It reads more like a book of prose than a reference book or how-to manual. It was published in 2003 so sadly no longer in print to buy, but the good news is there are also many used copies on Amazon.
I actually bought my copy at a used library book sale, fully intending to use it for making junk journals – but now that I’ve read it I think I might have to just keep it just as it is!
While the process of growing these bulbs indoors like this is called forcing, it’s actually a very quiet and gentle process.
Bulbs and flowers may not be “in-season” to grow outdoors during the winter months, but the key to growing them is not so much the season or what it’s like outside, but simply encouraging the right conditions for the natural process to unfold.
The whole process reminds me of the wisdom one of my good artist friends shared with me a few years ago and I want to share with all of you as well – especially if the prospect of a New Year seems daunting and overwhelming.
Understanding the Seasons and Cycles of Artists
Just as plants grow in cycles each year when the conditions are right, so do people.
As artists, learning to recognize these cycles as something natural can help take away a lot of the pressure and frustration when we think we aren’t where we “should be” in our art.
When my friend shared with me the concept of “artist seasons” a few years ago, it really resonated with me. It definitely helped me feel a lot better about not being where I wanted to be with my creative art practice at that time in my life.
Rather than beating myself up about not being able to make the art I wanted to, I was able to understand and accept it just wasn’t the right timing or conditions. What seemed like a creative slump was actually a very natural part of the process.
How to Recognize In-Season vs. Off-Season
Just like flowers, we as artists and creators will experience seasons where we bloom and then we will have seasons where we are dormant, preparing for their next cycle of growth.
The In-Season Artist:
When you are an artist who is in season, you will feel like you are very creative and productive. These are the times where you will make and do great things. Very much like a new flower sprouting out of the ground, you are growing, blooming and doing all sorts of great things.
This “in season time” as an artist can look like many different things.
This might mean you are active in growing your own creative practice, such as going to events, meeting new creative friends or taking art classes.
For some artists, this could mean you are displaying your art in galleries, teaching others, or even creating pieces to sell.
Being “In-Season” is definitely great, no question about it. We can all definitely enjoy when we find our creative flow and have a lot of good times in making art.
The Off Season Artist:
In contrast to the “In-Season”, we then have the “off-season”. The off-season is not nearly as fun or exciting as when we are in season.
In the off-season, we do NOT feel very creative or productive. This is a time for artists where we are dormant. This dormancy period is sometimes painful and frustrating. It especially gets increasingly frustrating if you want to be “in Season” but it’s just not the right time to do so.
Almost all artists go through the off season, a time where they are dormant and not really making as much art as they normally might want to. Sometimes this is simply time for a person to renew and recharge, but often times these dormant seasons happen from external circumstances we can’t control.
Life can be crazy and often times it’s easy to get caught up in a whirlwind of different things happening.
Many of us could look at this list of the most stressful life events on the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale and think, geez, I had 10 of those things on this list happen all in the past month – No wonder I might not feel great right now!
Just like a seed or bulb underground, we all go through some dark times in life.
In fact, many bulbs and seeds for all types of plants in nature require this cold stratification process to be able to germinate at all.
It doesn’t feel great, but often times it is exactly what acts as the catalyst for us to grow.
Growing From the “Off-Season”: Lobster Wisdom
Awhile back ago, I stumbled across a great video on how lobsters grow from being uncomfortable, in which Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski explains exactly how we, like lobsters, cannot grow properly if we do not experience some stress or discomfort.
And when we feel those stressful things, we tend to add more stress to it by stressing out that we are stressed out and we are not doing the things we want to be doing.
Recognizing that an off-season is a completely natural part of developing as an artist that we can grow from can sometimes at least help reduce the amount of guilt we might sometimes feel.
It’s tempting to beat ourselves up when we can’t do all the creative things we wish we could.
Start the New Year Right: Allow Yourself Time & Space
Planting this bulb was the only thing on my priority list these past few days, because currently the conditions to decide anything else right now doesn’t feel quite right yet.
Just like this pretty paperwhite bulb needs some stones, water and sunlight to get started, I too know I need a few days of the right kind of conditions before I can make plans or decide how I will grow as an artist this year.
Giving myself the space to process everything from the past year is going to help me feel a lot more ready to be able to make decisions for what direction to take in my own art.
Whatever this season may be for you as an artist this New Year, I hope this post helps inspire you to know: It’s OK to not have plans yet.
Give yourself some space and time in anyway that feels right for you. Doing this will help you better find your focus.
Just in the past 2 days of this quiet time for me I’ve already been able to narrow my focus down considerably so I can actually start to think about how to turn things into realistic plans.
What are your thoughts for the new year?
How do you feel about the start of of a new year? Have you ever experienced the cycles of being an artist in-season or out of season? Do you have any creative goals or plans for this upcoming year? Or do you, like me, still need a little bit of time and space to decide?
As always, I love to hear from you in the comments section below – and of course please do join us in our Facebook group to share ideas, ask questions and connect with others for creative inspiration!
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As a writer, I very much enjoyed and related to your comments about the off season artist. While that time can sometimes be frustrating, it also can’t be pushed. I find turning to another creative outlet often helps.
You are right it can’t be pushed!
I as a new artist I’m learning to accept the dormant periods. Great excuse to read a book I’ve been ingoring for 5 months or get out and do something new – away from the studio!