Finding inspiration in lockdown
When advice to "just push through" isn't enough.
When lockdown began, I assumed I’d be erased of all inspiration and creativity.
In the Before Times, I always sought inspiration from novelty (traveling to new cities or exploring unfamiliar streets in my own) and observation (eavesdropping in public or basking in art installations). Almost all of those experiences vanished in lockdown, so I figured my creative expression would too.
Simultaneously I hold the firm belief that constraints are essential to creativity. Discovering, embracing, and even creating constraints forces you to alter the boundaries of expression from what you'd like to do into what is possible. By condensing opportunity, you have to work differently and thus more creatively.
Quarantine is the ultimate constraint.
Despite my initial nerves, lockdown hasn’t stopped me from creating. If anything, I'm creating more frequently and diversely than ever. The stimulus for inspiration is just different, which means the projects have been too.
I rarely follow Instagrammers just for their aesthetic, but @thecraftedlife is an exception to that rule. The balance of bright colors and white space feels both satisfying and aspirational, especially in her home decor photos.
Enter the gallery wall. She posted hers in January, and I'd been thinking about ever since. Without the ability to go to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, despite its tauntingly close proximity to our apartment, I decided to create my own art museum in the living room.
Three years ago I bought artsy postcards at every stop on an around-the-world trip, but I never displayed them. Unrelatedly, right before lockdown, we had scored a bunch of cheap picture frames at A.C. Moore’s going-out-of-business sale–without a specific plan for them. These two circumstances converged, and a few hours later, Harsh and I brought my gallery wall dreams to life.
If you're feeling uninspired, derivative work is totally okay. Recreate your favorite painting, read a poem from a new-to-you author and try writing in their style, or steal a home decor idea from Instagram to adapt in your own space.
The Art of Inspiration zine
Last weekend I participated in a virtual CreativeMornings FieldTrip on the topic of zines, both their cultural significance and how to actually create one (with work time!).
If you're not familiar, zines are essentially self-published booklets that often incorporate drawing, writing, and/or collage to share a narrative on topics big and small. They're commonly associated with counterculture because zines democratize publishing, leveraging photocopiers and zine libraries over traditional book contracts.
After just a 45-minute session, I had made an 8-page zine about inspiration and creativity during quarantine (it’s been top of mind recently, hence this letter).
Is it perfect? No. The fold is definitely a bit wonky.
But I stretched my boundaries into a new medium (hello, novelty and observation!). I had a literal bounce in my step for the entire rest of the day because of the influx of inspiration.
Everyone has something to teach you. Whether you tune into a virtual FieldTrip, reach out to a friend for Their Favorite Hobby 101, or watch a tutorial video, learning something new and trying it yourself can reignite your creative flame.
Quarantine is teaching us all that if you can’t go to it, you have to make it. That’s why everyone is baking bread and experimenting with elaborate recipes. That’s why zines were started–people didn’t see their ideas or identities represented in publishing, so they published their own narratives. And that’s why we ended up with a gallery wall, to tide me over until the doors of the art museum reopen to the public.
When you make something, you have control, a feeling that’s been eroded over the last four months of stay-at-home orders. Creating is how we reclaim power over ourselves and our voices, no matter how uncertain the world looks.
A Rec or Two
Here's how to turn scraps into poetry with Hanif Abdurraqib
Side note: go read They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us, Hanif Abdurraqib's incredible collection of essays about music that even I, as someone who's not particularly "into" music, love with all my heart.
Getting inside a writer's head to learn about their process of gathering, arranging, and discarding ideas is fascinating. Seeing how Abdurraqib forms a gorgeous poem from the remnants of discarded stanzas is absolute catnip to me.
Creative Fuel Challenge
Want ideas of where to channel your creative energy if this letter got you fired up to try something new? Artist Anna Brones provides a series of guided assignments that can help you dip your toe in a new medium or dive into a familiar one in a different way. Making a zine is on her list...pure coincidence, I swear, but a testament to how freaking FUN they are to create.
Let’s navigate this world together. If you want more stories of hope and creativity during this time, sign up to get updates. Thank you!