Emma Rutter

It seems like everyone has been getting creative in lockdown. People have been picking up new habits, like learning to make macramé wall hangings or paint bookshelves. (Or is that just my entourage?) Back in March I had plenty of good intentions about what I wanted to do with my lockdown time: re-start embroidery projects, write some music, post some more articles to my blog…  But then exam revision began and I suddenly felt like I had no energy to create. And on the occasions when I did sit down to make something post-revision, there were no creative ideas left in me.

"Art shouldn’t be a chore at this time, but rather a joy"

I’ve heard people talking about having hit a creative dead end, and it’s not hard to see why. In Cambridge, we’re surrounded by an imaginative bunch of people who inspire and challenge us. Our brains receive constant stimulation from conversations, art installations and numerous opportunities to attend plays and concerts. There are new experiences and ideas on every corner, which lead us, in turn, to create art in response. The city, too, just urges to be written about, photographed, or painted. Away from this bright bubble, it can feel like there is nothing to do and nothing interesting to produce. Plus, with exam season in full swing, I can understand if you’re feeling drained and unable to create.

Art shouldn’t be a chore at this time, but rather a joy that lifts our heads from our books and gives us a space to relax. Here are a few suggestions of things you could do to stimulate those creative juices.

1. Look back at art that inspires you.

For me, this meant re-visiting a novel I had enjoyed several years ago, and reading it slowly over breakfast. I had forgotten how good it was, and was startled by its beautiful prose. (If you’re interested, it was This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald). You could listen to music that you love, or look at an art exhibition online – start with the Tate, Kettle’s Yard, or the National Gallery. The Arts Picturehouse in Cambridge are also hosting a Frida Kahlo exhibition on screen in July. It might move you to write, or draw, or paint, in response, but even if it doesn’t, it will be an enriching experience for your weary brain.

2. Try getting some structure.

Sometimes, starting a new project or painting can seem terrifyingly difficult. Instead of staring in fear at a blank piece of paper, why not give yourself a bit of help? Someone has already done the hard work of picking a subject for you, and you’ll still be able to produce something beautiful! Have a look for some online clubs: try @thegoodshipillustration, or virtual creative cafés run by Cambridge-based Arts and Minds. You could also set your own club up with some friends and some wine over a Zoom call! Print off a page to colour in, or copy out a favourite verse or quote in calligraphy. If you’ve got a bit of money in reserve, you could try get hold of an embroidery pattern or kit and make a lovely new decoration for your room in college next year (Etsy is a good place to start: try @MelocaDesigns for fun cacti kits and @55tree for floral designs).

3.    Look at things in a different light.


Mountain View

From here, light and sacred draughts

These past few months have seemed boring because barely anything has changed, and everything seems the same. Why not try walking around your home or garden at different times of day? Notice how the light hits each room at a different time, and watch how the shadows play with the golden, glowy summer light. Why not try sketching seemingly mundane objects with unusual colours? Or photographing corners in your house with interesting ornaments or furniture.

Most of all, remember that art is to be enjoyed at this time. Though it can be a powerful medium for communicating ideas (and may indeed feel therapeutic as we work through complicate Covid-related feelings), it is also fine if you simply want to create for no specific reason at all. Take a pen, or a camera, or a stack of newspapers and a pair of scissors, and let your mind run wild. Enjoy making art for art’s sake.