Part 1 of 2 in a series on Creative Seasons. Read Part 2 here.
Before having a baby, I thought about my art primarily in terms of hours, days, and weeks. I would look forward and think, “Ok, I have 3 hours, what do I have time to do?” Or look backward and think, “Ok, the week is over, what did I get done?”
Most people on the internet promote that kind of thinking as a way to be productive and “get things done”. But in hindsight, I actually found it to be quite unhelpful for creative work. Because now, after having a baby (who is now a toddler), I think of my art more in terms of months, years, and—most interestingly—seasons. And this shift has primed me to be more flexible, motivated, and creative.
24 Hours vs Ambiguous Seasons
Of course, sometimes we must think and create in shorter timespans. Right now I am working on my book, Layla and the Bots #4, and I know I have to ink and color 36 spreads in 34 business days to meet my publisher’s final art deadline.
However, we can’t apply that concrete, logical state of mind to every part of the creative process. Many aspects of making art are more mysterious, chaotic, and unpredictable.
Every day has 24 hours, a hard beginning and a hard end. But the seasons are a bit more ambiguous. Sure, we’ve declared March 20 to be the first day of Spring, but Mother Nature tends to ignore our imposed plans and comes whenever she feels like it.
Creativity is the same—it has a mind of its own and is on its own schedule. But that doesn’t mean we should wait around doing nothing while we wait for inspiration to show up.
We have to think as it does—not in terms of hours and days, but of seasons.
The Seasons of Life
In his book, Palm Sunday, Kurt Vonnegut declares there are actually six seasons instead of four:
“What comes next? Not spring. ‘Unlocking’ comes next… March and April are not spring. They’re Unlocking.”Kurt Vonnegut
Vonnegut’s six seasons include Spring, Summer, Autumn, Locking “when nature shuts everything down”, Winter, and Unlocking. The addition of Locking and Unlocking perfectly suits those in-between months that don’t really feel like the season they are normally named, like March.
Those names, Locking and Unlocking, better communicate how we experience those seasons. Unlocking implies we had become locked—tense, stiff, and stuck. It alludes to the ending of a difficult, dark period (winter, creative block, depression—take your pick).
And climbing out of a dark period hardly ever happens all at once. The term Unlocking hints at how it feels to be in the midst of a major transition. In Spring, the flowers and our own energy don’t simply burst through all at once, but instead, trickle slowly to life. We don’t simply wake up on March 20 to Spring in full bloom. It is a transition, and I agree with Vonnegut, that the transition is its own season.
Recognizing the Season You Are In
If you happened to be a bear, instead of a famous American writer, perhaps you would tell us there are not four seasons, but three, as Devi Lockwood says in this NY Times article about hibernation:
“There are three major seasons in the life of a bear: the active season, beginning in May; a period of intense eating, in late September, and hibernation, from January into spring.”Devi Lockwood
No matter how we may think of the seasons, the most important thing is to embrace the season we are currently in. As Henry David Thoreau says,
“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.”Henry David Thoreau
This seems to be the real issue: having inaccurate expectations of what season you are in and what that season means for your art.
Vonnegut spoke of this too, when he claimed,
“The poetry of four seasons is all wrong for this part of the planet, and this may explain why we are so depressed so much of the time. I mean, spring doesn’t feel like spring a lot of the time, and November is all wrong for autumn, and so on.”Kurt Vonnegut
For me right now, it’s currently Unlocking season, but I have been expecting and wishing it was Spring. I go outside anticipating warm sunshine, but it’s often still 45 degrees and windy. I’m in that slow transition between Winter and Spring. I wasn’t recognizing the difficult, transitional season I’m currently in or embracing it for its purpose.
And I’m not just talking about sunshine and flowers here—I’m talking art and creativity too—they ebb and flow in sync with each other.
Seasons + Creativity
The past few months I’ve felt Locked, as Vonnegut would say. My motivation to draw has been shot, my energy has been low, and my creativity has felt frozen and stuck. Needless to say, I felt frustrated with myself for being in a rut.
But now, I’m beginning to feel that lethargy melt away. If only I had realized that over the Winter season, I was perhaps in a creative hibernation and that’s why my making art felt so difficult. If only I had realized that my creative mind needed rest. That I could embrace the shorter days, darker nights, and need for sustenance, rather than fight it.
My creativity wasn’t gone or wilted or dead. It was just hibernating, storing up its strength. My creativity needed to hunker down for a bit, so that now, in our period of Spring/Unlocking/Activity, it can burst through in all its glory.
We have to learn how to recognize the season we are in and adjust accordingly to live in harmony with it, rather than fight against it. Our “work harder” culture demands that we live constantly in the Activity or Spring season, where the big work gets done, things are built and work gets done.
But that’s not how nature, the seasons, humans or creativity really work. We can’t have the Active season without first going through hibernation. We can’t have Spring without first experiencing Winter. We can’t Unlock without first Locking. We can’t create our dream art project without first incubating the idea.
We have to go through the whole cycle. And not just once. But again and again, over and over.
The real difficulty though, is that there’s no one universal, four-season cycle that every artist travels through. Each artist’s process is just a tad different. Your seasons may happen in a different order, have fewer seasons, more seasons, or be shorter, or longer.
But if we can figure out what our personal creative cycle is, and do our best to sync up our life to it, then we can create in harmony with it, rather than fight it.
We can embrace it and relax into it, rather than beat ourselves up for not constantly blossoming and creating at our highest levels. We can rest when we need, soak up inspiration when we need, incubate when we need, and then, when the season comes, our art will be ready to blossom.
This was Part 1 of 2 in a series on Creative Seasons. Read Part 2 here.