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Creative abyss

Has anyone else had a period of time during which they haven’t been
able to make anything for what feels like months? I just can’t bring
myself to make anything! It’s not that I lack inspiration, as I have
lots of ideas going round in my head that I want to make. It’s
partly due to the fact that I’ve not been well, so haven’t had the
mental or physical energy to make anything, and perhaps due to some
family issues that have been difficult recently.

My main question is, when this happens, how do you get yourself out
of the abyss, and back to being creative? Jewellery making used to be
my therapy in such times, but now even that isn’t happening. Many


It jump-starts me when I go through my stone collection, or sort
through my bead stash, also looking through one of those eye-candy
books on jewelry (but never to copy). Also, being in a scenic place
inspires me, as does taking a class and being around others’ creative
energy. I can’t forget to add shopping at a gem show!

Happy Creating,


for the first two months after my surgery, I couldn’t even think of
my bench. it was such a chore to even look at it and ponder my
future. So once I went for my physio-therapy walks lasting 1-2+ hours
the longing to create things came back…it takes time, don’t rush
your mind, it is on a “proverbial holiday”. your mind and body needs
a rest!

I had a long distance telephone call from a lady in Minnesota, I
just couldn’t bear to talk to her about anything and almost hung up.
My energy level was down to zero that particular day…its like my
mind went on a “total sabbatical”.

Helen, just relax and things will improve…with time!!!..fondest

Gerry Lewy

My main question is, when this happens, how do you get yourself
out of the abyss, and back to being creative? 

Sorry you’re having trouble, Helen.

When I am depressed or unmotivated, I search my mind for something–
anything-- that I do feel like doing, no matter what it is, no
matter how simple, or far from the thing I feel I really ought to be
doing. Then I do that. Then I ask myself the same question again, and
so on.

The act of getting up and doing anything makes the next thing a
tiny bit easier. If this is in the studio, so much the better, but if
it is not, that’s OK, you’ll get there.

The other thing that I find to be as close to a panacea as anything
can be is exercise. The more strenuous an undertaking you can manage,
the faster it will clear out the cobwebs, but even a slow stroll can
be a huge help. As my husband is fond of saying, any workout you
can do is better than any you cannot (he also likes to repeat the
adage that you should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good).

Lastly, I have no idea what you eat, but if you eat dairy, wheat, or
sugar-- don’t, at least for a while. All of these can be a drain on
your system, and if you are having trouble getting going on things,
avoiding them will free up more reserves to cope. Believe me, I know
this from very real personal experience, as well as from observing
others. Plus, what can it hurt? On top of the actual physical
benefits, just knowing you are doing something (even if only by NOT
doing something) that is healthful can alter your mindset and make it
easier to go to the next step, whatever that is.

I’m sure there are many strategies, but these are the ones that work
for me.

Good luck

Helen: You pose a question that many creative people experience at
some time or other. It has happened to me periodically, once I burned
out for two years. My solution has been not to touch the work again
until I was ready. I have gone against that wisdom and have wrecked
more than one project. Instead, I do something totally different to
replenish the well. If I worked in fiber, I went to metal. If I
burned out with metal, I researched, read, learned a new skill in
another material or medium. Now I carry more than one activity at a
time, hard and soft and I read my collection of books for all types
of ideas. In other words, turn a disadvantage into an asset, a down
time into a new learning time. It will come back. It’s hard if your
bread and butter is totally dependent on plugging through. If that is
the case, replenish with new skills, reading and sketching, and new
approaches to your work. But give the soul a rest where possible.

Ruth Mary

Give yourself a nice break Helen, the harder you try the less you
will get done. Put on your smile, close the door to your shop and sing
and go to do so meting else wonderful in the beautiful UK. You need a
new form of therapy, comfort food, cooking, learning all over how to
jump rope, be active, and don’t run into the shop the first time you
feel some inspiration.

Personal stuff stops creativity, it is saying to your body, “I do
not want to do anything so quit trying to make me”

That said, it is all true, spoken from the heart.

Dear Helen-

This is a extremely pertinent subject for us all. How to sustain a
healthy creative drive is an issue that most, if not all, artists
have struggled with. I’ve read some tortured descriptions of
artist’s ‘writer’s blocks’ by Vincet van Gogh (Letters to Theo) and
in the biographies of George Bellows, Oscar Kokoshka, Max Beckman
and Francis Bacon. There’s also a very good book that addresses the
subject: ‘Art & Fear’: Observations on the Perils and Rewards of
Artmaking by David Bayles & Ted Orland.

Basically, as I see it, we are sentient beings with interests,
desires and fears that continually vie for our hearts, minds and
bodies. During creative periods we channel many of these issues into
our various media. But when we become stressed our mind and bodies
become overwhelmed, fatigued or at worst, injured. Emotionally as
well. The creative arc begins to stall or deteriorate. Gravity works
its magic.

We have to allow ourselves to heal, physically and emotionally. Take
a break, follow other interests, learn something new. For this, in
effect, will stimulate new brain cells and connections; rekindling
new pathways in our brains.

Personally I like to take a long, serious hiking vacation every
year. The world-class Kenyan marathoners are renown for taking two
month breaks from running to recharge their bodies and minds.We
should all get into the same habit.

I wish you well and a healthy recovery.

Hi Helen,

Yep been there.

The best way out of creative block (the abyss you mentioned), that
works for me, is to talk to others about what they are doing.

It does not have to necessarily be jewellers either, anyone that’s
making something helps.

Chew the fat.
Regards Charles A.

Hello Helen,

I know how you feel, I sew and design clothing before interest in
making jewelry, at time I don’t even want to look at my sewing
machine, and now it happen to me with Jewelry making too specially
when it didn’t turn out the way it mean to be, I just walk away from
it and do something fun to get my mind off and couple of days later I
come back to them with fresh mind and things will go better, I found
if I am sick or no energy I can’t function, so don’t fuse over it
take few days rest and you will feel so much better, that my 2 cent


Helen, I know exactly how you feel… When this happens to me, I take
my scrap box of metals and make a piece of jewelry. Why my scrap

I use scraps because, no matter what I do to it, it is still scrap,
it just has morphed into a saleable piece. The thinking I have to do
to design and make something out of my scrap generally gets me out of
my “design funk”. Try it, what have you got to lost…it’s still


My main question is, when this happens, how do you get yourself
out of the abyss, and back to being creative? 

Wait. And do something else. Basically. I have a blog post on that,
and I believe you can find something on the topic at Luann Udell’s

Here’s my post:

Oh, another one to read would be this creativity blog, I’m blanking
on the name. I’ll find it and let you know.


Helen the trick I have found is to break the creative ice. If I am
having problems with my silversmithing I make some beaded jewelry. If
that is not working I paint something. If nothing is working I sign
myself up for a class in something new. I feel guilty if I am wasting
the money so that usually gets my hind end moving. Once I have broken
the ice I go back to what I want to be doing. Oh, and sometimes I
write poetry and then I try to make something based off of that. Or
maybe make something based of of your current toils.

Good luck.

Oh yes, I’ve been there/done that – so I can totally commiserate!
It irks me to no end when I finally get some bench time only to sit
down and twiddle my fingers, or pick up a piece of metal, put it
down, pick up a stone, put it down. So annoying! For me, its mostly
’wait it out’ - there are things I do such as clean my bench/work
area or sketch or organize my stones. In some cases this sparks an
idea and gets me started, but like you its not usually that ideas are
lacking, its more like there is no ‘energy’ to actually MAKE
something. I often wonder if those are times of refueling or
recharging. Little breaks that we didn’t really know we needed.

Hope you get back to it soon!


Thank you for asking this Helen, I have been in the same situation
for about 4 months. I only make things when I -have- to, i.e., a
gallery alerts that they’re out of stock, etc.

I am so over not wanting to make anything! But, I can’t get off the
proverbial couch and sit at my bench and work.


The creative abyss, if as Helen refers to it and others describe it,
is about creativity, there is simple a way to circumnavigate that
particular abyss. It’s by building the bridge of productivity.

Sometimes we are challenged during blocks of time when we aren’t
feeling at our most bright or brimming with creativity. That is the
nature of creative engagement, it isn’t by default a continual
unbroken process. There are cycles that are more creative and there
are cycles that are less creative, or not creative at all.

It surely isn’t limited to jewelry or the visual arts, musicians and
poets and writers also have the same abyss to transcend.

The key to getting across the abyss is productivity. The key to
productivity is discipline. The professional approach is to be
disciplined enough to keep being productive, that’s one side of the
coin. The other side of the coin is to be professional enough to
understand that when the creative juices aren’t flowing, the work
doesn’t have to stop.

The productive approach (which is what I mean by the professional
approach) is to realize that during the waning periods, when
creativity is dormant, productivity still needs to go forward. The
forward movement continues by working on things that are
accomplishing, rather than creating.

Not getting mired in depression means keeping active. It is a cycle,
if we see it as a process we can develop a system to deal with it
and make use of the waning time to clear up other work on the books,
or do studio maintenance, or any number of tasks that are always
there on the sidelines needing attention, but not requiring

When the sea is flat and there is no wind in the sail, you take to
the oars to keep moving forward. That momentum and action are often
enough to convey you to back to the waves and the wind.

Michael David Sturlin

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Hey Helen, sorry to hear of your problems and I hope it all works

I just sit myself down and make something simple, something I don’t
have to think about (a plain band ring for example) and if it
doesn’t help I’ll have a brew and wait until I’m out of the ‘abyss’.
However long that takes. But I usually find that once I sit down and
start it opens the gate and I settle back into it.

Hope that helps a little
Good luck!

Hi Helen,

This is when I start drawing, so I can get them out of my head.
There are many a night I can’t sleep because I have 2 or 3 design
ideas running around in there and because I can decide which to do -
I get up draw them in my idea book.

Then when I am ready to work on something, I choose the EASIEST
thing, so I can a faster result and thus a sense of accomplishment.

Right now I have 2 vessel ideas and 3 earring ideas swirling around.
Today I will start the easier vessel and while it is in the pickle I
will be working on the earrings. I will not finish the vessel this
weekend - maybe next weekend it will be done BUT the earrings I know
I can finish today and if I am lucky I can get another pair done

Hope this helps and that you are feeling better soon.

Laurie K.

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There are of course many reasons for burnout, so you need to look
deep into yourself to find out what the problem is. Are you upset
because your work is not selling, are you not happy with your
workshop, your spouse is not supportive, and on and on and on. If
its your workshop and you go back into it after a few weeks, its
still there waiting to upset you. Clean it or fix the problem. I
think one of the biggest for me is doing the same thing over and over
again. Look at your designs, so many artist have a series and
everything looking similar. Personally I hate that and have had
galleries turn me down because my work is not a series. Do something
totally different, something you think you can’t do. Make a vessel
with stones all over it, forge a spoon or a bracelet if you never
have. Personally I don’t have the pleasure of sitting back for a few
weeks or months, I am in it everyday because this is how I make money
to live. I give myself one day a week to rejuvinate, and thats Sunday
when I am sailing.

I have seen so many new jewelers trying to learn every technique and
they never get good at any of them. Choose what you like the most
and get good at it. When you do something you think you can’t do,
thats a huge turn on.

Bill Wismar

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This too shall past. Surrender, let it go and listen to your inner
voice. Trying to engineer it, will delay what you want in the end.
Yes, you are aware, ok

so what? Consider every warm memory, smell the flowers, enjoy your
new quilt, sleep when tired, enjoy music when you choose to. Just
let go.


To Vicki, Gerry, Noel, Ruth Mary, Dee, Kim, Charles, Anna, Teddy,
Elaine, Angela, Janice, Lynn,

Please forgive me for not answering you all individually. I’ve put
all your suggestions in a folder and will re-read them again when
I’ve got time for them to sink in.

A number of people have emailed me, both on and offline, and many
have identified the problem as depression. I’ve suffered with
depression for a few years, but stopped taking the antidepressants a
couple of years ago. I should have recognised that my depression had
returned, but I guess I was in denial. I’ve started taking the
tablets again, so hopefully in a few weeks, when they’ve started to
have an effect, I should see some improvement, and maybe even feel
like getting back in my workshop.

Thanks so much for all your advice and support.