Finding Mojo – Creativity in Lockdown

Before we begin….I really hope you and your loved ones are safe and well, but if you are grieving for a loved one who lost their battle with Covid19, I am truly sorry for your loss, I can’t begin to imagine the pain of losing a loved one when you cannot be there to comfort them. Please don’t think for a moment that in this post I am comparing the anxiety many people are feeling and my own journey through this crisis in any way to the combination of grief and anxiety you are experiencing. My heart goes out to you.

Overwhelmed and impotent

We are just over 3 weeks into lockdown (in the UK) and the days have long since become indistinguishable from each other, some days drifting laboriously on, while for others (if I avoid the news) I can convince myself I am holiday and happily while away the day reading and pottering in the garden. I have lost all sense of time, what day of the week is this? Or what month!? Are you feeling the same?

Social media seems to be full of people enthusiastically telling us we need to use this time productively but, quite frankly, a lot of people, myself included, are just too exhausted from anxiety and worry to…. overhaul my website / clean the house from top to bottom / landscape the garden / make all my stock for Christmas *

*insert that overwhelming project that glares accusingly at you from your to-do list.

I know most of these people mean well but their posts really only serve to make me feel even more inadequate and impotent than this crisis already has. If this resonates with you, try to ignore them, mentally file these posts with the fake news and scam posts, they really aren’t worth your attention or energy.

I realised early on that my creative mojo was burrowing further and further into hiding the more my anxiety increased; the more anxious I felt (for myself, my loved ones and friends still working on the frontline), the harder it was to find that creative spark we all rely on. It took me a few days to realise this but just by limiting my access to the news to once a day and only grocery shopping once every 3 weeks I can (mostly) control my anxiety. Have you found a coping strategy? Did you lose your creative mojo too?

To begin with I couldn’t even face the prospect of starting a felt project, all the ideas usually overcrowding my tiny brain had flown away. So I set myself some quite mindless tasks, more to keep busy and distracted than with a goal in mind.

  • Tidying and organising the “wool room” (don’t be fooled by the name, like you, I have wool and other fibres stashed in EVERY room, but this room has almost nothing but wool and felting kit in it)
  • Painting colour charts for my watercolour paints (something I have wanted to do for a long time but never found time for)
  • Baking (if this keeps up, I will be too wide to fit through my front door by the time we are allowed out again)
A colour chart from my watercolour sketchbook

Then Fiona Duthie threw down a felting gauntlet…..

Those of you that have taken one of Fiona Duthie’s online classes will know about her “alumni” Facebook page, on there she posted a “coronavirus challenge” on the theme, “Separate Yet Connected”.

I have taken part in one of Fiona’s previous challenges (you can see the publication here) and really enjoyed it, especially reading about how everyone else had interpreted the same theme in such varied ways.

But I was filled with nagging doubts, could I come up with an idea and be inspired enough to see it through? I really wasn’t sure. I went back to baking…. and comfort eating…..

A little known piece of personal history for you… I studied coronaviruses for my PhD. It was a long time ago (early 2000’s) but I still feel personally connected to this virus despite the havoc and devastation it is inflicting on us all. This connection and a desire to turn the fear and anxiety into something positive, or at least constructive, kept bringing my thoughts back to Fiona’s challenge but what could I make?

The name corona-virus, comes from a very fuzzy electron micrograph image of crystalised coronavirus particles that show a corona (crown) of spike proteins protruding from the virus envelope.

Coronavirus - Wikipedia
Not as pretty as the whizzy computer-generated images the media are bombarding us with today but I see a simple organic elegance in these decades-old images

It was this micrograph that inspired a scruffy self portrait I drew a couple of years ago, where I applied the corona of spike particles to my portrait.

If you are wondering about my bizarre colour choices, they too were inspired by my PhD, I did a lot of confocal microscopy work that used fluorescent markers to highlight different cellular structures and virus proteins (even as a scientist colour was still a very important element in my work!).

Confocal micrographs from my thesis

Those who know me, know my favourite felt practice is sculpted, 3 dimensional wet-felting. It seemed like a natural step to translate the self portrait into a series of 3D faces.

This is the prototype of the “masks” being laid out
… and with the shaping begun but far from finished

IMG_0773 copy

Drying and waiting to be shaved.

I applied quite a lot of silk to the “spike proteins” expecting them to add a dash of colour but the fuzzy nature of Black Welsh wool has all but engulfed them.

I am still undecided about the eyes, leaving them hollow / white as they are now is quite haunting to look at and makes me reflect on the very, very many people who have lost their lives and those left grieving for them but to add eyes could make the masks more human and relatable, what do you think?

My plan is to make a series of “masks” with different ethnicities to reflect the global impact and arrange them as a wall hanging with a rainbow theme linking them all in what has become the global symbol of hope in this pandemic.

This one will be the caucasian mask:

IMG_0774 copy

I will post an update as this project progresses but in the meantime please be kind to yourself as well as those around you, this situation and the feelings that accompany it is alien for almost all of us but together we will get through it.

Stay safe, stay home.

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21 Responses to Finding Mojo – Creativity in Lockdown

  1. Hi Terri, Arlene here. I have to say I was quite busy and productive before the lockdown as I had a craft fair to prepare for. I haven’t been working since December so I have had a lot of productive time on my hands and practice for being at home. As things escalated I did have a time of panic and anxiety which has now passed. I needed to take a good look at everything and take stock of what was really important and what I could do about the things I can and then put in a box the things I couldn’t. I am probably luckier than most as my husband gets a pension and we are only spending money on bills and food. This means I need to use my stash and think a bit outside the box. There are only so many hats and scarves I can store. This means I can play more and learn about the wool and make things I wouldn’t normally. Creating things just for the fun of it without a particular outcome. Although there usually is a goal, it is not a disaster if things go wrong or not according to the original intention. I like that you are using your feelings to be creative. The masks are interesting and I quite like them. I look forward to seeing more. This time of isolation has seen people being more creative. As for housework, life is too short when you could be making stuff. Take care of yourself hon.

    • teriberryguest says:

      Hi Arlene, I am pleased to hear your anxiety is passing and you are finding the space to play and explore, both very important components of creativity. I think you touched on an important point about the impact of deadlines, when this all broke I was preparing for 3 exhibitions and replacing stock for 2 shops, they were all cancelled / closed in the space of a week and looking back, I can see it wasn’t just Covid-anxiety I was bereft at the lack of deadlines (never thought I would ever miss having deadlines looming over me!).
      Couldn’t agree more about the housework, so long as the house is habitable it is at the bottom of my to-do list 🙂

  2. annielynrosie says:

    This is a ‘yes’ vote for eyes – maybe different though – perhaps without a ‘glint’ or something else to show that there’s been a change ‘behind the eyes’.

    We’d love to see your finished masks!

    Your baking looks scrummy – most of us will emerge from lockdown a bit heavier and hairier!

  3. teriberryguest says:

    Thank you ladies… perhaps rainbow irises?
    Hairier?!! speak for yourselves! 🙂

    • annielynrosie says:

      Hairier because the hairdressers are closed and trims are overdue!

      We’re sure you’ll come up with a great idea for the eyes – looking forward to seeing it.

  4. ruthlane says:

    Teri, thanks for bringing up the topic and reminding people that it’s OK to have their own feelings about this situation and every reaction will be different. Who knew that you studied corona viruses in your “prior life”? I like how you have taken that knowledge and applied it to your 3D masks.

    I think it would be interesting to have one of your masks without eye features. Since you are doing a series, that would allow some eyes to be more expressive and relatable but the haunting eyes also express part of what has happened too. I look forward to seeing the entire series.

    Take care of yourself and stay safe!

    • teriberryguest says:

      Thank you Ruth, you have expressed my thoughts very succinctly, we all experience this situation differently and many of us are on an emotional roller-coaster, not quite sure what tomorrow will bring but working through those feelings with the support of friends and family.

      I like the idea of having some with some masks without eyes, that could be very striking.

  5. Unproductive is how I would discernible things at the moment. My next scheduled show is in September and I hope that will go on. I have done a big sort in the studio and sorted one kitchen cupboard. I do miss going out to see my guild friends every Monday but I am used to being home a lot. we aren’t big visitors and we don’t go out to bars so that hasn’t changed much. I find the blog keeps me going and forces me to do something or my blog post will be very short and not very interesting. The quarterly challenge helps too. I do chat with friends online and that is a great comfort to us all.
    For the eye wy not make an eye you can put in from the inside of the mask, so you can see how it looks both ways.

    • teriberryguest says:

      That is a good point, having a deadline for the blog did help me too although I was panicking about it a couple of weeks ago when I was in the depth of my creative funk. I am so grateful that I have my partner and cat in the house with me, while I can happily spend several days on my own when mid project I can’t imagine spending 6 weeks in solitude, I really feel for those who live alone.

      Yes, the eyes I make for my sculptures are either glass or wooden discs that I insert under the eyelids so I can remove them again if they don’t look right.

  6. Lindsay Wilkinson Artwork says:

    What a beautifully expressed post, Terri. I also subject myself to the ‘high expectations’ judgements about how I could & should spend 3+ weeks at home and am disappointed that I don’t seem to be living up to my own expectations. I’m coping by making myself focus on one thing (the overgrown garden) and blocking out much of the rest of the ‘noise’. I’m hoping to make myself do some felting soon (normally I struggle to stop myself). I love that you’ve made artworks that are so closely related to the current situation. I’m really looking forward to seeing how you develop this idea. In the meantime, let’s be kind to ourselves. Yes, normally we could achieve a lot if we spent weeks at home but this is not ‘normally’.

    • teriberryguest says:

      Thank you Lindsay, it sounds like you and I have travelled very similar paths through this crisis and I am glad to read that you finding coping strategies and reassessing your expectations. Working on your garden sounds like an excellent plan, being outside is always good for the soul (and the extra vitamin D will be good for your immune system) and just imagine how gorgeous your garden will be in a few weeks time! Take you time and take pleasure in the process of gardening.

  7. Mary Stori says:

    Thank you for sharing what so many of us are thinking and experiencing. I’m a (as my friends call me – an energizer bunny)….who has now run down the batteries. I started out our ‘stay at home” March 10th…it seems like a year ago. I went through our house like a tornado, though I’m always quite organized and have a tidy and clean home….none the less….I attacked every space like it’s never been touched before. That was the first 2 weeks….now I’m a lump barely able to decide what to prepare for dinner and certainly not knowing what day of the week it is. However, the other day I told myself to snap out of it, my blog had gotten terribly dull as had my creative thoughts. 7 notebook covers later and I’m coming out of the fog…..and it’s funny I should be reading your post today as my plan is to get my roving out and MAKE SOMETHING!!! PS….am terribly impressed with your educational background!!

  8. teriberryguest says:

    The fog, that is great term for this fuzzy, semi-catatonic state.

    I have found meal planning a really helpful exercise, going through the cupboards, figuring out what we can have for lunch and dinner for the next few weeks, it makes me feel like I am doing something constructive and increases my sense of security when I realise I don’t need to venture into a supermarket for at least another 3 weeks, who would have thought going to the supermarket would become a dangerous activity?!!

    I hope you have had a good day felting, it can be fairly physical so sleep always seems to come more easily after an energetic day in the studio. Take care and go easy on yourself, even the energizer bunny needs to recharge his batteries sometimes 🙂

  9. Nik says:

    I’ve never been a fan of the news & I deactivate my Facebook account a few weeks ago. Am feeling much better for it.
    I got myself a new cross stitch kit and have been busy with that. I know exactly what you mean about the well intentioned “use this time to master every skill ever!” that’s just not going to happen. Surviving lockdown is achievement enough.
    I say leave the mask without eyes.

    • teriberryguest says:

      Thank you Nik, too right, just surviving lockdown is a major achievement that we will all need to celebrate in the months to come (when they reopen the bars and restaurants…)! Enjoy your stitching, hand-stitching can be very calming.

  10. Thank you for sharing Teri! I hoped this quarantine would kick my creativity into gear, but alas the opposite. But honestly I’ve been this way for awhile since cancer. I hope everyone stays well and creative!

    • teriberryguest says:

      You have had a lot of worry about over the last couple of years Marilyn, and Covid can only be adding to that, I’m not surprised your creative juices have been stifled. I am sure you will find small ways to be creative when you are ready and they will blossom into more ambitious projects. Stay safe.

  11. Flextiles says:

    The masks are a great idea Terri – I look forward to seeing your progress. Also interesting, as a scientist myself, to learn about your socientific background!

    Like you, I was making stuff for two shows and an exhibition when lockdown hit, so all my deadlines (and potential profits!) went out of the window. However, I am lucky in that my partner still has a job with a regular income, we don’t have to cope with the problems of home schooling, and we are still healthy.

    On a day to day basis, superficially there is very little difference, as I usually work from home on my own anyway (though my partner working from home does impinge on my space and for some reason creates an inordinate amount of washing up!).

    The unexpected silver lining is that without deadlines I’ve rediscovered the joy of just playing and experimenting, rather than having to make sellable stuff with a purpose. It’s refuelled my creativity and for that I’m grateful.

    Stay well!
    Kim

    • teriberryguest says:

      Thank you Kim. It is funny how our lives are almost mirror images! Right down to having an extra body in the house, getting under foot and eating all my snacks! 🙂 No home-schooling here either but since I normally work in the kitchen / diner there has been much training on NOT leaving dirty crockery on my workbench (which happens to be right next to the dishwasher).

      Loving all the weaving / twining you have been posting on IG – keep up the fabulous work!

  12. Antje says:

    Oh Terri….belatedly I’m reading your post – It is such a relief to know of your situation & others from their comments. My creative get-up-and-go has got up & went & I’m certainly stumbling in the fog! I thought it was just me.

    Having a science based husband Who has worked with Coronavirus before (albeit in animals) we knew what was coming as soon as it was reported from Wuhan. We’ve been in lockdown since early March as I took on the administering of medication to my elderly mum, travelling 30mins each way each day. I now have 2 houses to clean etc. Thankfully we have wonderful friends who shop for us.

    I’m just coping by spending time slowly hacking my way through a 4 year overgrown garden (the result of an illness & no mojo). Whilst the sun is shining it is a necessary escape. I’m hoping my textile/felting mojo will return….and soon….particularly as I have a post due!

    I’m looking forward to seeing your mask series. Eyes….my thinking is to show the different expressions/reactions related to people’s perception of Covid 19 – wide-eyed disbelief, tired resignation, sadness, smiling caring or smiling thankfulness etc.

    Thank you for your post – knowing I’m not alone is a boost.

    • teriberryguest says:

      While I am glad you found my post reassuring I am sad that you are struggling too. I suspect the current situation is emotionally draining (to at least some degree) for us all. Having a garden, especially when the weather is nice, is a godsend.

      Do you mind my asking your husband’s name or the group he worked in (completely understand if you don’t want to share such personal information, I am just curious to see if I knew him)?

      Thank you for the expression suggestions, I had a similar thought but got stuck on anxiety and grief.

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