An artist’s plight to stay inspired through cold, dark isolated winter months uncovers a passion project that keeps the creative (and soul) juices flowing
I’m a freelance illustrator living just outside of Cleveland, Ohio where we have lots of gray, rainy, snowy, damp and chilly days. While our sunny days fall far below the national average, I’ve discovered a benefit of gloomy days and how to use them to my advantage. Firstly, they make it easier to work and not get distracted. And ‘work’ in my case, means to create. Luckily my studio is only 10 steps from my kitchen making it extra easy to stay inside, nestled and warm. While it can feel a bit oppressive during the winter months, it’s also Mother Nature’s gift of inspiration; a time to retreat and deep-dive into creative projects.
But admittedly, winter can feel long and isolating. This past year, I knew I needed a little something extra to get me through from January to April because the lack of daylight can be a bit rough on my soul. So I leaned on what I know how to do: I created a personal design project and made myself accountable by declaring and sharing it on Instagram. It was my ode to staying vibrant, impassioned and connected — and to hopefully help others do the same.
January 1st, I challenged myself to create something colorful every day for 100 days in a row.
I named my project Staying Colorfully Creative. I also invited other artists to join in and to share what they created each day. At the time I wasn’t exactly sure what I meant by staying colorfully creative, but I knew that it would show up in one form or another. I trusted that by doing something I love — the ‘why’ would unfold and it’s message would be revealed. In the meantime, I got lost in creation. The goal was that my challenge would hold my hand through winter and end about the time the days would be getting longer and the temperatures warmer. In other words — it would guide my spirit through these winter doldrums.
Every morning I would wake early to make coffee, feed our cats, and start creating. Daylight was still hours away. It didn’t matter because I had so much color happening on the page in front of me. I’m a morning person — that’s when my creativity runs high.
Connecting to what you love first thing in the morning is also a brilliant way to set the tone of the rest of your day.
I love drawing food so that became a consistent theme. I illustrated quotes that I found meaningful. I drew flowers, boots, cats, gardening tools, vintage fans, rainbows, birds, and log cabins. I created some illustrations in 15 minutes while others took hours — and yet, it never felt like a burden or an obligation. Instead, I felt like I was drawing away the gray of the world around me. Later, it occurred to me that each morning I was literally drawing through the darkness and into the light of every single day. My long-term goal was actually manifesting each day.
As I was rounding the bend towards my 100th day of ‘staying colorfully creative’ — I started to see other ways that this self-created project was starting to transform me and my career. Things I did not anticipate or even contemplate started to emerge. I began trying new art styles and exploring different color combinations. A few of the styles and color palettes have already been incorporated into my commissioned work.
I also began to recognize that some of the intricate patterns I was creating felt like a form of meditation.
These illustrations were not part of my client workload so it felt very freeing… almost sacred. In general, I don’t draw what’s in front of me, but rather a version of the things that spin around in my head. Creating freely, without an agenda — allowed for inspiration to emerge.
My project made me realize that it’s not what you create or how you create — but why you create that matters most.
This project was simply about the art of creating. There was no objective other than to allow free expression to flow. I was creating simply to create and to connect to that very important part of me… and to do it every single day. That is self-care for the soul.
When you are drawing so regularly, you can’t possibly expect to like everything you produce and that really takes the pressure off. Now every time I feel the twinges of anxiety from looking at so much amazing art on social media, I pause and remember WHY I’m creating art and instantly feel the self-doubts fade away. There is room for all of us to create and share our authentic messages whether by pencil, paintbrush or musical note.
My WHY has changed over the years. It’s less about chasing down commissioned work and more about creating work that makes me happy.
Quite often this work ends up being purchased and that’s a double bonus. I love posting my work on Instagram as it gives me a way to archive myself and to connect and possibly spark someone else. I can look at an image and remember what was going on in my life when I created it.
My greatest takeaway from my 100 days is that I’m starting to sense a new direction for myself and my career. Along with being an illustrator, I am also the co-founder (with my brother Nate Padavick) of They Draw & Cook and They Draw & Travel, the Internet’s largest collection of food and travel art by artists all around the world. The founding mission of our sites is to help promote and showcase the work of artists, both amateur and professional.
Nate is an illustrator, too — though we each approach our work differently. While I have started allocating much more time and energy to my personal work, he continues to focus on client work. This actually made us realize that we still have so many more ways to support the illustration community. We have started developing online courses that will help artists keep their businesses growing and their creativity flowing. We call this endeavor Left Brain Right Brain: Grow Your Business Nurture Your Creativity. (This is the very first time I’ve mentioned this, so now I’m fully committed to making it happen! Stay tuned.)
As I’m writing this, our long-awaited summer has arrived in Ohio, which is awesome. And along with its hot and humid weather (which I love) and all its temptations to be outside — I’m striking a new balance between soaking up these glorious months and staying connected to my work. Because you know what? I discovered that I really like creating something colorful every single day… no matter the season.
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You may also enjoy reading An Artist’s Legacy: It’s Not What We Create, But Rather Who We Become by Hope Koppelman