When Creativity Feels Out of Reach


On December 24th my dear father-in-law, Art, was hospitalized. It was not the first time and wouldn’t be the last. It feels significant, however, because that’s the last time I can remember being able to focus completely on being creative.

After  December 24th caregiving and support became priorities over creativity and making art. In that time I’ve made artists’ books,  I’ve had some lovely successes, and I’ve had to use every ounce of energy – when I had it – to focus on art at all.

I remember in a college seminar class when a student (much younger than me!) stated with conviction that a “real” artist would give up everything before not creating. By his definition, I am not a real artist. At the time I said would give up art in an instant to take care of my husband and our families and, for the past 6 months, that’s pretty much what I’ve done.

Four weeks ago my father-in-law decided to end treatment and come home. We were scared and sad and supportive. Our world shrank ever smaller, from the last six months of caregiving with moments of creativity and normal life in between – to 24 hours of vigilant care, love, support and putting one foot in front of the other.

Greg recently asked me if the experience with his dad has inspired me to make art. I think eventually it might. The two weeks between when he came home and when he completed his earthly journey was an education for all of us. Greg’s dad taught us how to die. Whereas I used to think of death as sad and painful and lonely, I now hope I will have the opportunity to visit with friends, listen to music, tell stories and experience the undivided love of family.

Maybe someday that will be the title of an artists’ book, How to Die. Maybe not. Right now, today, even walking the hundred and fifty feet to the studio feels too difficult. We’ve made the decisions, had the services, hosted far-flung relatives who came to pay their respects. My quiet and private husband even had the courage to give his dad’s eulogy. I have never been prouder than that moment I watched that brave and well-spoken man honor his father. I wish he would let me use the text from the eulogy for an artists’ book, but I know better than to ask.

So this morning I got up and decided to go to the studio. I put on clothes I could make messy, I poured some iced tea to take with me, and I stopped to water the garden. Then I paid bills. Then I did laundry. Then I played with the cat. Now here it is 6 p.m. and I haven’t made it to the studio yet. I finally decided that writing a long overdue blog post was at least a small move in the right direction. So this is it, this is my writing/art/creativity for today. Tomorrow morning I will get up and try again.

Have you made art about death, dying or the loss of a loved one? I’d appreciate it if you would share your stories in the comments section.




15 responses to “When Creativity Feels Out of Reach

  1. Hi Ginger,
    Be gentle with your creative spirit right now. It takes time to recover and process what you just went through and the profound experience of end of life. My creative process and http://www.mylovingartproject.com blossomed from this transformational place of loss. My experience gave me clarity as an artist. I know what I am here to say now without a shadow of a doubt. I know with conviction that I am alive for a reason and that reason is love.
    My sincere sympathies and thoughts are with you as you journey through the grieving process. Anne

  2. I am so sorry for your loss.

  3. Penny Jennings

    Dear Ginger, I just wanted to tell you that I read your email and am sorry for your loss.

    Having had numerous periods where I could not go into my studio, I can reassure you that the time away from the studio is a necessary time of processing that ultimately leads back into the studio and back to the creative energy that is within you. There is no deadline for reaching this; there is no ‘should.’ Be patient and kind to yourself and allow this time to be what it is. It will lead you back.

    Best Wishes, Penny

    • Penny, Thank you for your kind words. It does help a lot to know that this is “normal.” Today (5/18) is the first day I’m going out to the studio, it is almost 7:30 p.m. here but I am determined to get out there if only to clean up a bit. Best, ~Ginger

  4. Dear Ginger,
    I’m so sorry to hear about your loss. You’ve gone through a difficult and very intense time. I think you’ll know when the moment comes to express yourself creatively again. My mother died 10 years ago after a 3-year period of declining mental and physical capabilities. I found that it took over a year for me to be able to express that loss artistically. It happened when we did a project on Artists Trading Cards in a class I was taking. Just by chance I had a photo of my mom that I decided to use on that first card. And it got me to thinking. What if I made a series of artists trading cards about her life. I started by listing the qualities in her that I loved and the specific time periods that I wanted to show. The process of creating the cards took about 3 months and when I finished I decided to make two more sets of cards for my two sisters. The whole thing was cathartic and I’m very proud of the finished piece, which I think you have seen. In the end, I don’t have any specific ideas on how to “push” creativity. In my experience, by letting the ideas roll around in my mind, they will eventually come together at the right time in the right project.

    On an aside, I volunteer as a Grief Counselor at Kara in Palo Alto. It’s a wonderful place for anyone who would like support after a loss. Their website is http://www.kara-grief.org/.

    Take care,

    • Shelley, Thank you for your kind words. In the end it was deadlines that got me into the studio. I’m still not feeling the flow of creativity like before, but I’m starting to have little sparks. I have a nagging sense of guilt over getting on with my life after such an important event. I know this too will take time. Thank you for the information about Kara. I’ll be sure to pass it on. Warmest regards, ~Ginger

  5. Paper Chipmunk

    My belated sympathies, although, it being only a few months later, I imagine things still don’t feel all that “belated” just yet. At times like this, it seems anything one attempts to say comes out sounding like a trite banality. But I am sorry to hear of your loss.

    This is an interesting post for me to come to right now. I’m in a caretaking situation with a relative that has left me largely unable to be in my studio or to have virtually any sustained time to work on what I’d like to be doing. It’s not a hospice situation, and will probably go on, getting more intense, for a long time yet. I’m having a hard time coping with the situation (I also have my own chronic degenerative condition as well). Oh, that pompous young student from your class who imagines “nothing” will ever get in the way of his creative vision for life…! He’ll learn.

    You will feel the flow again (and are, judging by the later post of your wonderful Hobby Lobby book!). I almost hate to say it, but some of my best work came after a previous period of intense bereavement. After an experience that jarring, it really does take a long time to feel that you are doing anything more than performing the motions. (And yes, as you say, it can make you feel “guilty” to go back to your life, even if rationally you know life goes on and that you must.) I hope by now the flow is returning…

    • Ellen, Thank you for your sympathies. I hope that you are able to find time for yourself while being a caretaker. I know it is so hard. I enjoyed your blog post on the stamps, and your beautiful kitties. I will keep you in my thoughts! ~Ginger

  6. Paper Chipmunk

    Thanks Ginger. And to you… many good wishes.

  7. Ginger,
    Thank you for sharing your journey. I too have been on the same trail as can be seen on my blog – http://crowzenart.blogspot.com
    It is challenging to find the path afterward. It is hard to focus while standing in a field of emotion. Thankfully cleaning the studio helps. As does cutting things up. It is a blessing when the ideas start to flow rather than the memories. Hopefully more and more ideas are flowing every day. I had to laugh – I was about to do some anti Hobby Lobby gorilla art myself, but held off. Nothing like getting mad to get back into current life.

    • Jan, Thank you for your comments. I enjoyed reading your blog and I’m very sorry for your loss as well. I look forward to seeing what you create next. (And please, make more Hobby Lobby gorilla art! ;-). For me some calls of entry that piqued my interest got me back to book making. In between harvesting tomatoes! Warmest regards ~Ginger

  8. Theresa Dominique

    Dear Ginger,
    It is a great joy and relief to stumble onto your writing this morning long after you posted it. Thank you for sharing about your loss and the effects it had on your creativity. I too have had a long spell of inactivity to my art work. Even though mine is not about the loss and time to care for a family member mine is also about loss and readjustment. My family went broke during the recession and I decided to leave my family and travel to finish a Masters degree in art teaching. Five years later my family is back on our financial feet thanks to my dedication and drive to get a job for my family. Last night for the first time in years I started cleaning my abandoned studio. I will call a plumber to fix the studio sink and take it a step at a time. I too will be reflecting on some kind of book as I recently had a dream that one of my prints was highlighted in a book. Thanks again and I hope this comment finds you at peace.\


    • Theresa, I hope that the beginning of your next journey is going well. It sounds like you had tremendous courage and strength to do what you needed to do for your family. I too am again returning to the studio. I’ll keep you in my thoughts and send you best wishes. ~Ginger

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