Whenever you haven’t made art in a while — whether its been a few days or a few months — you get rusty. Starting again is always a slow and sputtering process. I can almost feel a coarse red grit slowing my creativity down to a crawl, hampering my ability to create. And with that grit often comes the same familiar doubts — from the silly (“OMG I forget how to focus my camera”) to the existential (“What if I can’t make art anymore?”).

But I have learned through experience that this “creative rust” is not a problem, but a necessary part of the artistic process. No only can you not avoid it, it actually a requirement for the creative process to work.

Frustration is part of the process

There’s a saying among people who workout that “pain is weakness leaving your body”. They recognize that to get to their goal, some physical pain will happen. Without it, the work has not been done, and the goal will not be reached. This creative rust is the same. It is a natural and necessary part of the creative process.

Whenever you stop making art for any lengths of time, this creative rust builds up, and needs to be methodically removed before you can make art again. There’s no shortcut, no avoiding it, and there’s nothing to do but work your way through it. You need to force those resistant gears to move, you need to break up that grit, before your creativity will run smoothly again. You have to feel that frustration, experience those doubts, to get to the other side of them. Because like pain after a workout, when you feel those doubts creep over you, it means you are doing the work that is needed to move forward.

Knowing that doesn’t make it easy

But knowing those doubts are temporary doesn’t make this process easy. I know this rust always happens, but somehow I get surprised every time it does. Every time I get impatient. Even though I’ve been making art professionally for two decades, and have been through this process over and over, the same doubt sneaks its way in: “You can’t do this. Not this time.”

So every time, I have to fight back. Every time, I have to remember that this fear is a lie, this doubt is an idiot. I have to remind myself: if making art was easy to do, anyone could and would do it, and I wouldn’t have to. Calling myself an artist means making this effort, facing these stupid doubts, and trying to create in spite of them.

I know that to loosen the rust and get my creativity running again takes, time, patience, and a lot of leverage. I know that as my creativity starts to loosen, and the rust slowly falls away, it’s a messy process. While I work through it, I will make a lot of crap! Oh my, a lot. But that crappy art I make is not failure — it is the creative rust falling away. The more crap I make, the closer to get to working freely and creative again.

I also know — from years of experience— that not until I get the most frustrated, and am almost ready to give up, that those mental gears will finally loosen, and my creative motors will spring into action.

So. Get out the oil and the wrenches. It’s time to get to work.

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