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How to feel creative again, according to Philly creatives

How do we calm our nerves enough to create for the sake of joy, self expression or play? If we want to get our creativity back, the experts say we need to start new rituals.

Need to get your spark back? Try these rituals.
Need to get your spark back? Try these rituals.Read moreCynthia Greer (Custom credit)

If you are having a hard time finding your creative flow these days, you are in good company.

When 2020 started, the Philly-based neo-soul group Kindred the Family Soul was happy at work on its seventh album. Then the pandemic hit, followed by America’s racial reckoning, and the most contentious presidential election in modern history. Things were so overwhelming, Kindred’s get-up-and-go exited stage left.

“The creativity bug... She just wasn’t there,” said Aja Graydon-Dantzler half of the married, chart-topping duo. “Creativity flows when we aren’t thinking about [it]. But when the pandemic hit, all we did was think about it. When will we go back to work? How long can we sustain ourselves without working? Should we get a small business loan? All of these heavy things started going down. We weren’t in a space where we could have fun. I just couldn’t create.”

What does it take to feel creative?

If you’re also feeling like you’re in a rut, there’s good reason for it.

“When this pandemic first happened, it was beyond our conception. There were feelings of anxiety, fear, and doom and there was so much stress we were all focusing on how to survive,” said Heather Hersh, a clinical psychologist and founder of Philly-based consulting firm Thrive Well-Being.

“We were living from our sympathetic nervous system that controls our fight-or-flight response, so tapping into our joy and creative energy just wasn’t happening.” To be creative, our parasympathetic nervous systems need to be in balance, Hersh said. “In our parasympathetic state, we are relaxed and our thinking becomes open and flexible,” Hersh said.

Natalie Nixon, founder of Figure 8 Thinking and author of The Creativity Leap: Unleash Curiosity, Improvisation and Intuition at Work, says creativity comes when you toggle between wonder and rigor to solve problems and produce something of value.

During the pandemic, we have to find wonder in the space we have, and structure, which is the rigor we need to be creative, since we’ve lost so much of our daily routine. The key is building new rituals that help us get there.

Nixon’s pandemic ritual is this: She’s in bed every night by 10 p.m. so she can rise each morning at 6 a.m. In those early-morning hours, Nixon says, she meditates and spends 10 to 15 minutes stretching. “This time I take to center opens up space for new possibilities,” Nixon said.

» READ MORE: How to reset your routine, keep your energy up, and stay motivated while social distancing

Graydon-Dantzler and her husband, Fatim, released Kindred’s latest single, “Best Things” in November. What did she do to get her creative juices flowing again? She enrolled in three online classes at Howard University about Black cultural and political history. “I spent a lot of time studying and reading, and it took me out of the matrix,” Graydon-Dantzler said. “I got a chance to learn just for the sake of learning and I was able to step back, come back, and create.”

We asked local artists about staying creative. The struggle is real, they all agreed: Everyone interviewed went months without making anything. But the moment they decided to stop focusing on fear of the unknown and start a new habit — whether it was a daily prayer or practicing an instrument — they started to get out of their ruts and create again.

Here’s what worked for them:

Make your space beautiful

“Every morning I spent a few hours painting and placing copper leaves on the wall behind my stairwell. I had no idea what I was doing [or] where it was going. What I was painting. I got lost in it. I drew and drew and drew for my own pleasure. And I covered the wall. My husband thought I was completely nuts. But by making something beautiful for myself I was able to work on sketches for others.”
Denise Fike, fashion illustrator

More about Fike’s work here.

Make a ritual out of creative research

“I have hundreds and hundreds of magazines: Vogues, Harpers Bazaar, Italian Vogue. After I eat breakfast — that is always an espresso, two soft boiled eggs, toast, and papaya — I read the magazines and look for inspiration. Now I have time to do this. The formality of this ritual has given me the space to spark something that is new. My work is coming alive.”
Ralph Rucci, couture fashion designer,

More about Rucci’s work here.

Go for a walk

“I had stopped painting. But every day I would walk outside. I started looking at flowers. And then one day I started painting different ones everyday: peonies, orchids, and roses. I was just painting to paint. Then I started posting my photos on Instagram and people were interested. I started selling them and that surprised me because I never considered myself an artist who painted nature.”
Perry Milou, artist

More about Milou’s work here.

Start your day with reflection

“This is going to sound silly but every morning I have a cup of coffee on my porch. I reflect on yesterday and build a plan for the day. I never really took this time for myself every day until now. Every day I’m playing with a Rubik’s Cube in my head. What’s the core of the Rubik’s Cube right now? Comfort food. The food that warms people’s bellies: chicken and dumplings or short rib pierogies.”
Michael Selser, executive chef of White Dog Glen Mills

More about Selser’s work here.

Learn one new thing every day

“I make sure I learn something new every day. Since the pandemic started, I’ve learned how to play the banjo, a MIDI controller [synthesizer], and I’m trying to get better on the piano. Life hasn’t been lilies and sunflowers. But the very act of learning and challenging myself has brought fruit to my garden. It has kept it green.”
Brian Walker, musician/podcaster, Dreams Not Memes

More about Walker’s work here.

» READ MORE: Have you hit the COVID-19 wall? Here are some ways to cope.

Learn a new skill

“During the pandemic, I had a hard time creating anything. But then one day, I decided I wanted to learn how to dee-jay so my boyfriend, Mike [DJ Mike Nyce] started teaching me how to dee-jay at night. There is no goal for this. If I never spin at a night club, it’s fine because as I’m learning, I’m getting a chance to reflect.”
Stacey “Flygyrrl” Wilson, graphic artist.

More about Wilson’s work here.

Follow your gut

“Every morning I take the time to remind myself to follow my gut and let my creative energy take me where it’s going to take me. I didn’t do that before the pandemic. I based everything on trend reports and proven facts. But all that has been thrown out the window.”
Stanford Ponson, proprietor of Old City Canning Company

More about Ponson’s work here.

Send inspiration to someone you appreciate

“Every day I send a positive affirmation to someone I know. Sometimes I call them and tell them I love them. Sometimes I just say a silent prayer. It acts like a garbage disposal. It gets rid of the garbage that’s in me that frees up space I need to write, produce, and make new music.”
Lady Alma, singer, songwriter, producer, arranger.

More about Lady Alma’s work here.

Expert sources:
  1. Emily Goodman, founder of Philadelphia-based Creative Intelligence Group

  2. Heather Hersh, clinical psychologist and founder of Philly-based consulting firm Thrive Well-Being

  3. Natalie Nixon, founder of Figure 8 Thinking and author of The Creativity Leap: Unleash the Curiosity, Improvisation and Intuition at Work