Endless creative thoughts and new ideas for projects pop into my head at random moments—while out for a walk, sitting in traffic, sometimes in the middle of the night. Other times there’s some sort of sensory spark—something catches my eye, or I hear music. As a creative, I try to tune in to these thoughts and events, because they usually lead to amazing artwork.
Recently, these inspirational moments were eluding me. This happened slowly over time, as I was so focused on meeting deadlines, preparing new workshops, traveling to teach, and maintaining my blog and social media presence.
A few years ago, I left my day job to pursue being an artist and instructor full time. Although the experience has been liberating and transformative, it has also made me realize that it requires wearing multiple hats, resulting in less and less time for me to create, explore new ideas, and grow as an artist.
This past winter I traveled to the annual Association for Craft Industries show to teach classes and see the new products. After two days of teaching, for the first time in almost 20 years, I felt completely out of place on the show floor.
This feeling of being a stranger in a familiar land had been building for a while, and I couldn’t put my finger on it until I was at the show. Although I made some new connections and saw brilliant new products, I began to question if being a full-time instructor and artist was worth all the sacrifices. I’d bought into the notion that many of us believe: working (sometimes tirelessly) for companies or brands with the hope it would lead to something greater.
Instead of leaving the show energized and ready to get into my studio, during my flight home I found myself seriously questioning my role in the craft industry, teaching, and whether I should just give up and return to a normal day job. A couple of days after returning, I sat in my studio with absolutely no motivation to create. This had never happened before.
Since going out on my own, I was so focused on making artwork for manufacturers and design teams, or making samples for classes and workshops, that I’d forgotten to create what I wanted to make. I began to realize that this was the root of my funk. My creativity had been stifled by others dictating what, and to some degree, when I should create. I had fallen into this path of developing classes and workshops to fit a particular audience, being told that I could only use certain supplies for projects, and spending endless amounts of energy developing projects for a theme that I had no particular interest in. I realized that over the course of many months, my artistic voice and creative flame had slowly been extinguished.
For a few years now, I have had an idea for incorporating song lyrics into mixed-media works of art, and have been collecting found objects and ephemera that I’d like to include in these projects. This idea was always pushed aside to complete other projects. Although my calendar was filled with impending deadlines, I knew that I needed time to just create again, to relight that creative flame and give myself the confidence to move forward as an artist.
It started with the word pandemonium, inspired by the song “Pandemonium” by The Pet Shop Boys. I have a love affair with that word; I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because I live my life this way in some regards, or perhaps it’s a battle cry that goes back to my rebellious youth. There’s a sense of liberation in creating a little chaos in your life, and I definitely felt as if I needed to shake things up.
I spent three days developing the foundation for this piece and liberating myself as an artist. I pulled out a 16″ x 20″ canvas and heavy white gesso, and began experimenting. Besides wanting to spell out the title and include the lyrics to the song “Pandemonium,” I had no real plan. It had been years since I had allowed myself to create with no restrictions, to experiment and play, and create a truly organic piece of artwork. I wanted to return to my college days of creating with freedom, permitting mistakes to happen to let the artwork speak, and to allow the piece to determine how things would evolve.
Working on this project and sharing my development and progress on social media, I discovered that I wasn’t alone. This journey has made me realize that we all need encouragement now and again to stay true to our passions.
Being an artist is sometimes a bumpy road. Part of that journey is going through self-doubt, questioning, and frustration. It amazes me how artists can create with passion and deep feelings, placing all of that emotion into a project, but we are sometimes afraid to vocalize that vulnerability.
It’s important to present yourself to the world with confidence. I realize that for me to continue to grow as an artist I need to go with my gut and make work that I am proud of, without worrying about how many likes I get on Facebook. I need to create, not replicate.
It was this need to create and ultimately evolve as an artist that was the catalyst behind “Pandemonium.” I’ve come to realize that questioning and doubting myself is simply part of the creative process and, most importantly, that I’m not alone in experiencing this. I’m taking this renewed energy and passion forward to my new artistic endeavors.
John Creighton Petersen is a lifelong resident of Seattle, Washington. Although his degree is in photography, his vast knowledge of a variety of art mediums has led him to become a mixed-media fusion artist. As a working artist and instructor, John’s on the road several months of the year sharing his knowledge and techniques with others. See more of his work on his website (artnewwave.com) and Instagram: @artnewwave.
This essay also appears in our Fall 2018 edition of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine.