The Ebb

Perhaps it goes without saying, but the process of artistic creation fascinates me. There’s an aspect of ebb and flow to it that feels like a natural rhythm. The act of creating a piece of Art is much like the action of the tide. There’s the momentum of surf rushing onto the shore. The Flow. It’s full of energy and direction. The water follows as a force that comes from the ocean depths.

Then there’s the action of the water receding as it’s pulled back into the sea. The Ebb. The rush forward is more visible and more memorable, but the rush back has it’s own significance and challenges.

It has been my experience that the Flow occurs in those moments where time and thought recedes and you are in the slipstream of inspiration. All of your artistic training facilitates the forward push of the tide. The Flow is sweeter because you can accomplish what you wish without static.

The Ebb occurs when you shift out of that focus. It’s when you sit back and look at what you’ve made so far. It’s where you assess progress and plan your next steps. It’s also where you get pushed out of the Flow because you have poor technique or crappy materials.

I have never received advice or training on how to deal with the Ebb. Perhaps it’s singular and individual since it’s based on your own coping mechanisms and mental state. In my experience though, the Ebb is the place where the artist really hamstrings herself. This is where I drown myself in judgement. It’s the period of time when my cynical mind starts yammering on about ‘sale-ability’ and how inept or useless the whole endeavour is.

When the Ebb comes you are bereft of your muse. Without understanding the process as a tide however, each time it happens, you forget that the Flow will come once again.

This has often been my problem. I go through a prolific period of Flow and then one day there’s nothing there and I can feel the absence of inspiration and I think, “Well I guess I’m done forever.” What follows next is a desperate and predictable decline.

The self-recrimination that can spring out of the Ebb, can be crippling and actually defer the coming of the next surge. Deep in the Ebb, I think that that period of absence is actually who I am. In that headspace, I think that the inspiration is a Muse who has long left because I failed to be a suitable medium. This is not helpful. That kind of thinking means that I take months and sometimes years to do things that should take far less time.

The Flow is always going to come again. Whether it’s a week from now or two years from now – it’s a cycle and it will come again. Presence and Absence. Knowledge and then Doubt. I hamper my own progress by getting bogged down in a miasma of bullshit. I get down and out and miss the swell. This is what mismanaging the Ebb can do.

It’s important to remember that for the creative individual, the next Flow is inevitable. It will always come – so it’s important to spend your Ebb in productive reflection and spend it learning skills that will aid you when the next surge inevitably comes.

3 thoughts on “The Ebb

  1. Hi Lisa from a web stranger.

    It’s been awhile since you’ve post so nice to see atlas. You are not alone in the back and forth sea saw of self doubt and of courage, of having the bravery to continue the exploration of others and more importantly, of yourself. A beautiful idea of your thought about the ebb letting us see ourselves deep down, down to the bare bone, to the shaking bones. Unpleasant as it could be at times…actually…most of the time because there’s always room for improvement and the task seems daunting. If I may offer a tip which is – draw everyday even when there is no inspiration and it doesn’t have to be a grand master piece – it could just be one line or one dot. Just grab that marker and touch the paper/canvas for a second and give yourself permission to have a good night sleep. I find this habit yields more than just a line 98% of the time. And if I may share one more tip for when one is in low tide, it is never a bad thing to revisit the basic of art such as values, perspectives, colour, composition, history…personally, values…the lightness and darkness elements in a drawing have been a game changer for my art, truly inspirational in it self to understand and observe in life. One artist told me, if you study colour you eventually developed the ability to see more colour in life that you thought never occurred in a particular situation like the shadows of trees or a person’s skin. I wish you well and hope to see more art soon. Cheers.


    • Thanks for your feedback! Yes I agree drawing each day is so important. I was reading lately too about the importance of doing work from life instead of photographs, if even as studies etc. That helps with learning form and colour, like you say. I haven’t been able to do that consistently unfortunately. Goals! All of the practice is so important so you’ve reminded me to redouble my efforts in that area. :)

      • Yes. Working from life is quite an amazing feeling especially when it’s a gorgeous day. I find wearing a big big hat and find a spot to sit in the shade makes drawing outdoor that much more pleasant. Drawing with sunglasses helps differentiate the values as well. Tips tips tips…so many tips…oh yeah, one last tip…take regular breaks during the sketch like between switching pencil…it helps keep the energy level up. happy drawing!

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