Finding Creativity in Quarantine

Times are tough more than ever right now, and in more ways than one. Of course it can be difficult to sit alone with your thoughts while stuck indoors. It can also be distressing to look deep within, despite all the stressors we already have in day-to-day life. For some, this has been a time of self-discovery. For others, it has been an opportunity to rediscover abandoned projects and childhood aspirations. Whichever way it’s been, whether you view it as positive or negative, it has proven to be a pivotal moment in our lives.

In the last few months, I’ve been asked how exactly writers like me do it: stay up late into the night to work. I truthfully don’t know how, or even why, my body is able. I decided to ask my dearest friend Janelle how she has currently been faring the storm in our world. I knew that if anyone could explain what a creative process looks like, and how they could keep focused with all the turmoil around them, it would be her.

Below I interview Janelle on the history of her creativity. After our discussion, she gives a wonderful photography activity for all ages to try. I’d recommend using this as a way to practice mindfulness or find inspiration. So make sure you have a camera ready before reading on!

What are the different forms of art that you practice?
I like to surround myself with and practice all types of art: digital illustration, graphic design, photography, watercolors, acrylics, drawing, oil and chalk pastels, screen printing, crafting, jewelry-making, even making dreamcatchers.

How old were you when you discovered these art forms?
I would say my creativity began showing around age four. Drawing, however, was the first art form people began stopping to take second glances at. Growing up my parents always had arts and crafts for us to do. I even had my own hot pink splat mat. My mother recalls that my school realized I had an eye for artwork around third grade. I had several projects that stood out that year.

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How did your family support you in the arts?
My parents and teachers always encouraged me to pursue these passions. One early example of an educator’s support was with my third grade art teacher. Our assignment was to create something out of clay. I, of course, chose a Clydesdale horse. Unfortunately, I did not remove all the bubbles from the clay and he exploded in the kiln. I was absolutely devastated. My teacher was so kind. She took home the remaining horsehead and sewed a little fabric body to him to cheer me up. I believe this is when I decided art would be my career path. Another example that stands out was when I first started to investigate photography. I had always been fascinated with photographs and held them in high regard. When I started my first film photography class as a sophomore in high school, my father gave me his vintage SLR camera. It was one of the most thrilling and exciting moments of my art career to hold that camera in my hands and take a shot. I still use that camera for film to this very day. I’ll never forget how impactful those moments were in my life.

What are some of the most inspiring artists to you? Do you relate to their lives, their aesthetic, their emotions?
Immediately I want to respond with very influential artists like Vincent Van Gogh, Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst. I wouldn’t say I relate to their lives so much, but rather the emotion behind their work. For example, I can feel the level of Van Gogh’s turmoil in The Old Tower in the Fields (1884) through his strong use of reds and dynamic brush strokes. When it comes to Warhol’s Marilyn Diptych (1962), I can see that he was touching on the topic of life and death as one side has vibrant hues and the other is in black and white. Whenever I see Damien Hirst’s For the Love of God (2007) which is a skull encrusted with diamonds, the topic of life and death once again comes to mind. All of these emotions and thoughts connect to me on a deeper level.

What are the most inspiring pieces of artwork from those artists? Why do they call out to you?
All of their pieces are unique and exquisite, but I’ll name a few.
Vincent Van Gogh: The Starry Night (1889) – The colors and the swirling motion of the sky draws me in and his brush strokes are so demanding of my attention.
Andy Warhol: Skull (1976) – Once again the colors used and the haunting nature of the piece.
Damien Hirst: The Child’s Dream (2008) – This one makes us question our sense of reality and what we know to be true.

What was a project of yours that meant a great deal to you?
This Cat Migration map I created was actually an interesting project for my Digital Illustration class. Each member of the class had to write down a topic or theme to illustrate (I wrote down the houses and regions for Game of Thrones). Then our teacher assigned us partners and we had to exchange our topics. I received the “Evolution of Cats.” I had to tweak the family tree eques idea and the result was a list of common cat breeds and where they originated from. The project actually ended up being a lot of fun and I’m really happy with how it came out.

catMigrationMap

What are some of the things that shaped you, yourself, as an artist?
I was blessed enough to be born into a kind, compassionate and loving family. They have supported me through everything, and I could not be more grateful. Secondly, my freshman year of college was a real struggle for me. But I was lucky enough to meet my best friend, and just like my family she has loved and supported me in all my pursuits. And these people have made all the difference in my life. I really cannot imagine I would still be following my passions without them.

Do you find creativity comes from overcoming difficulties? Clearly you were born with talent and creativity. Do you believe that overcoming obstacles has brought out more avenues for you to use creative expression?
I’m sure I have, but I don’t believe I am fully aware of it. I do know my success has come from hard work and dedication. I had to work at it myself. Any obstacles that were in my life certainly opened different avenues to use various expressions. Those expressions, however, brought attention to subjects that I felt the world should know more about.

How do you make art from something that is painful? How can you use pain and suffering to make something beautiful and inspiring for others to relate to?
Art at its very core is about expressing your feelings to your audience. I don’t feel it is specifically about making something beautiful in society’s standards. I think everyone is capable of making “beautiful” art as long as it is honest. If you harness your honesty, I think your work then becomes beautiful and inspiring.

The world is going through a hard time right now. What art project might be a good distraction for everyone, and help to alleviate difficult emotions during this time of quarantine?
Something I always like to do is go out into nature and photograph it. If I’m in the city, I like photographing old buildings and structures. I think if you go out with the necessary precautions, take a walk and shoot your surroundings, you will learn more about yourself and your style. What you find intriguing really can be a beautiful exercise in grounding yourself and appreciating what you have.

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Step-By-Step
1. Get out a camera. If you have a digital camera, great. If not, get out your phone. They work just as well and sometimes even better.
2. Find your mask and gloves for going outside (let’s stay safe!).
3. Go out and explore. Shoot what inspires you.

Tips:
1. Use the Rule of Thirds: “In photography, the rule of thirds is a type of composition in which an image is divided evenly into thirds, both horizontally and vertically, and the subject of the image is placed at the intersection of those dividing lines, or along one of the lines itself.”
2. Pay attention to everything in your viewfinder. This includes the edges. Always make sure to crop while taking the photo rather than after. You can lose a lot of information if you must crop out sections in editing.
3. HAVE FUN! Don’t get stressed about the process. This is about getting in tune with yourself and exploring something possibly new for you. So relax and enjoy.

-Janelle
Little Jaybird Designs
Instagram
Behance

© Janelle Johnson, 1988-2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this post’s artist and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Diana Nowak and Janelle Johnson with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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