On creative block, not being good enough, and not giving up.

‘I used to be a papercutting artist.’

‘I was a self-employed creative, but I’m taking a break while I decide on a new direction.’

‘I worked as an artist, but…’

No matter how I try and phrase it, it doesn’t sound right. What is all this ‘used to be’, this ‘was’?

What do I mean, I’m ‘taking a break’?

I’ve never taken a break. I don’t take breaks. My brain never stops. I have always been creative. It runs in my blood, from my grandparents to my beautiful daughter, there’s a creative root that’s grown and flourished and blossomed throughout my life – whether it’s painting from my imagination as a toddler, working as an arts co-ordinator to support young people with disabilities, writing articles for national magazines as a journalist, or creating bespoke keepsake papercuts for great clients.

I’ve never not created.

But suddenly that blossom has withered away. My petals have fallen.

Trying to get my head round the concept of taking a break from my creativity, or even – heaven forbid – actually stopping papercutting… Well, it’s difficult.

For a few weeks, I haven’t created much at all. It seems to have started a while back, perhaps triggered by some rather nasty personal insults which caused me to question myself a little too much (apparently, I’m “just a mum who cuts holes in paper in her daughter’s bedroom” – the things people say when they have a keyboard to hide behind). I’ve been going through the motions. I’ve posted out Etsy orders in between being mum and caring for my family during the Easter holidays. Commissions have taken a back seat while I wrestle with ‘just not feeling it’ – thank you to those understanding customers. I’ve spent time with family, time alone, time online trying to breathe new life into my creativity with the support of a network of amazing fellow business owners. I’ve spent time exercising, meditating, reading… But very little time at my cutting mat.

The feeling of not creating is a very strange one indeed. I’ve come to realise that the minutiae of running a creative business (and the vast amount of non-creative time that involves) has started to overcome me. Keeping up with the admin, marketing, accounts, social media, getting my product photography just so, setting out plans for the future… But wait a minute. When did I last sit with a pencil and just draw? When did I last go for a walk in nature and not check my iPhone for Etsy stats or Instagram likes? When did I last spend an evening with my family without responding to client enquiries or updating product listings in my online stores?

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It’s Spring – time to gather up my petals and start blooming again.

I’ve come to realise that what I’ve been experiencing isn’t creative block. It’s creative overload. Surrounded by highly talented peers who are consistently coming up with bestsellers and new concepts; constantly seeing apparently perfect, organised lives and brilliant businesses on social media… I won’t be the first creative person to tell you that my ideas don’t feel original, that I can’t come up with anything new, that people must be bored of what I do, that I feel like I’ve no sense of direction, that I’m just not good enough. But all of these thoughts have whirred around my head in recent months.

Ah, self doubt. How I loathe you.

I wish I knew how to quit you.

And it’s been so hard, so hard when everyone else seems to be doing great, and when working alone (when I usually really value my solitude) can make me feel like the loneliest person on the planet. Not physically alone, but also alone with those isolating, almost self-indulgent thoughts.

I’ve reached out. I’ve spoken to other creatives, to friends, to people who follow me on social media. I know I’m not alone – in every sense of the word.

From my best friend: “You’re such a talented person. Taking some you time is maybe what you need.”

From a brilliantly creative online friend: “You may find you don’t need a massive break,  just time to remember how to be you again. You are a papercut artist, that’s what you do.”

Who is this ‘you’ that they speak of? I’m not sure who she is… I am my business and my business is me, and if I never have another decent creative idea ever again OH MY GOSH THIS IS THE WORST FEELING EVER!

And yet another wonderful original creative talent: “You are more than capable. Please don’t think you’re on your own with this, you’re not, at all.”

Of course, when you’re in the mire of creative numbness, feeling like you’ll never have an original idea ever again (while simultaneously beating yourself up about having such narcissistic thoughts when there are so many more important things going on in the world), these loving, supportive words bounce off your psyche like raindrops on a leaf-laden forest floor. Just not in such a beautiful way.

Because, when you keep telling yourself the same thing over and over, sometimes you start to believe it. Even when, deep down, you know it’s not the truth.

When you’re used to always being creative, creative block is a very scary feeling. None of my ideas feel like mine, you tell yourself. I will never be able to create anything ever again – you’re convinced. What if I never have any more ideas ever again!? My brain is empty. Literally empty. And this sketch looks too much like this other artist’s work. And I can’t do this design because everyone is doing this style and I don’t want to look like I’m jumping on some sort of bandwagon. And I can’t even put my pencil to paper as I’ve talked myself out of having any sort of talent or four years’ worth of happy, satisfied customers. That never really happened, did it? Face it, you’re just not good enough.

And so it continues, round and round. The nasty cycle.

Weirdly, all I’ve wanted to do since this murky creative fog descended is to write. Which is what I used to do – and do well – before my daughter was born. In a cruel twist of post-baby nose-diving self-confidence, I gave that up (not good enough! Are you spotting a theme here?) to pursue papercutting, which I loved (love). So perhaps I do still have a little creative ember burning away inside of me. Maybe I just need to find that spark to light it up again.

At times like this, I seek advice everywhere. I want to know what my favourite thinkers and influencers think about creative block, about self care, about keeping going and trying new things. The brilliant Austin Kleon quips: “You can’t find your voice if you don’t use it” and (pertinently, for me) “You have to remember that your work is something you do, not who you are.” Phew. Well that’s a relief.

Meanwhile, my beloved Elizabeth Gilbert tells me: “Done is better than good,” and “Perfectionists often decide in advance that the end product is never going to be satisfactory, so they don’t even bother trying to be creative in the first place.”

Elizabeth? Is that you? Actually inside my mind??

I could read every opinion and every theory about the situation, continue my procrastination and prolong my fear of getting wrong the commissions that a few of my wonderful (and patient, and understanding) clients are waiting for. But I still wouldn’t find the answer. Why? Because only I have the answer. And I know, through all my denial, dilly-dallying, self doubt, lack of confidence, anxieties over my abilities, that the answer is very, very simple. Too simple.

Do the thing.

Draw the sketch. Create the piece. Cut the paper. DO THE THING.

Actually doing the work, getting my ideas down (preferably free of my own judgement and self-criticism) is the only way I can get past this block. To rediscover my love of the process, to reignite my passion for the craft. It is truly the only way.

So that is what I’m going to do.

One pencil line, one scalpel cut at a time.

I’ll see you on the other side. Who knows what may happen…?

Words and images © Melissa Holmes :: HolmesMadePapercuts

WORKSPACE WEDNESDAY :: Laciepaperie

This week’s Workspace Wednesday features the wonderful work of Laciepaperie – otherwise known as Saffa Barkhordar. When she’s not at her office-based day job, Saffa works from a studio at home, creating intricate papercut designs inspired by the patterns of Victorian lace and nature. Here, she shares some behind the scenes info about her workspace and approach to work. You can find further info on Laciepaperie in the links section at the end of this post. And don’t forget, if you’re a creative and you’d like to get involved with Workspace Wednesday to show holmesmadepapercut blog readers your corner of the world, get in touch!

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Tell us about your workspace.

My workspace is set in a little spare room of a house we are renting. It mainly consists of an Ikea desk in front of a window. Before that, I used to do my art work on the kitchen table but that was quite impractical so I’m really enjoying the extra space! I share the studio with my boyfriend Henry, who is a painter and uses the other side of the room. We’ve both been using the space for about seven months but will leave in a couple of months so I’m cherishing using it. It’s the first time I’ve ever had a studio space to do my papercutting and drawing in.

Workspace collage

How have you chosen to furnish your workspace?

I have a plain Ikea desk which is home to my cutting mat and equipment for papercutting and drawing. I don’t currently have any storage units, just lots of boxes under my desk containing my paper and materials. It’s not ideal but it’ll do for now!

And what about decoration?

Because it’s a rented place, I haven’t been able to put things on the walls but have instead placed meaningful objects around my desk. One of my favourite things is a self-portrait of my boyfriend Henry, which he painted. I also have loads of pencil cases and collections of paper everywhere. It’s quite a minimal space but has everything there for me to do my art work.

desk with boyf

What does your workspace mean to you? 

I love it. It’s wonderful to have a place to make my work in. It has natural light, so is very practical. I work part-time and feel lucky to have some time to make my art each week. My papercutting work is an escape from work and the ‘daily grind’. Last year, I was working two jobs and had no time to make anything so I feel lucky at the moment.

Do you have any rituals when it comes to your workspace?

If I have a day off from my regular job, I get up quite early (about 6am) slowly gain consciousness and bumble into my studio. After several cups of tea I tend to put Radio 4 on or some music and get started working on drawing or papercutting. I can spend several hours at a time working solidly on a piece – it is very absorbing. I tend to work in a creative mess – there are usually lots of different projects going on and lots of paper everywhere. I find papercutting quite relaxing and it helps me to let go of my worries, I can just focus on it and nothing else. It’s probably the time I feel most happy and free.

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What’s your one must-have tool in your workspace – the thing you use most of that you wouldn’t be able to do your job without?

All I need is some paper, a scalpel, a pencil and rubber.

What’s your favourite thing about your workspace? And least favourite?

I love my workspace as it’s quiet and all mine; no one else is using my table so I can leave out work and materials. My least favourite thing about it is that it’s quite small, the printer I have is right next to the table so it’s a bit cramped. I’d also love to have somewhere to put all my paper; some good storage to free up the space around the desk. But I’m so grateful at the moment to have a studio space that these things don’t feel that important really.

On that note – any plans for the future when it comes to your workspace?

As we are moving quite soon I don’t know what will happen, whether I’ll have a workspace in the future. I might end up on the kitchen table again! But I hope I can still rent somewhere with a space to make my work in, that would be ideal. I’ll keep going with my art no matter what. Determination is everything!

Check out more of Saffa’s work here:

https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/laciepaperie

http://laciepaperie.blogspot.co.uk/

http://instagram.com/laciepaperie

Get involved!

Don’t forget, if you’re a creative type and fancy showing off your workspace, get in touch!

WORKSPACE WEDNESDAY :: holmesmadepapercuts

What better way to kick off a new series of weekly (ish) peeks into creative workspaces than to start with my own space, right here at Holmes-made?

A special focus on a creative workspace – this week, I look at my little studio, from where I design and cut all my paper cuts, do all my admin and sort all my packaging.

A special focus on a creative workspace – this week, I look at my little studio, from where I design and cut all my papercuts, do all my admin and sort all my packaging.

Tell us about your workspace.

I set this workspace up in January 2014. Prior to this – for two years – I was working at the kitchen table, with work, packaging materials and paper stored in different areas all over the house. A new year meant I needed a new start. Deciding to ‘relocate’ to an unused corner of my daughter’s bedroom meant that I could have an area to call mine, where I could leave things out permanently (although not work and tools – those are stored on top of my daughter’s wardrobe where she can’t reach them!) and where I could feel inspired and motivated to create. In short, I needed to start taking myself (and my business) more seriously, so we had a family trip to Ikea and my workspace was born.

How have you chosen to furnish your workspace?

I’m very space-limited so a simple desk, storage drawers and chair is all I can stretch to. However, with accessories and clever storage, I’ve managed to work around my limited space to create a studio area tailored to my needs.

My desk is made up of legs, a cupboard unit and table top from Ikea. I chose smooth, plain white as a useful background for taking product photographs. I also bought a little shelf/drawer unit with brackets from the same Ikea range (they don’t sell mine anymore, but this is the closest). I then carried out a little Ikea hack with some brackets to suspend the drawer unit above the desk, thus giving me more surface space to work on which is vital for larger cuts, as well as an extra space for photography when needed (I pin a backdrop to the wall… It’s oh-so-glamorous!).

Seating is really important to me as I spend so long sitting while papercutting – again I chose a comfy desk chair from Ikea which gives me great back support and manoeuvrability.

Lighting is also super important. The fairy lights help give a warm glow on a miserable day, I also have a couple of ambient lamps to give a cosy feel plus I have my magnifying daylight lamp which I can move around and which I have on all the time. It saves my eyes from getting super tired and serves as a useful iPhone-platform for overhead shots!!

Smal but perfectly formed, my well-planned workspace means I have everything I need close by, plus it serves to give me a daily dose of inspiration.

Smal but perfectly formed, my well-planned workspace means I have everything I need close by, plus it serves to give me a daily dose of inspiration.

The storage I have is very limited. I’m not going to lie – I have packaging materials in my loft and airing cupboard, my giant A3 frame boxes and envelopes are stored in my wardrobe, plus there are a lot of papers in the sideboard in the lounge. My old barn door (which I use as a photo backdrop) is kept outside the house. Not practical! My A3 scanner and printer lives under my desk, and I keep more envelopes, packing materials and my Lightcase on top of the printer. Vertical living at its finest!! I store stickers, tissue paper, business cards, greetings cards and Drop and Go forms in an Ikea drawer unit. On top of that live my iPod dock/radio, along with a bunch of files, binders and magazine boxes (for envelopes, order forms, postage receipts and so on). One “leg” of my desk is home to a two-shelf cupboard where I store papers and prints in concertina box files. I’ve had to think cleverly of how to get the most from the small space I have, while at the same time being able to access everything I need quickly.

Three small wooden boxes contain everything I need to keep at hand for packing and posting, while a cupboard which serves as a table 'leg' holds essentials like paper, prints, baking boards and my arm warmers!

Three small wooden boxes contain everything I need to keep at hand for packing and posting, while a cupboard which serves as a table ‘leg’ holds essentials like paper, prints, baking boards and my arm warmers!

The over-desk drawers and shelf are super handy for keeping tapes, papers, tools and postal bits and bobs to hand; for example I have three little wooden boxes filled with washi tape, rubber stamps and ink pads, and all the elements needed for postage including my thank you notes, bakers twine and Signed For stickers. Everything I need to access on a daily basis is within reach of my desk, which is a vast improvement on how I used to work, and makes my working life a heck of a lot easier!

Oh and an additional plus-point – my daughter can’t reach the drawers above my desk, so they’re quite good for storing sweets and chocolate essential papercutting artist snacks.

And what about decoration?

Two words: Inspo wall!! Since I was at school I’ve had a bunch of postcards I’ve dragged with me to uni and into office booths and workspaces; just to give my working day a little boost. These include examples of my favourite art works like my Frida Kahlo postcards picked up when I saw an exhibition of her work at Tate Modern (she’s one of my favourite artists), Miffy and Hello Kitty postcards bought in France, some long-loved “quote” postcards (my favourite reads: “I want to be what I was when I wanted to be what I am now” which holds huge resonance for me), a sweet beat-up “Love Is” mirror from a thrift store in Glasgow and some lovely creations by my daughter which make me smile. There are also a few photos; some of me in happy times and some of my daughter, some hand-scrawled notes to myself (including “Only Love Today”, one of my favourite mantras from the amazing Handsfree Mama) and inspiring cards from the likes of Lucky Dip Club and Bread & Jam.

A snippet of some of the wonderfully inspiring things I've chosen to surround myself with.

A snippet of some of the wonderfully inspiring things I’ve chosen to surround myself with.

Accessorise those arty bits with handmade beauties from Two-10 design (a hand-carved wooden block), Katie Daisy (my “let go” canvas), Veronica Dearly (my amazing wall planner), TFLittlefootDesigns (two strings of pretty bunting) and Marna Lunt Textile Artist (my fantastic hand-embroidered hoop) and you get my little corner of heaven.

Oh, and add a plant or two and some flowers – usually sunflowers because they’re really significant to me. I need a bit of nature in my life, especially if it’s super-colourful.

What does your workspace mean to you?

Having my own studio space makes me feel more professional, like I can take myself more seriously now. Yes it’s just a corner of my daughter’s room, but it’s my corner. My inspiration wall is a key part of it – I love fairy lights, I love being surrounded by pretty things and goodies I have collected over many years such as my postcards, wall art and ornaments. I guess my workspace really reflects me and my work – vibrant colour, quirky, bold… Of course, it’s not like I can invite people up to my studio for a tour (unless they want to contend with Lego on the floor!) but I really feel lucky to have my very own space.

Do you have any rituals when it comes to your workspace?

After the school run is done, I come up and stick the radio on, put my fairy lights on if it’s dreary outside and make sure I have a glass of water to hand before I start working. I tend to always work with the radio on for company (Radio 2 or 6Music; Radio 4 late at night because I love The Shipping Forecast – yes, weird). So the radio goes on. And if I get sick of the radio, I’ve got my very old iPod for my entire collection of music – sometimes I require a bit of old school trance to kickstart my working day!

I always clear my desk off before starting a new piece; I like to start completely fresh. So the polish and duster come out and any tiny bits of paper I may have missed in my daily wipe down get hoovered up. Depending on what I’m working on and how busy I am the carpet (a nightmarish thick pile) gets hoovered anything from daily to once a week! I would probably drive myself potty if I attempted to hoover daily while working on an A3 leaf tree… those tiny leaves get everywhere!!

Every season I have a bit of a makeover, so I might change accessories around – change my pen pot and plant pot colours for example, or take a few pics down and put a few new ones up. Just to keep it fresh and happy in hopes that filters down to my work!

What’s your favourite thing about your workspace? And least favourite?

Favourite is the whole thing. Can I say that? Well, my inspo wall. I just love it. It’s so me. I just wish I had a bigger space to spread out more of the things I want to put up!! Least favourite thing: storage.

On that note – any plans for the future when it comes to your workspace?

I would love to have a dedicated workspace big enough to have a packing table, storage for all of my packaging like postal tubes and boxes, with a proper plan chest for storing prints and large pieces of work. And a special photography area where I could keep my camera, tripod, lighting and backdrops set up permanently. The best thing would be to have a door with a lock on, so I could leave all my work and tools out and just close the door on it at the end of each day, rather than having to pack everything away so my daughter doesn’t damage or play with anything! A purpose-built garden office would just be wonderful, or somewhere with character where I could display my work on walls and even take part in open studios. But since we’re currently in a two-bed rental property, I guess I’ll have to keep dreaming!! I do love my workspace though; it suits me and my business (and the current size of my business!) down to the ground.

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GET INVOLVED

Would you like to take part in a future Workspace Wednesday? It’s a great opportunity to showcase your work and workspace, plus share some behind the scenes stuff with potential customers and social networking fans. If you fancy getting involved and are able to answer a few questions and supply some high quality photos, please drop me a line using the contact form on my website! I will of course include links to your online shop and social media.

Business is Thriving

I’ve been a very busy bee recently, and June was no exception. I actually had one of my most successful months ever, and that was no doubt in part to a great market night I took part in on Facebook, as well as some new print designs that I made available in my shop. To check them out, go visit!

I was thrilled that my success got a mention in Create & Thrive’s “Small Successes” blog – what a lovely achievement. And it’s all thanks to my wonderful customers!I got a mention on Create and Thrive - yeay!

Create & Thrive, set up by Australian jeweller Jess Van Den, is a gorgeous website which provides a helpful advice platform for its thriving community of readers – mostly creative business types, just like me. Covering everything from product photography to running social media, Create & Thrive is a great place to go if you’re looking for a little business inspiration or support.  They even run a monthly book club and have a host of resources to help business owners – well – create and thrive!