Creative Depression And How I Got Rid of It

When I die one day, my biggest creative regret will likely be all the artwork I didn't have a chance to finish. Headlines marketed at artists and illustrators like "How to Increase Your Creativity" and "Get Your Creative Juices Flowing" never make sense to me.

Ideas aren't the problem. Time to execute them to my satisfaction is. 

Not every idea makes it past the sketch phase. 

So it may seem strange when I say that looking back, I was in a creative depression for much of last year. I was almost locked-up, I could barely act. Everything seemed too difficult: opening the research files, choosing digital or paper sketching, creating process templates, setting up the easel, dealing with my dismantled studio - it was all too much.

I think I know why, now.

I quit my full-time, 10-year, well-paying job managing an art store the day after I found out my wife was pregnant back in 2010. One friend put it, that he, "nods approvingly at the madness of it".  The final few months of my wife's pregnancy had me working from home, getting a steady stream of small revenue but exciting science-art projects. When Calvin was born, it was great, all three of us together. 

I completed this commission, Tylosaurus Reef around the time of my son being born. 

It was the best time of my life (being a dad, being freelance, blogging for freakin' Scientific American is a dream come true) but barely being able to keep up financially was hurting us. Michelle and I have weathered tough times before - we've been married for 9 years - but it was just us. The weight of responsibility for my son to have what he needs was all-encompassing. The cafe job felt professionally like dues I've already paid as a younger man, but ya do what ya gotta do. 

When Michelle went back to teaching, this was the state of things. I worked those 4 part-time jobs while being a full-time stay-at-home dad. Being a freelancing dad was a process I never finished learning how to do.

I painted this small oil on my first day of full-time freelancing. "Freelance Leap". I never did figure out how to fly all the way to those freelancing fairgrounds in the distance. 

The depression really set in for me last fall after my son started daycare. It was the right time for him to go: he loved it almost immediately, running around, learning like an exuberant, friendly and hyper little sponge. 

The new expense of daycare and the empty house/studio brought it all home for me: 

  • With the publishing market being where it is, 
  • With scientific funding being so small, 
  • With science-art as a field barely crawling on the periphery of cultural awareness, 
  • With my history growing up with one parent struggling to keep my sisters and I going,
  • With my experience going from job-to-job in a steady stream since I was 14 years old, 
  • With my amazing wife and amazing son being here in my life, 

I realized something.

I am not cut out for full-time freelancing.

I sent out resumes to a very small number of studios around Toronto that do work I respect and might be good for my 
fine art/science/social media/management background, and you know what? One of 'em hired me, and it's fantastic. 

My energy is back, I'm excited to go to work (the team there is brilliant, welcoming and fun), and I'm excited to get up at 5 a.m. to blog or sketch again. And we have groceries. 

The fallout is, there are a few people who have commissioned me I owe apologies to for being later than I ever expected. Three of those projects are still in the works and I hope I make them kick-ass and worth the patience that's been given to me.

I lifted the creative depression by starting to become part of a team doing work I believe in, and by bringing my share into the household. Never underestimate the impact that 

  • supportive people
  • new influences and 
  • livable income 

can have on your creativity. 

Okay, so it's not all perfect. For example: my face. 

Art is no longer a grind, and in 2013, I think it will be an adventure again. 

- - - - - - - -

Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite © to Glendon Mellow
under Creative Commons Licence.

Print Shop

Find me on Symbiartic, the art+science blog on the Scientific American Blog Network!