When the new year comes around we are encouraged to set goals and start new habits. We feel pressure to fling ourselves into big dreams with wild energy but Wintering, for artists, can be a valuable part of the creative cycle.
In January, artists might declutter their space, book exhibitions or get busy with courses promising the best year yet. But this time can bring a mixture of feelings from the excitement of a new year to seasonal fatigue. The motivation for big plans can fade fast.
What is Wintering?
Wintering originally referred to animals moving to a safe retreat for the long winter months but it has come to describe a retreat for people too. It’s a time to rest, heal and recover and feels respectful and gentle. After a busy November and December, all of those things are appealing to me.
How Wintering can help
Cold, wet UK weather, tight purse strings and exhaustion are not the ideal recipe for enthusiastic dream building. But tuning in to our natural rhythms and cycles, including our need for rest and retreat can help us to move through the winter feeling positive and prepare us for new things.
This goes against so much of what our culture tells us about constant productivity and creative output but wintering means making the most of this time without fighting through.
Understanding our energy
In winter, our energy levels are naturally lower, we tend to need more sleep. Our bodies adjust to the changing light and temperatures and we can respond in a way that supports us. This can feel tricky when our days are weighed down with responsibilities but there are benefits.
The importance of rest and reflection for artists
Artists need time to rest, recharge and reflect. The new year might involve stats, reviews and planning ahead that doesn’t leave much room for creative reflection.
Creative output needs energy and inspiration and winter is a good time to wind down and gather inspiration. Journaling, daydreaming, observing and discovering new ideas are all part of the creative process too.
Wintering for artists can be a time to rest, step away and let go of any expectations to learn, grow, develop or plan. For others it might mean getting outside, exploring their environment or the work of other artists.
Just as nature needs downtime, so do we and for artists this can be the valuable fodder we need for future projects. Recharging energy, gathering thoughts and having ideas while we wander through this quiet time will allow our art to continue.
Wintering and setting goals
All that said, the pressure to set goals is real and we might not want, need or have the option to rest completely. This is where small achievable goals can really help.
Small steps can help to keep you moving forward, tied to your creative practice, while respecting a slower pace.
Keeping creative while wintering
There are lots of ways to keep a creative practice while Wintering. From simple drawing exercises to gathering inspiring images, find a slow, mindful practice that connects you to your art without high energy goals.
- Scrapbooks or journals
- Make small art or sketches
- Reading art books or listening to podcasts
- Visiting exhibitions
- Researching ideas
Sketchbooks are a great tool for low energy times. They are forgiving, versatile and whatever your situation there is a way to keep making art and documenting your ideas if you have access to a sketchbook and some basic tools.
Be flexible with your expectations
Elements of our schedule will be non negotiable, others will have room for movement. Low energy levels means working small and adapting. Maybe we bring a sketchbook and pencils to the sofa in the evening or work on a small piece instead of the large canvas that’s waiting for our attention.
Adapt your usual practice if you need to, it’s temporary and can lead to new ideas.
Embrace the ebb and flow of your creativity
Accept low energy days and prioritise your tasks. If your creativity feels lost or you’re unmotivated there are ways through. Wintering allows you space to recharge, understand what’s got you feeling stuck and make new discoveries to inspire you.
Artists need input to create output so don’t feel bad if you need time out to do something else. Give yourself the space for new ideas to come to you.
Take care of yourself
If the last few weeks have been overwhelming with work or family commitments, don’t expect yourself to be charging into a new year with sustained energy. Give yourself grace if you’ve been unwell or taking care of others. Ask yourself how you can really best use this time.
Seasonal fatigue is real so move at a pace that suits you and catch yourself if you are comparing yourself to others who seem to be racing ahead.
However, if you have outstanding tasks that are causing you anxiety, get them finished if you can. (Get that tax return done, you’ll feel so much better.) Take a minute to figure out if you can clear some mental clutter.
January is typically about renewal and preparation for the year ahead. If this excites you and gives you motivation then go for it. If you feel exhausted, allow your Wintering to happen and take it slower.
Personally I like to plan a little at the start of January. I can ride that wave of excitement of the new year for about 10 days before I realise how tired I am. But by then, I’ll have my planners set up, my inspiration board has had a revamp and I’m journaling about a word of the year. I might even have some “big dreams” taking form in my mind..
So I slow down again. I’ll still make some art when I can but my focus switches to guilt-free, filling up and refuelling.
I gather books I want to read, watch documentaries I haven’t got around to, and listen to podcasts. I do non-art things, explore new interests and research unrelated topics. I let the ideas and goals simmer away for a bit.
When and how long to stay in the Wintering
Wintering can last a few weeks for me. Maybe that seems like too long (or short) for you and that’s ok, take the time you need. February for me is hard, much harder than January. I usually need extra sleep, I’m slower, my mood can be low and my energy goes to making sure I’m eating well and getting outside for walks.
I know this about myself and I can work with it instead of against it. I stay connected to my art by making notes, writing in my journals a lot and getting to the beach when I can.
At some point I feel things begin to shift and I can get back to my art.
Try Wintering to put you back in touch with your creativity
For me, Wintering is rest and recovery after a busy season. It’s a time of low energy and low motivation but embracing it means less pressure, no shame and emerging after winter with a head and sketchbook full of ideas ready to bring to life.
I believe Wintering for artists can ease the creative pressure at the start of a new year, and allow us to move into new goals and ideas inspired and motivated. Allowing ourselves to appreciate this natural part of our creative cycle is not just a luxury but a necessity for our art.