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Incredibly Specific Ways to Help Your Tired Brain Stay Creative in Quarantine

Jul. 17, 2020Tired? Bored? Need some inspiration? Don’t worry, we have eight unique ideas on how to solve that.



If you’re among the fortunate during Covid-19, you have now spent more than three months wandering a limited radius that includes mostly your home and occasionally the grocery store. Your brain may look something like a Mobius strip of boredom and distraction, or at least you may be getting tired of the hobbies you enthusiastically picked up at the beginning of all this. How many breads can one person bake? What are you going to do with all those finished puzzles? It’s been five minutes, maybe someone updated their Instagram story?

The bad news is you’re in for some version of this for a while longer; without a vaccine and until we fully understand how the virus works, the general advice remains to stay at home as much as you can. The good news is that we all have an unlimited well of creativity somewhere inside us! But if you’re having a hard time accessing it these days, lots of artsy individuals and organizations have stepped up to provide bite-size classes, prompts, and other resources to bring a little variety and inspiration to our homes.

The Isolation Journals

Suleika Jaouad did one creative thing a day to anchor herself while fighting leukemia in her 20s and has revived the practice for what she considers a similar time of feeling confined. Since April, she’s sent out a daily writing prompt via her Isolation Journals newsletter, some created by guests like writers Esmé Weijun Wang and Ashley C. Ford. A lot of the prompts take the form of letters to loved ones, meditating on how you’re feeling, or surfacing memories — helpful practices during an isolating time. There’s also a Facebook group to connect with other participants and a hefty archive of past prompts available to dig into on Jaouad’s Instagram page.

 
 

Dancing Alone Together

Even if (especially if!) you don’t consider yourself particularly in touch with your body, there are lots of surprising ways to practice artistic movement. You can find a whole spectrum of examples on Dancing Alone Together, a website that provides links to online dance classes, streamed dance performances, and, most intriguing, dance prompts. You can start simply by recreating 19 Martha Graham poses in photos, then level up to dance prompts from choreographers. And when you’re finally able to see your friends again, you’re not allowed to say you can’t dance. 

Audio Playground

Got a recorder or a smartphone? Audio producer Sarah Geis created this ongoing series of recording “assignments” back in February, sent out about weekly via her newsletter. Each assignment requests a short audio recording based on a specific prompt, like “Give a one-minute weather report” or “Recreate a favorite scent in sound,” which participants can then send directly to Geis to post on her website. One of the best parts of the series is listening in to other participants’ creations — they can be silly, intimate, sweet, and all well-timed for a moment when we’re missing the sounds of other people’s voices.

 

Quarantine Art Club

Illustrator Carson Ellis has a distinctly folksy style that would be right at home in a children’s book or on a Decemberists’ album cover — coincidentally, she’s created art for both, many times! Her Quarantine Art Club, a series of prompts on her blog, offer comfortingly specific instructions that experienced doodlers can run with and newcomers can use to explore their own drawing style. She walks through some oldies-but-goodies, like blind contour drawing, offers descriptive phrases chosen at random as prompts to draw a book cover, and provides questions to ask yourself when drawing a portrait — can I see their ears? What shape are their eyes? It’s a good series for kids and adults, educational without being too twee.

 

Quarantine Photo Challenge

Photographer Isis Ascobereta started this series of multi-tiered prompts back in March. Each week, she chooses a simple theme, and each day she provides a specific word related to that theme as a prompt for a photo. The first week’s theme, for example, was colors — each day of that week, she’d provide a new color. With other themes like “natural and artificial” or “shapes,” Ascobereta leaves things open enough that it shouldn’t be any trouble finding visual inspiration close to home. The prompts are specific and numerous enough to push even shy photographers to participate, and Ascobereta takes part too, providing plenty of examples of her own vibrant work.

 
 

Brooklyn Art Library’s 28-Day Challenge

For a pay-what-you-can donation, anywhere from $1 to $100, the Brooklyn Art Library will send you an email with a creative prompt once a day for 28 days. For an additional pay-what-you-can donation, you can also get 14 portrait prompts in the same fashion. It’s one of many deliverable art offerings from the Williamsburg-based organization, best known for The Sketchbook Project: pay $30, get a sketchbook and prompts to help you fill it, then send it back so it can be added to the library’s exhibition of sketchbooks from around the world. All of the communal art experiences seem ready-made for stay-at-home times, even if it’s not a good time to peruse the sketchbooks in person.

 

1000 Words of Summer

This one’s not quite bite-size, but consider it a wildcard if you’re really feeling ambitious. Jami Attenberg, who’s written five novels and a short story collection, is an extremely qualified guide through a two-week challenge to write 1,000 words a day. Each morning, Attenberg sends out a newsletter of encouragement, with thoughts on slogging through it and notes her own progress. This year’s series officially started on June 1, but Attenberg archives all the letters, so you can start on your own time. She’s run the challenge in past years under admittedly different circumstances, but there are some people who feel inclined to start that novel right about now, and it’s fun to get the daily missives. Attenberg keeps it real, as in this 2018 letter: “Yesterday I wrote what we in the biz like to call ‘a pile of turds.’” 

Lockdown Maps

The urban-planning publication CityLab has a clever call for readers looking to bridge the gap between their artistic and order-obsessed brains. The assignment: draw a map of your life under lockdown, and interpret as you will. So far, contributors have gotten incredibly creative with the prompt, illustrating the wildlife, indoor spaces, political dynamics, and meals that have characterized their experiences. They’ve also taken an expansive definition of what a map is, and how abstract or specific they want to get. Taken together, they’re like a mad scientist’s interpretation of a classic school project. All of this to say: why not submit your own?

 

How are you exploring your creativity during quarantine? Share with us on Facebook or Instagram, and be sure to tag us in the post! @AvocadoMattress

Erin Berger

By Erin Berger

 —  Erin Berger is a freelance writer and former culture editor at Outside magazine. She’s based in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she skis, bikes, and hikes. She has a puppy named Henry.

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