Have you ever had a time when work is pouring out of you? You finish project after project, learning and growing, the creative machine inside of you pumps and pumps. This experience is a true high you want to never end but eventually, it does. We have to restart that engine but it’s making noises like an old craggy boat. How can we avoid uninspired dry spells that for many are detrimental to our artistic confidence? For me, when the unfinished projects stack up that’s when my mind starts to spiral with questions like… Who do you think you are? The competition out there is too great. You need to practice more. Your work isn’t good enough. Sound familiar? I’ve learned that to avoid my engine puttering out, I have to keep the fuel in it. The fuel is finishing.

Becoming a Closer

Leading up to art school, I was a maker of all sorts of things, not just 2D paintings. I like textiles, video cameras, beads, clay, singing, and knitting but when I went to art school none of that seems important or “high art.” I didn’t touch much else but oil paint. I guess you could call me a snob! Searching for more creative fulfillment while my illustration career ebbs and flows, I started to tinker around with silly things.

A small house I created out of some wood in the garage in a short afternoon.

What happened was, that every time I finished a project, any kind of a project, there was a little kick of momentum. Whether it was sewing a doll or making something for my home, I was always moving forward.


Hand-sewn doll, I call her “Miss Halloween”

Some of my “crafts” felt random at first like they had no relation to my illustration work but I was wrong! I was acting as only a fraction of the artist that I truly am. Maybe you are too. Let me share with you how one of my paintings came about. It started with allowing myself to spend some time revisiting my love for fabric, I found myself at the Hartland Quilt Shop. There, I was welcomed by a giant disco ball; I knew I was in the right place.

A palette of colors I was drawn to at the quilt shop.


My “rainbow” quilt, finished off with hand stitching, flower confetti thanks to Evan, my husband, and my newly bloomed hydrangea.

I let myself go wild, inspiration spilled over into all parts of my life. Even seemingly insignificant ones. I found myself giggling to myself because creating was JOY.


Then out comes this painting for Uncanny Magazine. Can you feel the momentum I was having?

I was certain to use a lot of different materials too, even if the end product was digital. Variety is the spice of life they say! Exploring across different mediums is good for my physical well being too. New movements for my hands and ways I sit or stand.

This attachment was a gift from Copic (thanks!) I plugged er’ into my little air compressor and created the background for the painting, here’s the messy start!

Creating Through Hard Times

When things are good, it’s not hard to get on a roll but life has its twists, turns, and tragedies, I’m no stranger to physical and mental illnesses. In those times, which can be quite long, I have to dig to find something that my body or mind CAN do. You can see from my photos, sometimes I really am digging in the dirt! No finances for materials? I’ve been there too – I walk the streets on garage night, dumpster diving to keep the momentum moving.

This is an image of our outdoor couch we made from dumpster diving, on top is a “riot of colors” an acquaintance called it… quilted by me.


This is me working on some macrame during a two-week hospital stay last year.

My grandfather demonstrates this exceptionally for me. He first picked up the guitar when he retired. Now, his arthritis limits his ability to pick strings. So what does he do? He decided to make flutes and learn how to play! The new instrument requires different moments with his hands and he gets to spend time in his woodshop. While he was there, he made some birdhouses too. His momentum is high and it is contagious!

Some prototypes and finished flutes by my Grandpa.

I’m not stuck pondering what to share online either. I’m always working on something which is especially important because many of my most exciting projects won’t be out for another year or more. Most of my sharing is on my blog these days, www.kirbifagan.com if you’d like to follow along.

Releasing Fears

Putting all mediums on the table as options to create has also released years of pressure I’ve felt in the competitive illustration industry. I feel so much fulfillment in my artistic life and I’m no longer trying to satisfy every dream I ever had in a single illustration gig. By nature, illustration can be limiting, and when projects hum along in a slow-moving business (I’m talking publishing mostly) I need to keep my flow, flowin’ even if my cover is stuck in a cog of revisions.

Rejection is the nature of illustration. Last year, I tried something new and it ended in a big pile of rejections. Womp-womp. I wasn’t destroyed though, because I had momentum. “The blank page” syndrome is lessening too, I’m used to starting and finishing. It’s an unexpected result in becoming “a closer.” My blog is titled “The Living Canvas” because I treat my life as a canvas. With everything I do, I try to incorporate my sense of art, style, and taste. I’m even starting to make my own clothes.

If you are looking for momentum or feeling stuck, put a project in front of you that you can finish. A 4×6 portrait. 30 minutes of life drawing from online resources. Break the boundaries of illustration – tie a string around your arm and call it a bracelet! Just one small thing is the first step to kickstarting your creative engine. Your own fuel may come from cooking, gardening, pottery, or building a fort with your kids. Open your mind up to possibilities and reap the benefits of creating. I hope you have some new ideas to keep your engine purring.

Wishing you all the good things,