In 2020, the illustrator and artist Cécile Dormeau experienced the worst creative block she’d ever encountered. While it was exacerbated by the pandemic and all the challenges brought with it, the roots of the problem lay back in 2019, when Cécile realised she was losing her love of drawing, something that had always brought her joy. Now, Cécile has released a short film, combining illustration, photography and simple animations, exploring what she believes happened to bring about this creatively barren period and sharing how she overcame it.
One of the main reasons for what she calls her journey “from passion to frustration” was the demands of social media. In the film, entitled A Creative Block Story, Cécile talks about the pressures of Instagram, how she used to feel like she had to constantly post brilliant new work and had to receive thousands of likes and comments each time. “While social media can be great, it can also make you feel very guilty, if you are not present enough,” she says, adding: “And let’s not talk about having likes and followers.” Sometimes, though, we need to take a break from production, she says. We need “the time to breathe, to reflect on our art and where we want to go next, the time to get inspiration from somewhere else.”
The film also touches on the creativity-zapping process of producing work for clients. Brands would get in touch with Cécile, she explains, because they ostensibly loved how she represented women and women’s bodies. But then she would get their feedback, asking outrageous questions like, “Can she be thinner? Can she be less Black?” The hypocrisy didn’t stop there, however. Cécile also notes how her clients would sometimes happily use feminism as a marketing tool and in the same moment underpay a female artist.
GalleryCécile Dormeau: A Creative Block Story (Copyright © Cécile Dormeau, 2021)
What eventually turned things around for Cécile and got her out of her creative block was playing with her young nephew and experimenting with his arts and crafts. This freed her from the constraints and pressures of social media and of commercial work. Instead, she says in the voiceover, “I could make crap. That was so liberating.” Eventually, this led to more experimentation in her own sketchbook and finally culminates in Cécile returning to her illustration practice. But not without some tough lessons and some changes to her attitude towards her work and her practice.
Cécile is also at pains to point out that it’s not like she’s “super creative again” right now. “I’m making peace at the moment with being less creative, and that’s OK,” she says. “I’m writing a children's book at the moment, but without pressure. I’m making it for myself first and I’m happy to try something different!”
And why did she feel the need to turn this experience into a film? What does she hope viewers will take away from it? “My goal was to say, ‘You are not alone if this happens to you, it’s normal.’ And to tell of my experience and what I did to come back to creativity, slowly,” she says. “The most important thing is to be kind to yourself, instead of beating yourself up, and try new things completely out of your art universe. It took me time to try new things without feeling guilty or thinking it’s useless, because it is not related to illustration.” This is one way to bring back the joy of creativity.
There are many pithy maxims throughout the film, each tapping into issues around mental health, the pressures of making a living from your creativity, and the unrelenting requirement to be productive. One of the nicest epithets comes when Cécile is messing around with paints and plasticine with her nephew. “Having enthusiasm,” the voice-over says, “matters much more than discipline.”