Creativity in a Time of Crisis: Swedish Edition

My creative mojo has been tested numerous times during the Covid-19 pandemic and it’s been upended even further by the racial and social awakening gripping the United States in the aftermath of George Floyd’s brutal murder. Both situations–and the general chaos of 2020–are never far from my mind and I’ve fluctuated between spurts of intense productivity and bouts of inactivity. But whenever I’m not writing, I am thinking, reading, discussing, observing, and drawing sustenance from intellectuals and creatives in my orbit. Three, in particular, are a source of inspiration: Andrea Pippins, Gina Vide, and Lola Ákínmádé Åkerström. We share many similarities as ex-pats living in Sweden; we’re married to Swedes, raising biracial and/or multicultural children, and pursuing careers that incorporate our creative passions. In this time of social distancing, I love following their lives and work on Instagram, so I asked this talented, accomplished trio to elaborate on the unprecedented moment we find ourselves in and how it has affected their creativity. I hope you enjoy this window into their minds as much as I did!

Andrea Pippins

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Andrea Pippins is an illustrator and author who has a passion for creating images that reflect what she wants to see in art, media, and design. Her work has been featured in Essence MagazineThe New York Times, and O: The Oprah Magazine. She has worked with brands such as Bloomberg, Broadly, ESPN, The High Line, Lenny Letter, Lincoln Center, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Andrea is the author of I Love My Hair, a coloring book featuring her illustrations celebrating various hairstyles and texture; Becoming Me, an interactive journal for young women to color, doodle, and brainstorm their way to a creative life; and We Inspire Me, a collection of essays, interviews, and advice on cultivating and empowering one’s own creative community. She also illustrated Young Gifted and Black and Step Into Your Power. Most recently, Andrea teamed up with Instagram to create stickers in honor of Juneteenth. 

How did you spend your days in quarantine and/or social distancing? 

We (my husband and toddler son) spent about 2.5 months at home. I already work from home, but my husband worked remotely during our self-quarantine and we kept our son home from preschool. It was quite an adjustment for all of us, but we made the most of our time. When possible, I [pregnant] worked on wrapping up projects before my due date, and my husband and I would take our son on walks or bike rides. I baked a lot with Isa and we read tons of books with him. It was challenging to keep him activated during the day, but I’m so glad we had that time with him before the new baby arrived.

Was it difficult to get inspired/motivated?

It wasn’t difficult to get inspired/motivated, my challenge was being able to act on those motivations. Because we were managing a schedule that involved juggling a toddler and trying to get work done, there wasn’t much downtime for reflection or executing the ideas that were emerging. I did try to do a little personal drawing here and there, which I shared as art prompts on Instagram, but for the most part, I collected my ideas in my sketchbook, idea book, or journal—surrendering to the fact that I would execute them later.

Why do you think innovation and creativity thrive in crisis?

A crisis often leaves us with new restrictions or a new way of being. When we are faced with those circumstances, we are forced to figure out how to do something we want to do in a new way. We use our imaginations, we experiment or improvise. In this unfamiliar state, we tend to feel freer to make mistakes and take chances. When we feel as though we have nothing to lose and don’t know what’s at stake, some of our best ideas emerge.

What is the strongest personal or general insight you’ve gained during this public health emergency (and period of social upheaval if you choose to reflect on that)?

For me, the insight I gain during this public health emergency–or what I was reminded of–has been to surrender. A lot of my frustration, sadness, and stress came from me not being able to do things the way I used to our how I wanted to do them. I was expecting my second child during our self-quarantine, I released a new book, and had to complete work before the arrival of our baby girl. I had to figure out how to manage all of this with very little time to myself. I realized the only thing I could do was just surrender by accepting the present moment and just doing what I could do. With that, the days became a little easier to navigate.

What are your goals within this new reality we will be facing for the foreseeable future? 

This period has turned into a time of rest and reflection, incubating, and downloading. So I’ve been writing in my journal different ideas and projects I’d like to pursue in 2021 and beyond. They all relate to nurturing my full self. A few of them are to teach more (I used to teach graphic design on the college level and miss working with young artists and designers.), focus more on my personal work, and making sure all of this leaves space for things that bring me joy like my spiritual practice and time with my family and friends (whom I’ve missed terribly during the social distancing).

What is your advice to other creatives out there? 

If possible, use this time to heal and rest, and imagine a new world.

Gina Vide

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Gina Vide possesses a lifelong passion for children, creativity and has worked professionally as a creative all of her life, including as a graphic designer, illustrator, artist-writer, photographer, installation consultant, prop stylist, and teacher on both sides of the Atlantic. These interests intersect on her blog, Willowday, and on Instagram, where she features many of her handmade projects. Gina is also the author of ABC Flower Safari. Parents and children alike will be captivated by the whimsical magical spell of Gina Vide’s enchanted flower animal world and its alphabet adventures.

How did you spend your days in quarantine and/or social distancing?

I’m a  mother of three teens and share a house between the city and Stockholm archipelago with them, my husband, and two dogs. We were all home, on-line with work or school, and found the biggest joys in the small: meals, dog walks, and Zoom calls. The gift of more free time at home meant small shared creative moments, like teaching my daughter to sew and enjoying every person in my family cooking with creative abandon. Regarding my work, I left my beautiful studio in Old Town to work from home after the birth of my firstborn. Although it had highs and lows, I work daily. 

Was it difficult to get inspired/motivated?

To begin with, it was a shock. However, I’m a “glass half full” person, am easily distracted by my own imagination, and am motivated to help others.  Within days of the quarantine beginning,  grown from an overwhelming desire to help, I co-produced an ebook with fun craft projects for parents with young kids now quarantining.  I do have a silver lining to this period: Spring and Summer are when flora and foliage and daylight are at the best for my foliage work. Daily walks are truly a part of my process and I’m thrilled to find endless inspiration in the world around me. Since we’re home this summer, I’ve even thrown myself into watching my own flowers grow. 

Why do you think innovation and creativity thrive in crisis?

I think innovation and creativity coexist in a crisis because our senses and purpose are heightened when constraints or issues materialize. Superfluous is cleared away and the things that matter stand out. 

What are your goals within this new reality we will be facing for the foreseeable future? 

With the pandemic, I’ve started more local work than I’ve done in years. I feel the importance to cultivate creatives and community locally while always remaining a “citizen of the world.” As an ex-pat, I think I can be no other.  Since Instagram is a visual medium, I love it as a place for connection and armchair travel with my art and as a place to richly discover other talents, voices, and positive ideas. During the pandemic, it’s been such a lively community. During the recent social Black Lives Matter crisis, I find it to be an incredibly rich resource to find exciting Black artists, musicians, and voices to learn from and to support BLM and issues I care about.  

What is the strongest personal or general insight you’ve gained during this public health emergency (and period of social upheaval if you choose to reflect on that)?

Use your voice. Be kind. Small things matter, say hello, read, discuss, support others, and push yourself to walk what you talk and to do things you’ve maybe not considered doing before. Voice, literature, art,  music, and facts are important.  When we simply see one another, we can have conversations and connections; conversations lead to truths, solutions of differences, and dismantling our fears whether it’s racism or how the pandemic is being handles and/or solved.

What is your advice to other creatives out there?

Continue to show up for your work and also be forgiving of yourself. Small steps every day are important to long-term growth and serve as a daily commitment to yourself. Don’t compare yourself to others and walk away from the voices that bring you down. I’ve gone so far as to save notes of kind notes of support into a file to read on the days when I need a boost. 

Lola Ákínmádé Åkerström

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Lola Ákínmádé Åkerström was born in Nigeria, educated in the United States, and is now based in Sweden. Her photography and travel writing are often characterized by vibrancy and hope. Her work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, BBC, CNN, The Guardian, Travel + Leisure, Slate, Travel Channel, Lonely Planet, Forbes, Fodor’s, AFAR, National Geographic Channel, Adventure Magazine, several in-flight magazines, and New York Times. Some of her articles and photography have been syndicated on MSNBC, Slate, Yahoo, New York Daily News, Chicago Sun-Times, Huffington Post, and Time Warner. In addition to contributing to several travel books, she’s the author of award-winning DUE NORTH and international bestselling LAGOM, available in 18 languages. Soon she’ll be sharing some exciting news about her debut novel, Afroswede, which follows the lives of three Black women in Sweden tied to the same man.

How did you spend your days in quarantine and/or social distancing? 

I arrived back in Sweden mid-March when borders were beginning to get closed and countries were going into lockdown. So, I was grateful to be back in town to spend quarantine with my family. In terms of social distancing, I’ve been running bi-weekly group check-in calls with friends in Sweden to check in on them and how they’re adjusting to the new normal.

Was it difficult to get inspired/motivated?

The first three weeks were challenging. I had zero creativity and didn’t even touch my camera for weeks. Then I started taking better care of myself, clearing my mind, doing some morning rituals of silence, prayer, meditation, and affirmations. I also started getting a bit of exercise. Then my creativity slowly started seeping back in. While in quarantine, I was able to complete an online course through Harvard Business School online and I’m now about to launch my academy: https://academy.geotravelermedia.com

Why do you think innovation and creativity thrive in crisis?

Beyond thinking of creative ways and solutions to battle a crisis, I think innovation thrives when we’re forced to stand still and distractions are reduced. We begin to focus on the essential and deep work we need to be doing in the first place. We begin to realign and recenter ourselves to our purpose. And we gain more clarity on the most important aspects of our lives.

What is the strongest personal or general insight you’ve gained during this public health emergency (and period of social upheaval if you choose to reflect on that)?

I think the strongest piece of insight, beyond letting go of control, is realizing how much time I wasted on nonsense distractions in the past. And how, with laser focus and routine, I can accomplish so much more than I ever could in the past. The general insight showed me just how deeply interconnected we all are. I work primarily within the travel industry, which was the hardest hit and it was traumatic witnessing the ripple effect of the crisis tear through our community. 

What are your goals within this new reality we will be facing for the foreseeable future? 

A friend of mine told me that as a freelancer, you have to be awake to make money, but as an entrepreneur, you make money while you’re asleep. That is what this crisis has really solidified for me. So, I’ve been investing in more ways where I can provide value digitally. 

What is your advice to other creatives out there?  

Beyond diversifying your income streams, start looking into ways of sharing your knowledge and getting paid for it as passive income.

TACK SÅ MYCKET, ANDREA, GINA & LOLA! Your words of wisdom resonate and it will remain exciting to follow your creative endeavors!