On Being 'Blocked'
This is so common among artists that it has a name – Artist’s Block. It happens to us all, and it’s almost physically painful, like having your arm cut off. No matter how much you want to, you just can’t paint, your seeing is all off, your lines, colours, and materials just won’t do anything you want them to. Inspiration dries up and the more you try to create something, the worse things get. Just when you really NEED your art to help get some crisis out of your system, it packs its bags and goes on holiday. You wallow like a beached whale and it feels as though you’ll NEVER paint again.
A massive life lessons hit me when my marriage broke down many years ago; my art, instead of being a vehicle to help me process my emotions, dried up and left me completely. I knew that art therapy could be helpful for making problems visual and therefore shifting our viewpoint, but drawing was the very last thing I felt like doing. Another of my personal theories is that art therapy can be less helpful for those who have been trained to draw academically. It didn’t help me, anyway.
I began to collect driftwood and found objects during my walks on the beach. As they piled up I saw how some pieces could be put together to create interesting shapes and textures. I had inherited my ex’s toolbox, complete with drill and electric saw, and soon I was hammering, chopping and gluing the heartbreak and fury out of my system. I called my creations great names like “I Can Never Forgive You” and “How Could You?”
I think this is the key – whether the block is big or small, long or short, try using materials you have not used before. Instead of watercolours, try pastels, if you use oils, try inks. Instead of pencils and brushes, see what happens with lollipop sticks, twigs, sponges, feathers. Use powdered graphite and your hands. Experiment with oil pastels and turps (or Zest-It, it smells better) to thin them.
Treat all this as a huge experiment – you can’t get an experiment wrong, can you? Make messes, see what happens. Mix different things together. Forget about making pictures that other people might like. Try not to judge yourself or what you are doing – enjoy the fact that it doesn’t matter what you produce, because you’re not even trying to make Art anyway. You’ll probably be very surprised at what happens.
Different people have different ways of working and that’s just the way it should be. When you are blocked though, the only way out is through, so blast paper with paint, throw inks, drop oil into watercolour........ Remember that this is a creative process, not a left brained logical one and it’s up to you to take an idea and run with it. Take it somewhere new.
I have also found that a really helpful way to look at an Artist’s Block is that art and creativity are like breathing – you take in experiences and information from the world around you, hold them a little, and then pour them out through your personal filters of ability, feelings and emotions. When you feel blocked and nothing much is coming out, think of it as a good time to take more IN. Nurture all your senses, read, sing, dance, go to talks and exhibitions..... Stop trying to make art and feed your soul instead.
Some people pour raw emotion into their art every time, others create perfectly acceptable pictures that express very little that’s personal. Finding a new way of working, or expanding your creative boundaries can be a beautiful gift that arrives out of an Artist’s Block if you are ready to receive it.
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