Behind the Screens: Working through creative blocks and ruts


Being an artist is challenging, no matter which century you're living in. Stability isn't a given (steady income? who is she?) and there are too few accessible resources for artists in all stages of their careers. I started Flat Vernacular in 2009 because I was searching for a tangible way to support myself without giving up what I deeply love doing: painting, drawing, and art in general. I'm also perpetually fascinated by the lines between fine art and design, and artwork that operates in what was (and is) often considered "soft" "female" domains. I feel very lucky that this outlet for my artwork supports my life. Even with so much positive support, luck, and stability in my career, sometimes it's simply hard to get down to work on new creative projects. It is hard. Often. Imposter syndrome, work issues that are incredibly stressful and can't be put aside, feeling stuck in a material rut, unable to sit down, fear of failure, etc. etc. etc. However, I have several tried-and-true activities that come in handy whenever one of these pesky blocks surfaces, and I want to share them with you. The world needs more visual art, YOUR art. The last thing we need is for you to be stuck in a rut or a block. Let's get you out of it. 

When it feels difficult to sit down and get started, for whatever reason:

Pick a drawing or painting utensil, then draw (or dab, or dash, or whatever gesture you want to use) a shape or mark on a piece of paper. Don't think about it: just grab the utensil and start. Don't mull over the shape or mark. Repeat it, in horizontal lines or vertical lines. Try to make it the same size, over and over again. Your brain will relax and your hands and palette will warm up. New ideas may emerge while you do this activity. After a little while, you'll feel ready to start on your work.

When your routine feels tired and your eyes stop looking carefully at the immediate daily world around you:

Take 10-30 minutes and go on a color or sketch walk. For the color walk, try to really be present and engage with the shades and hues you see all around you. Pay attention to them! Snap a photo or write down the way you'd describe the color. When you get a back to your studio, record them in your palette notebook (yes, I recommend keeping one if you don't already!). You'll feel refreshed after seeing your world re-presented to you through colors.

For the sketch walk: take a piece of 8" x 10" or 11" x 14" (or whatever size you have laying around) paper. Fold it into equal quadrants. Put it, and your favorite quick sketch tool like a pencil or a pen, into your pocket. Go on a walk. When you see something that catches your eye, stop in place and sketch it. Quick quick quick. Just jot it down. Keep going until all the quadrants have a quick sketch on them.

When it's difficult to sort through the mess of multiple ideas:

You need to make yourself a schedule. Start every day in your studio the same way. Clean up your desk, clean up your studio. Put stuff away that isn't being worked on that day. File away old projects. Get a notebook that's dedicated to ideas and their progress. Write everything down in that notebook. I usually get a new one every year (although sometimes projects require their own notebooks altogether). Dedicate 30 mins of time to each idea, as often as you can. Some will work out, some won't. Others will be discovered.

When your materials aren't cooperating:

Are you using the right materials? Have you looked into a different brand or tool? Is there some way you can execute your idea with a material you haven't used? Ask yourself a lot of questions about why you're using what you're using, how you're using it. Go to the art supply store and look at what else is out there. Ask other artists what they love. It might be time to switch it up.

When you're sick of an idea or your own studio:

If you're ready to start tossing ideas in the trash and can't handle another second looking at your thoughts take shape on paper, you need to go look at someone else's work. I would suggest, if you're feeling down about your skills, two things: go see the work that belongs to someone no longer alive, and keep in mind that everyone starts somewhere. Your craft and skills build over time, and Rome wasn't built in a day as they say. If you're not feeling down, just a little tired of your own brain: go look at how another artist deals with similar subject matter. Or, go see work that's completely opposite to what you do, and look carefully at the how and why of that artist's work. You'll come away from the museum/gallery visit feeling refreshed and likely inspired. This also works if you have a library nearby. Go to the art section and start pulling out some books. Spend a few hours. Take notes if you want to, but I typically prefer to simply absorb whatever I notice in the present moment. Sometimes I'll make notes later on, after I've gone home.

I have a million of these tips and tricks! I'd love to know yours. Feel free to leave a comment or email me directly. 

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