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March 20, 2017

Ruts in the Road to Creative Productivity

It's not uncommon for artists to find themselves at a standstill in their work.  It can be an excruciating experience especially when one WANTS to work, but can't seem to find the magic.  Julia Cameron writes in The Artist's Way that obstacles of all kinds will always stunt creativity, and the only way over, is through.  Creatives must train to work on their craft even when work seems unreachable. The inspiration is not there. The well of ideas has dried up.  All are excuses.

Sure the process may be hard at first but pouring one's soul into a project is not always easy.  It's important to realize that "easy" is not always a luxury one can count on.  Inspiration is also not a luxury you can count on.  When artists talk about a block,  they often don't see that the act of waiting for inspiration is itself a common block.  Writing your To-Do lists and Things to Remember can help clear the way.   But often what is stopping the flow of creativity is perfectionism.

"I don't have a great idea yet, so why should I start working?"
"I don't wanna waste my time making bad art."
"I need more time to make something really good."
"I don't want to be reductive."
"I don't have the talent to churn out masterpieces all the time."  
If these sound familiar, or you have a small voice uttering something similar, you're selling yourself short.  You're getting in your own way.  It's not your brain, or lack of ideas, or lack of talent that's holding you back, it is you.  It's your old nemesis fear.  It shows up in various forms trying to fool you that something else is to blame.
"What am I supposed to do then?"

 Well I'll tell you what works for me, and maybe you can try it out and come up with your own tips and tricks for your process.  If you're waiting for an idea to strike, you may be waiting forever.  That's no way to be productive.  So be productive and you'll unblock the right pathways to your ideas.  By "productive" I mean actually produce something. Anything. It means you'll have to let go of your fear that something bad will come out. That is will embarrass you.  That you're wasting your time.  Very few things about your process will be a waste of time, because it will ALWAYS take time to get to the good stuff.

You look at other artists' work and you get discouraged that it all looks amazing. They make it look so easy.  What's easy is only posting the good stuff, did you think of that?  How many bad drawings and sketches, and ideas got made before this nice piece of work got posted by your fave?  I'll wager that they make tons of work, before they found the sweet spot.  I'll wager that they have a style because they put in the hours of time to find it.  My point is don't get discouraged this way.  Comparison is a recipe for self-doubt, self-sabotage, and fear-mongering.  Stop doing this to yourself right now!

If you want to be inspired by someone's work, then look at a few aspects you like, then try them out for yourself.  Try the color palette they used.  Try the drawing tool, or paintbrush, or subject matter.  Dare I say, copy them! *GASP*  Let me clarify before you go nuts.  Copying is a bad word, but there are right and wrong ways to do it.   Artist apprentices in days of old, COPIED their masters till they learned what they needed.  In art school we COPIED the masters works as well to learn what they did.  Then we COPIED again using our own color palette.  We COPIED in painting, in design, in drawing, and in most beginning art classes.  I think you get the picture that it is an invaluable learning tool.  The wrong way to copy is when it is for profit, and for notoriety.  The wrong way is when you tell others this is all yours, when it's not.

I look through magazines, I look through social media, and often times what I'm seeking is a color, or a pattern, or a composition that strikes me and then I'll try to use it.  This is when a sketchbook is key.  I say keep one on you at all times.  Ideas come at any time and you're paddle-less if you don't get them down.  But what happens when you've searched and nothing comes out.  This is when you'll start to feel the discouragement and the impulse to quit.  Don't do it.  Just change tactics.   If nothing is going to strike you, then you strike first!

If the problem is that you have no idea what to do first, then that's a block, and you get around it by acting first.  Taking the pencil and free drawing/writing first before the idea.  I know it may sound crazy but this has worked for me a hundred times.  And let me tell you I'm looking at the CRAP coming out and thinking, "no one can ever see this."  Without the pressure of looking like you got it all together, you can work through the block.  Acting first is like physically removing the pile of rocks in your way one by one.  You may not see the ideas on the other side, but I've found it to be virtually impossible not to get there using this method.  Looking before you leap, can often prevent you from leaping at all.  In this case, it's ok leap because no one has to see you fall.  And if no one sees you fall, did you really fall at all?

If you've established the pattern searching searching searching for the mojo that's gonna kickstart this next masterpiece, and give up when nothing shows up, then stop the insanity!  Break the cycle.  Form a new pattern of behavior, a new line of thought, that says, "I don't need to wait anymore, I can just do." Growing up in rural Texas, and living on plenty of dirt roads, you learn to follow the ruts in the road when it's raining, wet, or iced.  Stop trying to forge this unknown path to genius by driving all over the road when you can't!  You end up in a ditch!  For non-rural folks, ditches are nearly on every road you drive out in the boonies.  And even the biggest trucks can get caught there.  Don't be so reckless, you're not doing yourself any favors.   This new pattern is now your ruts, so just follow them till you get to where you need to be.

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