Overcoming Creative Slumps
It is a fact that one's creative juices can ebb and flow. It's not pleasant when they ebb, particularly when you make your living being creative. I've experienced a few slumps in my day but this current one is the worst and longest I can remember.
I know people are surprised to learn such a thing is even possible with someone they consider to be an accomplished painter. But it's true and is certainly not uncommon among creative professionals.
That in itself is an important point. It's not uncommon, so it's a truth that first needs to be recognized, and then accepted.
|The outlook is bleak, the vision is unclear, and the imagination blurred in the midst of a slump|
Inherent in every creative slump is self doubt, a feeling that you're losing your creative ability. Of course that's not true but it certainly feels that way. It just reiterates what I've said many times...if we rely on our feelings to be aligned before doing anything, we will accomplish very little.
During a particularly bad episode last week, when I entered the studio, I realized I couldn't even remember how to start a painting. I felt I had forgotten everything. I mean it. Every attempt at painting just added to a growing sense of hopelessness and frustration.
One question asked of every artist I've interviewed for this blog is: "When you become discouraged and feel the well is dry, so to speak, what do you do?"
Dianne Massey Dunbar says, "I keep showing up at the easel. Keep on suiting up, showing up, and painting". Thomas Reis says he has always worked his way through it. Denise Mahlke stated, "The best thing for me is to do something different for a while, even if it's not art-making; a long walk, gardening, going to a museum, etc. Or I will switch from pastel to oil or draw instead of paint, or read and study instead of drawing. Copying the Masters from a book or online image is also helpful. All of these things can spark creativity and new ideas. John McCartin's approach is similar. "I have a short break (couple of days). Plein air painting or charcoal drawing on the side of the road revitalizes me. Changing from landscape to still life or even changing mediums is a great help while browsing the work of great artists (past and present can be very stimulating." Douglas Fryer summed it up in one word..."work".
Every artist finds what works best for them.
When experiencing such slumps, others have suggested:
- Don't sit and sulk
- Focus on related activities
- Tidy up the studio
- Get out and exercise
- Create in an unfamiliar place
- Learn something new
- Start small, build small successes
- Don't compare your work with others
- Look for inspiration through the work of artists you most admire
- Don't hang around doubters or negative people
- Start sketching. One idea will lead to another
- Set a creative challenge
- Don't procrastinate. Get to work.
My usual procedure for overcoming these discouraging slumps is to create many small studies (4"x 6" range), hoping that out of the group I will come up with a suitable painting idea. The other thing that has helped me is to get outside and paint on location...but it's so darn hot, well over 100 degrees out there. See, I just mentioned another hindrance to overcoming slumps...excuses.
All the value studies seen here are my attempts to move beyond this uninspired, unenthusiastic period. The color study followed the value study and the 40"x 20" canvas of this scene is now on the easel...and my feeling, at the moment, is oh-um...is it even worth continuing?
Many artists, when going through such times, have expressed that they have always come out on the other side doing better work...let's hope that's the case.
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(Tune in next week for a very funny interview with David Gluck, winner of the William Bouguereau Award in the recent ARC International Salon)