Find your creative flow
I haven’t posted anything for a while, but I have a real good reason: I have spent my free time painting, drawing, creating things!
This blog entry encourages you to make (more) art, too. Read this article if you are interested in why we experience creative block and how to overcome it. I want to share a number of books and online talks that have inspired me to stop brooding and start making art.
I know…as if it was that easy!! There are a million books on how to overcome creative block and how to be more productive. As if reading this short blog entrance would change your habits and make you experience creative flow. But wait, here it is: the critical voice that leads to creative block. It questions everything, it doubts the value of whatever you start doing. “Don’t waste your time reading this. Things won’t change: you are too busy to make art. You are out of practise. Your artwork will look awful…” and so on. If I listened to this voice in this moment, I would stop writing right now, thinking “nobody will read this article anyway. Nobody will leave a comment. It won’t be of any value to anyone.”
Three tips to help you overcome creative block
1. Don’t be a genius!
There are a number of valuable TED Talks on creativity. One of my favourites is by writer Elizabeth Gilbert, where she humorously reveals how we get in our own way when we want to make art. She shows how our Western society understands the artist to be a lonesome, inspired genius. This is a very intimidating notion, because the artist is the ingenious person whose creativity comes completely from himself or herself. We artists are meant to invent brand new and perfect art works – from scratch. Gilbert asks us to look at other cultures (or Western culture before the Renaissance) that have a different understanding of the artist. Sayings like “The idea came to me” imply that an artist has genius, rather than is a genius. Ideas overwhelm and surprise us, when we experience the flow.
Ask anybody doing truly creative work, and they'll tell you the truth: They don't know where the good stuff comes from. They just show up to do their thing.
Austin Kleon - Steal like an Artist
Similarly, Julia Cameron uses in “The Artists Way” the image of an artist who pulls ideas together to make art, rather than making them up from scratch. We are part of a great, creative universe and we draw from our experience to make art.
Likewise, Kirby Ferguson lists a number of artists who borrow ideas or methods from former artists in his TED talk “Everything is a remix”. Listen to his talk and “don’t expect so much from yourselves, just simply begin!”
2. STEAL like an artist
Austin Kleon’s successful book “Steal Like an Artist” points in the same direction. This page-turner encourages you to steal from artists that you admire. Any artist does that. I also ask my students to “steal” ideas from others – and then what happens? They add their own ideas, they combine techniques, they transform them - they make it their own.
To me, “stealing” in this sense is a form of honestly and deeply responding to what others have done or said or painted or built. You will quickly notice that stealing in this context is not really possible. As soon as you try to steal an idea or method or motif, you will notice that your own handwriting shows up. I find it so interesting to see just where the change to the original comes to vision - what does it tell me about myself?
3. Put yourself under pressure
Overcome creative block by putting yourself under pressure. This is an old trick to leave your comfort zone.
Artist Dominic Wilcox talks about his own experience with creative block in a video on his website. He likes to work under time pressure, forcing himself to come up with something creative for 30 days in a row. The trick is you have to be quick “which is good, because you get in touch with your heart rather than with the analytical way of thinking ‘is it good, is it right?’ ”
An alternative to Wilcox’ approach is a challenge that is based on a list of drawing prompts. The list provides a theme or specific task for each day of the challenge. This has become a pretty popular approach as social media makes it easy to share the list with others and then share the work by putting it online with a hashtag at the end of the day. This can be very motivating. If you prefer getting started with a list that guides you through the challenge, google for “drawing challenges” and find a challenge that meets your taste - or create your own list.
b) Set limits
At school, students usually benefit from strong restrictions, when it comes to the technique or format or material they are allowed to use. Somehow it encourages them to make most of the limited opportunities, whereas too much choice is intimidating. So, use one colour only, paint one minute only, work with your eyes closed for 1 minute, make a collage using one magazine only, etc.… Sometimes these limitations open new doors. No wonder artists use restrictions – at least for a certain period of the process, they can be very helpful. Try it!!
c) Make it a habit
For me, this is the best advice, once you’ve started to make art again. Just like eating an apple every day, drawing and painting has become a habit. This way, creative block has a harder time to surface. Make it a habit to sketch people when waiting for your coffee in a café, when waiting for the bus, when sitting in the tube… I never leave the house without my sketchbook. Good things happen when I open it, waiting.
Or join groups who also feel making art is important for them. If you don’t know anyone who has time to join you, find an online class, like Danny Gregory’s “sketchbookskool”. There are so many people out there who can’t wait to get started! Find them and enjoy your work!
Did you find this article helpful? Which authors would you want to add to the list? Can you share a book title or link on this topic?
Click here to see some of my paintings and collages.