Starting an art practice can be daunting. Here are my best tips and ideas to help get you set up for a sustainable practice. What to do when you are stuck. This is the seventh in my series on How to Create Your Art Practice.
Part of this post came from a previous post I wrote years ago called “A List of Things to Do When Your Muse is on Vacation”. I think the list is kinda funny and I’m including it here because it illustrates my point for this week’s post: what to do when you are stuck.
(Ridiculous side note: Last Friday I took the above mentioned post down thinking I would delete it as it got subsumed into this post. But then I decided to leave it for posterity and so republished it. WordPress auto-generated the email that goes out to my blog-by-email subscribers. So if you are one of my lovely email subscribers, first of all THANK YOU FOR THAT and second, that’s why you got a post from 2017. I heart technology and can make the ones and also the zeros!!)
Creative Block, when it comes
My first round of creative block was devastating. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I had started my “Make Something Every Day” project in 2013 and about a year and a half later, the seemingly self-powered generator of ideas inside of me shut down one day and I didn’t know what to do. It was a bit of an existential crisis. I sat at my art table and cried almost daily because I didn’t know how to move forward. Quitting was definitely on the table.
This not to scare you or make you feel sorry for me. I want to equip you for a time when you might be feeling dried up or stuck in a rut or just out of ideas. Keeping it fresh and exciting can be a challenge. Freeing yourself up from pressure or expectation of having to produce by changing up what you are working on can help that tremendously. Changing things up can challenge your brain in a new way which can cause new ideas to flow.
Remember your notebook from “Start where you are”? And the list of ideas you made on the back page? Keep that baby going! Seriously, any time you have an idea add it to that list for such a time as being stuck in a creative block. I have a running list that I only just started keeping recently. I wish I had started years ago.
A list of things when you are stuck
This is the list from the 2017 post. I’m adding a few new things but I want to challenge you to find things that work for you specifically and add them to your personal list. This list is intentionally designed to be low/no cost. Buying supplies can be magical but it can also be distracting. I want you to get used to generating ideas with your on-hand materials so you can move forward quickly. For me, that looks like a ton of paper crafts. But I did include some that don’t require a full paper studio to get started. Go forth and be unstuck!
- Go into your yard or your outside communal area. Take pictures of textures: brick, tree bark, flowers, cracks in the sidewalk, clouds, windows, rocks, rows of mailboxes. Print them out and then trace the interesting bits off onto a blank sheet of paper. You can use this for texture in your art making or just as a way to practice your photo eye or drawing skills.
- Go through your scraps bin. If it’s a paper drawer or a fabric bag. Look through it and see if anything catches your eye. Make a new pile to play with. I re-sort my paper bins periodically to generate new combinations.
- Take a trip to the craft store and buy one new supply/material to try. Set a $10 limit. Go home and spend only 10 minutes playing with it. If you stop before you are done, you’ll want to go back tomorrow and pick up where you left off.
- Grab a stack of magazines and cut out only orange things. Or only yellow things. Blue works too. Or just flowers or watches. Pick something and see what you can find and then make something out of what you’ve scavenged.
- Practice your off-season sport. Do you regularly make visual art? Try cross-stitch or cookie making for a while instead. Are you a writer? Try your hand a visual arts!
- Take a trip to the resale shop or used book store. See if you can find something that you can refashion in your work. Set a $5 limit.
- Ask someone whose work you admire to collaborate on a project together. Make a plan and then get to work. Swap by mail, it’s magical. Some of my favorite projects are collaborations. Seeing what someone else makes and adding to that is addictive. If you’ve never done it before, you need to try this one soon!
- Draw something abstract in your journal with your non-dominant hand. Make up a story to go with it. Jot your ideas down.
- Go to your recycle bin and get a cereal box or plastic container. What can you imagine making with it with supplies from around your house? Make it. Bonus points if what you make floats!
- Ask a kid for an idea or better yet, ask them to start something that you can then finish. Ask them to tell you the story behind it. Write it down so you can remember the roots of this collaboration. Don’t forget to ask your partner to sign it and offer them the original or make a copy if they want it.
- Look in your closet for an old shirt or an old piece of jewelry or even an old shoe. What can you do with it? Can you use paint or markers on it? Or take it apart and use it with another project?
- If you’ve never hand dyed anything, make a strong pot of tea or coffee and start dying things! Yarn, fabric, paper, ribbons. Try it out! You’ll have some new materials and they will smell great. I particularly like to dye scrapbook paper. It makes it unique and tones down brighter pieces.
- Take a walk around the block. While you are out, find a straightish stick between 12 and 18 inches long. Bring it home and turn it into a magic wand with the first 4 art supplies you find. I did this with kids as a birthday party favor one time and there’s a ton of power in having your own magic wand that you created.
- If you have a Gelli plate, get it out and make prints with only one stencil and 3 colors of paint. Try to change it up at least 10 times with just these supplies. If you don’t have a Gelli plate, you can reproduce this effect with a gallon zip lock bag and some water-soluble markers (Crayola or Tombow markers work great for this!). Tape your bag to your table. Scribble on it with markers, spritz it with water and then pull a print by putting a piece of paper on top of the marked-on bag and then gently peeling it off. Repeat!
- Take yourself on an artist’s date in nature. Go to a botanical garden or a park and find a shady spot to sit and observe. Look at the leaves and flowers. Listen to the birds. Feel the grass with your hands. Pick up a pebble or stone to take home with you. If you are a hiker, try a new trail.
- Call a friend on the phone and ask them to recount the dream they had last night. Illustrate a scene from the dream.
- Read something that’s been translated into your native language from another language. Take note of the descriptive language that’s different from what you usually hear in your home language. Poetry works great for this! Browse the library for poetry books and cookbooks. New words and new foods are invigorating.
- Grab a box of pasta out of your pantry. Grab some Elmer’s glue and make a picture with it like a child. Bonus points if you make a narwhal or a pangolin.
- Keep a visual idea book. Anytime you see a pattern or a color combo you love, nab it and paste it into one of the other 57 blank books you’ve been saving.
What are you making?
I want to see what you are making and what you are doing when you are stuck! Send me an email or tag me on social media. I really do want to see and admire your work. Use the hashtag #BustingCreativeBlockWithMisty
What are your questions?
Hopefully you’ve been reading along with my How to Create an Art Practice posts. What’s coming up for you? Are you feeling energized to start or are you sagging in the middle? Do you have questions that you are hoping I’ll answer in this series? Send me an email and let me know what you are looking for or wondering about.