A new video! This one with no drawing or painting… just talking!
I’ll be honest: this was a slightly horrifying realization. I’ve gotten through school/life by sleeping late in the day and staying up late into the night. Writing, drawing, reading, or video gaming well past midnight and then sleeping until lunchtime: that’s always been my ideal day. But in the last few months… that just doesn’t work. Continue reading “Maybe I’m a Morning Person”
Taking little steps has never been a strength of mine. I’m a brainstorming, big picture, grand scheme type of gal. I prefer to immediately leap into action rather than plan or inch forward. When I approach a new project, I love developing the brand and marketing approach… actually developing content behind the scenes? Much less glamorous. Not enough of the ol’ razzle dazzle.
When an artist sits down to work, one of the worst feelings is a “creative block.” That oppressive moment where you have too many ideas (or too few), not enough energy, not enough time, no motivation, no inspiration, or perhaps a mixture of all of the above. You sit at your desk or easel, and nothing happens. In many cases, we can’t even pinpoint the cause of the “blankness” that we feel: artists love their art, so why doesn’t it just work every time?
Many other creatives suggest solutions such as taking a break and going for a walk, or reading, or listening to music. Others suggest simply working right through the block, to keep drawing until you finally feel like it. Personally I have found all of these suggestions to be helpful at some point or another: it’s a matter of knowing which solution is going to work when. But in order to know that, we have to ask a bigger question: is your creative block a matter of burn-out or being out of shape? Below are some questions I ask myself when I’m having trouble with my creative work.*
What’s your recent work history look like?
- Have you just finished a major project (or put a lot of effort into one)? If you’ve been giving 110% for a while, you’re probably facing a certain amount of burn-out and you need a break. Also, if you’ve faced some challenging feedback or results from a project, or you’ve been working on a high-stakes project with intense pressure, your mind has been going at full-throttle and it’s probably time to rest and recharge.
- Have you done little to no creative work recently? Doing creative work is like riding a bike: you know the basics and you can always get back on, but a marathon is going to take preparation and conditioning. If it’s been a while since you put in some serious effort for your creative outlet, you’re going to feel out of shape and stretched for a while until you develop the mental muscles required. This is a time to muscle right through the block.
Too many ideas or too few?
- Are there just too many ideas to sift through? Too much inspiration can be paralyzing. It’s like being in a maze: there are so many twists and turns, and you feel the pressure of needing to make THE right decision on your first try. While all those ideas are bouncing around in your head, it’s almost impossible to know which ones actually have potential, and which ones are simply mental clutter that you don’t need. The important thing is to not keep them in your head. Write them down, sketch them out. Ideas that actually hold some merit will keep evolving if you give them some credence; ideas that don’t have any substance will eventually fizzle out. Think of it like scouting. You have to see the ideas in action before dismissing (or accepting) any of them.
- Are you genuinely out of ideas? First of all, it’s important to understand that no artist creates in a black a hole. Personally, I don’t think inspiration is an invention of the artist: I believe it’s the successful intersection of an artist’s response to an experience, and their need to share that response with the world. So when your well seems dry and you have no inspiration, it doesn’t mean all is lost: it simply means that it’s time to a) experience something new, b) pay attention to your response to the experience, and/or c) find the best way to share your response with others. In other words, you either need to try something new, take note of your response, or think about who else needs to hear your response.
Is it time to adjust course, or time to turn around?
- Is there something you’re working on that just lost the magic? With long-term projects, there’s always the risk of losing that initial feeling of excitement and motivation. For me, sitting down to ink page 24 of comic-in-progress didn’t feel nearly as thrilling as page 1. At this point, it’s important to review the goals you set at the beginning of the process. In my case, my goal was to simply finish a comic and get it printed. Even if I feel no love for page 24, it’s still possible for me to acheive my objective. I re-evaluate my priorities and move on.
- Do you need to abandon a project and start afresh? If you’ve put in hours and effort, it can be hard to admit you’re on the wrong path altogether. Maybe your initial burst of motivation gradually fizzled away, and you realize that your goal was impossible/too vague to actually ever be completed. With many of my own personal projects, my goals were generally something like “To share a story of blah blah blah.” That’s a nice mission statement, but goals need to be concrete, with a specific time table and list of tasks. If you realize that a project doesn’t have any definition, it may be time to go back to the beginning and figure out what your goal is.
Creative block is a crazy thing, with many factors and causes. Being physically or emotionally drained can affect it, as well as inspiration, external pressure, and internal expectations. But in my experience, creative block rarely comes out of nowhere. If you can find the source of your block, it becomes easier to counteract it and get on with your creative life.
How do you deal with creative block?
“Throwback Thursday” is always a fun exercise for me. Looking back at my old work is a chance to boost my confidence in my now work, while also reminding me of why I make art in the first place. In general, my current work is technically strong, confident, and effective. But my older work always has a more organic, natural kind of honesty, something that I gradually lost in my pursuit of “perfect.” As part of losing my honesty, I also lost something I didn’t know I needed: a sense of humor.
In particular this week, I’ve been looking at an old 12-page comic I drew with Sharpie pens/markers. I don’t even have the originals, but I found scanned copies on my computer. This comic was titled after the main character, Dirk Gable, and is still probably the weirdest fluke of my entire artistic career. It stemmed from the idea of making the Bourne series into a rom-com…that was it. The guy is a highly-skilled assassin who accidentally breaks into the wrong apartment and starts a friendship with the single mom and her son who live there. It’s the classic “Oh excuse me” moment, with just a touch of Mr. Bourne.
I had the idea, and I literally went straight to drawing with pens (no sketching/studies), which made for some pretty painful illustrations. But I posted it on deviantART anyway, and was stunned by the positive response. Dirk had an immediate fan club unlike anything I’d ever posted. At a time when I’d barely been commissioned for anything, I even sold a print of a Dirk sketch. For a newbie just developing the courage to post work, this was HUGE. I was thrilled!
Fast-forward several years…
I never really pursued Dirk beyond the 12 page short story. It was “just to be funny”, and I wanted to do serious comics. Not funny ones. SERIOUS. I began writing comics that dealt with the suffering of humanity, greater morality, and a general commentary on… existence… You know, deep things. SERIOUZ COMIC STUFF. I wanted people to read my comics and say, “Such wise! Much smart!” I pretty much smothered my sense of humor in an ocean of ethics, rhetoric, and visions of intellectual grandeur. But re-reading my 12-page Bourne/rom-com this morning reminded me of just how much I love comedy and humor. Instead of reaching my audience with laughs and smiles, I’ve been trying to reach them with grim “essays.”
Interestingly, I never had immediate success like that again either. I’ve gradually built up a larger following than I’ve ever had, but nothing I’ve written or drawn has had the same spontaneous burst of love that Dirk had. Did I just post at the right time of day? Used the right tags? Maybe. Or maybe laughs draw a bigger audience than the laboriously deep musings of a 20-Something.
I miss humor, to be honest. It comes more easily to me, and it’s less stressful to plan and write. Finding Dirk late last night was a great reminder that you don’t have to be serious to write or draw something great. Sometimes a giggle is the best way to win a reader (or author) over.
It’s Wednesday, which means we’re half-way through the week! Wednesday is also a good time to look back at the first couple of days and reflect on what we’d like to do differently before the week is over.
For me, I constantly need to evaluate how productive I actually am, and compare it to how productive I want to be. I’m very susceptible to the Monday resolution fervor which (much like New Year’s resolutions) fills me with an all-too-brief burst of determination that quickly fizzles into almost nothing. Using Wednesday as a checkpoint helps me adjust, correct, and continue on my merry way!
Here are 3 questions I ask myself to see if I’m on the right track:
- Do I have deadlines to meet?
I work extremely well under pressure (probably better than I do without it.) Deadlines give me a bit of an adrenaline rush that motivates (scares?) me into action. This rush tends to carry over into non-deadline tasks, giving me the motivation and determination to carry on. Give yourself some deadlines, and find a partner to hold you accountable!
- Do I feel regret?
Probably connected to my love of ‘pressure’, I work hard to avoid regret than I do to earn reward. If I fail to earn a good thing, I can easily shrug and say “oh well, maybe next time”, whereas the fear of something negative happening (regret, frustration, etc) is harder to ignore. There’s no need to go overboard and terrorize yourself, but keep the consequences in mind as well as the benefits.
- Have I pursued my personal goals?
In the busy day-to-day business of client work, professional development, a day job, and basic living-ness, it’s easy to feel like I don’t have time for personal projects. At the same time, however, setting aside time to work on my own goals helps me feel less like I’m simply drudging through the week and more like I’m actually making progress. Setting aside time for yourself gives meaning to the rest of your day!
How is your week going? More importantly: how do you want the rest of your week to go?
I have a lot of issues as an artist. The usual suspects of course, for anyone trying something that demands skill, dedication, connections, and (at least some) blind faith… Am I really able to do this? Do I deserve success? Do I have any proof that this is a good idea? Why bother?
It more or less boils down to being accepting of failure (“I’m only human/I’m a newbie”) and suspicious of success (“It was probably luck/they’re my family, they have to say that.”) With the exception of a few, this is the general mentality for a lot of creatives. Failure is natural, success is a fluke. If you’re anything like me, you’re nodding (which I’m doing as I type) and saying, “Yep. True story.”
I recently watched “After Earth”, the Will Smith movie directed by M. Night Shyamalan. In the film, there are monsters that can only “see” humans when the humans feel fear. Smith’s character explains to his son that “Fear is an illusion.” He clarifies that danger is very real, but fear is a choice. Fear is making a choice based on something that hasn’t happened (and may never happen) and Smith describes it as borderline insanity.
That particular part of the movie made me think about those questions that come into my head when I’m doubting my life choices (especially concerning art and writing.) There are days where my lack of confidence keep me from putting art out into the world. There are days when fear of failure definitely keeps me from even trying. Like in “After Earth”, I feel paralyzed with “what ifs” and “flight not fight” instincts. And just like in the movie, those fears only make the danger more real.
This is called being set up to fail. You and me, we’re spending our days assuming our plans won’t work. If we assume that failure is probable, then we don’t try (or don’t try as hard.) In a weird way, it’s like the line from Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol: If we’re going to die, then we’d better do it, and decrease the surplus population! Yeah, I’m using both sci-fi and classical references to make my point.
And my point is this: as artists, we’re choosing to be afraid and run for cover, simply because of something we imagined. Ironically, that imaginary threat is most likely based on a history of giving up and not trying (at least it is for me.) But the real danger isn’t that we might not get the job, the client, the success, the fame, the money or whatever; the real danger is that we might not even put pencil to paper. We might not put stylus to tablet, brush to canvas, fingers to keyboard. The real danger isn’t that we might not succeed; it’s that we might not even try. Simply buckling down and doing is more than half the battle. Everything else comes later.