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Surviving and Thriving in a Creative Desert

Things I have tried to do to get creative again

As I mentioned in last week’s post, I have been struggling with artist’s block this summer. During this journey, I’ve tried various things to break out of it, such as: copying art demonstrations from art technique books, re-touching/re-working old paintings, and working in a prompt driven sketchbook. Unfortunately, the later project hasn’t been working out so great lately. I’ve been procrastinating on doing the daily prompts, and have felt uncertain as to which mediums to work in for the sketchbook pages, should it be watercolor, colored pencil, acrylic, gouache or something else that I use? I have been unhappy with the colored pencils because they take so long to build up color and tone and I want to get some momentum and finish the nature section so I can keep moving along. It’s also difficult to correct mistakes with this medium, and I am finding that a lot of my prompts are not living up to my expectations. All of which keeps me stuck in neutral, and not making new work consistently.

Some insights I have gained about my artist’s block

Maybe it’s also the heat of the summer, which seems extraordinarily hot, even for Maryland. Or perhaps it’s the dislocation I feel in adjusting to a new house, guilt (genuine or otherwise, about abandoning household chores to make time for art), or something else entirely. Whatever the cause, I want to come up with some solutions so I can move forward and make more art, and hopefully at least some of the pieces will turn out the way I envision or will be at least good enough to post on social media. This year there’s been a mix of both good paintings and some not so good paintings. The paintings I’m not happy with might get thrown out, or sanded and re-worked, depending on the state of the canvases. I feel dry and uninspired, and I feel I have reached the limit of my skill set in art. In fact, I feel I need more fuel for my creativity and knowledge base.

Tips for breaking through a creative block

While I am pondering these thoughts, I’d like to share some tips I picked up from an article, “How to Survive a Creative Slump,” by Our Daily Craft, on http://www.ourdailycraft.com/2017/02/21/survive-creative-slump, by Sarah White, February 21, 2017. A few suggestions that the author offers include: 1.) starting with a small creative project, 2.) working quickly, 3.) reading a book you enjoy, and 4.) organizing or cleaning something in your home.  For instance, the author suggested a few small projects to help jumpstart your creativity such as 1.) “sewing a cloth napkin,” 2.) “knitting a headband,” 3.) Paint on a 4 x 4-inch surface, or “writing a haiku.” (Source: ibid)  Since I am not particularly good at crafts or anything DIY, which I learned after re-finishing some furniture and all of my kitchen cabinets in my new home, I have settled on painting a 4 x 4-inch canvas of Canada Geese. I re-worked this miniature canvas in oil paints about a week ago, and I am fairly happy with the result. Another suggestion that the author makes is to re-visit old projects that you had left unfinished. (Source: ibid)  I certainly have a pile of unfinished works-such as unfinished drawings, pastels, and pages in my sketchbook where things just didn’t come together. Perhaps it would be a good problem-solving exercise to utilize my creativity.

In addition, the author also discussed making something quickly-which I’m not sure I would do

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This quote was obtained from the internet via a Google search, and no copyright infringement is intended.
Canada Goose trio,flat
Canada Geese Trio, oil on canvas, 4 x 4 inches, 2018, Jodie Schmidt.
Koi fish painting, flat
Koi Fish Group, acrylic on canvas, 5 x 7 inches, 2018, Jodie Schmidt. This is the first stage of this painting.
Koi group, flat
Koi Fish Group, acrylic on canvas, 5 x 7 inches, 2018, Jodie Schmidt. And this is the completed acrylic painting! 
Koi fish portrait, flat
Koi Fish portrait, acrylic, 4 x 6 inches, 2018, Jodie Schmidt. Pictured is stage 1 of this acrylic painting.
works in progress, flat
Here are some small value paintings of water lilies and a blank canvas. I’m not sure what the subject might be for this one yet.
small value paintings, flat
Close up of the water lily paintings in progress.
nature sketches 1, flat
Pictured is stage 1 of my dandelion sketches in colored pencil and pastel. I wasn’t happy with how these turned out, so I re-worked them in two subsequent stages, pictured here. These drawings are from my Julia Orkin-Lewis Sketchbook, Draw Every Day, Draw Every Way. 
Nature sketches, 2, flat
My first step to re-work these paintings was to cover up the areas I didn’t like with gesso and let it dry so I could re-paint with acrylic. I learned that colored pencil is really hard to get rid of if you make a mistake.
dandelions sketchbook flat
And my final two steps were to add another layer of gesso after the first layer had dried. Afterward, I re-painted the offending areas with Liquitex acrylic paint. However, I’m still not sure if I am happy with these sketches, but I don’t want to get stuck on them either. They are, after all, supposed to serve as ideas for completed future paintings.

since most of the problems I have had with my art have been poor planning. Another problem which leads to unsatisfactory art for me is not spending enough time checking the accuracy of the drawing, as unfortunately happened with my latest portrait of Lincoln, which I decided to re-work and re-draw with oil paints. Needless to say, it didn’t turn out that well. Maybe if I were an abstract painter I could get away with a more intuitive approach to painting, than a more structured one with specific steps, but I am not. Since I am a more traditional painter, I am sticking with what works for me, which is starting with a drawing, adding three values in pencil to the sketch, and then making a colored sketch to base the final painting upon. Unfortunately, the more I tried to fix the drawing, the worse it got. In the end, I finally decided to abandon it, and start with a new sketch on a totally different substrate on a larger scale. It hasn’t become a painting yet, but I think I identified some drawing errors in the painting, by making a new sketch.

However, one thing I do want to try is to read a novel, article, or poem, to try and get some new ideas flowing. Some of my best works have been inspired by the poetry of Dickinson and Frost. Maybe reading literature will also help me to become a better writer and get me out o this writer’s block I seem to be assailed with lately. How about you? Do you have any suggestions for breaking out of a creative rut? I’d love to hear! Just post in the comments section of this blog. Thanks for stopping by!

 

 

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What is the Creative Process?

I am writing about the creative process this week in an attempt to provide a behind the scenes view of what it takes for me to bring an idea to a realized concept and finally a completed painting or drawing.  My inspiration for this blog post comes from an article by Amanda Truscott, entitled, This is What Creative Inspiration Really Looks Like, on www.skinnyartist.com.  I believe inspiration, or what the Greeks termed, “the Muse” is something which must be sought after in order to be found. Although it may seem to be a sudden insight, in my experience, it is not an isolated light bulb moment. Sometimes, indeed often, bringing my artistic visions to life it is the result of a hard-won battle of trying out different ideas in sketches, paintings, etc., to test out a compositional idea or a color scheme. Sometimes these ideas work, and sometimes they don’t and I need to make more revisions to the color schemes, composition, etc., to make it a successful artwork. Other times, I have to start over the painting from scratch.

For example, in my ongoing poetry illustration series, Voices and Visions, it has been a combination of hunting for inspiring poems to illustrate; these poems need to have some visual imagery and themes that lend themselves to storytelling, in order for me to consider them as potential candidates. So far, I have found a few poems written by Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, and T.S. Eliot, whose works have several identifiable themes such as hope, time, and the artificiality of modern life. After reading the poems, I researched literary criticisms to identify possible themes that seem to suggest a story or feeling which I  translated visually through specific symbols or color schemes. I followed up these steps by looking for artwork by artists whose artwork has a narrative theme, such as Jacob Lawrence, Faith Ringgold, and Andrew Wyeth. When I found artwork that inspires, I pasted it into a sketchbook for future reference. Finally, after these steps have been completed, I created a photo collage in Adobe Photoshop of found images that I locate online and modify in Photoshop by creating several layers and layer masks. When I was pleased with the composition in my Photoshop files, I printed them out to scale, and then traced them onto my substrate of choice using carbon paper and pen, usually to cotton duck canvas or cold press watercolor paper. The painting is then completed in watercolor paints or acrylic or mixed media. Finally, I worked on the painting for 1-2 weeks, making revisions as I painted.

In addition, the backbone of the creative process for me is always the deliberate practice of the fundamentals of art, such as drawing or painting, so that when I finally find that intersection between deliberate practice and purposeful searching for inspiration, everything clicks. Although this process may seem instantaneous to others who were not there to watch the process, or read my blog posts, it is a painstaking process. It is not simply talent which I was born with that brings my visions and goals to life, it is a decision followed by a series of actions. It takes willpower and self-discipline to practice drawing and painting every week, and to continually seek out artistic inspiration through Pinterest searches, reading art books, watching documentaries about artists on youtube, reading poetry books, literary criticism, creating inspiration sketchbooks, etc. Moreover, it takes grit and determination to stick with a painting even when it goes wrong, and to figure out what went wrong so that I can critique the artwork

and decide what strategy to pursue to make the artwork sing.