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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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Part 2: Famous Failures, J.K. Rowling, Addendum

 

 

Lincoln and J.K. Rowling are both Writers

 After writing last week’s blog post about famous failures and depression, in which I compared the experiences of the famous failures, Abraham Lincoln and J.K. Rowling, I realized that I had failed to document a source for the statement I had made about her depression. Citing sources is very important to me since I come from an academic background. So, this week I am writing an addendum to last week’s blog post with some citations and some quotes from J.K. Rowling about her experiences with depression, and how she overcame it. How I made this mistake, I don’t know, since I spent many weeks proofreading the post, but there it is. Perhaps it’s like tunnel vision, the closer you are to something, and the harder it is to get perspective about an issue.

 

In addition, I’d also like to discuss another link between J.K. Rowling and Abraham Lincoln that I had inadvertently missed, which was that they both are writers. Abraham Lincoln wrote poetry and speeches, and some of his most famous writings were The Gettysburg Address (presented in November 1863) at the Gettysburg battlefield, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and his House Divided Speech, given on June 6, 1858, at the Illinois republic convention in Springfield, Illinois.(Sources: “This Day in History,” 19 November, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, The History Channel,https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/lincolns-gettysburg-address, accessed on 05/17/18, and  “Lincoln’s House Divided Speech,” (1858), PBS.org, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4h2934.html, accessed on 05/17/18).

 

Likewise, J.K. Rowling is a fiction writer and the celebrated author of the Harry Potter book series. Rowling’s writing was a major factor in her recovery from depression, and I wonder, might she have been on to something? (Source: “How J.K. Rowling beat Depression,” Justin Bennett, How I Beat Depression, http://www.howibeatdepression.com/how-jk-rowling-beat-depression/, accessed on 05/17/18. It is possible that Lincoln also found relief in writing from his depressive thoughts.

 

For example, in an article by Joshua Wolf Shenk, “Lincoln’s Great Depression,” Shenk includes a poem that may have been written by Lincoln, though no definitive evidence exists, as the poem was unsigned. However, it seems likely that Lincoln might have written it because several characteristics of the poem are similar to Lincoln’s style with regard to “syntax and tone.” (Source: Joshua Wolf Shenk, “Lincoln’s Great Depression,” The Atlantic, October 2005 issue, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2005/10/lincolns-great-depression/304247/) In the poem, the unknown author wrote about depression and his/her intention to commit suicide, entitled, “The Suicide’s Soliloquy. (Source: ibid) The poem was published in The Sangamo Journal in 1838, which was a “four-page Whig newspaper in Springfield, Illinois”. (Source: ibid, and Joshua Wolf Shenk, “The Suicide Poem,” The New Yorker, June 14, 2004, Issuehttps://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2004/06/14/the-suicide-poem, accessed on 05/21/18,) Here is a quote from this poem:

 

“Here, where the lonely hooting owl
Sends forth his midnight moans,
Fierce wolves shall o’er my carcase growl,
Or buzzards pick my bones.

 

J.K. Rowling and Her Depression

 

Similarly, in her own words, Rowling described her experience with depression as follows: “Depression is the most unpleasant thing I have ever experienced…It is that absence of being able to envisage that you will ever be cheerful again. That very deadened feeling, which is so very different from feeling sad. Sad hurts but it’s a healthy feeling. It is a necessary thing to feel. Depression is very different.” (Source: Justin Bennett, “How J.K. Rowling Beat Depression,” May 15, 2012, http://www.howibeatdepression.com/how-jk-rowling-beat-depression, accessed on 15 May 2018.) In a similar way, Lincoln described is depression as untenable: “I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth.Whether I shall ever be better, I cannot tell; I awfully forebode I shall not. I must die or be better, it appears to me.” (Source: Abraham Lincoln Quotes about Depression, http://www.azquotes.com/author/8880-Abraham_Lincoln/tag/depression, accessed on 05/18/18, and also, “Lincoln’s Great Depression,” Joshua Wolf Shenk, The Atlantic, October 2005 issue, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2005/10/lincolns-great-depression/304247/, accessed on 05/18/18.

 

According to the writer, Justin Bennet, Rowling experienced a depressive episode, and suicidal thoughts following the break -up of her marriage to a Portuguese journalist that ended in two years. (Source: (Source: “How J.K. Rowling beat Depression,” Justin Bennett, How I Beat Depression, http://www.howibeatdepression.com/how-jk-rowling-beat-depression/, accessed on 05/17/18.)  At the time, of her divorce, she was living in Edinburgh, Scotland, with her small daughter, and a friend paid the security deposit on her apartment. (Source: CNN, “Harry Potter author: I Considered Suicide,” 2008, http://cnn.com/2008/SHOWBIZ?03/23/rowling.depressed/index.html, accessed on 15 5 2018.)  She was unemployed and living on welfare benefits to support herself and her daughter. (Source: ibid) Seeking medical assistance turned out to be her salvation, although the first Dr. she went to seek help, unfortunately, dismissed the severity of her depression. (Source: Bennett) However, her regular physician prescribed cognitive behavioral therapy to help her to overcome her depression. (Source: Fox News, “J.K. Rowling Considered Suicide while Suffering from Depression Before Writing ‘Harry Potter,’ www.foxnews.com/2008/03/23/jk-rowling-considered-suicide-while-suffering-from-depression-before-writing.html).  She was caught in “fearful cycles of rumination and doubt,” as she started writing her series of Harry Potter books, which she had originally “conceived” in 1990, while she rode on a train. (Source: Bennet, 2012). Her first Harry Potter book was published in 1996 and was titled, The Sorcerers Stone. (Source: CNN)  And in fact, one of the characters described in her book called “Dementors,” were “hooded monsters,” that were symbolic of her depression, helped her to express her feelings about depression in a constructive way. (Source: Justin Bennet).

 

How Writing the Harry Potter Series Helped J.K. Rowling to Cope

In her depressed state, she thought that she had “nothing to lose,” by writing these books and that the worst that could happen would be rejection from “every major publisher in the UK.” (Source: ibid).

She turned writing into a daily discipline, and it became an outlet to help her overcome her depression, and the structure that this routine created provided her with stability during a very unstable stage in her life. (Source: ibid) It also helped her to stop worrying as she focused on creating plotlines and character descriptions for her Harry Potter books. (Source: ibid)

Is there Therapeutic Value in the Arts to help treat Depression or other forms of Mental Illness?

Could there be therapeutic value in immersing oneself in the arts, whether it is writing, music, fine arts, or creative movements, such as dance or sports? As for myself, I have found comfort in using drawing and painting as an outlet to express my feelings of grief, sadness, and anxiety. For example, in 2011, I started a painting series to document my father’s life, which I entitled, A Life Remembered. This painting series was based on black and white photos, which I used as inspiration for oil portraits of my father and the people and places he encountered during his lifetime. Similarly, J.K. Rowling found a daily writing practice to be of assistance to her in fighting her depression. (Source: “J.K. Rowling How to Deal with Failure,” Medium.com, https://medium.com/personal-growth/j-k-rowling-how-to-deal-with-failure-ff8c7cb0048, accessed on 05/17/18). Might Lincoln have also found solace in writing as an outlet for his feelings as well, while he was struggling with depression? I’m not sure of the answer, but all these questions are definitely food for thought.  Could it be that creative expression has the potential to be advantageous to everyone, whether you consider yourself “talented” in a specific discipline or not? Maybe art for art’s sake is valid, even if your art is not award winning.

 

According to the authors, Stuckey and Nobel, (2010), there is evidence-based research which suggests that these four creative domains: visual arts, music, expressive writing and dance/creative movement, there is a positive and beneficial relationship to health and well being. (Source: Heather L. Stuckey, and Jeremy Nobel, “The Connection between Art, Healing and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature,” US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, American Journal of Public Health,, 2010 February, volume 100 , issue (2):, pages 254-263 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2804629/. Accessed on 05/18/18).

 

These authors examined the current understanding between “art and healing,” by studying various research and literature which documents this connection (Source: ibid) The goal of their literature review and research was to focus on the time period between 1995-2007 and to evaluate “the state of peer-reviewed research on art and healing.” (Source: ibid)  They also sought to offer a concise summary of “both qualitative and quantitative research methods and results,” and to provide a description of all the main “categories of creative expression,” which have surfaced as enrichment to the

JK Rowling, flat
J.K. Rowling, Conte crayon on pastel paper, Jodie Schmidt, 2018. Photo reference source: Wikimedia Commons,JK Rowling reads from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, at the Easter Egg Roll, at the White House, Daniel Ogren, 5 April 2010, photograph.
Lincoln Portrait in Pastel, flat
Abraham Lincoln, Conte crayon on pastel paper, Jodie Schmidt, 2018. Photo reference source: Wikipedia, Alexander Gardner, November 8, 1863, matte collodion print.

quality of life. (Source: ibid). The result of their research indicates that “in all four areas of creative expression,” significant indications pointed to a trend that showed that participation in the arts for enrichment’s sake has statically significant beneficial “effects on health.”(Source: ibid)  However, the authors offer the caveat that there are limits to “many of the studies included in our review,” and it is therefore not possible to make generalizations about the relationship between the therapeutic benefits of engagements with the arts and one’s health. (Source: ibid)  In addition, the authors also admit that their “sample of studies is not exhaustive, and other research has been added to the literature since our review was conducted.” (Source: ibid).

 

In conclusion, it;’s an interesting study nonetheless, despite its limitations, and it confirms my supposition that there could be a positive correlation between the arts and well being. I wonder if somewhere inside of ourselves, we really do know what is good for us, and just need to listen to that instinct more. What about you? Have the arts helped you get through difficult times or brought enrichment to your life?

 

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What to Do When Your Painting Goes Terribly Wrong

If you are a creative type or if you like to make things, you have probably encountered the moment when the finished product you imagined, does not live up to your expectations. As an artist, I have experienced this frustration more times than I can count. Some paintings and drawings are simply learning projects and are difficult to salvage, while others can be fixed. I know it’s been said that you learn more from your mistakes than your successes, but when I get to a point in a painting or drawing and I realize that the painting or drawing doesn’t look right, it can be really frustrating. I start doubting myself; feel like giving up, or doing something that I am not good at, like cooking or cleaning.  Since I know I am not a good cook, if it doesn’t turn out so well, it’s a waste of ingredients but I don’t feel as emotionally attached to the outcome as I would to a painting or drawing.

I recently read a forum question on the website, www.

photo collage, pregnancy, desert, eye, dress forms, seeds, woman, process, artist's block.
Here is a photo collage I made in Adobe Photoshop which I made by combining various photographs in the Photoshop program. I wanted to illustrate the feeling of artists’ block, which can feel like a time of dormancy. I plan to translate this collage into a watercolor painting soon.
Waiting small
My first version of this painting was made with sepia brown watercolor paints. I’m not sure I like this color and the composition feels too busy.
Portrait Collage
Creative Block: Waiting ( with Gesso added). The composition was getting too cluttered so I decided to cover up the distracting elements with acrylic gesso.
Creative block, with color
I painted out the brown watercolor paint to try and make the image more interesting with a limited color palette of yellow orange, red orange, blue, green, peach and blue violet. Still a little too busy with the composition.
Portrait collage
Here is the revision I made after painting out the busier composition with acrylic gesso. I also decided to limit the color palette to turquoise, red-orange, yellow-orange, blue- violet and muted green, with some additions of brown, black and white. I used a soft pastel to draw in the composition after the acrylic paint had dried.
Portrait collage
This is my most up to date version of the acrylic painting, Waiting: Creative Block. Here I have begun painting in the new compositional elements to add depth to the desert landscape, including sand dunes and distant mountains. I also painted in the flesh tones and shadow colors on the figure. A few more details and I hope to be finished with the painting soon!

Wet Canvas.com and the question of the day was,” When should I stop working on a painting?” I was intrigued by the question and wondered how other artists dealt with paintings that don’t go according to plan. I read about a variety of solutions suggested by artists who had hit the wall creatively. Some remedies were familiar to me, like my tendency to put the painting away and stop looking at it for a few days, weeks, months, or even longer. On the other hand, some solutions were not as familiar, such as displaying the painting on an easel in a living room and then taking time to look at it from time to time to diagnose the problem. A favorite technique of mine is to write a list of things I want to change in the painting, be it the drawing, colors, value, edges, etc.  In my case, some of the art work I have abandoned was started about two years ago, and I am just now starting to look at the sketches and Photoshop files.

This week I took some time to work some more on my acrylic painting, Waiting: Creative Block. I realized that there were several things bothering me about it. The composition was one of the biggest glaring errors I noted in this painting. First, I started with revising the composition in Photoshop, taking out some photos while adding others, to try and simplify the painting.  After that, I wrote a written critique and consulted a landscape painting art book, entitled, Paint Landscapes in Acrylic, by Lee Hammond, to search for tutorials on painting skies. Next, I watched a You Tube art tutorial, titled, How to Paint a Desert Tree, Acrylic Painting Lesson, by Schaeffer Art.  My next step was to begin painting out the busier parts of the composition with gesso. After the first two layers of gesso had dried, I started drawing the new composition in with a white Rembrandt soft pastel, using the photo references I had collected to draw in the distant mountains, sand dunes, and sun. My final step was to look in my portrait painting book by Chris Saper, Classic Portrait Painting in Oils, from which I took inspiration for the figure in my painting. I have included the various stages of this painting from the start to my latest revisions on it this week. Thanks for stopping by!

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Inspiration: The Creative Process

For me, finding inspiration for my art work can be like chasing after the wind sometimes, or perhaps like banging my head against a brick wall, ad infinitum. While some people would describe inspiration as an aha moment, that seemingly comes out of nowhere, I believe it is more likely to be the result of a lengthy process of actively seeking new ideas, art techniques, or studying the art work of others, or simply a reaction or interpretation of our everyday surroundings or even our pasts that can ignite the spark of inspiration. Once brought to mind, it may seem sudden, but it really isn’t.

To try and stem the tide of artist’s block and the inertia that inevitably follows; I need to take the time to fill my creative tank by purposefully seeking inspiration in whatever form it may take. According to the Brittish periodical, The Guardian, one artist, Isaac Julien, described his “magpie approach” to seeking out new ideas. For example, he states that he is always actively seeking new fodder, from his immediate surroundings, such as people watching, viewing

Childhood memories revised
After reading the article about inspiration by William R. Beebe, I was reminded of a photo collage I created in Adobe Photoshop last summer, in which I illustrated the feeling of nostalgia. Pictured is my older self, looking back at the child version of me, with my loyal St. Bernard dog, Barney. Maybe this digital photo collage might become a more finished work sometime in the near future!

films, reading books, and even culling subject matter from conversations he is having with others. Source: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2012/jan/02/top-artists-creative-inspiration.  Another artist, William R. Beebe, suggests that artists should visit art galleries to ignite their imaginations. In fact, in the article he wrote, Finding Inspiration in Art, he shares how a visit to the Muscarelle Museum at the College of William and Mary,  led him to create a series of impressionistic landscapes of the Virginia Area. Source: http://emptyeasel.com/2012/02/16/finding-inspiration-in-art/.

 

Meanwhile, I am going to try taking Mr. Bebe’s advice and either make a trip to an art gallery or to visit a gallery “virtually” online, to see if I can regain new energy and creativity for a painting or drawing.