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
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!
I have decided to start posting my newsletter on my blog, since becoming a homeowner, rather than sending out individual emails to my mailing list. Anything that helps me to scale back is something I am embracing these days. This month’s newsletter features some pages from my sketchbook entitled, Draw Every Day, Draw Every Way, by Julia Orkin Lewis and my featured topic is making time for art.
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 Sorcerer’s 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, ALife 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 ofPublic 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
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?
Click on the following link (below) to read my latest Art of Schmidt Newsletter! This newsletter has some thoughts about my latest art project, 100 Faces in 100 Days, which is an “almost” drawing challenge which I have been participating in since June of this year, and some thoughts about what I learned from an Art Fair I recently participated in called Art Pops! at Everedy Square and Shab Row in Frederick, MD, organized and hosted by Leslie Ruby.
I’ve been working at a hectic pace these last two weeks preparing for a one-day art event called Art Pops! At Everedy Square and Shab Row in Frederick, MD. Last Saturday was the big day to kick off this event and hopefully make some new connections and sales of my art work. The weeks leading up to this event were jam packed with activity and tasks such as weekly social media marketing campaigns, packaging and pricing my art works for sale, creating an inventory list in Excel, researching how to create an art booth display on Pinterest, etc. And I learned a lot from this show, such as the importance of making in person connections with people to sell my art, how to read people, etc. In fact, I sold more art work in one day at the art show, then I did from months of posting about my art on Instagram, Facebook, and Etsy, and I am thankful for that. However, all of this activity really took a toll on my energy and motivation to create art.
In all the business of preparing for the art show, I have really struggled to make time to create new art work. I feel that I have reached the end of my creative resources and knowledge, tapped out, so to speak. It’s been several years since I took an art class, and I haven’t read any new art technique books in several months. And this state of affairs is not like me. I am usually restless when I am not making art or coming up with some new ideas for a series of paintings or drawings. The last few days since the show ended, I have made a concerted effort to at least draw one portrait a day for my drawing challenge which I started back in June called, 100 faces in 100 days. Some days I have made some decent portraits, other days I have really struggled or been disappointed with
The Artist at Art Pops! event
Frank Sinatra singing, As Times Goes By
Creative Block: Waiting ( with Gesso added). The composition was getting too cluttered so I decided to cover up the distracting elements with acrylic gesso.
the results. If you would like to follow my progress with this project, you can view my 100 faces in 100 days drawing challenge on Instagram. I am listed as jsjschmidt2 on Instagram, and I post almost every day. Pictured are some sketches from this week including Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant, Grace Kelly and Sean Connery.
The paintings I wanted to work on, however, are not coming together. Instead of posting the finished product as I had hoped to do this week, I have to take several steps back and ask myself what isn’t working with the composition, values, colors and the drawings in my art work. For example, in my Creative Block: Waiting, watercolor painting, I feel there are too many elements battling for precedence and not enough quiet spaces to allow the viewer to contemplate the scene. The composition feels cluttered and overwhelming and the message of creative block feels “lost” in the muddle. So yesterday, I painted over several spots in the painting with acrylic gesso. And the Civil War soldiers fared no better. So out with the gesso again. I am struggling with the drawing and the tonal values in these acrylic paintings. I have discovered that the acrylic paint dries much darker than it looks when I mix it up and put it on the brush, which is really throwing off the values. So I may re-do the painting in oils after the gesso has “cured.”
The paintings seem to be a type of metaphor for where my life is these days. Overstuffed and empty all at the same time. I feel I have lost the wonder I used to have about making art that keeps me motivated to get into the art studio ever week to see what new ideas I might “cook up.” Meanwhile, I am realizing that my workaholic tendencies are not conducive to making art work. I must create and seek “white space” to re-fill my creative tank, so that I have something to draw from when I go to make art work. Meanwhile, I will be be seeking out this “white space” in its various forms, whether it is taking a walk, journaling, going to an art gallery, reading an art technique book, etc., to try and regain my sense of wonder for life, and for making art.