What’s your creative block?

The Wave, 9X12, oil on archival canvasboard, $869, includes shipping in continental US.

A creative block is a mental roadblock. You feel stuck, uninspired, and have difficulty concentrating. Your creativity is halted or hindered, and nothing you create meets your standards. We all hit these roadblocks in the creative process.

What creative block do you struggle with?

For me, the worst causes of creative block are overwork, breaks in my routine, and pressing problems crowding out my painting time. But my worst obstacle is clutter. (My engineer husband says he isn’t bothered by it. Go figure.)

Coast Guard Inspection, oil on archival canvasboard, $435 framed includes shipping and handling in continental US.

Here are some other common causes of creative block:

  • Fear of failure, self-doubt and negative feedback (see Monday’s post for help);
  • Perfectionism, which is the enemy of good;
  • External stressors (including for some people, deadlines);
  • Monotony;
  • External distractions. From what many artists have told me, first among these are household chores.
https://www.watch-me-paint.com/product/american-eagle-in-dry-dock/American Eagle in Drydock, 12X16, $1159 unframed includes shipping and handling in continental US.

How do you overcome creative block?

I work at regularly-scheduled times (Monday-Friday). That quiets my squirrel brain, and helps me sink into the painting state more easily.

I also believe in rigorous daily exercise. It’s good for the psyche as well as the back. And for me, deadlines are energizing, at least until they’re too close. There’s a fine line between excitement and panic.

Others have found these ideas helpful:

  • Change up your environment. That’s one of the beauties of plein air; it’s never the same from day to day.
  • Take frequent breaks. Give your brain a chance to recharge. If nothing else, reading the news makes me eager to get back to my easel.
  • Do some creative work that isn’t directly related to your main discipline. That’s why I’m teaching a session on words and art in June, but anything that you enjoy will help. That includes reading, which is a fantastic spur to the imagination.
  • If deadlines panic you, set benchmarks. “Today I’m going to finish the grisaille and then I’ll reward myself with a cappuccino.” Recognizing your smaller accomplishments gives you a sense of momentum.
  • Put ten, and only ten, things away every morning. Five minutes of putting things away every morning stops me from sliding into a big housekeeping binge when I should be painting.
  • Peter Yesis and I both (coincidentally) spent a few years doing small warm-up exercises (fifteen or twenty minutes) before we painted. I no longer need them, but they helped me bridge the gap between real life and my studio during a long period in the creative desert.
Breaking Storm, oil on linen, 30X48, $5579 framed includes shipping and handling in continental US.

Some distractions can’t be ignored

There have been phases in my life (parenting, illness, grief) when my work slowed or even stilled. Yes, I believed at those times that I could never regain my momentum. However, here I am, and if you’re in one of those phases, you will too. It’s helpful to remember that life comes first, no matter what your discipline.

Creative blocks and interruptions are a natural part of life. Be patient with yourself.

I’m in Britain on another lovely, long, blister-inducing hike. I’ve turned my phone off and while I’m gone, Laura will be running the office. Just email me as usual if you have questions or problems registering for a class or workshop. (Who am I kidding? She fixes all that stuff anyway.)

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Monday Morning Art School: What’s your why?

Fog over Whiteface Mountain, 11X14, $1087 framed includes shipping and handling in continental US.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be asking you some big questions. They’re not rhetorical, I am genuinely interested in your answers. My first goal is to grow a community, instead of just an audience. My second is to know how I can better serve you as a teacher.

I recently listened to Start with why by the English motivational speaker Simon Sinek. I’m glad I did, despite my general skepticism about motivational speakers.

Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle, as rendered by me.

The simple image above is Sinek’s Golden Circle. The outer circle represents what a company does (its products or services). The middle circle represents how it does it (its unique selling proposition or process). The inner circle represents why it does it (its purpose, belief, or cause). Sinek argues that truly successful and influential organizations operate from the inside out, starting with why.

This is not a “because there’s a need” question. Rather, it starts with the passion of the founders, which filters down through its employers and ultimately its customers. He cites Apple as an example of a company built on why.

This is equally applicable to people. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. didn’t succeed because he was a southern black American preacher at the start of the civil rights movement; there were lots of fine southern black orators. But King held a deep personal belief about moral law, expressed in his 1963 I Have a Dream speech. It has since resonated with millions of people, black and white alike.

Winter lambing, oil on linen, 30X40, $5072 framed, includes shipping and handling in continental US.

Purpose and Inspiration

Our why is our motivation, inspiration, and purpose for creating art. We all have them, deeply felt, but it’s hard to express them, especially when they’re amorphous ideas like beauty and emotion. (That’s why social justice artist statements are so much more accessible. They’re not from those non-verbal nuts in our souls.)

For teachers and arts organizations, there’s an impulse to jump to committee-driven mission statements, complete with buzz terms like diversity and inclusion, emerging artists, or cultural heritage. But the why must punch from the gut.

How does this apply to me?

I generally tell prospective students, “I am going to teach you X,” when I should start by telling them that the serious discipline of art is important to their minds and souls. Our motivation to paint comes not from knowing technique, but from the underlying, deep conviction that drives us.

Articulating my core values poses a unique difficulty, since they are faith-based. Like many modern Christians, I’m sadly leery of sharing them in the public marketplace. But I do believe, like Dr. King, in a moral and natural order created by God. The Bible documents and encourages the expression of this through art. Bezalel the artist was mentioned in Exodus (meaning very early in recorded history). In addition to being the chief artisan of the tabernacle, he was also the first person to be “filled with the Spirit of God.”

I paint because I am in awe of the glory of creation. My paintings are a pale imitation of nature, and they’re also imbued with my feelings. That makes them less a reflection of nature than a reflection on nature.

I teach because I believe creativity is our birthright. We need to get rid of the idea that making art is self-indulgent or the special province of a few lucky people. Adult learners need to shed the idea that it’s too late for them to make great, meaningful art.

I write as a loudspeaker for the above two points.

The Logging Truck, oil on archival canvasboard, 16X20, $2029.00 framed includes shipping and handling in continental US.

What’s your why?

Why do you make art? Think about art? Read about art? These aren’t simple questions; it took me a long time to define my reasons, above. Please comment below or on the social media channel of your choice, or both. And thank you.

My 2024 workshops: