What is Artist Block, first of all?
Feeling resistance to getting yourself in the studio. Or getting in there and making stuff but getting no traction, not feeling enthusiasm or inspiration. Feeling stuck, nothing is working.
It’s a pretty scary feeling, and sometimes you need to wait it out. Sometimes pushing only digs the hole of despair deeper. But usually there are fun things to do that can get your engine humming again. These are things that have worked for me:
find materials that you love
timed collage exercises
start a daily art journal practice
finish old work that is laying around
Find Materials You Love
For collage artists of many stripes, their found materials are the engine for their inspiration. Wether that is vintage magazines/catalogs/books/wallpaper, vintage ephemera, signage, album covers, current day magazines/catalogs/books, elements from an interesting process like gelli printing/mark-making/paint-effects, handmade papers, fabrics, etc.
For me, working with books was instantly interesting, and the treasure hunt of finding old books that I liked was super fun. Just sitting at the table, with these materials in front of me, begins to feed me ideas. So this is my strongest recommendation: work with materials that get you jazzed.
Timed Collage Exercises
This is a good warm-up practice for establishing a consistent art practice, or just getting going when you aren’t necessarily feeling it. It’s a great way to get out of your rational, slow, mind (where fear and doubt live) and into your subconscious, fast, mind. 6 minutes, 12 minutes, 18 minutes. Do one of each, each day for a week.
Consider this work as PRACTICE. You are just loosening up, like the timed exercise in life drawing classes. The goal is to raise your momentum, not make a masterpiece. We want to see what your intuitive mind is wanting to explore. At the end of the week look at your work. Do you like more time or less? Do you see a language emerging that you want to follow? Look for ways to make this FUN. Hint: use music.
Start A Daily Art Journal Practice
The times in my life where I kept and art journal are some of my happiest. Like times I was taking a drawing class so I was practicing drawing all the time. I have kept collage journals as well. These are a great place to get out of any hint of perfectionism— the rule is experiment! be fearless! no one is going to see this and experimenting is FUN. Plus, if you do this every day, even for only 20 minutes, after 30 days you will look back on a mountain of work. That’s encouraging. And by then this journaling will be a habit!
Finish Old Work That is Lying Around
Most of my work takes place on paper first. The ones that are headed somewhere get glued to a panel and finished. But I don’t really enjoy this finishing step so I put them in a pile. What I have found over time is that this can be a quiet means of self-discouragement to not take the work all the way to the finish.
So if I am not feeling very motivated in the studio, digging into this pile and getting the work gallery-ready can be a very positive step forward. It requires minimal creativity or decision making so its a nice way to relax a little too.
This is another good thing to do in the studio if you are feeling tired or a uninspired. Making art that is good takes energy, and most of that goes into decisions. Then you get decision-fatigue and you just don’t want to face all the uncertainty for today. If I just had to think of a new idea, no problem. Thats creative. If I have to think of an idea that WORKS, ie a shape/color/size/etc. that fits HERE, then things get very difficult, right?
But making elements is just about possibilities you might use later. You really don’t know what will really work down the road and you don’t need to; you are just creating a stash.
So if you are feeling tired, it’s a great time to pull out the gelli plate and experiment making papers. Or explore painting papers. I love to mix paint to get delicious color. Or maybe you want to make patterns like stripes or dots. Maybe you like watercolor effects, or mark-making with homemade brushes, or stitching paper with the sewing machine. Do this for your whole studio session and make a pile of elements to use in your work. It might be, for collage, just cutting shapes is enough. You have all these book covers, let’s say, and if you cut them into shapes, they become more potent and interesting. This will make the composition process easier and more imaginative.
Sometimes the issue is that you want to make a consistent body of work, and for this you need an idea that you do not yet have. It’s a little daunting to get started because you don’t want to pour a bunch of work into a bummer idea. Ambitions to “take your work to the next level”, while admirable, might end up creating a block in your process.
I have always been very inspired by the work of other artists. When I am looking to start a new phase of work, I look at Pinterest for work that I really like. This can be a deep process. Sometimes I have a real dialogue with myself, once I have assembled a bunch of pieces in my Inspiration folder, to identify what really grabs me and feels like something I want to work with. There is a ton of art I admire that in no way fits my process. I am looking for things that do. Do I want more drawing? more primitive shapes? more color? more monochrome? do I want to just work with typefaces? or just book fabric? is there a strictness I want to embrace? or a looseness? What is speaking to me now?
I would love to know what blocks you guys have experienced or ways you have pushed through them. Please leave a comment below!
Have a great week.