One of my artist friends asked me what do I personally do when I find myself stuck in a creative rut. What great timing Riaan! I was in one of those periods recently. Not the first time and it will not be the last either. Every artist gets into the creative rut at times. The good news is that these ruts are necessary. They are a call to up your game.
The artist's rut has many causes. Perhaps the most common are:
You may recognise the feeling of being in a rut when you approach painting without that old fizz. That state of happiness that starts quietly and builds up to being blissfully in the moment. Time stands still and you are doing the work. When these qualities are missing it can be depressing. Are you losing your touch? Have you reached the bottom of your talent quota? No you are fine. You are ready for the next step up.
The typical issues for me are related to subject and technique. Sounds mundane enough. Just change them and you are okay. Not so quick. Getting to this point of recognising the problem, resolving to change something and acting upon it is not simple. It takes energy and discipline. You have to give yourself the proverbial kick in the pants. Make you bargains with the painting gods and get your energy flowing.
Here are a few techniques that help:
Get outside and take a walk. If this is possible for you then make it good. Walk with purpose and vigour. See your surroundings like an artist. Look for shapes, values. Breathe in deeply. Breathe out the frustrations.
If you cannot take a walk then any form of exercise that raises your breathing and heart rate will have good effect. Energy flows from action.
If you have an idea then go with it. Draw it out in simple form. Then put it aside. Let it develop in your mind for a while.
While the energy is starting to kick in I like to stoke the fire a bit more by going through preparations. Hands on tasks like preparing painting panels. Cutting canvas. Priming. I line up the panels and will prime ten or more. Get out a canvas and underpaint it. I am not going to start a painting at this point even if I am tempted to. I tell myself the best is still to come. The breakthrough moment will be tomorrow, but I will be prepared.
Come the morning and I am painting with purpose. Music on. Big brush. Big shapes. Once that canvas has the blocking in completed I start another and block it in too. This is all about action and bold movement. I do not want to get stuck on middle and end stages. I know I will be ready for those later in the day or the next day.
On the issue of subject and technique. Change something. Just do it and go with it. If you have been painting landscapes then paint a portrait. Use big brushes and paint in broad planes to sculpt the face. Loose and free. Those same broad strokes will be used in your next landscape. Change colours. Paint an entire painting using tones of burnt sienna for example. If I like what I see I may add more colour over the monotone and the painting will go in another direction.
I am out of the rut and it has made me stronger. That is what ruts are good for. The most important point is always to get moving. Hustle yourself along. If you sit in one spot you stay at the bottom of the rut. Do the work.
Do you have tips for getting out of the rut? Share them by leaving a comment.
Malcolm Dewey: Artist. Country: South Africa