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Weekly Blog on creativity and what it takes to be an artist by David Limrite (artist, teacher, mentor & coach)

WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU GET STUCK (Part One)

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" What we need is more of the wonder of life, and less of this business of making a picture."
Robert Henri


So, you are fully engaged and involved in the process of drawing, painting, collaging, etc. Everything is humming along nicely. You are working hard and having fun. (After all, that is what it is all about. Right?) Everything is clicking. You and your brush are one.

And then it happens.

You step back from your work to take a look.

You look and look and look.

Nothing!

You haven't a clue what to do next.

All of a sudden the inspiration and motivation are gone.

You may panic, become frustrated, even angry. At who? At what? Your brush, your pencil, your paint, your subject matter, the music playing in the background, the temperature in your studio, the model, the teacher (if you are in a class), yourself, your artistic ability (or supposed lack thereof)?

There are a whole list of things that may cause us to become stuck and prevent us from knowing what to do next.

And you know what? It is not important that we find out the reason why. It doesn't matter. You can't control outside factors anyway. Getting stuck happens. It is an everyday part of being an artist.

So, don't waste your time trying to figure out what went wrong or why you don't know what to do next.

What is important, and what is within your control, is how you react to this situation, manage your thinking and what you choose to do next.

I can tell you that I usually get stuck on a piece when I am trying to force it into a direction that it does not want to go. I think I am creating a particular drawing or painting, and this particular drawing or painting has other plans. When this happens, the first thing I do is STOP! I take a short break, walk away, take a deep breath, walk outside, have a drink of water, etc.

I then return to the piece with an open mind and an open heart, and look at it again. Really look at it. I spend some time with it without a brush in my hand.

I then ask the only real question that there is to ask: "What does this particular piece need ?"

And then I listen.

"What does the work need?"  Not, "What do I want to do to this piece?"

It will tell you. Not in words, of course, but it will tell you: darker here, more red there, softer over hear, bolder over there.

Don't fight it. Don't force it. Engage in a partnership with the piece. Collaborate with it. Create with it, not against it. Slow down. Take your time. Really look at the piece and ask, "What do you need?"

If and when you become stuck, you must let go of the original motives and intentions that you had for the piece. You are not giving in or giving up. You are just re-routing your thinking in order to be able to work with the piece to create the best work that you can.

The worst thing you can do is give up and abandon the piece. It needs you. You need it. Don't ever give up on a piece. There is always something good to come from it. It may be challenging. But no matter what happens, it will be rewarding, regardless of whether the picture succeeds or not.

If you do end up with a successful picture, you will have a successful picture. Along with the satisfaction and renewed confidence that comes from managing your mind and your ability to create in the face of challenges. If the piece ends up unsatisfactory, despite all of your hard work and best efforts at mind management, you will have learned valuable information about yourself, about picture making and about what it means to be an artist.

Either way, when it is all said and done, you spent time creating and learning.

It doesn't get any better than that.

In WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU GET STUCK (Part Two), I will discuss and suggest some practical things you can try to help you when you don't know what to do next.