Saturday, April 11, 2020

Should You Wait for Inspiration?

Do you have to be inspired and in the mood to do good work? Howard Pyle didn't think so. "That is all nonsense," he said. "I frequently have to force myself to make a start in the morning; but after a short while I find I can work. Only hard and regular work will bring success."

I can identify with what he's saying. There have been days when I had to drag myself to the easel and force my hand to move the brush around. Inspiration comes most often when I actually show up and work on a problem.

Durer's Melancholia. "It's ironic," observes the Metropolitan Museum,
"that this image of the artist paralyzed and powerless exemplifies
Dürer's own artistic power at its superlative height."
But there have been times that I've felt blocked from working because I eventually realize that something is wrong in the way I'm thinking. No amount of sitting at the easel and forcing myself to paint will solve the problem. In other words, if I don't feel in the mood, sometimes it's because I'm approaching my artwork in the wrong way or I'm trying to do a finished painting without having done the necessary preliminary work.

That's why it's so important to do these three things:

  • 1. If possible, set up a different workstation for writing or sketching. Or literally wear a different hat and pretend you've hired a specialist to help you with the part of the process that stymied you.
  • 2. Have a step-by-step process or a trusted workflow that you can plug yourself into. For me, that means doing thumbnail sketches, planning tonal studies, doing a perspective drawing, gathering photo reference, etc. 
  • 3. At the end of the workday, finish up so that you leave yourself something fun and easy to do when you start up the next session. Then, when you arrive at work the next morning feeling sleepy and uninspired, you've got something you can achieve successfully even without inspiration.


Unknown said...

Great tips. I struggled getting started forever, I'd get to the studio early, then find small tasks to do that seemed important that weren't painting, to avoid getting started. What you describe in tip #3 has done wonders. When I'm working and there's an easy bit to do, I often save it as something I can start on the next day.

broker12 said...

I started out wanting to be a writer, and like art, it's a difficult subject, and where do you go to find a teacher who promises to make an award winning writer out of you. I asked around, and the best advice I got was to become a reporter on a daily newspaper. I thought that was a little left handed, but I switched my major to journalism, and got a job on a small daily. It wasn't long before I realized that the elusive muse, that mysterious creature who was going to motivate me to write prize winning stories, didn't exist. Every day, well or sick, happy or sad, hung over or sober, I had at least a dozen stories to write before deadline. It wasn't all the heartbreaking to discover there is not muse. What there is is hard work, clamping your jaw together, getting off you backside and going to work. When I switched over to painting, I brought that "muse" (WORK) with me. He's a great guy too . . . wrestles me into the studio every morning, kicks me in the shin, and says, "Go to work."

Jim Douglas said...

I totally agree with tip #3. I often go so far as to write down what I was going to do next on a Post-It next to my work to ensure I know right where to start when I return.

On a related note, when I'm "over-inspired" in the middle of the night, I often calm my swirling mind by jotting down notes about next steps to help me get back to sleep. A brilliant high school chemistry teacher once told me, "If you write it down, it's yours forever."

Lou said...

Such an appropriate topic for me lately. I'd gotten well into a painting and was at an impasse and didn't know what I needed to do to finish. I set it aside and worked on a woodblock print for about a month. But when I returned to the painting found that my dilemma remained.
Fortunately many generous artists (yourself included of course) are posting videos and streaming content to help us through these stay-at-home requirements. Although I didn't know it going in, watching a couple of those streams/videos was the inspiration I needed. What they spoke of didn't necessarily apply to my painting but it was enough to, as Broker12 said, "kick me in the shin" and help me start thinking more analytical and a bit less intuitive towards my painting. I don't always run into the wall on a painting (thank goodness) but I'll remember this method of undoing the funk forever.

Unknown said...

Thank you for the steps/tips. Really helps take initiative.

Laura G. Young said...

I've never had so much "artist's block" as I've been having lately! Thanks for this. (And for all your posts.)

Healthy wishes from Colorado,

Laura :)

Susan Krzywicki said...

These are not-just-for-painting steps! They could be used for anything. Really useful advice.

Engel Morales said...

In some cases, some artists spend most of their time studying other artists rather than going in their own ways. For me, that was the case before. Now that I am confident with my own knowledge and that I no longer need reassurances from the habits or techniques of the old masters i liked like Zorn or Sargent, Monet or Cassatt-- I learned more how to be like the artist Gustave Dore or the writer Buzowski. The people who only cared about their vision. Overtime, that was the case with me. I am 19 years old. Since 9 years old I started documenting my nightly dreams and from there on out, I am very self-sustained. I find it difficult to explain what exactly what I mean but the technique to get over creative block because it is abstract in some way. Rationally irrational! Before I go through a lot of creative block. Nowadays, I find it difficult not to keep creating haha
Difficult to BEGIN, difficult to STOP.

Salty Pumpkin Studio said...

Excellent tips. Thank you
There are times when I feel that I don't know what I'm doing. Creating without inspiration, strengthens the technical aspects of art, that I tend to put second to inspiration. One hangs on the other, and they need to hang out together.

Geoff Watson said...

I had never thought of that third tip -- leave something fun. I suppose examples might be a fun highlight, or mixing a pretty color, or starting some lettering, or adding a cloud?

Rubi Do Trinh said...

I am grateful for these tips! When I leave myself something easy, fun and clean to start off a new day, everything flows just smoother. It is like receiving a lovely present from my past self. :D Thank you!