in the summer of 2019, I had the honor of painting in front of a live audience at one of the country’s largest attended music and art festivals, Electric Forest. Some of the most frequently asked questions were: Where do you get your ideas from? What inspires you? How do you get through a creative block?
Over the years I’ve become somewhat of an expert on this topic. I believe everyone has a creative side with the ability to tap into a part of themselves that can express their unique perspective. I’d like to share my own thoughts on this matter. I have struggled with creative blocks in the past. I currently struggle with them and am confident that I will struggle with them in the future. I’ve learned, however, ways to combat this issue.
1. IT’S A CREATIVE PLATEAU, SILLY.
Instead of seeing it as a “Creative Block”, identify it as a “Creative Plateau”. This is a GOOD thing. It’s not something preventing you from moving forward, it’s just an extra mile to move past. This means you have maxed out your current abilities and are ready for the next level! Think of this “Creative Plateau” as the “boss fight” on the final phase of a video game before you reach the next level. You must beat the boss! As we all know, beating the boss is hard and intimidating, but it’s also exciting because it means you are about to LEVEL UP! Don’t give up! This is tried and true in my experience.
2. YOU WILL REGENERATE
How do you beat the boss (creative plateau)? Don’t quit! Keep fighting. Don’t be afraid to lose. You will regenerate! Whenever I reach a creative plateau, it shows itself in a terrible sketch or by me staring at a blank page with absolutely no motivation or inspiration to create anything. So what do I do? Like a mindless art-zombie, I put my pencil to the paper and watch my hand turn out a horrifically bad piece of art. I’d like to say this only happens in my studio, but alas, it happens in front of people as well. In fact, it happened this spring during my west coast tour. I painted live during three festivals and HATED the painting I was working on. Normally I’d toss the ruined canvas in the bad art pile with the others or just turn the page in my sketchbook and continue drawing more bad art. But now that people have seen this “performance piece” I’m obligated to complete it and make it awesome. The good news is, once I break through to the next level, this painting is going to be freaking sweet! In fact, I believe I’ve already broken to the other side! At Electric Forest Festival a couple of weeks ago, I started a fresh canvas and flew through it. I felt the fountain of creativity flow through me as if my hands were thinking on their own. I painted one of my proudest pieces to date! Unlike a lot of mediums, an acrylic painting can be fixed and perfected. I’m confident now that when I revisit this “failed” painting I will approach it with a restored ability. So the biggest takeaway from this is to KEEP GOING! Who cares if your art stinks. Just keep making art until it starts smelling good again. There is no rush. Enjoy the process.
3. BE AN INSPIRATION VAMPIRE
Where do I get my inspiration? Let’s face it, there are times when I try to come up with something imaginative and all I really want to do is sit on my lazy rear and watch Netflix. But, hey, maybe that’s what NEEDS to happen? Not long ago I had a commission to create a medieval piece about bards. I was struggling with ideas and inspiration and found myself shamefully sitting in front of the TV watching an episode of Game of Thrones. Thank you GOT! I unintentionally became excited about the wardrobe, hairstyles and the environments that are so masterfully executed in that show. I came back to the drawing board with renewed vigor to create the coolest bard piece anyone has ever seen! I was re-fueled like a vampire that sucks the creative juice from other art forms. So the takeaway here is: BE AN INSPIRATION VAMPIRE. Inspiration presents itself in many forms. Just relax and let it come to you. Indulge in the things you like. It could be music, a movie, a conversation or even a random thought that creeps into your mind. After all, art is one of the most enjoyable parts of the life experience. Maybe by fretting about not having inspiration, you are not only missing out on what life has to offer, but YOU are the BLOCK? Just relax and sink your teeth into something you enjoy.
Where do you get your ideas? You’re motivated to draw or make art but you feel like all of your ideas suck or are unoriginal. You might think to yourself “I’m just not a very imaginative person”. But that would be wrong. This issue sort of ties into my 3rd bullet point. Instead of being an inspiration vampire, be an IDEA VAMPIRE! One of my favorite quotes is by Jean-Luc Godard. “It’s not where you take things from, it’s where you take them to”. Some might say having the unnecessary word, “to”, at the end of the sentence is bad grammar. Maybe. But I think it adds emphases to the point he’s making. Don’t be afraid to use other people’s ideas. It IS important, however, to make them your own. Otherwise, you can just shove it off as a “master study”. Just be sure to credit the original creator. I see nothing wrong with this. We must progress our culture by understanding our history and present times to push things into the future. If this means taking ideas and playing with them, so be it. Any artist that gets upset about another artist “stealing their idea”, cry me a river and paint something new. It’s not about you, it’s about the art. People know good art when they see it. That’s all you need to know. Again, if you are going to, straight-up, copy someone, you’d better credit them! If you don’t, that’s plagiarism and you’re an A-Hole. That, or you didn’t realize you copied them and there was some weird collective consciousness thing going on. This happens more often than people think. If you take someone’s idea and modify it AND credit them for the inspiration, congratulations, you’re a saint. I believe that all “original” work is derivative on some level, especially in today’s age. I try not to concern myself with this notion. I just focus on what inspires me and have fun trying to make it my own style. Making something you’re own style is actually quite inevitable. As it turns out, we are all different. We come from different backgrounds and have come to understand the universe with unique perspectives. Discovering your style is a whole other book to write, but here’s the gist… keep perfecting your skill level and let your “style” reveal itself through your body of work. If you are struggling with having ideas, a good practice is to look up other work and study it. Find out what makes it appeal to you. Look at the technical aspects of the piece. The composition, the colors, the emotion it provokes. By gathering this data in your mind, the creative side of you is sure to come up with something original. If you are struggling to make it stand out, be honest with yourself. Does it excite you, personally? If the answer is no, keep tweaking it until it reaches a “whoa, that’s cool!”. That’s when you know you’ve got something.
5. HAVE FUN
I’d like to wrap this up with another quote I find to be inspiring. I don’t know who said it. “The goal is NOT perfection, it’s PROGRESS”. I believe this simple mantra can help a lot of us move past a creative block. We often get caught up on trying to make something perfect when we all know that no one and nothing is perfect. Except, maybe, the show “Stranger Things”… JK. But seriously.
When I decide a piece of work is finished, I ask myself these 3 things:
1. Does it excite me?
2. Do I feel like it is as good if not better than my previous work?
3. Does it hold a candle to other artwork that inspires me?
I think it’s important to be critical of your work, but not to a point where you stop creating work because you don’t think it’s good enough. We shouldn’t be creating art if we aren’t enjoying it. Which brings me to my final piece of advice. HAVE FUN. Enjoy the process of creating something, even if you think it stinks. All the artists I admire most, truly enjoy what they do and it comes through in their work. That’s why their work is so good. You can feel their passion in the brush strokes. With every stroke of your brush, think to yourself, “This is going to be awesome!”
I hope this helps!