5 Notes on Creative Blocks


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.


4. IMAGINATION

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! 


Growing as an artist with Manic Focus

When the Manic Focus team asked me to come up with some concepts for the 2019 album release of “Lost in a Digital World”, I  could not have been more thrilled to get to work with a crew that was making moves. At that time, I was working from my inlaws’ basement as my wife, Abby, was working full-time on top of attending school for massage therapy. I was in my 4th year as an independent artist and felt stressed about not having a stable place to work. We were living between a small home on my Dad’s property and Abby’s parent’s house, which was an hour closer to her school. My “studio” was in a constant state of flux as I commuted between my Dad’s property and a make-shift studio in my inlaw’s basement. I was 32 and feeling, straight-up, behind in life. I guess that was partially me comparing myself to others, or at least the idea that other people in their 30’s had their shit together. Looking back, it was more like the chaos that emits from a rocket before it soars through space.  Abby was getting her dream career started and I was starting to really build traction as a professional artist.

My creative partnership with Manic Focus had already started back in 2015 when they saw me live-painting at a show in Cincinnati. The black and white image above is the first piece I did for them, which they used for tour art and other promotional graphics. A year later in 2016,  Manic Focus approached me to paint a piece for the “Minds Rising” album cover. Their direction was to illustrate John, aka Manic Focus lead man, holding a “brain-balloon”! I had a lot of fun playing with that concept and fitting in my interpretation of the world MF creates through their music. I’ll never forget them saying that I needed to paint the best painting I’ve ever painted. HAHA! No pressure. 

After the lengthy process of painting a detailed acrylic painting for the album, I created some simple digital illustrations for the single releases. 


Fast forward to the beginning of 2019, I’m older and have no real home or space to myself. Some time had passed since I worked with Manic Focus but my skills as an artist and graphic designer had improved. I had been spending a lot of time studying digital art techniques and getting more proficient with Photoshop. When they called to talk about ideas, I was ready to dive in!

At the time we began discussing ideas for the concept art for “Lost in a Digital World”, John had been watching a lot of Bugs Bunny. He loved the idea of a character coming in and out of a black hole or “portal” of some sort. We both geeked out on some old Looney Toon style illustrations and some classic Disney animations. I wanted to deliver a hybrid of “toon” and “graphic novel” style, at least to the best of my abilities. In the end, some of the designs I had imagined didn’t come to fruition as my process revealed it’s own style.

My first job was to create images for the single releases which would precede the album release. I started each image by drawing the linework with ink, scanning it, and coloring digitally. I used photo-bashing techniques as well as digital brushwork to color the final artwork. 
I ended up with this character I like to call “Star Sweeper”. The name comes from the first track on the album, also titled “Star Sweeper”. 

I knew the work I’d do leading up to the album release would be varied in its rendering and style, due to the nature of the business and its quick turnaround times with short notice. So by creating a staple character like “Star Sweeper” there would be a common thread throughout the artwork, better known in the industry as a “brand image”. 

I love telling stories through imagery, even if it’s vague. Actually, the vaguer the better in some cases. I feel like the audience is able to pull their own narrative out of each image and can have fun creating a storyline for themselves. To me, the story is about a character who has literally been lost in a digital world as a 2-D being in a digital art form.  At first, he is hurled through different parts of the cosmos via his “portals” without control or knowledge of where he will end up. He is challenged to “keep it together” as he de-pixelates through these other realms. Eventually, he gets a grasp on his situation and starts having fun. In a way, this story parallels my process through the project. The first few images show Star Sweeper in an uncontrolled posture. In later images, we see him with more controlled and triumphant body language, especially in the album cover, where he seems more relaxed as he portals through a pink cloud, also inspired by the first track of the album. 

As the success of the album and its artwork grew, so did my abilities. Manic Focus eventually signed me on to work with them on a consistent basis. I started designing promotional material as well as designs for their merchandising. 

My working relationship with Manic Focus has grown alongside other partnerships and artistic endeavors. I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with such a hard-working group of people which has lent to the betterment of my skills as an artist.

In case you are wondering, my personal life has improved as well. My wife and I moved into a studio apartment inside an artist community in Hamilton, OH and I’m finally opening up a professional studio down the street.

I owe a debt of gratitude to my wife and partner in crime who has helped so much along the way and to all of my fans and collectors who have helped support me by purchasing artwork, becoming patrons, and sharing my social media posts.

Above all, stay safe out there in this uncertain world the year 2020 has bestowed upon us. I hope we are all becoming aware of the important things in life and bettering ourselves and our relationships. If you have the time and resources, be sure to check out the artists and musicians you love. The continuation of their art may rely on your support amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic. 

-Logan Walden



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