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Steve Diffenderfer

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Dealing with creative block

By Franklin Ayers, Joseph Draye, Harry O'Connor and Steve Diffenderfer.

We have all heard of writers block, visual artists of all kinds suffer from a similar and just as devastating condition aptly titled creative block. Below four people have shared their thoughts about creative block and their personal mechanisms they use to overcome it


Franklin Ayers – Illustrator
I see creative block sometimes as just running low on the fuel that fires us to art. During these times I decide to surround myself with other art. I look at art books, surf the web, see movies that are artistic or inspiring, listen to new music that takes me outside myself. I go out into nature and take walks or try and look at the world around me and just sink my teeth into what is beautiful about the every day things. Sometimes it is just looking at the strange juxtapositions of normal items in every day life. I completely saturate my self in others creativity. Then I let it all go and tell myself that it is OK to just rest and I'll come back to this tomorrow and see what I can do. Usually that will pull the stopper out and I will at least get a trickle again.

Other times I find that I am so bogged down in a certain way of seeing things that all I have to do is sketch just any crazy thing that comes to my heads. It doesn't have to be good. Just scribbles. Cartoons. Symbols will get me going sometimes. I just have to draw stuff that doesn't relate at all to what I am working on. Often this opens up parts of the brain and eventually I get to a place where I see the thing I am bogged down in and can make forward motion again.

And lastly, sometimes it is an emotional thing or a problem in life that is keeping me from being creative. During these times, I just tell myself that I will take care of business and solve that problem first. Sometimes that is the only way to move on and get back in the groove.

Joseph Draye – Fine Artist
Unfortunately, the way I snap a dry spell, could be harmful to your health. My mental blocks usually come from trying to go in too many directions at once, with no focus on anything in particular. The brain short circuits, and must be oiled. My particular oil of choice is whiskey. Usually after a good bender, I've swept the clutter out, and can put together a more streamlined agenda. Fortunately, my creative lows only last a few days, as opposed to other artists, who may have lulls lasting as long as a few months or years. Don't try this at home!

Harry O'Connor – Web Designer
Speaking as a creative rather than a “real artist”, a lot of my creative block comes from boredom. Sometimes I just feel like I want to do something different for a change, but I know like most people I have to work and pay the bills – its not possible to just drop everything for a couple of weeks, not for me anyway. Instead, what I do to combat this form of creative block is to spend a fraction of my time on personal projects (A rather large fraction it seems). Voodoochilli.net is one of these projects - I don't have to report to anyone except its members, and the pressure is a different sort, but I know that when I work on Voodoochilli I am at my happiest. I have many other websites, blogs and pet projects that I invest as much of my time as I can so that when I have to return to working for other people it doesn't seem so bad and my creative batteries are recharged. I know my example is different than that for many fine artists, but I think this way of dealing with things can be applied to any trade. If for example you are a graphic designer who works a 9-5, spending a few hours sketching mad ideas over the weekend instead of trying to think about the latest project can help release the creative juices from your mind. Similarly, a full time wedding photographer would get some personal and professional benefit spending a bit of time studying strange camera angels and lenses, exposure times and lighting effects – the sort of thing you did in your first year at college, back in the days when you just pointed the camera and clicked in the hope that it would be interesting.

Another technique I was taught at art college was to use serendipity. If you really just can't think of that next idea – close you eyes and point at something. What shape and colour is it? Does it remind you of anything? Does that relate to what you are trying to achieve? Does it make you think about things in a different way? Ideas jump from one to the other, thoughts are flowing like rivers so you just need a starting point. This logic is what's behind mood boards and diagrams hastily scribbled on the back of envelopes. Just get some ideas down, and take it from there.

Steve Diffenderfer – Fine Artist
I joined a figure drawing group at a local gallery two years ago. I draw from the figure every week. This simple act of observation and discipline keeps me visually active.

Sharing a studio space with 15-20 artists for 2 1/2 hours with a common goal is inspiring. Conversations with other artists regarding technique and life stories are great.

I would highly recommend joining a figure drawing group.