Navigating Creative Blocks

Alternate title: How to find your way through the dark, nasty, unbearable woods that are creative blocks.



I want to paint everyday, I want to be that person who gets up, makes coffee and creates effortlessly beautiful things day after day. I also want woodland creatures to do my housework for me. Just keep on dreaming girl, somethings are not going to go the way you want so you should probably just go do the dishes.


I'm pretty sure even with endless time on my hands and nowhere to be that I wouldn't be able to paint everyday. At least not effortlessly. Granted, I have not really researched this as I have a job, places to be and things that need doing. So basically I'm an adult and most of the time my life gets in the way of my hobbies. If you can't relate to that, well, I wish you on your merry way and hope you enjoy your bright shiny life free of drudgery. I'll probably unfollow you on Instagram so I don't die of jealousy.


My reality is that showing up and creating on a consistent basis is hard work. And that's Work with a capital W. Throw a several month long artistic block on top of that and you get a very unhappy artist who didn't paint a thing for a solid 3 months. That's not a small vacation away my friend, that's a bogged down in the forest with mud over the rims and no cell service kind of stuck. So I have some personal experience with creative blocks, the dark, gnarly kind that just won't quit. Now I'm no expert but this is what helped me and fingers crossed you don't need it but if you do I hope it helps some.


The following is an itemized list of things I sporadically could not do while blocked (garnering sympathy here folks):

-look at paint

-be within sight of a canvas

-hold a paintbrush

-summon the will to talk about it or acknowledge it

-make anything I didn't instantly hate with a fiery passion


So it's clear this block was painting specific which was a great thing actually now that I'm looking back on it and totally saved my butt and also brings us to numero uno.


No. 1 // GO DO SOMETHING ELSE


That's in capitals cause I'm standing on a tall chair yelling it at you. So listen up. This was the piece of advice everyone and their dog gave me but I had been too stubborn for a good long while before I actually admitted I was having problems. Creative people need to be creative so if the creative thing you usually do won't do what it usually does then pick something else and do that instead. Expand your horizons or whatever other folksy saying you would like to insert here. Good thing for me was that I unintentionally stumbled into doing this part with zero understanding that I was doing it, cause I'm a genius. Not. In the months I couldn't paint I sketched old buildings, enough that I actually got slightly better at it. I took up portrait photography, cause I have beautiful friends, I own a camera and they asked. I also threw myself into the outdoors, which did not seem like a creative endeavor while I was doing it but you know how these things go. Or if you don't just nod understandingly here. I’ll let that one slide.


The point is you need a break from your creative block and chances are you won't be blocked at something new or at least if you suck it will be acceptable cause it's new. If you keep knocking your head against the block all you're going to accomplish is giving yourself a headache. So don't do that, it will make you miserable. It certainly made me miserable.


No. 2 // Get Small


During what I'm now calling 'The Block' I developed a wonderful fear of canvases. I don't like wasting things (especially things that cost money) and I was convinced that anything I put paint on was going to end up ruined cause I was so awful. So I packed up the offending canvases and put them out of sight where they couldn't hurt me and I bought a roll of raw canvas. Which is amazing because it is pretty cheap (i.e. less risk of crushing guilt if you wreck it) and it can be cut to any size you want. That part is key. Take notes kids. If you cut the canvas into tiny pieces it's less scary. I don't know what law of physics applies to this but if it doesn't exist already I call dibs on naming it Shawty's Law of Getting Small (small small small). And now I've got that song stuck in my head. Great.


I know this part seems like it only applies to artists and canvas but really it's universal. That thing you are blocked over, can you possibly do a very small version of it? Write a story in 280 characters, draw on tiny scraps of paper, something so low risk it won't even register with the blocked part of your brain. Cause if there's anything I absolutely love it's tricking your own brain into doing things it doesn't really want to do.


No. 3 // Get Outside


So remember that part about throwing myself into the outdoors? Well that part proved to be pretty important. I can't fully blame winter for The Block but it was definitely a contributing factor and it kept me housebound for too long (gotta love those long, dark Canadian winters eh). I am miserable if I'm inside for too long and deprived of sunshine and fresh air. I do not think I'm alone in this, there's a reason we all flock outside as soon the temperatures rise above frostbite territory. Plus if you're outside you're probably getting some physical activity which for me is so essential to feeling better. Must be all those endorphins flooding the brain. The added benefit to being outside is that it gets you physically away from whatever is blocked and the outdoors can be majorly inspiring. I think this is great advice for anyone in a funk, not just the creatively blocked (but I am slightly biased towards my own advice). This brings a whole new meaning to the phrase “go take a hike”, and I mean that literally. Get your butt outside.


No. 4 // Create For Yourself First


Creating for others is daunting under the best of circumstances. Creating for others when you're convinced everything you make is a waste of time, not that's near impossible to do without incurring brain damage.


I'll preface this part by saying I am fortunate that painting is a hobby, I don't have to rely on it for my main source of income and I understand not everyone has that luxury. Again, this is what worked for me and that's really all I got folks. Take it or leave it.


My advice is to stop creating for others and focus exclusively on what you want to create. Not everything that calls to you is going to be a crowd pleaser or commercially viable. That's okay, exploring the parts that excite you will get you back into a head space where you can start creating for others again. But you need a break, I definitely needed a break, everyone needs a break (a nap break maybe?). Don't ever underestimate the burn out that comes with constantly putting yourself out there day after day. Cut yourself some slack kid, you're going to be okay. If you don't paint today or write or create, you're going to be okay. There's no right way to do this thing.


I hope if you are blocked that you find your way out of those woods. Beyond hoping, I believe you are capable of navigating your way out of the darkness. No forest goes on forever. No block is permanent. You got this.


Here for it, (and you)


G





© 2018 by GINA McKINNON