When the Well Runs Dry

Posted February 12 2013


I have caught myself doing something that is not particularly good for my long term artistic growth. I share this with you because it's a sneaky sort of behavior that is all too comfortable and commonplace. Here it is: I wait for things to come my way. I am referring to things like inspiration, new direction, and insights. 
I paint with ever improving frequency, and mostly in isolation. Now and then my well simply runs dry. It is at this point that I have the habit of waiting for something to come my way and make it all better.  But that's not how being an artist works. Art requires an active involvement on the part of the artist and it takes many forms. 
This sound all too obvious when written out like this. And yet, I see this tendency in others, especially women. I'm sure there are many societal implications but I don't want to get into that.  I simply want to remind myself that after we, as artists, get to a certain point of skill with our medium; we are not done (still another obvious point!).  Along with design, color theory, drawing skills etc. we need to do whatever it takes to stay in the flow. We need to keep our minds engaged.
Here are a few ideas:
I think it was Judy Morris who mentioned that she has a little Idea Book. It's a little book of notes she's written to herself about things she'd like to try. She turns to her book when she finds herself at a pause between ideas. 
I turn to my trusty Illustrators Annuals.  These annuals show a variety of artistic styles, media and subject matter and they are all top quality.   I don't particularly like all the submissions but I do recognize that the artists handle media well and are successful in sending visual messages. They are fun to ponder.
I also find it useful to actually do some of the exercises in a how-to art book, rather than just look at the pictures. I may not want to paint like the author, but I always learn something; how colors blend, a new texture technique, new materials, etc.
Go to a museum. Yes, actually get off my duff and drive the hour or two it takes to see a few masters and how they grappled with their design issues. 
Join other artists to draw, paint or critique our work.
Play! Undirected enjoyment of my excess art materials. My studio could stand to lose some of the stuff that's packed into all the cupboards. 
Go for a walk or take a nap. I prefer the walk. Either beats heading for the fridge, which is my other diversion.
Read about the struggles of other artists. The wisdom of those who have gone before us is a rich resource.
Good luck!