The cycle of ideas and working in a series.
Creative block is something that many artists suffer from and I allowed it to prevent me from making art for a very long time.
It was during a particularly frustrating time in my life when I returned to making art consistently.
I found myself ten years into a business career I never planned on, living in a place I didn’t like. I was frustrated with myself for delaying my dreams so I found fault with everything around me.
I needed an outlet.
Without any ideas, the easiest thing for me to do was take pictures. I had absolutely no plan. With my chunky DLSR in hand, I went out and started taking candid pictures of the public.
I’d take photos of people coming out of the wholesale club store or going into the Chinese buffet. I went to a protest rally that was opposing a movie theater’s proposal to sell beer and wine, just to take pictures.
I never intended to show the pictures to anyone but I kept taking them.
Once in a while, I’d look through the photos on my computer. The faces and expressions were intriguing but I still had no ideas.
Finally, I zoomed in on the face of an older Asian man and was compelled to draw his portrait.
His skin was weathered and his expression was that of despair or deep sadness yet he was just walking towards a restaurant, holding his wife’s hand.
I had almost no experience in portraiture but I felt like I needed to draw this man.
I had a pad of 11×14 inch paper and some drawing pencils. I laid the paper on my desk with the computer screen behind it, displaying the zoomed in photo, and I started drawing.
I didn’t know any particular methods for how to draw a portrait, nor did I care to find out. I didn’t know about the grid method that helps achieve precise proportions. I didn’t study portraiture in college.
None of that mattered to me, I just wanted to draw.
After that first portrait, I was pleased with the result (in retrospect it was not very good, see it below next to the larger version I did many portraits later) and excited to try more. Through my photos, I found a wealth of subjects.
I didn’t show the drawings to anyone except maybe a friend or two. It was my private project and I still didn’t know what it was about or what to do with the work.
I remember thinking about large portraits I’d seen in galleries and museums, thinking that I couldn’t possibly create something bigger than my little 11×14 inch portraits. Then, by chance, I had the opportunity to get some very large sheets (about 30×40 inches) of good quality paper for free.
It felt like a sign.
The full sheets were too large to store flat so I ripped them in half and started new portraits. Immediately, the larger than life portraits became more dynamic and the practice from doing 20 or so small portraits paid off.
My skills were improving and it was more comfortable than I thought it would be to draw so large.
I became obsessed with drawing.
I couldn’t wait to draw after work and on weekends. Before I left the house to go to work in the morning, I’d stop and look at the latest portrait in progress, anxious to return to it.
This project also meant that I wanted to collect more source material so I started bringing my camera everywhere. I was fortunate to have a job that required me to travel all over the world. Whenever I had a spare morning or evening during my work trips, I walk around whichever city I was in, snapping photos.
I didn’t set out with a plan or a concept and I didn’t know what to do with the portraits, but that project brought me back to making art.
I felt like I returned not only to art but to the identity I lost for so many years.
During my years working in business, I often felt like I’d taken on a different identity because I didn’t consider myself an artist anymore.
What this project taught me was that by working on my art consistently, I’d find not only the inspiration to continue but it would fulfill me in a way that I’d missed for a decade.
At times it was hard to continue the work but I decided that making art needed to be a priority in my life so I aimed to stop making excuses and get on with it!
In the next post, I’ll share info on the specific tools and materials I used for the project you just read about.
To listen to the audio version of this post, please scroll to the bottom of the page and click play on the audio file.
Making art was the most important thing to me, so why did I stop creating for a decade?
Art school was a wonderful experience, I love my alma mater, my years there were inspiring and fulfilling. As much as I value my education, art school did not prepare me for the realities of being a professional artist.
Until recently, I don’t think any art schools taught students the business of being an artist.
It isn’t surprising then, how many people with fine art degrees, never make a career out of it. We weren’t armed with business skills, we were taught how to conceptualize our work, how to make the work (hopefully), how to write about it, and how to critique the work of our classmates.
This lack of practical knowledge wasn’t the only reason I stopped making art. I told myself a story about what it meant to be an artist and that story consisted of several limiting beliefs that I accepted as facts.
These “facts” became my excuse and it was easier to stop making art, find a more clearly defined career path and focus on other aspects of life.
When I finally did return to art, I was in my 30s and had a full-time career in marketing. I stopped waiting for inspiration, stopped making excuses and began to realize those old beliefs were not true.
It has been a slow process that has taught me a lot about myself and what it means to be an artist.
During the years when I wasn’t making art, I felt like I was hiding part of myself. I felt like no one really knew me because I didn’t completely identify with the person I allowed myself to become.
I hope that sharing my experience will help others return to art.