Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Cure For Artist's Block

Artist block is that frustrating, anxiety-laden malady that all artists encounter. It is that circumstance that prevents an artist writer, musician etc. from coming up with an idea worth embracing.

What happens when the phone stops ringing, or when we’ve exhausted all our promotion efforts, contacts, and bookkeeping? What do we do to recharge the creative batteries? Do we doodle in our sketchbook or hang out in coffee shops to draw people? Is that enough to remember why we got into this crazy business in the first place? Various studies can keep the pencil moving, but what really drives us to get out of bed, or stay up late? What makes “making art” more addicting than playing Bioshock until 3 in the morning?

If you are encountering artists block, there is a solution. If you make a habit to practice this approach, you can kiss artist's block goodbye.


The remedy for artist’s block starts here: Information.

Just like number 2 in “The Prisoner,” we want information. Information will give you the background to form opinions. Information will trigger inspiration. You will start to see your subject in a way not previously considered. Information will give you hours of work in your studio, so much that you will lose track of time and look forward to your next work session with zeal.

All artists need information. Picasso reacted to the bombing of a Spanish town by painting Guernica. Hollywood art directors use information to make decisions that make movies like Star Trek look different from Star Wars. Arthur Miller’s the Crucible spells out the real dangers of conformity and persecution that Americans felt during the McCarthy era. None of the above created art in a box, staring at a wall without information. The key to creativity, and for making artists block a stranger on your doorstep is the acquisition and use of information.


Disney painter Eyvind Earle looked at Northern Renaissance paintings when designing backgrounds for Sleeping Beauty. Yes, he was an experienced and outstanding painter, but he didn’t whip up the idea for these legendary backgrounds by staring at his canvas.

The flattened, forced perspective and sharp edges contributed to making Sleeping Beauty one of Disney’s most distinguished looking and notable animated films.

Feliks Topolski (http://www.topolskicentury.org.uk/) reportaged world events and published Topolski’s Chronicle every year. These over sized newspapers contained drawings in his sophisticated and pungent style, with equally scribed essays. The information was derived from life, from observation and from his immersion in news as it was happening.

His notoriety led him to design the Buckingham Palace murals. His work captures an immediacy that seems to unfold before the viewers eyes.

Jack Kirby, the comic book legend that created Thor, the Fantastic Four, X Men and the New Gods was no stranger to information as an inspiration. Characters like Galactus, Silver Surfer, the Eternals, Orion and Darksied grew from his Biblical knowledge, where characters and stories looked for redemption amidst messianic overtones.


What happens when an artist digests and evaluates information and research? The artist gets inspired. Not from the sky, like a bolt of lightning (although that happens, figuratively speaking), but from the acquisition and application of research knowledge.

Famed historical illustrator Mort Kunstler learned early in his career the value of information. His attention to accurate detail was so much that he earned his reputation as the premier historical artist in America. He illustrated books, magazines, movie posters and ads. To this day, Kunstler hasn’t run out of ideas. Because he knows how to use information, today he is continually illustrating the Civil War, an event that still resonates with us almost a hundred and fifty years from when it ended.

My teacher, the late David Passalaqua Sr., taught me to be curious. Curiosity leads to asking questions. Questions direct you to find and answer. Answers require collecting data, used for educated answers. Answers lead to conclusions. Conclusions form opinions. And therein comes inspiration.

When you are curious you open up many doors, giving yourself a wealth of material to explore.


So let’s say by now you’ve picked up a book. You decide you want to illustrate it. You take notes. You thumbnail as you read. You do character studies, wardrobe details. Maybe you grab a book on CD and listen to it while you work. You saturate yourself with information while playing with ink and making studies, sketches, and more notes.

Before you know it, you have designs and drawings you want to expand upon.


Now is the time, to get reference. The Internet is easy. What about going on site? Is there a museum where you can see a collection of artifacts up close to draw from the real McCoy? Are there antiques you can photograph or draw that would be useful as props? Is there an artist to influence you, or art form that is particularly useful for capturing the mood of your project?

Get in your studio, on location, or wherever you are comfortable and pick the media that helps best describe your subject - be it oil paint, acrylic, watercolor, pen and ink, digital or mixed media. Goodbye artist's block.


Information is everywhere. Look at the literature, religion, folk tales, mythology, the dictionary, and the web…and record it. I always keep a few projects going on the side. I routinely pick them up and review my notes along with my studies. I may never finish these pet projects, but they captivate me. I am eager to explore, and have a reason to work harder and grow as an artist.

The next time you as an artist are experiencing artist block, remember it is because you don’t have enough information to inspire your. Pick up some great literature, audio books, watch powerful emotional films, or just go out and collect notes on location.

This is my way, my approach for perpetual excitement as an artist. What is yours?


jean gralley said...

Like it, Tony; thanks!

Amy said...

Great post. Thanks! I have to remember to come back to this when I forget and that blank screen or paper gets to me. I personally have more of a problem of too much useless information these days. But I find that when I can discern something that moves me on an emotional level, AND that can be a conduit for interacting with others, then I have something I can really "sink my teeth into."

Justosaurus said...

Excellent, all great ideas. Thanks for reminding me! (that i should also get to finishing Bioshock 2 just to get it outta my head, haha) Nice drawing work here too, by the way!