Hollie Chastain, "Gilbertville Library"

Hollie Chastain, “Gilbertville Library” (all images courtesy Chronicle Books)

It seems like a lot of artists just have it together, never missing a beat in churning out work as if on an assembly line powered by boundless creativity. Of course the truth is, everyone gets in a rut sometimes that can feel like being lodged in the Mariana Trench.

Cover of "Creative Block"

Cover of “Creative Block”

Danielle Krysa who runs The Jealous Curator has published a sort of manual for getting out of artistic dead ends. Creative Block: Get Unstuck, Discover New Ideas: Advice and Projects from 50 Successful Artists, published this month by Chronicle Books, is having launch events at Skylight Books this Saturday in Los Angeles and on April 2 at Great.ly in Manhattan. As Krysa writes in her introduction: “I wanted to make something beautiful — a contemporary art book filled not only with stunning images, but also inspiring words, advice, and tips to help amateurs and professionals alike find their way through those days when the ideas just won’t come.”

Creative Block is a hefty tome at nearly 300 pages, with each artist having examples of their work, a short interview with Krysa (example questions: “Do you face criticism very often?” and “What do you do if you’re having trouble with a piece?”), and a little “Creative Unblock” project.

Page from "Creative Block" showing work by Aris Moore

Page from “Creative Block” showing work by Aris Moore

There are plenty of ideas here about trying out new subjects, materials, perspectives — but there seem to be just as many artists who advocate destruction. Collage and mixed media artist Arian Behzadi recommends this process:

“Draw something on a piece of paper. Stare at it. Trash it. Draw it again on another piece of paper. Stare at it. Trash it. Repeat. Once you feel you’re done, uncrumple all the pieces of paper and line them up in order.”

Likewise, Jessica Bell, a Vancouver-based who stitches assemblages of fabric, proposes that you “consider deliberately destroying that which you feel like you can’t lose and see what happens to the piece and to your vision for it in the process.” New York-based Emily Barletta, who takes inspiration from her diagnosis with a spinal disease to crochet diseased cells, endorses taking “that piece of clothing you’ve been holding onto for sentimental reasons, but you don’t want to wear any more” and cutting it up, making it into a “fetish object” for “why you’ve held on to this fabric for so long.”  Kelly Lynn Jones, who makes sparse, spatially pensive art, takes this further and recommends taking a work of art “that you feel is successful” then “tear it up, break it apart.”

It’s not all scorch the earth so the future crops will flourish. Swedish painter and illustrator Camilla Engman and Portland-based illustrator Kate Bingaman-Burt both recommend organizing a collection or medicine cabinet, in turn reorganizing your brain. Photographer and ceramicist Adam Wallacavage, who creates tentacle chandeliers, gets out there a bit advising you go order fries, feed them to seagulls, throw them on the hood of your car, “and take photos through the window.”

However, all these experiments aside, it’s probably South Africa-based ceramics experimenter Ruan Hoffmann who gets it right: “My truth is to work — no excuse — just to work every day like the manual laborer that I am. Through work comes new ideas, and the spark to either follow and develop, or develop and then abandon.”

Ashley Goldberg, "The Couple"

Ashley Goldberg, “The Couple”

Creative Block: Get Unstuck, Discover New Ideas: Advice and Projects from 50 Successful Artists by Danielle Krysa is available from Chronicle Books. 

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Allison Meier

Allison C. Meier is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Oklahoma, she has been covering visual culture and overlooked history for print...

6 replies on “Artists Offer Their Escapes from Creative Block”

  1. if im in a rut near the end of the cold and bleak winter the new buds and light yellow greens and pastel pinks of the spring should get me going soon!

  2. I have a long list of subjects to explore. I don’t get blocked. I draw inspiration from my sketch books and files of little thumbnails. I always tell students go back to something you know and draw it again.

  3. I often work in series. Cezanne is one of my guides. Peter Dreher and Robert Kulicke are also.

  4. I’ve been an artist for 50+ years and NEVER had a creative block!
    That’s because I have a wealth of insanity to draw from. LMAO 🙂

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