Falling in love again
Lost the spark? Even pro artists get fed up with art now and again. Julia Sagar finds out how to turn it around when you hit a wall
The way to find your message is to paint the things you’re afraid others won’t like or understand
We’ve all been there: those dark days, weeks, months where it feels like you’re forcing yourself to draw or paint. When the desire to create new artwork evaporates, leaving a residue of laboured, unrewarding pieces saved on your PC, and you staring at a blank canvas.
The good news is that it happens to everyone. Whether you’re a seasoned professional or just starting out as an artist, chances are you’ll lose your way at some point – perhaps multiple times. So what happens if your art spark fades in 2016? How can you get back on track if the creative juices stop flowing?
Last year, freelance Berlin-based artist Jana Schirmer faced exactly this problem. “The rare times I’m coming up with a personal illustration it feels like I’m forcing myself to paint,” she wrote in a Facebook post that attracted an outpouring of replies from established artists around the world. “I also dislike the style/stuff I’m doing right now,” she continued. “Being an artist feels complicated for me, so I procrastinate a lot… I need to get back into finding the fun again.”
If you feel as though you’ve lost your artistic voice, the key, says illustrator Winona Nelson, is to stop worrying about how or what to paint, and figure out why you paint. What do you want to say? It’s an important question, even if you’re not struggling with motivation – and January is the perfect time to reflect on your motivations. Winona knew there was a problem when she realised her message had become, “Look what I can do!” instead of articulating a deeper truth. To tackle the issue, she took a step back and thought about what was truly important to her, not what would impress a client.
“The way to find your message is to paint the things you’re afraid others won’t like or understand, which in my case come from my dreams and my identity as a Native American and as a woman,” she says, adding that it worked. “Those more personal pieces are the best received, despite those fears, and led to more sales and new clients than my more standard portfolio pieces or previous client work.”
She advises following your feelings, because your visual voice is secondary in importance when you’re searching for a deeper truth. “Fear is a good place to start, because if there’s something you’re afraid to explore, it’s the thing closest to your heart,” she adds.
3D artist Victor Hugo understands the pressure of losing your voice. He recently suffered an entire year of paralysing creative block. The Brazilian artist works across everything from advertising to comics, books, games and more, but when he started to lose motivation, unfinished projects began piling up. “What happened to me was I started so many projects,” he says, “but then I had a considerable number of letdowns and I began to feel that every project would be an unfinished one. At one point, I had 18 unfinished projects.”
It took a dramatic suggestion from his wife – to throw away everything that was holding him back, including his computer and unfinished work – to turn things around. “I did it! I mean, I didn’t set my computer on fire or anything like that,” he laughs, “but I deleted all my projects. I still remember the weight of the unnecessary responsibility coming off my shoulders. At that moment I realised that instead of doing 20 projects, it’s way more productive if you focus on a single project and try to learn something from it.”
“Sometimes you just need to let it go,” adds concept artist and industrial designer Georg Löschner, aka Papa Bear. “Your brain is a muscle and it needs time to turn things over subconsciously, so trust your gut feeling,” he says. “If your body and mind have been screaming ‘No! I can’t art today,’ take a break. Continuously trying to push through by any means is definitely not the right way to avoid blocks or burnouts.”
Georg experienced a “heavy blockade” during his industrial design studies, while making the transition back from digital sketching to using pen and paper again. “I sucked big time at the beginning, which robbed me instantly of all energy to pursue the matter,” he says. “But learning to let go, and take fails or blocks into account is a crucial aspect of our job. Either tackle the problem from a completely untrodden path, or push it aside and come back to it later.”
Christian Alzmann, senior art director at Academy Award-winning motion picture visual effects company Industrial Light & Magic, agrees. He recommends taking a break and doing something fun. “Try some studies or simple sketches. If you draw, try
I deleted all my projects. I remember the weight of unnecessary responsibility coming off my shoulders
sculpting; if you sculpt, try painting. All of those skills will help you in the long run. Also, inspiration is everywhere: go to the zoo, bake a cake – shake it up. And engage with your community. Sharing stories, techniques and tricks is priceless.”
What if you don’t have time on your side? What if you’ve got tight deadlines to meet and ambitious, talented artists just waiting to step into your place and shine?
“When I don’t have time for a trip to the beach or a hike in Yosemite, I go to my art books and find inspiration from some of my favourite artists,” says Christian. “When I return to what I’m working on, I try to find something about the image that looks like it might be fun and concentrate on that. If I can make that small piece of the image work, I’ll be inspired to bring the rest of the image up to support it.”
Christian’s best advice is to accept that creative block happens and stop putting pressure on yourself. “It’s inevitable,” he says, “but my biggest lesson is that the block inevitably passes, too.”
Finding a process to help you deal with it and pull you out of a creative funk can make it all worth it, he argues. “Sometimes, in that funk, you find a renewed or slightly tweaked version of your art that helps push you in a new direction. When you’re in the zone, try to remember those things that really inspire you and let them help you find the passion again.”
First Fire: Guardian of the Eastern Door is based on a prophesy of Winona Nelson’s tribe, the Ojibwe, that foretold the coming of the Pale People.(3bn).
“I needed to find the fun again,” says Jana.
Georg Löschner aka PapaBear merges mechanical, bionic and industrial influences into his artwork.
Victor Hugo created Spew in 3D and tweaked it in Photoshop to look like a painting.
To create this project, Victor followed a drawing tutorial
by Loish – using 3D tools instead of traditional tools.
Witch, by Christian Alzmann, who says that creative block
In Georg’s piece Nova Bionics, the
hand has had a “tool upgrade”.