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Playing to Break Creative Block

Something I like to do and often forget to do more often is PLAY.

I was talking with students one time about why sketching or exploring in our art often feels foreign to us. I believe it's because as we become adults we no longer know

how to play.

The world has become so busy that I think we feel like we can't allow ourselves the freedom to slow down. Play often doesn't feel productive.

And if we aren't being productive is it worth our time? Maybe some of you don't identify with this statement and I envy that. At this stage in my life I often don't have an excess of time for my practice so I feel like every moment I do have should be productive. On the other side of that coin however, I know that if I don't play the creative flow is disrupted.

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My theory is that as kids we know how to play. No one teaches us how to play we just do it. Historically the way the American school structure has been organized teaches kids how to interact and behave in a workforce setting. We are creating future workers after all, right?

That being said I think in recent years we are seeing a move back toward letting kids explore through play or play like learning especially, with the rise of STEM. I love to see and hear it!

So, why do I bring up kids and education and play or the lack thereof? Because, I think naturally in society we are taught how NOT to play. As play is discourage I feel like it takes a huge toll on how we learn in the future and how we practice our craft. I see this play out in a lot of fields and it seems so important that we teach individuals to be creative. It is an exercise in problem solving and critical thinking.

I have had students who are seeking degrees and careers in the STEM fields and I often hear feedback about how they love coming to art class even if they feel like they aren't good at it. Why? It's because it gives them a little bit of a mental load break, it allows them to flex their brain in a different way, and it's a time for play.

Now, with all that said what are some ways to play?

This changes for me depending on what is going on in my studio and my head. Sometimes, I will make mixed media pieces to help inspire some use of pattern or color that can then be applied to my ceramic work. I often will simplify those ideas for the sake of working with ceramic materials. But the mixed media pieces become their own little works of art. These pieces are nice for helping me to keep some forward momentum. Every time I stop making 2D work I find I start sketching less and then eventually life's busy nature takes hold and here I am stuck in a creative block.

Before I break down some of the exercises and projects I have been working on I want to share another book I recently went through that may be helpful if you find yourself stuck or you are looking for your own sense of style.

Fresh Paint: Discover Your Unique Creative Style Through 100 Small Mixed-Media Paintings by Flora Bowley and Lynzee Lynx which you can find here on Amazon.

There are a few exercises in this book that I really enjoyed and I may make a full post/review on that later. For me this book was kind of like a refresher on things to try out but since I kind of already known what my style is it wasn't as helpful.

I think this book is really great for newer artists or hobby artists that want to explore their work on a level deeper than just making things to make things.

They have these inquiry questions that focus on different aspects of influence on your work which even as someone who has been making and talking about her work for years it was a nice "check in".

It's always good to keep a finger on the pulse of your work. It is likely that as you make your concepts will shift and adapt or change all together. If you regularly ask yourself why you do what you do it becomes easier to know if you are still on track or if a series is played out.

I liked the concept of the inquiry questions so much I plan to make an adapted version for my students this fall. The sooner you begin practicing that self reflection and identifying themes in your work the easier your path is especially in art school.

2D - Play

INCHIES- I have seen this concept used by many people online but the first place I saw it talked about was by Amy on her blog over at Mindful Art Studio She has some great videos and posts on how she makes her inchies and what she does with them after. She also runs a community challenge and you can share your creations on her facebook group.

I keep mine in a stack in my studio that I flip through or hang on my bulletin board. I will sometimes do these directly in my sketchbook. I have not yet figured out another way to use them that feels authentic for myself. I have considered making stickers from scans or putting them on my etsy as a mini mystery art. TBD. For now it's just good practice.

What I love about this way of playing with my work is that it gives me freedom to make really crappy things. If it turns out terrible I only waisted a 2"x2" square of paper and very minimal materials. I will often just lay down some color similar to the ones in the image at the top of the page while I am working on other projects and have left over paint. This way I don't have to feel like I am wasting paint and I can come back to it later. It is also a good way to save color schemes from pieces you are currently working on for later inspo.

I will create a list of some of my favorite materials I use in my 2D work in my next post.

Abstract "Sketches"- I like to work on a couple small pieces at a time. These are 8"x8" sheets that I kind of approach haphazardly.

Similar to the inchie pieces it's small so if it ends up being complete trash I didn't waste much time or material. These two show the base layers where I chose a few colors and just lay down some color wherever. I will usually let these dry and then gradually work over the top drawing different shapes and pattern. If I really dislike an area I just cover over it with a little gesso and start over. I will also use old pieces that I didn't love and rip them up to create cover ups for areas that aren't working for me.

Leisure Projects- I try to keep at least one project that I work on for a long time. Usually this is a project that I have a general idea for and then when I get board or stuck I take a break. I leave these pieces propped up on my desk so I can always see it. I think about them even when I am working on my ceramic work. Sometimes these pieces will sit untouched for months and then one day a spark of an idea happens and I'll work on it for a bit until I either leave it again or it's finished.

This idea of leaving or walking away for a bit is something I do a lot and recommend to students all the time. When I teach drawing especially, I encourage students to occasionally stand up and take a little walk. When we work on something up close and in long stints we often miss things or it all just becomes mundane. When we take a moment to step back and observe we come back with fresh eyes. It's like sniffing coffee grounds. It just resets things.

The piece pictured above sat untouched for most of last year it was just 3 little areas that I had started with. I just recently added more to the background and layers. I have added even more since I took this photo.

Class Prep- Sometimes I work on examples for my students. In the fall we are going to be doing a collective project where everyone makes their own mixed media deck of cards and the final result will be trading cards so everyone ends up with a collective deck of everybody's work. So I started to give my deck a little gesso layer front and back to prepare for decorating them.

Sketching- This seems like an obvious one but look, if you don't make it a habit then it is really easy to forget. I like to doodle shapes and patterns and play with how I can change or combine them. The Fresh Paint book at the top of post recommends a similar exercise of finding a shape or pattern you like and repeat it over and over playing with the style, color, or material to find inspiration.

Another thing I highly recommend is annotating your sketchbook. I like to create little notes of things I like what I like about or don't. I also will journal thoughts that might lead to ideas for different works.

Here lately I have taken to working on drawing our models during my figure drawing class and birds. These are subjects that don't really play into my work currently but it is keeping me active which is more important and who knows, maybe these subjects will come into play later down the road.

Thanks for reading and check out my next post for materials I like to use in these processes. I hope you go make something even if it's just a doodle, have fun!

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