We have all hit days when the well seems to be dry, and the dry rut we feel we are in just got deeper. How do you get the fire back? How do you open the dam and let the creative waters flow again? Dwelling on the paucity of ideas and lamenting your lack of talent (whatever that is) is not the answer.
Some artist wanna-be’s just say, “I’m not in the mood today, the muses have not touched me this morning. I have to wait for the creative moment, for the inspiration to hit me.” All of my cattle-raising friends around here know exactly what that is. They shovel it daily. Don’t fall into that pit. ( It stinks)
The way out of those creative doldrums involves action. You have to stir things up. The creative juices have probably just settled to the bottom. Here are a few things that you can do (especially in watercolor) to stir things up, and all of them involve change.
*Force yourself to see things differently.Turn a piece upside down and work on it while squinting. This eliminates details, and puts the whole thing out of context. This is a change that permits a different kind of seeing.
*Learn from others. Attend workshops from different instructors, as each has something unique to impart. We are all eclectic- a little from here and a little from there- and we end up putting it together in our own unique way. Inspiration can come from other artists, books, illustrations in magazines or lichen patterns in rocks. Be open.
*Court casualness. Approach a painting with a devil-may-care attitude. Have faith that as the need arises, the inspiration will come. And that is a grand key. The inspiration most often comes when we are not courting it. If we try to become inspired we won’t be.
*Court the accidental. What appears to be accidental is actually the random order of Nature taking over. Here are a few things that can bring this into play in watercolor; especially during the initial washes.
1, Spatter clear water on the paper, then spatter thinned versions of different colors-especially opposite colors like pale orange and pale blue, pale purple and yellows, pale sienna and pale blue. As the spattered color hits the spatters of water the mixtures will be more random and thus mirror Nature.
2. Spatter thinned gesso on the paper (thickness like whipping cream). Allow it to dry for about five minutes. Blot the excess gesso from the surface by patting lightly with an absorbent paper towel. Keep turning the towel so that you don’t re-apply the lifted gesso. Dry completely, then apply light washes of varied colors, alternating between warm and cool colors. This will provide a unique ground for the painting.
3. Use the torn edge of mat board to apply gesso to the surface prior to painting. Apply it with stamping motion or scraping. The idea is to create a random surface that alters the absorbent quality of the surface in unusual ways. This will provide a ground that will give a somewhat textural quality to the initial washes.
* Take note of the rhythm of your brush strokes. Now consciously change the rhythm. Make them jerky, or fluid, or syncopated. Keep your focus primarily on the new rhythm, and only secondarily on the subject. The outcome may surprise you.
* Do a small painting holding the brush only by the tip of the handle. Don’t allow yourself to choke up on the brush. You are going for a home run, not a but to first base.
* Try re-designing using overlapped continuous contour drawing. In the example below I drew a pair of glasses in an unbroken, continuous contour line. Then overlapping this I drew a mug that held a number of pencils. Over this I divided the format with a couple of horizontal lines.
This gives me a linear pattern that breaks up the format interestingly in a naturally random manner. Next I used a Chinese ink block and a watercolor brush to add grays and blacks. This is similar to the random scribbles we all did as children (and in my case still do while talking on the phone or listening to speeches or attending meetings I can’t manage to avoid.)
There are hundreds of ways to introduce change and randomness into your work. Explore and have fun.