Navigating through the creative doldrums

I am always relieved and pleased when I finish something. I’m a devoted list maker, and the black ink mark across a task or goal is tremendously satisfying…

The problem comes the next day or week when I am faced with the proverbial blank canvas. In my case, it is a clean studio, surfaces ink-free, drying rack without a mid-way linocut. The process of thinking of the next work, the next project, feels a little like the doldrums. In maritime use, the doldrums are a place without wind, where a sailor could be trapped for some time. We also think of it as a state of inactivity, of low energy or mild depression.

So like the sailor who is trapped without winds, I begin the process of shaking the sails to try to get moving again. While I blithely write “new series” on Monday’s to-do list, the reality is that it takes some time to come up with new ideas. My ideas lately have been circling around global climate change, especially our country’s willingness to harvest our below-ground energy sources like tar sands, rather than increasing our use of renewable energy. I live in a coal-burning state, so even my time on the computer is emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

But how to put these noodlings into actual artwork? Sometimes I have to sneak around this problem, so to get my creative brain out of the doldrums, I do experiments.

Layers of leftover inks, provide an interesting starting point for this exploration.
An experiment thinking about layers. The first two layers came from blend rolls of leftover inks. The current layer was a tinted lemon yellow…

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Adventures in the New Language of Chine Collé

I have been toying with some ideas for a few months. I have visions of layering and new materials. Of well, something different. But something too different can be scary or frustrating, so perhaps something somewhat different would be a good place to start. This was the conversation I had with myself this morning. When you work alone, you have to be your own motivator and artistic therapist.

Pine Cone on Rives BFK with Chine Collé.

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How do you stretch your artistic brain?

After a tough, non-artistic stretch this summer, I’ve not felt very excited to begin the next linoleum print. If I’m honest, I haven’t felt that excitement for a while.

Last winter, I came across encaustic monotypes by Paula Roland in the book Installations and Experimental Printmaking by Alexia Tala.  Roland used long scrolls of sumi paper and printed them with encaustic paint. Encaustic paint is a mixture of beeswax, damar resin and dry pigment. This paint is melted on a heated surface and paper is put on top to absorb the wax and pigment. It is a fascinating process that I’ll come back to in future posts.

Melted wax and pigment scraped together after a monoprinting session.

In May, I travelled to Santa Fe, NM to take a four day workshop from Roland. I was the only student who had never worked in encaustics, and Roland was kind enough to let me experiment and make lots of “newbie art,” while providing gentle guidance. I was amazed at how exciting and yet tiring it can be to learn something new. As adults, I think we shy away from trying new things, especially if we sense that we will not automatically be good at them.

Back at home, I finally got all of the accoutrement for encaustic printmaking (more about later too.) Now to begin…

Wow! I find I am still very much in the learning phase.  My original intent was to think about ways that this technique might harmonize with what I am already doing. At this point I have no idea if it will…


Experiments from this week.

One of the problems with my studio practice up to this point is that there is very little room for creative exploration. I find reduction printmaking a pretty linear process.

With this problem in mind, I’ve been rereading three favorite books on artistic practice. I realized I need to have time each day to lose myself in the creative process. Stephen Nachmanovitch in Free Play would call this flow. Encaustic monotypes are perfect for this. Yet I’m still making lots of “newbie” art. So I decided I would spend at least one hour each week day just experimenting. I use small pieces of paper, and gather them up at the end of the day to see what worked best, what was surprising, and yes, what was dreadful.


Three great books for all creative types.

I’m giving myself several months to do this. Maybe at some point I’ll have a breakthrough. Or maybe I will become motivated to do new lino prints. I have no idea.

Have you undertaken a new activity, especially one that is scary and unknown?