Erin Blumer
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Solving My Artist's Block with a Do-Make Creative Process

Overcoming the dreaded blank page. Photo ©2016 by Erin Blumer.

Overcoming the dreaded blank page. Photo ©2016 by Erin Blumer.

The blank page.  Staring you in the face.  Taunting you with its blankness.  Possibly even doing a little blank tap dance on your desk.  ...Alright, maybe not that last one.  But, every creative person has probably stared at the dreaded blank page at least once, and most of us probably more times than we care to consider.  The reasons for a creative block are many and as varied as each writer, artist, or composer.  Solutions to artists' block vary widely too, but I'm going to discuss what I've found works best for me, something I call the "Do-Make" creative process.

Rather obviously, there are two parts to "Do-Make": "Do," and, well, "Make."  The "Make" part is where we get stuck with that dastardly artists' block— the actual act of drawing, painting, writing, etc.  The "Do" part is where we can (hopefully) get un-stuck.

The Value of Doing

Often, I find that my worst creative blocks occur when I am spending so much time in my studio and/or at the office that I forget to engage with the outside world beyond my usual routine of wake-eat-work-eat-work-eat-work-shower-sleep.  I neglect to go for walks in the park, run or hike, take pictures of flowers, go to the garden store, or visit museums.  I neglect the activities— the "do's," if you will.

My creative output and the quality of my work tend to depend heavily on input.  As an artist, I observe and experience the world around me, process it, and then create.  Naturally, if I remove observation and experience from the equation, creating art is going to become pretty difficult.  For me, "do's" are essential to my work.

Striking the Right Balance

When I'm well balanced between doing and making, making becomes a much smoother process— ideas abound, and I am about as prolific as I can be while still working a regular 8 to 5 office job.  Getting balanced is of course easier said than done.

First of all, the ideal ratio of doing to making is going to be different for each of us, and may even vary for ourselves from time to time.  Secondly, it's easy to get caught up in one or the other, and suddenly we realize that we're not making as much as we need or want to, or we burn ourselves out on making and/or run into a creative wall.  Either way, the result is we stop making, or least don't make as much.  What your ratio is and how easy it is to get shunted into one or the other will likely depend on your introversion/extroversion and your life circumstances and responsibilities (such as whether you have kids, work a day job, etc.).

The Do's to Do

Finally, we each have to discover what kinds of inputs work best for us.  For me, I know that some of my best inputs are being out in nature, taking lots of pictures (whether they are good pictures isn't important), reading escapist literature, and going to museums (art and otherwise).  For someone else, good inputs might include going to symphony concerts, seeing a play or musical, visiting with grandparents, and going to BBQ festivals.  Your "do's" can be pretty much anything, so long as they give you creative input.

Pushing Past the Block

The next time you're afflicted with a creative block, rather than taping your eyes open to try to win the staring contest with your blank page, allow yourself to get up and do something else instead.  In moments of block, I've found that physical activities like gardening or exercising work best for quickly un-sticking my mind so that I can create again.  

If I notice a more protracted pattern of artists' block, I do a schedule check: am I making time to go hiking, am I running at least two days a week, have I been going for regular walks on my lunch break, etc.?  Realizing where and how I'm spending my time sheds light on my current priorities and/or circumstances so that I can course-correct and let my creativity flow.

Do you use a Do-Make approach, or do you think it would help you creatively?  What other strategies do you use for getting past artists' block?