How I Got Unstuck from Creative Block

Creative block is something that many artists suffer from and I allowed it to prevent me from making art for a very long time.

Because in the end, you won't remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing the lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.


It was during a particularly frustrating time in my life when I returned to making art consistently.

I found myself ten years into a business career I never planned on, living in a place I didn't like. I was frustrated with myself for delaying my dreams so I found fault with everything around me.

I needed an outlet.

Without any ideas, the easiest thing for me to do was take pictures. I had absolutely no plan. With my chunky DLSR in hand, I went out and started taking candid pictures of the public.

I'd take photos of people coming out of the wholesale club store or going into the Chinese buffet. I went to a protest rally that was opposing a movie theater's proposal to sell beer and wine, just to take pictures.

I never intended to show the pictures to anyone but I kept taking them.

Once in a while, I'd look through the photos on my computer. The faces and expressions were intriguing but I still had no ideas.

Finally, I zoomed in on the face of an older man and was compelled to draw his portrait.

His skin was weathered and his expression was that of despair or deep sadness yet he was just walking towards a restaurant, holding his wife's hand.

I had almost no experience in portraiture but I felt like I needed to draw this man.

I had a pad of 11x14 inch paper and some drawing pencils. I laid the paper on my desk with the computer screen behind it, displaying the zoomed in photo, and I started drawing.

I didn't know any particular methods for how to draw a portrait, nor did I care to find out. I didn't know about the grid method that helps achieve precise proportions. I didn't study portraiture in college.

None of that mattered to me, I just wanted to draw.

After that first portrait, I was pleased with the result (in retrospect it was not very good, see it below next to the larger version I did many portraits later) and excited to try more. Through my photos, I found a wealth of subjects.

I didn't show the drawings to anyone except maybe a friend or two. It was my private project and I still didn't know what it was about or what to do with the work.

I remember thinking about large portraits I'd seen in galleries and museums, thinking that I couldn't possibly create something bigger than my little 11x14 inch portraits. Then, by chance, I had the opportunity to get some very large sheets (about 30x40 inches) of good quality paper for free.

It felt like a sign.

The full sheets were too large to store flat so I ripped them in half and started new portraits. Immediately, the larger than life portraits became more dynamic and the practice from doing 20 or so small portraits paid off.

My skills were improving and it was more comfortable than I thought it would be to draw so large.

On the left is the very first portrait I drew. After drawing a couple dozen portraits, I drew the same man again. On the right the second version, drawn 5 months later and about double in size.

I became obsessed with drawing.

I couldn't wait to draw after work and on weekends. Before I left the house to go to work in the morning, I'd stop and look at the latest portrait in progress, anxious to return to it.

This project also meant that I wanted to collect more source material so I started bringing my camera everywhere. I was fortunate to have a job that required me to travel all over the world. Whenever I had a spare morning or evening during my work trips, I'd walk around whichever city I was in, snapping photos.

I didn't set out with a plan or a concept and I didn't know what to do with the portraits, but that project brought me back to making art.

I felt like I returned not only to art but to the identity I lost for so many years.

During my years working in business, I often felt like I'd taken on a different identity because I didn't consider myself an artist anymore.

What this project taught me was that by working on my art consistently, I'd find not only the inspiration to continue but it would fulfill me in a way that I'd missed for a decade.

At times it was hard to continue the work but I decided that making art needed to be a priority in my life so I aimed to stop making excuses and get on with it!

In the next post, I'll share info on the specific tools and materials I used for the project you just read about.

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