Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Maintaining Mental Momentum

An interesting angle posted on Lifehacker (via repost on Boing Boing) on resolving creative blockage:
"It might seem counterintuitive to stop in the middle of a task, but if you return to work you've already begun, it can help you remain focused and offset the mental blocks that frequently occur when starting with a blank slate."
Author Roald Dahl ("James and the Giant Peach," "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory") offers advice on circumventing a common brain hiccup that confronts many artists, that is to stop working when one is on a roll, leaving projects unfinished so as to avoid confronting the dreaded blank page syndrome. Such a process seems at odds with obsessive types who favor flogging along while on a roll, milking the moment for all it's worth. This also dovetails with another off-putting constraint for art, that of the concept of "clocking in and being creative," or disciplining oneself to sit down and throw the switch when it's time to work, whether one is in the mood or not, or "has any ideas."
This is the underlying reason behind keeping a sketchbook for me: regular readers of Ink & Snow are familiar with my oft-repeated "mulch-pile" metaphor, this effectively inculcates me against ever running out of ideas. Up above is a scan from a typical session at the public library, where one can see a common layout: half the page has an unfinished pencil sketch which is in "incubation," and will undergo modification until being inked over. And the process is often repeated a second time (barring unforeseen accidents) for the finished version, drafted again onto Bristol or watercolor paper. Sometimes seems like a lot of work to invest in a panel, especially compared to other cartoonists who skip all these steps and everything flows as is onto the page, giving it a looser, more spontaneous style.
Sometimes that'll happen too - one of the great things about making art is there doesn't necessarily have to be just one single method that always works: multiple means often snowball together during any given session, sort of like mentally swinging from vine to vine, grasping at anything that offers itself for inspiration. At any point along the way this provides a jump-start and gets the juices flowing all over again. Roald's point is particularly appropriate when viewing pages and pages of work-in-progress, whether it's just a line of text, a cryptic, aimless doodle, or a quick sketch that could use an editorial eye after some time and distance has passed.
Even though I don't have an outhouse anymore, I have noticed over the past couple weeks that simply stepping outside with the dog early in the morning will be enough of a mental trigger to get the "square wheel" rolling. Then when I come back inside and do a quick sketch, or jot down the fresh ideas, it more often than not sparks up another thread in turn, and away we go.

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