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Getting through a creative block (updated)

Abstract collage with block of red and orange overlain with green strips asymmetrically arranged

As the absence of posts here might indicate, I’ve been going through a period where I can’t seem to make progress, whether writing or printmaking. I’ve been casting around for ways of getting through this creative block. This post is about one of the approaches I’ve tried, inspired by artists on YouTube, Instagram and elsewhere including Jane Davies, Karen Stamper, Albert van der Zwart, and Sally Hirst whose Collage Creations course I’m currently working through. (I wasn’t when I first wrote this.)

From these, and others, I realised that a common factor in being blocked is fear. That may be fear of not getting it ‘right’, fear about wasting materials because of a lack of confidence. That’s nonsense, of course, everything doesn’t have to be brilliant every time, and nothing used with intent is wasted. Still, it’s an easy mind set to fall into, especially when you’ve been working hard. With that in mind, I set out to create quantity, not quality, setting myself some arbitrary rules to stop me overthinking.

Normally, if I get stuck I make some small gel prints, as that is a quick and effective way of getting something to look at. I couldn’t do that this time, because I felt I was in a rut. So, I created an extra disruption by choosing collage, a medium I hadn’t done a lot of work in.

I started with some very small (A6) pieces of mixed media paper and a pile of random shapes cut from prepared papers, old maps etc. I gave no thought to how they might fit together. To make the collage, the rules I set myself were:

  • work fast – no more than a couple of minutes on each. Don’t go on endless searches for the perfect shade or piece.
  • no more than 2 or 3 pieces in any one composition.
  • free form – i.e. not working to a rectangular shape. Let the paper decide

I don’t think the results are in any way finished pieces, although a few are quite pleasing. I don’t even think of them as ‘studies’. A study, to me, implies a degree of planning, of working toward something. These are ideas, no more, and like all ideas some are better than others.

I’ve put the full set so far in the slide show below.

So, what’s next? Again, I’m not entirely sure. I’ll probably make another batch in similar fashion, perhaps a little larger. I don’t want this way of working to be the new normal, so I will need to make sure I keep experimenting. I’ve started making similar pieces in a concertina sketchbook I made by folding and cutting a large A2 sheet. Working that way stops me seeing them as ‘art’, but as trials.

In a variation on this, I dripped and spattered acrylic ink across a similar A2 sheet, then folded and cut it to make another sketchbook. You can see the effect below.

EDIT: Since I first wrote this, I have enrolled on Sally Hirst’s Collage Creations course. Other factors have intervened, so my reading has got far ahead of the making. So far, though, I’m finding it worthwhile. Obviously, some bits I knew already. Sally’s clarity of exposition has, though, has enabled me to use what I knew with deliberate intent, and to build on that. I’m looking forward to working through the rest of it.

Updated and extended 28/08/2023

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Lessons learned

My last post, about using periodic reviews of old work as a mechanism for moving forward artistically, made me remember something I know in theory, but keep forgetting. Perhaps I need to review lessons learned too. I tend to describe myself as a printmaker. It is easy to forget – well, I find it easy anyway – that the print doesn’t have to be the end state. This is especially so with gel printing or screen printing, which use acrylic paint. Take this image, from that last post.

Pictogram - gel print
Pictogram – monotype print 30 cm x 30 cm

The initial inspiration was the idea of the pictograph (definition 1 in link) as developed by Adolph Gottlieb. The mark in yellow was also supposed to be redolent of Japanese or Chinese calligraphy. The problem I have with the image is the purple/white patches which break the mark are unrelated to it and to anything else in the image. I spent some time thinking about how to overprint them using gel printing without losing other aspects, which do work. Then it stuck me. Paint them out! That was lesson one…

I would be in good company doing this. Gillian Ayres, for example, used to set aside some prints from an edition, specifically to overpaint, an example being Springfield No 2 from 1999.

The second lesson learned, which seems even harder to remember, is that every blog post doesn’t have to be a dissertation! Just because I like writing long posts, doesn’t mean others want to read them! I’ll do my best, though, because if I can remember that lesson, I’m more likely to keep posting.

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Some Mixed Media and Collage pieces

Avebury Neolithic circle

Because I couldn’t stand at the press for quite a while (see the previous post for why), I also made some small collage pieces. These have no particular theme, they are just playing with the medium.

All are available in my Etsy shop here (£25.00 each, matted to fit a 10″ x 8″ frame – see the listing for full details):

This link to an Etsy search on ‘mixed media collage’ also brings up some other items including a number from my ‘Made to Music’ series (£15 for unmatted, £30 matted – see the listing for full details – and making me realise that I’ve worked this way on several occasions.

I have another series called ‘Around Avebury’, which has yet to be added to the Etsy shop. These are all in handmade oak frames. You can find these on my Portfolio Pages.