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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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Some recent work

I’ve added another page to my Portfolio Pages here with examples of some Gel Prints. I’ve also been using the prints made this way as elements for collage. I’ve always liked collage, ever since I came across the work of Max Ernst and Kurt Schwitters in my teens, too many years ago.

Here’s a couple of slightly larger collage pieces (about 12″ x 9″ or 300 x 225 mm)

Finally here’s another one from some time ago, using prepared papers again, but this time by monoprinting on paper smaller than the plate, so taking the colour to the edges. I originally intended this to be overprinted with a drypoint, but I haven’t taken the plunge yet…

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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.

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A new print series

I’ve been unable to do any printing for quite a while. I have been plagued with problems with my foot, putting me on crutches since mid-November. I used my down time looking at a lot of pictures, but also thinking about subjects and themes. I’ve been interested in neolithic rock art for some time now and living near Avebury and Stonehenge it’s impossible to avoid standing stones. Scattered also across the landscape of Wessex are hundreds, if not thousands of barrows and burial mounds and of course the White Horses like Pewsey, Cherhill, Westbury etc in Wiltshire or Uffington in Oxfordshire. In addition we have the famous Cerne Abbas Giant, the Long Man of Wilmington and assorted other hill figures, many now lost completely.

It isn’t just Britain with these features. The stone alignments of Carnac in Brittany are well known, but there are a multitude of standing stone circles, alignments and dolmens across France and Ireland and much further afield.

Putting all this together made me wonder about the sort of landscape we might see if more had survived. Out of that has evolved the print series I’m putting together. This will take landscapes, more or less stylised and incorporate into them other figures. I will draw on a range of sources. I’m researching Celtic and Saxon myths, cave paintings as well as the sort of abstract shapes found in rock art.

Technically, these prints will incorporate collagraph and dry point plus perhaps solar etching and ultimately hand embellishments. I also expect to use monoprinting or hand painting as the ground on which the prints will be made. I’m also going to try and incorporate some of the techniques used by Australian artist, Kim Westcott. (, although the site did not load properly for me.) She reuses old plates in combination with new, mixing in shadow prints and rotation of the plates to create her drypoints.

I have no prints as yet, but here are some rough sketches and photos of some plates in preparation.

With luck, I’ll have more over the next few weeks.


I’m not the only one finding inspiration in these themes. See the web pages for Irish artist Tommy Barr.

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Lattice – drypoint on prepared paper.

I have already posted the ‘basic’ version of this, (here) which is available in an edition of five. This is a one-off experiment in printing over prepared paper, in this case washes of acrylic paint plus some acrylic ink. I suppose this makes it a monoprint – or perhaps it is mixed media?

As an experiment, it’s worth recording, but I don’t think the prepared paper really works in this instance.