Making Art

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My top tips for getting into a creative headspace

It can be hard to come in from your normal life and get into a good head space for making art. You can try to do it by having a great studio space, and a free day but that’s not always possible . So sometimes you just have to create that space for yourself mentally. Even if you get to work full time on your art  it can be difficult to get into the right frame of mind: work, problems, even fun things like socializing can make it tricky .

Sometimes it’s about recognising when we are putting off doing some art and trying to figure out why. One of the main things that puts me off is when I am about to do a tricky patch. One of my Bfs was painting a portrait, [of my husband as it happens]. She did most of it really quickly, over the course of a couple of days. But she stopped for a rest before she did the eyes. When I next came to see her it was looking great: such an accurate and sympathetic portrait. She was reworking the background which she said she was no longer keen on and she also did one eye. But I think he has stayed with no second eye for about a year now. LOL. She is a really good painter but she still has times when she gets a bit stuck on something. Is it the innate trickiness of an eye and its expression? After all its the place we will focus our gaze when its finished. Or is it because its the last thing to do….

At the moment I have been working on a clay bust [head and shoulders] of my child.I have wanted to do this piece for a while, but I put off starting it because [this is what I told myself anyway] these clay  pieces are a big commitment. They take up lots of space in the house, they make a big mess, I probably won’t be able to do any other art while it’s on the go….. all these things are true actually but probably not the reason I have put it off.  I think I put it off because I want it to be good. [There’s that good concept again screwing with my mind! See my previous post on this if you are interested].

But I have started the bust now and I used a few of my favourites methods to overcome my hesitation and get into the right headspace.

  1. First I snuck up on it. I did this by taking photos of my child from various angles, to refer to when she is too wriggly to model for me. See ? Sneak up: you’re not really making anything just planning it.
  2. Then I prepared my equipment and materials. My house is way too small for a dedicated making a mess space so I keep my clay stuff in the shed. I brought in my tools and my turntable. I kneaded all my clay and had it all ready to go.
  3. I collected images of my previous clay heads, in order to see this one as part of a continuum of learning. I tell myself: this one doesn’t have to be perfect, I am still learning how to do heads.  This head is actually number five. Its fairly easy to do an imaginary person:  it doesn’t matter if it has a long face or a short one. A fine nose or a bulky one. So my aim this time is to try to create a portrait of an actual person.


Above: a previous head. Believe it or not this head is pretty accurate. The model had a massive skull and quite a regal look.

It’s still not proving the easiest piece even though I am half way through it. I kind of have to get into the headpsace over and over. The clay I am using is very hard work. It’s porcelain paper clay and has a difficult putty like texture, that seems to dry out unevenly. compared to other clays it is not very elastic. I don’t find it that fun to work with, but I picked it because it has a beautiful hard white surface when fired. Its beautiful even without glaze. Most of my previous work has been done in terracotta paperclay which has a lovely feel when you work with it. As it dries, the surface becomes almost waxy and it is super for smooth detail. So I will use it again next time. There is no point using a medium or technique if it really does put you off.


Above: the roughed in neck and shoulders. Usually you would use an armature and do the head and shoulders all in one. But one of the joys of paper clay is that you can join it up quite late in the drying process. So I will hollow out the sections separately then join them up.


Above: the half finished head. I have put in basic versions of her features. Next  I check the proportions and refine the features to really make it look like her. At the moment she looks more like a sleepy old lady. I will post an update when she is finished.

It’s funny whan I read this post back, its like I have to be my own psychiatrist!  Leading myself gently to where I need to be. But that’s ok. It doesn’t mean I am nuts, it just highlights the fact that it’s not always easy to start working on our art. The phenomenon of the writer’s block is well know, but artists suffer from just as many difficulties.

So after all of this what are my top tips for getting into a creative head space?

  1. Sneak up on your self. Dont make a big deal of it, just start doodling ideas and collecting inspiration. 
  2. Get your equipment out. Have it sitting on the table/easel ready to go. If you have a studio or dedicated room, open the door so you can see it. Visible reminders will get you thinking about it.
  3. Sit down and look at your doodlings on the idea. Start to imagine how you would make the piece.
  4. Choose work you enjoy. I have often made something that wasn’t fun to make because I want the final piece, and slogged my way through it, but its a pile easier if you enjoy the process.
  5. Tell yourself, this doesn’t have to be the final version, but you will give it a go.
  6. It’s a bit like exercise. It’s good if you set a particular time of the day to do it. ‘ I will start this on Saturday morning’. Tell other people you will be busy then. If your art is important to you it’s worth making time for it.

Ultimately though we have to make the decision that if we want to make some art we might just have to do it amongst a lack of romance. We may not feel that inspired when we start but if we can just begin, we can enjoy the making journey and for me that’s what it’s really about. That special space where I am lost in my work and the piece before me starts to come to life.

2 comments on “My top tips for getting into a creative headspace

  1. Pingback: Finishing an artwork- it’s hard to know when. | Making Art

  2. Pingback: Take an Art Retreat – my tips for making it worthwhile. | Making Art

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This entry was posted on March 6, 2013 by in creativity, Inspiration, Making art and tagged , , , , , .
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