Me Draw Pretty One Day
October 6, 2009 8:22 AM   Subscribe

Hey artists and creative types! How do you get back at it when you've been out of the studio for a long time?

This question relates directly to visual art, so that's my main interest in this, but I'd like to hear answers from writers and musicians and any other creative folks who might have some insight to share. Basically, I'm wondering how you get your muse to start returning your calls again.

My situation is that I'm heading into a quarter of school where I get to spend as much time as I please in the studio, working on my art (comics, in my case) - trouble is, I'm coming off a summer where I worked six nights most weeks and scarcely had a moment to draw, so I feel really rusty. When my comics matrix is firing on all cylinders, inspiration is never a problem - rather, keeping up with it is. But getting there takes awhile, and I'd like to jumpstart my return if at all possible.

So, that's the question, creative AskMe readers: when you've been away from your artistic practice for a long time, how do you get your head back in the game?
posted by EatTheWeek to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I have an on-again-off-again relationship with music. The way I usually get back into it is to get the guitar and start trying to play familiar songs from my favorite bands, sometimes along with the recording. I usually have a good time, and gradually, things get more fluid and some of the speed comes back, and I half-consciously start playing something I think I might want to build into a song. (Whether or not I still like that something after I've recorded it into a song is another matter.)

I imagine you can do the same by doodling or drawing figures or characters with which you're comfortable until you feel like drawing something "more" original again. Actually, I've read that sketching and doodling is great for sparking creativity regardless of your particular discipline.
posted by ignignokt at 8:34 AM on October 6, 2009

I set a schedule where I have to work in the studio, usually a small time frame to start with like everyday from 7 to 9am.

When I'm there I have to be working (not organizing or cleaning), but I don't put any pressure on myself to create anything of quality. I just have to make something, even if it's an awful something. When I begin, it feels like I forgot how to make art, but over a week or so it all comes back.

Good luck!
posted by jenmakes at 8:37 AM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Just start drawing. I produce my weirdest comics when I start going without any ideas.
posted by cmoj at 8:37 AM on October 6, 2009

In my experience, you can only court the muse by doing the work. Forget the muse and draw. See what happens. That is the process. Trust it.
posted by Jode at 8:39 AM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

April is the cruelest month because it is tough getting back into it when you have to raise and renew your dormant muse. A good trick is to consume a lot of art, meaning look at what other artists are doing. View websites, publications, art shows, everything. Seeing what others are doing and what's going on in the field will often spark inspiration and motivation to try something. You see something that makes you say "that's cool!" and it kickstarts you.
posted by That takes balls. at 8:40 AM on October 6, 2009

You have to spend time in the environment you work in and expect you'll actually feel inspired any moment now and just work. And don't give up.
posted by Obscure Reference at 8:40 AM on October 6, 2009

I prefer drawing from reference; I find that having a real photo or even a human model really amps up the drawing intensity, gets you immediately back into the groove. It reminds you simultaneously that a) this stuff is hard, b) not everyone trains for this [but you have], and c) you should be proud of your work, as abstracted or representative of the subject as it is.

By now you may have a consistent style; be proud of it and happy that it is unique. It will never "leave", no matter how long you've been away, and it'll come back soon.
posted by Khazk at 9:00 AM on October 6, 2009

Schedule the time, stick to the schedule, and get to work. Thoughts of being rusty and worries about coming back from a break are just noise your brain is throwing at you. Some people loooove the idea of an "artistic block" but they seem to have no shortage of the creative ability required to describe said block.

You're an artist, you've got your studio waiting for you, get on it! All cylinders will be firing before you know it.
posted by quarterframer at 9:04 AM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I can't remember which book it's in, but somewhere, Stephen King talks about a writer character starting back up after some time off; he describes it as feeling like he's french-kissing a corpse, which then slowly comes to life as the rust shakes off. Whenever I'm getting back to doing comics after a layoff, I just keep that in mind, and kind of grit my way through it until it starts feeling natural again.

One thing that I do that probably doesn't really apply to your current situation, but is good to remember: if I know I'm not going to be working for a while (like, I just went on vacation), I try to leave a comic half-finished so that I can at least start back up with something in progress rather than having to do it completely cold.
posted by COBRA! at 9:19 AM on October 6, 2009

I'm a musician FWIW. When I'm rusty I'm careful to go easy on myself. I choose to work on music that'll be fun and simple so I'll have some measure of success. That way I don't do that whole "Wah! I'll never be good EVER AGAIN" thing, and try to sell my horn on eBay.

If I'm having fun and not pushing too hard my creativity comes back over time. So does my tolerance of woodshedding and other grunt work.
posted by Kicky at 9:47 AM on October 6, 2009

Go in and play. Indulge in the colors and materials that you find the most interesting, even if it's not refined. Do what made you love drawing in the first place, when you were a little kid sketching out action scenes on school paper. Wallow in it, experiment, and let yourself do stuff (giant canvas and great big brush dipped into black housepaint? why not?) that isn't part of A capital-P Purpose.

Interesting how people seem to be suggesting the opposite ends of the spectrum here in the replies!
posted by Lou Stuells at 11:32 AM on October 6, 2009

I'm a graphic designer, but in my off hours, I make watercolor paintings. When I've been away from it for a while, I often try to ease myself into drawing and painting again by carrying a sketchbook with me. I give myself the task to draw whatever I see with whatever implement falls into my hand at the time. So, maybe I'll draw the meeting room in coffee, pencil, and correction fluid. The meeting room isn't a brilliant subject, but it provides multiple opportunities to draw tiny details in a mundane setting.

One time when I was super-frustrated in the studio, I got in the car and just painted what I could see from the front seat. The overhead power lines, street lights, traffic signals, and whatnot turned into a rewarding painting experience. Not a painting I could do anything with, mind you, but it helped me break up my studio routine.

COBRA! mentioned Stephen King, who says to treat writing like it's a 9-to-5 job. I think there's something to that. If you can keep working even when you're not producing anything useful, you're building up a back catalog of work to provide future inspiration.

Best of luck to you. I know I'd love to leave my creative job ("Can you make this Swedish cough drop label look beautiful and retro?") and work in the studio.
posted by S'Tella Fabula at 1:23 PM on October 6, 2009

If you're in school, why don't you find a small group of people and get together for a brainstorming session. Everyone can bring in some of their finished work, and then you sit around for an hour or so and just throw ideas around the table. Between seeing work done by someone else and having a discussion with other creative people, you should not only feel inspired, but you will also see things in their technique and approach which may make you try some new things.
posted by markblasco at 1:33 PM on October 6, 2009

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