Too Artistically Blocked to Even Come Up with a Good Title
November 5, 2010 12:52 PM   Subscribe

Help me release my creativity. I can't draw when I want to!

My work notebooks are covered in doodles, illustrations, and sketches. Likewise any pad that I use when in a meeting, on a conference call, or when I am using my brain for something else. (possibly relevant: my recall of meetings and calls is as strong or stronger when I am drawing versus when I have no pen).
However, when I sit down to draw - making time with clean paper, a good pen, and good light - nada. I lock up and all my ideas that come forth unbidden when I'm "busy" are not to be found!
Am I alone in this? (Is there a name for it?) How can I relax and get the stuff flowing when I want to?
please do not suggest illegal mind altering substances. Anything more than a whiskey sour is not for me. Thanks!
posted by pointystick to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (22 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
What about re-drawing your doodles and sketches? Yeah, you're not creating anything brand new, but at least you're getting in the habit of sitting down and doing something.
posted by mskyle at 12:55 PM on November 5, 2010

Maybe start by redrawing your doodles with "good" conditions and supplies, and see if you go in a new creative direction. Even if you don't, you'll have a higher quality version of the doodle.
posted by domnit at 12:55 PM on November 5, 2010

If it doesn't come naturally, you may have to train yourself to do it. Find a prompt if you need it, just start drawing. My sketch pad has a lot of pages that started as one thing but ended up as something totally different - the key is to get that pen on the paper!

I like to think of it a lot like writing. Just go... thinking about it, analyzing it, etc, will just keep you thinking and not doing. Eventually you may get to the point where your gears start turning once you get the pen and paper in hand.
posted by _DB_ at 12:57 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

You need to be "busy" then! Audit a class at the local community college and sit in the back in doodle. Look through your local alt weekly and find free classes, workshops etc and do the same.
posted by nomadicink at 12:58 PM on November 5, 2010

You know what I find easier for starting to draw? Get a utensil which makes large marks, yet is still erasable, like a big piece of charcoal. Scribble all the hell over a piece of paper at random, so that there's tons of splotchy black on the white.

Now you can look at what you sloppily scribbled, and start using an eraser to carve away at the parts you don't want, and using a pencil to draw the things you see lurking within the scribble. This is fun for drawing things that are only in your mind (the shapes you see in the scribble end up being a sort of Rorscach-y way to draw new stuff), but even when I'm drawing a still life or something, I find that this is a fun way to start. Just the very blankness of a pristine white piece of paper can be a little immobilizing.
posted by Greg Nog at 1:02 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

The problem could be that you're trying to plan what to draw when sitting down to purposefully do it, instead of just letting it flow like when you're more focused on your other work.

So I suggest getting into the habit of doodling more often, besides just during work. Keep a little pocket sketchbook on hand and doodle whenever you have spare time, like on the subway or when waiting in the doctor's office, listening to an audiobook, etc. Mom's an art teacher and she says just keep practicing.
posted by lizbunny at 1:03 PM on November 5, 2010

Try drawing while you're half paying attention to something else that won't be offended by your distraction -- a podcast, a low-impact television show, that sort of thing.

Also, if you've been sitting down at a Desk with a Fancy Sketchpad and Artist Pencils or something similar, you may just be psyching yourself out. Try drawing on crappy printer paper with ballpoint pens while you're sitting on the couch. Or maybe disposable mechanical pencils on the backs of envelopes while sitting at the kitchen table. Make your materials and your setting as low-key and unintimidating as you can.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 1:03 PM on November 5, 2010

Have you thought of taking an drawing class? That would come built in with suggestions and ideas about what to draw, and you would learn some technique as well!
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 1:05 PM on November 5, 2010

I think it's a result of wanting to do the easiest interesting thing at any time. I used to doodle during school, meetings, church, etc. because it was the most interesting thing I could do while I was there. (I try really hard not to doodle during meetings now, but I sometimes end up making a couple swirls on my notepad anyway.) Once you're free from the meeting or wherever, drawing suddenly seems a little more like work, and there are a million other interesting things you can do.

Lately, I've started giving myself exercises to force myself to draw. Like keeping a list of prompts, or drawing the same cartoon person every day, or drawing the first thing on my mind when I wake up, or going to a coffeeshop with a sketchbook and setting a timer to doodle for half an hour straight. Sometimes I produce crap, but I learn from drawing crap, too.

I also have a Bulbasaur hat that I like to wear when I'm working on my drawing. When I'm wearing the Bulbasaur hat, I mean business. I swear it helps.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:23 PM on November 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Life drawing classes are great for FORCING you to draww cause it's all you can do.

YOu might want to pick up an old guide to sketching and run all the exercises. Rendering In Pen And Ink is what I used.
posted by The Whelk at 1:27 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

One of my drawing teachers would always have us warm up by doing a series of very quick gesture drawings. So we'd either have a model or a still life and try to capture some part of its essence in 10 seconds. Things would change and we'd draw for five seconds. Reset and draw for twenty. It got us ready to commit marks to the page.
posted by advicepig at 1:44 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Obligatory reading: Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Resource website and info here.
posted by Namlit at 2:04 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I draw on crappy paper with crappy materials and that's the only way I can actually get a good drawing. And I went to art school. So, you'd think I would have worked it out by now.

The way I get around it, is I get a huge pad of Bristol board, cut down a page into about 10 random sized pieces and just get to work. Having a bunch of what amounts to scraps of paper takes the pressure of making a Nice Drawing on Nice Paper. It helps me feel like even if I screw up the one I'm working on, there's still 9 or so more pieces I can work on. I found a big old paper cutter at a flea market so that makes the cutting part pretty quick and easy.

I also started a club with some of my friends where we draw and mail a drawing to each other every week. It forces us to actually sit down and draw regularly. Most people that join the club usually say something like, "I needed a reason to draw! This will force me to do it!" or something like that. I think a lot of us drawers get like that.
posted by smirkyfodder at 2:09 PM on November 5, 2010

I generally start drawing when my mind is occupied on something else - when I have friends over, say. I just put the pencil down on the paper and make a few lines, then see what that looks like.

If that's boring, then flip to the next page and trace over the impressions you see. See how that could look like a tree, or maybe Spiderman?

Really, just put the pencil down onto the page and start drawing. Rid yourself of all your expectations. Once you start the physical action of drawing, your ideas will flow out. Good luck!
posted by boghead at 3:00 PM on November 5, 2010

I find that when I'm stuck in a situation like yours, it's because I'm paralyzed by having too many options—e.g., should I sketch with non-photo blue pencil first? Bristol board or inkjet paper? Am I going to scan and color this in Photoshop later? Inks? Should I search the Internets for reference photos? etc...

It usually leads to much else other than drawing.

I haven't got it completely solved, but what I've found helpful is to limit myself a bit by:
  • trying to draw somewhere other than where I normally would—e.g., cafe, library, the beach, mass-transit (I thought it'd be impossible to get anything done on the bus with all the stopping & going, but lately I've come to enjoy it)
  • limiting my implements/mediums—e.g., just pencil & moleskine, no erasing allowed
  • drawing early in the mornings right after that first cup of coffee and before leaving for work (this also segues nicely into drawing on the bus for me)
So far, it's been working out alright—I've managed to accumulate a sketchbook of "ideas" (e.g., 狐 ☣ NJ) that I'll later revisit and catalyze into more fleshed-out drawings (e.g., sister ray 2) when I "sit down to draw" (pretty much following the advice of mskyle and domnit).
posted by 0x88 at 3:45 PM on November 5, 2010

Heh, I'm like smirkfodder, I draw for a living and I still choke when I have an expensive piece of paper in front of me. "Now create a Beautiful Drawing!" is guaranteed to make the drawing part of my brain storm off in a huff. I have an a whole array of mind-games I play myself:

-- piles and piles of paper and quivers of favorite not-expensive pencils. I do life drawing on newsprint and most everything else on reams of copy paper or similar. All this paper is going to go into landfill so I might as well ruin it first.

-- start ruining some paper right away by warming up with circles-- I fill up a couple of sheets with big lose overlapping circles to loosen my hand.

-- this might not work for everyone, but audiobooks. Or radio, or some other talky burbling in the background, to distract the verbal half of the brain. Da Vinci used to have people over to chat with him while he drew; you could combine pub/friends hang-out time with doodling time.

-- I only ever draw to learn something, demonstrate something, or to amuse myself. If any of these also happens to produce, as a byproduct, a good drawing, yay. If I have to produce a drawing for work, I ask myself, "What am I going to learn from this drawing?"

--The aforementioned Drawing On the Right Side of the Brain is a great start; The Natural Way to Draw is full of excercises to follow on from that. I've also enjoyed Experimental Drawing, for when you reach a certain level of confidence. Or play drawing games-- draw a random doodle and then try to find a face in it; draw patterns that follow certain rules.

I think the creative brain is about process, not result, so do whatever you can to distract and distance from results.

The name for this by the way is 'pencil not working' and a whisky sour would hit the spot right about now..
posted by Erasmouse at 4:02 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Try drawing (or doodling) on non blank paper. See if you can raid the recycling basket in your office and get some interesting text or pictures to draw on top of. I don't know if it's the sight of a blank page that blocks you, but it could be fun at least. And the results should be interesting.

You could try making small sketches of your ideas on the spot when you're in meetings, and then try revisiting them later. Maybe jot down notes about color, details, feelings and so on next to it as a reminder.

Try drawing along with another activity, like people watching, morning coffee/tea, listening to music, watching tv.

Redrawing art/photos you admire in your own style (with attribution of course) can be rewarding, and gets your pen moving.
posted by everyday_naturalist at 5:16 PM on November 5, 2010

Some more ideas:

Go out to an office or art supply store and get new pens or markers and try them out. Maybe get a nice notebook or memo pad or a yellow legal pad and keep them around.

Draw in a new place. Go to a sketchcrawl if possible. Go sketch in a museum. Go to the library/bookstore and check out the children's section (a treasure trove of imaginative art there in every medium and style possible, btw). Try making terrible drawings.

You can also try a workbook/instruction book like Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, Keys to Drawing and A Guide to Drawing. Or a creativity course like Keri Smith's Wreck This Journal or The Artist's Way.

Go forth and draw!
posted by everyday_naturalist at 5:28 PM on November 5, 2010

I've been drawing daily for almost two years (after a long break of not doing much of it) and the one thing that really helps to keep even the one to five minute sketches turning out okay is to keep a 3x5 inch really nice notebook and sharpened pencil and pen in my purse all the time. I can take it out for "note-taking" at work or in line at the deli, or where-ever. Moleskine notebooks are good Hand Books allow for watercolor washes. Once you get a small sketchbook going it is less of doodle vs serious drawing issue, I find. Getting used to using fairly decent materials on a daily basis is key to getting over the notion of them being "special".
posted by coevals at 6:54 PM on November 5, 2010

It might be performance anxiety to some extent. I recently took a drawing class, and as well as warming up with 30-second timed drawings, we did other exercises designed to take anxiety out of the equation, because there is no way anyone could expect us to produce something "good": e.g. one day we had to draw with our non-dominant hand. Another time we taped a piece of charcoal to the end of a very long stick (a one-meter long twig/branch, actually), and had to draw with that. Another time we weren't allowed to look at the paper. If you start off with these exercises, you get into the swing of drawing, and can then move on to a "proper" drawing more easily.

I bet something similar is going on with your doodling: when your mind is distracted by other stuff, you aren't worrying about whether you will produce something good or not, so you can just get on with it.
posted by lollusc at 7:12 PM on November 5, 2010

Thank you guys so much! These are ALL really helpful!
posted by pointystick at 6:24 AM on November 8, 2010

I do have the same problem - ideas and things just pop up in my mind at time they are not welcome, like when i take shower, do house cleaning and etc... A good solution I found to fix this habit is to carry a small dairy in my pocket all the time. If I have great answer to some burning questions I want answered, I just jot them down. In your case, just draw it out. Give it a try and see how it works.
posted by MikeJc at 7:37 AM on November 14, 2010

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