Author: Sharon M Egan

Artist and writer based in south-east Queensland, Australia

Your creative treasure chest

Creative block is a topic I keep revisiting because my thoughts on what it is and how to overcome it are always evolving. Creative block is an umbrella term which includes, but is not limited to, creativity fatigue, artist’s block, and the more well-known writer’s block. I’ve read a lot of articles and blog posts on the topic, from people who have experienced it to varying degrees, to people who write about how to overcome it, and I’m still none the wiser on why it happens. What I have learned is there is no-one-size-fits-all approach to solving such dilemmas in creativity. The reasons for creative blocks are subjective, thus the solutions and/or steps to overcoming blocks will also be subjective. The key might have something to do with our own expectations and the solution might require forgiveness.

Lately I find myself in a period of low production. I hesitate to call my current state a “block” because I didn’t stop creating; my imagination is always active and engaged. What I am lacking is motivation. Creative motivation, at least in my case, is mostly intrinsic. Meaning, external motivations, such as financial or other rewards figure very low on my list of reasons for creating anything. They’re nice, but not necessary.

Once I would have agonised over this low level of production. I would have berated myself for it, told myself I was being lazy or defeatist, which could then have led to weeks of pointless self-flagellation. I feel comfortable admitting to this because I know it’s a common theme when it comes to creative flow and most of us have subjected ourselves to this at least once. These days I know the tap hasn’t been turned off, I’m just refilling the reservoir. What is still daunting, though, is that there’s no timetable. I can’t schedule the downtime or the (hopefully) inevitable reboot of the motivation to produce. Even after decades of being a creative and experiencing fluxes in levels of creativity, I can’t give myself an estimate on when this era will be finished. Will it be days, weeks, or months? All I do know is this as a new permanent state of mind.

What is helping now is redefining what counts as a creative outcome and tempering my expectations of myself. Jotting down ideas and making (even ugly) scribbles is still an act of creativity and one which I am content with for now.

Thinking deeply about not much

I am a deep thinker. I enjoy mulling over things I’ve read, heard or seen. But more than this, I love visualising, inventing and reflecting on scenarios or scenes to write and paint. It was said when I was a child that I had an “over-active imagination” and I was a daydreamer – sometimes by teachers in school reports. “She needs to apply herself” was a common refrain in those reports, but there was also an expectation I’d grow out it. Daydreaming was considered puerile and a waste of time. I think a lot of creatives can identify with this.

I didn’t listen. No matter how many times I got in trouble for looking out the window too long or not hearing all of the question, I would sneak away to the corners of my mind and explore. I still love being in my own head and it serves me well in the downtimes.

I wrote a lot of the ideas down over the years and kept them to remind me what a rich resource the human mind is. In this way the ideas, no matter how good or bad, will always exist in a library of potential. They can never be failures while ever they remain there. So I keep them and they keep me. If I could generate income from all the notions alone . . . well, I’d make a modest income because not all ideas are created equal. Some ideas are scaffolding for much bigger ideas, others are nutriments for embryonic projects. Most, though, are fragments of ideas whose function is really just to beget more ideas and to keep the creative furnace burning. There will be many of broken pieces and castoffs, and that’s ok. I am whiling away the hours doing the important work of procrastinating.

Refreshing your imagination

Sometimes you just need to let it happen and trust that your mind is incubating.

Where once it was widely seen as a character flaw, and even an act of avoiding responsibility, procrastination is now finding a niche for itself in the creative process. Procrastination can be seen as a form of creative incubation. It can give you a much needed distraction from the pressures of a project, and importantly, allow time to digest ideas, or mull over problems and solutions without over-thinking. Procrastination is an important state of mind and one we all know how to do intrinsically. Best of all, you don’t need special tools. You might feel like you’re engaging in fruitless daydreaming, but the mind knows where it goes.

Creative people are creative all the time, even when we don’t feel like we are. I have started to envision creativity as a chest filled with treasures. And it is always full. Frustratingly, ownership of the chest doesn’t guarantee me permanent access to the goodies within. Sometimes the lid closes, sometimes I just see a jumble of seemingly useless glitter, sometimes the jewels just aren’t my cup of tea. But there is always something in there. If I can’t identify the objects or I see nothing that interests me, it’s time to close the lid and go and bake. Or read a book, watch documentaries, make sketchbooks, or spend too many hours on Pinterest. The point is to stop looking so hard. Maybe look at something else for awhile. Procrastinate, refresh the imagination.

The act of envisioning the chest might itself be a pathway to breaking down whatever barriers are holding you back. After all, creativity begets creativity.

A tree on INPRNT.com and a promo code

I’ve just finished a rather large pen and ink and watercolour of an antarctic beech; those magnificent Gondwana relics, which I am blessed to live in the same state as. I have a collection of photos of two rather old trees in particular from several different pilgrimages. Unfortunately that still wasn’t enough for a faithful reproduction of either tree, so my tree is a mish-mash of the two.

The Keeper – pen and ink with Payne’s grey watercolour on 300 gsm hot press paper

From today until Sunday, 18 July I’m offering a 5% discount on all my giclée, canvas and acrylic prints from INPRNT.com. INPRNT offers high quality products using archival ink on high quality heavy paper. They also offer free shipping for applicable products. Use the promo code 9TK8XD for 5% off prints in my store.

Big inspiration from small creative superstars

It’s school holidays, cool and wet and unfortunately we had to go in to a three day lockdown in the first week of the mid-year break. My daughter already had some friends over, so we decided to do an art session to keep our minds off the big world out there. I covered the dining table with paper, gave them all some fairly robust multi-media paper and said go-for-it. Without hesitation or shyness they got to work straight away and churned out pages and pages of creative and colourful pieces. They brought a different kind of big world in to my home and that energy is still here days later.

Here are some of their pieces:

It is a marvel how easily children connect with their creative selves. Generally, they’re not afraid to experiment or make mistakes and they are usually proud of their accomplishments. Watching these three young creatives support and encourage each other was as rewarding as the art they created. They didn’t judge question each others art choices and were ready to share their own knowledge. I was glad to be a facilitator for them; it can only lead to more innovation. Days like these make me glad to be a creator and helped generate some inspiration for myself.

Challenges of nature journaling

One of the challenges of any nature journaling for the purposes of learning is finding a balance between enjoyment and enlightenment.

So far I’m achieving both, but not without some conscious decision-making. This has not been a passive sketching project. There are thousands of species of ferns, from many different groups – many I’ve never seen or heard of. Finding good reference photos for some has been a challenge. Knowing how many and which fern species from each genera to include on a page is another time-consuming concern, but all part of the process of enlightenment. It would also be easy to pick the least complex leaves to draw in order to finish pages quicker, but I feel this would misrepresent an ancient and diverse group of plants. Besides, the end result would be a less visually appealing spread.

As with most taxonomy and phylogeny, sometimes a species inclusion in a group doesn’t make sense, at least to a non-botanist like me, especially when the experts don’t agree. There have even been several occasions when there has been some ambiguity, even controversy, about a species’ placement within a particular group. I do my best with the taxonomic nomenclature, but systematics is not the reason for the journal so it doesn’t really matter if some of it is imprecise. I won’t be travelling the world identifying fern species any time soon.

Another minor issue I have is my own handwriting. I write in all caps because it’s more legible, but even then I keep it to a minimum because, frankly, it’s ugly. I’ve updated my Lamy Al-Star nib to a black stainless steel medium nib rather than the fine nib I was using as it is much smoother, so I am more inclined to use it. Clearly, though, I still need practice.

The final issue with a journal like this is time. I’m impatient to see a page done, but since a spread can take an afternoon to complete I won’t be finished any time soon. Fern leaves can be complicated, at least when it comes to drawing them.

Whatever the challenges, I am committed to seeing this sketchbook filled, no matter how much time it takes.

Ferns: a continuation of a visual journal

I have an appreciation for the diversity and charm of ferns, but I’m not a botanist, so defining their form isn’t always easy – understanding their taxonomy and phylogeny even less so, but that matters less to me than the act of journaling. My homage to ferns is mostly meditative, and it is lovely to look back and see the work I’ve done in this medium-sized journal. I’m a long way off from finishing it, which is ok, because I’m a long way off from finishing the division of ferns. There are over 10,000 species to play with, after all, and that’s only the extant species; there are many extinct species in the form of fossils that could probably fill a small sketchbook. Now there’s a challenging project.

More bovines, plus some wonderfully weird goats

Living bovines (from the family Bovidae, subfamily Bovinae) come in many shapes and sizes. Some of them could be mistaken for antelopes, which occupy a seperate subfamily (Antilopinae) within Bovidae.

From musk ox to ibex and barbery sheep, members of the subfamily Caprinae, on the other hand, are unmistakable and just a bit more difficult to sketch. This has been fun to do as I wind down of an evening.

What tinnitus tastes like

I produce a lot of monochromatic (sometimes two-hued) artwork, such as in the top three recent entries in various sketchbooks. Mostly, I think this is just aesthetic preference, with a side order of apprehension over colour-coordination.

I have always had an unusual relationship with colour, mostly because what makes sense to others doesn’t necessarily make sense to me. For me, certain colours can have a sound and vice versa. Mostly colours and sounds are associated with sensations in certain parts of my body or often tastes. These perceptions aren’t present all the time and they aren’t usually intrusive. Most of the time I just go with living in a noisy rainbow world. Except when my tinnitus is switched on to high: it turns out even the sounds my brain produces, can have taste too. In my case, tinnitus tastes like a dirty silver coin under my tongue.

I have early-onset hearing loss which causes tinnitus in my left ear and means I need to wear hearing aides in both ears. The hearing aides mostly alleviate the silver coin under my tongue, but they haven’t cured my awkwardness with colour. Hence, most of what I produce in my sketchbooks remains monochromatic. Monotones are quieter, easier to navigate. Ultimately, though, I really do love the way it looks, the delicacy of tonal changes, the way they can communicate form, as well as the level of detail I can achieve without too much effort.

Even when I attempt to reproduce the colour of the fruit of yew tree (below), next to the blue-green leaves, I feel I’ve done a woefully inadequate job, so I retreat very quickly back to the safe zone of monotones, which is fine. It’s allowed. It’s only a visual journal, after all.

Visual journals aren’t meant to be laborious endeavours, requiring us to perspire over the slightest detail or hue – unless it’s what makes your heart sing, of course.

Fern journal continued

Here’s another two pages from the fern journal. I’m loving this journal and can’t wait to see it filled.

Ferns from Eupodium and Marattia genera

Right now the ferns are fairly easy to draw, but harder ones with more more complex leaves are coming, especially ferns with tripinnate and bipinnate-pinnatifid leaves. Each new fern brings with it more knowledge and confidence, so I think it will be worth it.

Doodling matters

I have a small confession: I am self-conscious about doodling, but I really want to do it.

I can approach many illustrations or paintings with a degree of confidence, but the thought of making a page of doodles makes me balk. Not because I am prejudice against doodling, but because I was convinced I couldn’t do it; that I didn’t possess the skill or imagination to do even a passible job. It is a shyness I’ve found difficult to overcome.

What do I mean by doodling?

Sunni Brown, a creative superstar and author of The Doodle Revolution, which I am currently enjoying, rejects the dictionary definition of doodling as absent-minded scribbling and defines it as “making spontaneous marks (with your mind and body) to help you think”. This definition suits me better too and does go some way to demystify the act.

As much as I love getting lost in tight drawings, becoming engrossed in the fine details of a complex illustration, they can be rather stressful and time consuming. They require a particular state of mind and while they are challenging, they don’t necessarily challenge me to expand my drawing skills, nor do they utilise my expertise in daydreaming. They can be predicable, which is convenient, but lazy.

I picked up Sunni’s book in order to help me overcome my shyness, but it is also helping me redefine my attitude and expectations about doodling. It’s also helping me discover where some of that shyness came from. Unfortunately I grew up in an era when doodling in your exercise book was considered vandalism. These same adults pushed the notion that drawing was only for those with “natural talent” to be executed at appropriate moments in appropriate formats. Basically, doodles were ugly, unsophisticated and a waste of time. Even if I never adopted that belief about other people doodling, I felt I would be judged for my clumsy scribbles and no one would take me seriously. Fortunately maturity has a way of, not only changing the way you see of yourself, but also the way you feel about how you’re seen by others.

In other words, other people’s judgements aren’t my problem.

So I’m going to doodle and daydream.

I started out doodling just with a black fineliner and a black coloured pencil for shading, but felt I was boxing myself in using only one colour. The idea is to be loose and spontaneous. So I tentatively started adding colour without really caring about the consequences. I hope it will be filled with rainbow flavoured connections by the time I’m done with this notebook.

Kermit would be proud.