Sunday, 30 December 2012

Inspiration for 2013

As we start to think of the new year that lies ahead, together with all our wishes of how we would like to live our lives, we thought that the following article from Lesley Deysel would help us when the creative process refuses to get off the ground and we find ourselves 'stuck'. Here's wishing you all many happy painting hours in 2013 and remember - in order to do something well, one must first be willing to do it badly. 

Inspiration is one of those fraught topics where most people have a strong opinion on one side or the other – and neither of them  is particularly helpful in a crisis (which is what it feels like when you have a looming deadline or six and all the get-up-and-go of a rotting log).

Side One (let’s call them the Mystics) seem to think that Inspiration is a sort of magical force that bestows its favourites not only with endless enthusiasm but also with actual talent. The corollary of course is that without it we can and should not do anything, that we should just sit around waiting for the muse to strike. This sort of thinking seems  bound up with the idea that every work of art has to be revolutionarily original; that doing something that has been done before anywhere in the world, ever, is tantamount to copyright violation. 
Fortunately we as botanical artists are protected  against the worst excesses of this way of thinking due to our rich historical traditions and our associations with science.

Scientists, of course, are more prone to Side Two thinking. Side Two (I’ll call them the Drill Sergeants) feel that inspiration is unnecessary and possibly non-existent. I’m sure that anyone who has gone through a bad creative block will disagree on the existence issue, but I’ll bet that most of us have tried to apply Side Two tactics to barrel through. This way of thinking says things like “Just get on with it, darn it” and “why am I being such an airy-fairy wimp?” Unfortunately, in my experience, work done while trying to just get on with it tends to be work I look at later and want to throw away. And if you’re in a really deep creative rut, where you can’t make yourself so much as pick up a pencil and scrubbing down your entire house with a toothbrush starts to seem  like a really good idea, telling yourself to stop being a wimp accomplishes nothing except making you feel guilty.

The answer, of course, lies between the two extremes. You don’t want to just sit around doing nothing, but angrily telling yourself to snap out of it doesn’t help either. There are techniques that can help you out of almost any kind of creative rut – even Muses, it seems, are not immune to bribery.

Most serious things first: major artist’s block can be a sign of depression or burnout. If you think you might be depressed, don’t try to tough it out on your own – speak to a counsellor. Burnout acts a lot like depression, but is a less serious reaction to prolonged stress. If staying in bed for a week (I mean it) makes you feel better, it was probably burnout. If not, go and get help.

All right. You’ve started getting help for any serious physical or emotional problems that you may have, but you still don’t feel like painting. In strictly practical terms, how do you get your inspiration back? The number one thing you should do is to go for a walk.  Walking (or whatever outdoor exercise you can manage) provides everything you need  to feel more inspired – fresh air, solitude, change of scene, soothing repetitive movement, oxygen to the brain, endorphins. Try to do this every day, or at least on a semi-regular basis.

Once you get back from your walk, it’s time to start drawing, and time to confront the terrible question: What shall I draw? The answer, of course, is anything.  Which helps not at all. Here are some ways for you to narrow that down a bit. One of my favourite methods is to write a list of 20 things that interest you, pick out two or three at random, and figure out a way to combine them in a painting. You can find a random number generator here. If you’re so uninspired that you can’t even think of anything to put on your list, pick out random things from the Internet, or from a magazine. Open the book nearest to you on the 20th page, and read the third sentence on it. Steal a flower or pick up a seedpod during your daily walk and draw that. 

If, on the other hand, you know what you want to draw but suffer from fear of the blank page, start drawing on a slightly dirty or damaged sheet of paper, or on scrap paper. (You may regret this if you end up painting a masterpiece on the back of an old calendar, but at least you’ll have painted a masterpiece!)

Start with something small – the idea is to build momentum.  Draw something every day. Paint badly on purpose. Start a sketch with your non-dominant hand, or without looking at the page, and fix it afterwards. Try a medium you’ve never worked with before. Crayons, glitter, coffee.

If you have a project that you need to work on but don’t want to, start something else that you do enjoy – in all likelihood the momentum will carry over. If nothing else helps, break the task into small bits and reward yourself for each one (Half an hour of work, half an hour of Internet surfing, repeat until done.) Or paint in front of the TV! You’re really allowed to, I have it on good authority.

My great discovery  in terms of productivity is the three-item to-do list. This is exactly what it sounds like: Every night you write yourself a to-do list for the next day, but the catch is that it's only allowed to have three things on it. And sometimes those things are really pathetic, like "Answer that one e-mail". (You know, the one that’s been sitting in your inbox for days?) Or “Work on geranium picture”. Note that I didn’t say “finish” – it’s getting going that matters. On the other hand if you’re a world-shaking paragon of productivity, your to-do list might read “Day job at NASA; finish full-size Sistine Chapel copy; 10 km run”. (This person would, one imagines, be answering all her e-mail as a matter of course.) You just increase the challenge level of your three things as you get better at doing them. If you finish all the items on your list you’re allowed to do other things, but you have to think of them as “extra” and “fun” and you can’t tell yourself that you “have to” do them. It’s the pathetic nature of the exercise that makes it work so well, because having only three things on your list you’re pretty much forced to actually do those three things every day – a  great deal better than the alternative, which is, naturally, not doing them.

Advice is a very personal thing, and usually about 90% of it doesn’t work, according to accurate statistics I just made up. I hope, though, that something in this post sparks an idea that will help you through your next creative block. Take care of yourself and be playful, and one fine day your art mojo will return.
by Lesley Deysel. (Read Lesley's blog at

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Porcelain Fun Day Feedback

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A selection of items painted

It was a cold and damp day when seven stalwarts arrived at Sue's house on the 24th of November for the last BAASA Gauteng meeting of the year. For most of us painting on porcelain and bone china, rather than on a flat piece of paper, was a totally novel experience and rather daunting to say the least. But there was no need to worry as Sue guided us through the steps with utmost ease. Soon everyone was totally engrossed, interrupting the concentration only with tea and fuel for the busy brains - what is it with BAASA and food?!

It was a fun way to end the year and everyone was deservedly pleased with the results of their labour at the end of the day. We vowed to do it again and couldn't wait to see the finished items after they had been fired. Thanks to Sue for her generous hospitality and patience with teaching us, to Susan, Gill and Sue for the paint powders and other equipment, to Annatjie for firing the items and to everyone who attended and made it such an enjoyable occasion. See you all again next year!