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QotW: What are the rituals you follow when the creative juices dry up, or the joys of making pottery becomes tedious because of deadline demands?

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Tom (glazenerd) recently asked in the question bank: What are the rituals you follow when the creative juices dry up, or the joys of making pottery becomes tedious  because of deadline demands?

This is an interesting question, and it requires that we look at both sides of the question as to the answer. Yeah, got you scratching your head! Ok, so recently as you all know I completed an order of mugs, and honey jars. It was a large order for me, and with the weather, and all I was in "crunch time". This required a lot of long days of throwing/trimming/assembling. In the long run, I found that I was finding ways to be more efficient, more creative, and able to pay more attention to detail. So. . . .deadlines for me are a good thing.

The main part of what glazenerd was asking is about creative blocks, and how to overcome them. If you check back into posts from a few years back, you will find post from me about wanting to change direction, throw looser, do more creative things with the pots. I asked for help, and got much advice from others and especially from one in particular. . . John Baymore.  John presented a series of options/alternatives to try and loosen up my throwing and the way I worked. These helped me to make changes that I am still using today, whereas I do not worry so much when the pot gets a little off center, and pressing stamps/faceting, wiggle wire cutting and then shaping is becoming natural. Seems though that the more I work, the more controlled they seem to become, but it does not bother me now. I have always been aware of other potters through pictures, and books, but now that I have been to more conferences I have seen much more work, and enjoyed the company of other potters along with having seen some really excellent demonstrations that have inspired new efforts on my part. So conferences at least once a year seem to be a must to keep the juices flowing. Thankfully most of these are in late Winter/early Spring so it is easier.

best,

Pres

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I find if you're burnt out, a short break is necessary. For me, I have to take a day (not too much more or its agony going back) and do absolutely nothing that involves pottery. Get out of the house, go do some self care, whatever that means for you. Eat a good healthy meal that doesn't leave you too full and get some exercise. Have a bubble bath or get a pedi, or for the gents, treat yourself to a hot shave. Spoil yourself just a little.

Then when it's time to go back, pick something fun to do, even if it's kind of "off topic." It might develop into something important later, so it's not wasted time. Forgive yourself if the experiment doesn't work: added pressure doesn't help right now. Bribe yourself back into the studio however you need to with that project that you've been wanting to get to, or thing you wanted to play with, but haven't made time for yet. You have to find a way to play again.  Put some love songs or songs you love on the player. Creativity actually isn't a luxury for us, it's necessary. Delaying it too long makes us miserable. 

 

If you've left it too long and bribery isn't working, building momentum more slowly helps. I make up small tasks that have to happen in the studio, just to get me in there. The floor needs mopping, glaze waste needs dealt with, reclaim, I wanted to re-arrange a shelf, there's test tiles to reorganize and make notes on, etc etc.  While doing this mindless work, I find I pick up thought threads I'd dropped previously, and start noodling again. And if I didn't get anything made, well, I still got chores that needed to be done out of the way so I have the sense of accomplishment from that, and you try again tomorrow. 

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I think that the best thing to do when a person is out of good ideas, the creative block part of the question, is to do something off of ones normal beaten path, or even on ones beaten path but with an uncommon style of attention.

Off the beaten path could be visiting a new place, reading a new book, or attending an event one would ordinarily never pursue. How could one not get some ideas from that? Revisiting ones beaten path might be to walk that same familiar route one takes each morning but to be deliberate in paying close attention to things you wouldn't necessarily look at.

I actually wouldn't wait for feeling creatively inert to adopt this kind of practice. If it is a regular practice, it has preventative potential.

The author Julia Cameron, who also wrote a popular book for writers called The Artist's Way, calls the regular habit of such "excursions" Artists dates, an appointment with oneself to do something new and interesting that isn't art.

There is a guy named Todd Henry who consults with creative businesses, like design firms, who encourages specifically what he calls "unnecessary creating." He encourages people to build into each week a period of goofing around with a creative medium not their own.  So a writer might draw or a painter might write a haiku or a potter might sing. The point is to choose something different so that there is no performance pressure in it and so that one is effectively using different physical and mental channels.

Einstein used to pick up a violin. Richard Feynman played bongo drums and painted. In neither case were these simply pastimes. having more of an instrumental function.

 

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I pug clay.  

There is no pressure.  Nothing that must be done.  No finish line.  No phones, no computers, no TV.   No control.  The pug mill tells me how fast to go,  gently ignoring any pleas to go faster...

Just lovely plastic handfuls of clay, Iike the first time you touched it.  In. Out. In. Out.  In. Out.  The mineral earth smell, cold and damp, squeezing through my fingers.  Slap into the hopper.  Down comes the plunger, extra force applied right to the bottom to leave no doubt about who is really in charge of everything in this little world.

Endless, rhythmic repetition (cut, smash, cut smash, cut smash), the low steady drone of the motor, the slow but inevitable extrusion of perfect worms, again, and again.

... hypnotic....like a wheel going round...and round....

...the mind wanders, ...  sequences of thoughts lead strangely down side paths.  Ideas occur, new but vaguely familiar, coming  from somewhere like things that happen in a dream.  Forms appear in your minds eye, once known, then forgotten and now rediscovered...  

have hours passed or only minutes?  No idea.  Cut slap smash.  It goes on.  You are far away now.

a distant call to dinner shakes you awake.. back to earth.  switch off the pugmill.  As the dream fades you quickly you scribble down a few thoughts, rough out a shape or two... 

tomorrow is another day.   As you drift off you know fresh pugs of clay wait silently in a neat stack, filled with possibility, daring you to try something new...

 

 

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I take a day off. Sometimes three. Stare at netflix without enthusiasm. Take naps. Drive to the store and waste money on things I don't really need (nutella). Visit my favorite haunts. Honestly my ideas never stop flowing, but my desire to do anything but sketch them out frequently dries up and I can't get anything started. Going through that right now, although I made a new form last night and it really seemed to break the ice. Went from feeling depressed to relieved, so strange...

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I take one day off every week and run errands and take care of stuff that life throws at you.  When I really hit a wall I usually take a break by working with a technique or style I haven't used for a while.   I have been coiling for the last several years but it is getting tedious,  I bought a electric wheel a couple of weeks ago.   I am taking a break trying to learn how to throw on a electric wheel.    I sure miss my kickwheel.     Denice

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Denice:

Recently Pres. Posted some pictures of some chalices he had made. My throwing skills are still at the beginner level, but the pictures inspired me to try something new. I have made three attempts, and failed three times: but I am enjoying it. One of the joys of owning a pugmill: open lid, insert failed attempt- start over!

T

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On that same theme, work begets more work. 

There's a theme here of doing tedious, mindless chores, things that encourage your brain into a delta wave state. That's where the magic happens.  Keep your hands busy and let your mind wander. It allows you to rest while being restless. 

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The phrase I learned in college is “energy breeds energy.” This is along the lines of what Magnolia and Callie are saying. Such a short phrase but it made a huge difference for me going forward out of college. I still say it to myself all the time. Creative work requires an immense amount of energy. So many acts of initiative. Many people underestimate that, thinking something so “fun” shouldn’t require effort. 

Putting energy into any task creates momentum that makes it easier to generate energy the next day.  Putting practice into skills makes those skills easier, which then require less energy, giving you free energy to spend on new initiatives. It multiplies over time. On the other hand, sitting around doing nothing leads to more sitting around doing nothing. This also multiplies over time.

I guess the important crux of “energy breeds energy” is that the fuel needs to come from yourself, and shows you how to generate fuel.

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When i was trying to make a living making pots, my studio time was so monopolized with getting ready for the next show, calculating how to push loads through to boxes with the functional items that sold (read a lot of mugs, bowls, cups spoon rest etc.) that pottery started feeling more routine. To counter this I was starting to try and make some time each day to work on a few art pieces. For me that was some vases and such but I had other more elaborate pieces in mind. True my vases didn't sell at the same rate as mugs but they were exciting to work on and they did round out my booth when I bought fresh flowers on the way to the show and they added something to my day.

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It is a priority for me to surround and indulge myself with items/activities that bring me pleasure (other than people)----be it fresh flowers, great music,  little collectables,  making great mushroom soup-whatever. Usually "working" in any capacity is quite satisfying, but sometimes I go inert and the "juices" seem to dry up. Metaphorically, that indicates a lack of hydration & a need to overcome the perverse, self-defeating struggle to resist the intake of sufficient water.  When it's hard to force it down, it's important to sip slowly until the self begins to reopen.  

 So, I have this posted on my studio wall, and I just do what it says. I then get some meditative breathing (energy work/heart breaths) going.  A few sessions of staring at the wall (over days, weeks, whatever it takes)  and eventually I'll get  twitchy/thirsty enough to start doing something-anything--in the studio, as other people have mentioned--ex. cleaning, organizing, reclaiming clay.  That will lead fairly quickly to picking up a hunk of clay and getting back in gear.

I guess that is a ritual. It clears my mind---calms the static--- and eventually gooses the neurotransmitters to squash the inertia and reboot the "get on with it" system. Who knows? Works for me, strange as it may seem.  I think it's in the vein of "energy breeds energy", as GEP/Mea sez, or "You can act your way into right thinking, but you can't think your way into right acting".  "Act as if." "Walk the talk." "Easy does it, but do it." , and so forth. 

20180406_121813sm--.jpg

Edited by LeeU

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LeeU

in the last 44 years of working, I  have spent a few days standing and staring at walls. Then again I build walls, then stand them up. Energy does produce energy, I agree. The Hillybilly, country expression is: push through it.  Motivation is part of the work ethic, or from my perspective it is. A singular truth about self-employment: if you do not discipline yourself to produce: then production simply will not occur. So to  differing  sides of the question: can the same discipline needed to produce work be focused to create new ideas for work? I will post my response later.

T

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I stand and stare in that exact pose. When i need a kick in the butt, I read, start a home improvement project like shelves in the laundry room to raised garden beds, or clean and rearrange the studio. Take hikes, research natural objects, etc. I often get the AHA moments in my dreams.  I just finished some surprise deadlines AFTER I delivered work to a gallery for an Invitational on May 11. I was a featured artist at 2 more galleries this past weekend. Now I am just relaxing a little bit. Fired new work this weekend using a hybrid technique of aluminum foil saggar chemicals in ceramic saggars. Discovered this technique may 5 so the first gallery didn't get any for their show. The second gallery is taking all the larger pots to the potential buyers house to see how they look on the built in shelves. This client purchased 4 $5000 paintings at the opening. Must be a HUGE house. These were large paintings.

I find pressure to produce to be a stimulus to get the creative juices flowing. I am heading off to a wood firing at the end of next week. Plus an exhibition of our work afterwards.

 

Marcia

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On 6/2/2018 at 8:42 AM, GEP said:

Putting energy into any task creates momentum that makes it easier to generate energy the next day.  Putting practice into skills makes those skills easier, which then require less energy, giving you free energy to spend on new initiatives. It multiplies over time. On the other hand, sitting around doing nothing leads to more sitting around doing nothing. This also multiplies over time.

I guess the important crux of “energy breeds energy” is that the fuel needs to come from yourself, and shows you how to generate fuel.

I found that energy begets energy occurs in the classroom also. The more energy I put into demonstrating, getting around to the kids, excitement on my part about projects was returned to me and bounced back and forth by the students. If I was in a slump for some reason, they were too. In the end I found that even if I had a fever, cold and chills that pushing that energy out there made my day. . . and theirs. Of course I slept well at night!

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5 hours ago, glazenerd said:

. So to  differing  sides of the question: can the same discipline needed to produce work be focused to create new ideas for work? 

 

Yes.

Being disciplined doesn’t mean stifling creativity. If you simply wait around for some mysterious inspiriation fairy to hit you upside the head with a magic “I will now make awesome art” stick, you’re not going to make a lot of art. You must be disciplined to create reliably, but how you go about that discipline is important.

If you’re applying discipline to produce creativity, it means doing all that you can to create the headspace in which idea generation occurs, and doing those things diligently. It means protecting that space once you have it, too. Some of this discipline  is self care, and looks like messing around to the outside observer. It’s not. A burnt out mind can’t generate good ideas. 

Most of it is showing up and doing the mundane tasks, even if you don’t feel like it. Practicing skills is also critical. Musicians play scales, painters and drawers sketch and do colour studies, potters throw cylinders. Discipline in this instance  does not mean being harsh with yourself. It means showing up and being receptive. It helps to also be in motion, and not thinking too hard about it. Hence all the cleaning or pugging.

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Callie:

articulated with such clarity!! If I have a weakness, cleaning would be it. However, my creative solution includes pouring a 10 x 10 concrete pad on the side of my detached studio. I have already built a stand for my pugger on 600lb wheels for easy moving. Install an exterior plug, and the big dust bomb will be outside when I dry mix. Also plan on throwing out there when the weather is pleasant. I find the wooded view and the natural hymnals being sung rather inspiring. Now all I need is the time to actually work with clay: which has been in short supply since last October.

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