Tuesday, February 24, 2015

When Do You Draw the Line?

-By Daniel LuVisi

There I was, supposed to be enjoying myself at a birthday dinner, but instead pissed to all hell about something I couldn't control at that very moment.

Shutting off my computer with a huff and puff, I stepped into my business partner's car to go see a good friend for his final night in California. Was excited to go see him and possibly other friends, but I couldn't shake this shitty feeling I had been having for the past five days and I knew it was about to ruin my night.

In the previous entry, I spoke about becoming blindsided by your career or goals, and facing the consequences such as I did. I take art, very, very seriously. Have my entire life, ever since I first learned how to lay down a line (an incredibly amateur and sloppy one).

It's one of the few activities that can not only truly calm me down, but allow me to escape, films and music pulling a close second and third. However I can't play music, and am still trying to figure out the world of film-making, so art is a trait I like to believe I've put my mind through the most.

And my mind grew fatigued this past week. After five days, I could not, for the life of me, figure out the perspective of this character's face. It was a simple three quarter view, but nothing worked. No amount of reference, sketch-overs, or paint-overs could figure it out. Every hour, I would sit there, shaking in my head out of anger, erasing and repainting. Merging layers, and re-painting. I can only imagine this problem on a traditional level, so excuse my venting.

I hadn't felt this problem ever since I painted the above World War Z imagine some seven or so years back. Half way through, I nearly gave up. It was new for me, something large and including more than one character. Considering myself a character guy, I'm used to pin-ups or portraits. With my new LMS book, I plan to push out of that safety net, but some seven or so years ago I was a chump. Flat out.

However, I pushed through. And looking back, that zombie piece really opened a lot of doors for me. With this new one, I felt the same way. It's a critical moment in the lead character's origin story, that needs to hit on an emotional beat. But for the life of me, I couldn't get one of the key character's emotions right.

It became obsessive. After five days of not being able to fix it, I began hyper focusing on the problem. Thinking about it when I should have been enjoying my time. Considering myself a bad artist for not being able to paint it.

As I pushed through, now seven days later, I finally figured it out and learned a new lesson in the process: Take a damn break. Go for a walk. I write this today, to cement it so other's can call me a hypocrite when I refuse to go and smell the roses. Because day after day, I continue to forget that the painting isn't going anywhere.

My question to you is: Do you go through the similar process? And if so, what's your method of therapy and resolution?


  1. Definitely been there before and it totally sucks. It can be especially bad when you're under deadline because there's this notion that you just have to put more time into it to get it done. But I've definitely learned that the quality of that time is much more important than just the hours themselves, so I take regular breaks and have adopted a daily workout routine. The exercise really helps to clear the cobwebs and take your mind off your painting - at least for a little bit.

  2. Sometimes, I've found that my problem is that I've been looking at it too hard for too long. It needs to be put away for at least a day or two for me to be able to actually see what is working and what isn't. Of course, that can be tricky when you have a deadline, and I'm still just learning anyway.

  3. I had a similar issue with a book cover that was mainly a portrait of a young kid. The approved sketch was a profile, but it felt really stiff and dead. I changed it to a slightly worm's eye view 3/4... and had no model or direct reference for a boy that age in that position. Many bad digital p/o's and transforms later, it was eventually solved by doing a very very small sketch on scrap paper at 2am (beers/bourbon may or may not have helped). Either the scale transition or moving from intuos to paper, or just being tired and slightly less stressed from sheer exhaustion helped it flow out a bit easier.

  4. Sometimes I get moments like this and it would make me question my life choices in deciding to be an artist.
    In my case it's usually a case of overworking, even though I may not be painting that much, but the stress is mentally taxing enough.I usually take walks to mull things over and it helps me see things in a different perspective.
    If you hadn't read it, I would recommend the book "Daily Rituals". It talks about how some of the best and brightest minds in history lead their day to day lives.
    Turns out a lot of them like taking walks. So I would say you're in good company!

  5. Not sure I'm telling you something you don't already know, but there is good research supporting the solution you came upon for your creative block. There was a great Google Talk that was posted last week by National Science Foundation Scholar Barbara Oakley about how counterproductive being hyper-focused on a problem can be:


    She goes over how Dali and Edison solved creative problems in similar ways as well.

  6. Just three days ago I had this problem. I was doing a small 1:5 scale "sketch" for a pillar I am going to paint. I had a deadline and a meeting and I had a really tight schedule set up for myself. The idea was clear in my head but when I painted the first sketch I noticed that it is not going to work. I took the rest of the day of and I had to come up with a new approach for the next day. After thinking about nothing else for the rest of the day I had nothing, and I knew that I had to make up the time tomorrow. The next day I just brushed the small tube white and started out from scratch. I took my paints and I just started to paint and have fun, I was sure that if I give myself some freedom with it I was going to find out the solution and the direction I needed to take it to, and I did. For the third day I continued on the same path, I had fun and came up with new and improved ideas as I went along. I guess I can say that it almost fixed itself, probably because I was not too focused about getting it right and instead focused on trying out new things and having fun with it.

    That being said, I usually have a way different approach when I get stuck with a piece. I leave it be and go work on another piece that I have been working on. This works very well for me because when I do get stuck with something I usually ain't having too much fun anymore, and I go trough the bad artist phase. Then after I have been doing something totally different I might get a flash and the solution to the problem I was having, or it just calls me back to have fun with it.

    My solution clearly is doing something fun, new and exiting.


  7. All the friggin' time. How do I solve it? I go do jiujitsu ro a walk and if its winter I eat a donut (which is never good for the waistline). Jiujitsu, for me has turned into a frequent reminder that there is always something out there that I have no control over. The key is to know when to apply pressure or to relax and see where the moment takes me. The latter is always harder to do, its against mankinds nature, but it is then that clarity is usually found. For years, even when teaching art, I was my biggest hurdle. Unable to get past a bad drawing or painting. Ruminating for days on end. I was in a perpetual holding pattern because of "perceived" obstacles and my stubbornness. When I finally learned that obstacles were course corrections and often times that course is vague to say the least, I learned to let go and embrace the frustration and trust that my skill sets will take me where I need to go. Even if that means accepting defeat for awhile only to come back with a refreshed empty mind and a different outlook.

  8. YES!
    When this happens I usually end up with a night of heavy drinking at home and imagining if I could be a worse failure of a man if I tried. The next day finds me with 100 other things to do because I'm so utterly terrified that whatever I messed up on is going to ruin my life again. I go through the ritual: the coffee, the cereal, the netflix, some reading. If it's just the right amount of self-loathing I'll break out the Donato posts and just read them or send a message to another artist griping about it. This usually runs for a few hours, a day at most, and then i get that tick- that buzz- in the back of my head that used to be called boredom. It's always there, telling me that I'm going to paint or draw or create. It reminds me that I don't have a choice and even if today is shit we both know I'll just go sit back down and do it, maybe with a neat bourbon beside me.
    I guess the short answer is that I go crazy over it and obsess and get angry and then simmer down and forget. Then I'm back- because what else am I going to do? I mean, really? I'm so in love, I'll always go back.

  9. Glad you posted this! I know empirically that all artists suffer from this same frustration from time to time, but it's a good reminder we all experience this. I spent hours yesterday trying to get a hand to look right and tearing out my hair in frustration. I took reference photos, drew and redrew it, etc.

    What to do about it? I think people had good comments here. I can only add that it helps to have a someone to give it a fresh look. I'm fortunate enough that my wife is also an artist and can sometimes "talk me down" from the ledge... She looked at my hand and said it wasn't bad, just needed some changes I plan to do tonight. (I hear you on the anger, though - last night I was *done* and just went to watch TV and eat something to get my mind off of it.)

    But even if you don't have a sig who can help, other artists (friends or the online community) can be a wonderful source of "second eyes" and if worse comes to worse shoulders to cry on!

  10. We have all been in that situation. For me and apparently a lot of other people its exercise and an increase of oxygen. Then back to it and do my best to simplify the problem. I take it back to block shapes and try to find the emotions that Im trying to express. We all have multiple methods that we keep trying until one give us the break through. But over all its to keep at it.

  11. Like most here I do the same. Take a break, get outdoors, get some exercise, work on something else, do something easier and unrelated to the problem like a quick sketch to get my confidence back... so as not to be too hyper-focused on the problem.

    But I wonder if there is another issue here. That of pushing out of our safety net or zone.
    Doing that in a job situation is risky unless I have some practice/experimental/personal pieces under my belt first. I usually regret trying out something totally new (untested) in a job with a deadline. The frustration alone (of pushing out of my safety zone) I can deal with. But frustration mixed with the panic of meeting a deadline can be too much.

    For me in that situation I forget the simple things, what I already know, because I am trying out the new.
    That leads to the panic which makes for more frustration, I start watching the clock... the cycle is viscous.

    We expect pitchers in baseball to be able to step up to the plate and hit the ball simply because they are immersed in baseball all the time (and take it so seriously) but most can't even hit at all.
    As artists we expect the same from ourselves. To be able to step up to the easel/drawing table/computer and lay it down because we are immersed in art all the time.

    I have learned to give myself a break when pushing out of my comfort zone by reminding myself trying something new means learning a new set or sub-set of skills.
    Everything from new motor skills, literally having to move my hand in a way foreign to my muscle memory to having to re-think my mental process, another 'muscle' and even the mundane stuff I already know like paint mixing, perspective etc.

    Then I can relax and get better results.

  12. from what I've read the best things that I can offer. since most of this awesome people their opinion. I will say about maybe 3 or 4 things? one find ways to fix it? research better ways to think properly and also setting up a proper "attitude" most battles are won by "attitude" and that whats tends to wake me up. 2 is listen to philosophy documentaries; for me it tends to be "Jiddu Krishnamurti" since I prefer toward learning about everyday problems rather than figuring out which religion is better. 3 is breathing...? yes I know it sounds weird but after breathing into my nose and out my mouth for the last 6-7 years. whenever I work or in this case when I'm drawing.... I don't really need to much to keep me focus whenever I'm using that ( or music) and well lastly for me at least eating something healthy? since I live at home most of the time. I have to be careful what I eat? so since I have to be careful what I eat and cooking takes a lot of time. I tend to shop at costco a lot? and buy things that would keep me healthy and also in bulk. I will say look at other places to shop as well like target and wal-mart in terms on what you need? their is no shame using the mircowave a lot and just cooking your meals that way? or better yet? make simple meals that don't take too much of your time? hopefully that helps.

  13. Hey Daniel
    I have been there a ton of times. Days of trying to wring the image in you mind out to paper and everything seem NOT to click. The only valid method I have found out is working for me, is to switch media. If it is digital I turn around to pencil and paper, if it is pencil drawing I try directly with a brush pen or drawing it in mirror, Everything to fool the mind into seeing it anew.

  14. I find it very encouraging to read that other people have the same battles on a regular basis. I find it's easy to fall into these pits of self doubt and it can feel almost impossible to get out. Personally I feel it's a testament to how much we are willing to dedicate to the craft that we can get so worked up about it to the point of anger, yet we keep coming back time and time again.
    I'll try not to re iterate what others have said, because it's all true and I think it all helps tremendously.
    I just remember something Ash Thorpe posted once saying that basically when a creative block strikes, and its so severe that you cannot see past it, take a week off. Revisit everything you enjoyed as a child, everything that excited you and got your imagination going. All those tv shows, toys, stories that kept you awake at night.
    I constantly fear every day I don't work is a day lost to achieving my goal. But there's no fire without the fuel

  15. This happens to me, too. Video game breaks seem to bring me focus.

  16. This usually happens to me while rendering something that I feel shouldn't be giving me as much trouble as it is -- usually a face or pose that I initially thought that I would just breeze through. I second the other comments suggesting switching mediums. This usually helps after redrawing the same thing over and over and still not getting results. Something else tgat has helped me in the past is to pull out a chunk of Sculpey and try to sculpt the problem -- this especially helps with faces and poses. I usually don't even finish the sculpture, I just get halfway through, maybe 45 mins until I get a spark of understanding, and then try again. It doesn't always work, but it's an option.

    1. Also second video games! That's helped me a few times as well :)