Getting Unstuck

Across the table from me, Carrie was frustrated. Not that she showed it much. Between sips of soda and shrugs, she appeared on the surface to be calm, unperturbed, a little distracted -- maybe it was just a teen thing. Underneath her words, though, I could sense her dissatisfaction.

She was creatively stuck. And it mattered to her.

When her mom called me, I remembered Carrie right away. She had been one of my favorite students in drawing classes I had given a few years back. She had shown real promise. Even more importantly, she had show real passion. She loved to draw; it wasn’t something she was told to do by parents. You’re so good at art… why don’t you go make draw something pretty. No, Carrie had it in her blood.

So I suggested we meet for lunch. As her mom sat in the background, Carrie and I caught up. I soon saw her problem. Like I’ve found with other kids who have found early success in art, Carrie had gone to the well in her area of interest so often, it had dried up. She asked me, “How do you find new ideas?”

Answering that question is tricky. It’s easy to give practical steps – read this book, look at this artist, try this technique. But those are really secondary answers to the question of finding new ideas. The primary answer is about an approach to life.

Creative people are idea packrats. They’re always collecting tidbits to tuck away – scraps of conversation, a favorite painting, an odd fact or perspective. Those drops of information add up to become fresh pools for ideas, especially when it feels like one’s imagination is dry.

What did I tell Carrie? Start collecting experiences. Keep journals. Embrace the delight of discovery. Open up to see what’s around you, to see what other people are trying. Always keep asking yourself, “What can I learn from this?”

As she got up to go, she seemed encouraged. Excited, even. I know I was. Our little talk filled my mind with streams of fresh ideas.

Just when I was feeling a bit stuck myself.

Bruce Van Patter

all material ©2006 Bruce Van Patter