Clarity of thought, creative breakthroughs and inner peace whilst having a vacation from your overactive mind?
You need to sharpen your pencils.
An all-too-familiar creative roadblock
If you’ve ever had a tight deadline for a project or been trying to finish that latest article that seems to never end, you’ll appreciate the desperation that can start to creep into your thinking.
You’ve been working for what seems like days, thinking and re-thinking, writing and rewriting, trying to unleash that one idea, that one genius brushstroke to finish the piece. But it keeps eluding you and you start to feel… slightly hysterical!
Logically you know there must be a simple solution, but if the answer doesn’t come easy, avoidance tactics creep in and you ask yourself a couple of dangerous questions:
Would checking my email help?
Would Google know the answer?
It can become increasingly difficult to break the cycle of the same idea milling around in your head. What we need is a fast track to creative clarity.
When you are working through a problem logically, your left brain fires up to try and find a logical solution. When you keep on coming up short it can be increasingly difficult to fight the urge to search for more information, or distract yourself with Twitter or Facebook.
But deep down, you know you don’t need more information. You just need time to think clearly and do the work.
But how can you do that with so many other distractions fighting for your time?
How do you stimulate your creative thinking without resorting to Google?
You learn to draw.
The three stages of the creative process
To break out of ‘grasping at straws’ thinking, a new environment, or a new perspective, is crucial.
However, sometimes you don’t have the energy for gym or enough time to go for an extended stroll that allows your subconscious to wander.
For these stress-bound situations, drawing can provide a simple solution.
It’s very cheap to start, you can practise it anywhere and it can give you a new perspective on your current issues, both directly and indirectly.
Creativity is often associated with different stages of development. In brief, the first three stages were developed by German physiologist Herman Helmholtz:
(Two other stages, First Insight and Verification, are also sometimes added.)
What we are going to focus on is the incubation stage or to put it another way, giving yourself a creative breathing space by learning how to draw.
This is the stage when we’re subconsciously thinking of a problem and a solution seems to appear from nowhere. Taking a shower, going for a walk, meditating. These can all help the incubation stage. It’s like trying to create an oasis of calm amongst so many daily distractions to get that much-needed breakthrough.
The very process of learning how to draw can help you to develop your powers of creative thought, even though you are engaged in a physical activity. Here’s how.
Making the creative switch
You need to create space for your creative process to thrive rather than expect it to operate in the cracks of your frenetic schedule.
(The Accidental Creative by Todd Henry)
How can drawing help?
Studies have shown that the brain will be unable to solve insight puzzles if it tries solely with its left hemisphere. You need to make a cognitive switch, to engage the right hemisphere of your brain.
This enables more disconnected lateral thinking with a big picture approach to problem solving – helping to release your mental block.
A thinking vacation
Drawing also helps to give your left brain some downtime.
It sends you into a state of deep relaxation, of tuning out from the Pavlovian ding of a new email and putting your mind in a state primed for a creative breakthrough. To draw something accurately you have to learn to disassociate from the logical, to see objects abstractly. This process can help you create more breakthrough, ‘aha’ moments.
A technique for drawing on your creativity
So next time you hit a creative block what should you do?
Close down the laptop and grab a pencil – are you ready for a little lesson in Contour Drawing?
What you need
- Pencil or fibre-tip pen
- 5 minutes free time
To train the eye to observe and draw what it really sees – rather than what it thinks it sees – and to encourage the brain’s language mode to drop out as you draw.
What to do
- Grab a piece of paper and lay it flat on a desk or sketchbook.
- Set the timer for 5 minutes.
- Position yourself at a table, with the pencil in the middle of the page, to begin drawing.
- Now, here’s the strange bit. Turn around in your seat so you are facing in the exact opposite position. Your hand will still be planted on the table with your pencil tip ready to draw, you just won’t be able to see it!
- Now begin to gaze at the palm of your hand, crinkling it a bit so you see every line and wrinkle. This is going to be your subject.
- You don’t want a drawing of your whole hand, far from it, all you are after is a series of lines and marks observed from your hand.
- Draw, without lifting the pencil from the page, for the full 5 minutes. This is harder to do than it sounds.
The temptation to turn around and sneak a peek will be huge. But if you can resist for 5 minutes something magical can happen…
So what are the results from your drawing? An abstract tangle of lines! You’ll probably laugh at the results. Here’s one of mine.
Doesn’t look like much right?
We are not trying to draw an accurate representation, but get used to practising full engagement with visual tasks. Because we are habitually so keen on being productive and producing a recognizable, nameable object, this exercise can seem a bit pointless at first.
But as Betty Edwards, author of ‘Drawing on the artist within’ states:
Pure Contour drawing is the most effective way I know of preparing the brain for visual tasks.
“But what if I can’t draw?”
You simply need to learn.
As we’ve just seen, the drawing doesn’t have to be a masterpiece, far from it. It’s just a tool to let your mind refresh and the pleasure comes from the process.
And if you want to improve your drawing skills, it’s possible to make progress in a surprisingly short time. Here are ‘before’ and ‘after’ drawings from one of my recent students, David.
This changed happened within a one hour lesson.
The thing I love most about drawing? The freedom it allows me to reflect on my creative work, see it from a new perspective and allow those insights to come to the surface.
So next time you find yourself at a block in your creativity, give drawing a try and give your mind some much-needed downtime.
Vacations at your desk can become addictive!
Over to you
Where do you find your flashes of inspiration come from?
Has drawing ever worked for you to solve a problem?
What do you do for a creative recharge?
About the Author: Will Kemp can teach you how to draw, and is an ice-cream addict who has just released an instant access version of his Absolute Beginners Drawing Course.