No matter how long we've been at anything, whether it's an instrument, a craft, science based research, sports, etc etc there comes a time when we get stuck. It might be a learning curve, stagnation, frustration, outside influence, repetition compulsion and hopefully not, boredom or burnout. It hits all of us, and when it does it's the most frustrating experience as it always seems to hit at the worst time.
You're under the gun, deadlines are coming up fast and you're running behind, you have a million pieces to get done for customers and the clock is in fast fwd, time just seems to fly past you and you can't work fast enough to make progress. It never hits when you have extra time to figure it out in a calm mind so it only makes things worse. Mistakes happen, leather patterns hit the trash, things just keep going wrong and since pressure isn't our friend we just power through, pissed off, stressed out and completely unhappy with how our work is turning out. So at that point there are 2 options, throw it out and start over, or shrug and finish it off to ship out. Well, if there is a bone of honor in us we'll throw a fit, have a smoke or 2, and start over after the explosion has passed and we can think.
For some people , this is alien territory since they're not in self competition and striving to reach new heights every day , they've settled in and robotics has taken over. But for those of us who strive with each piece settling feels like dying, its depressing to just think about , its not how we're made, we're made to keep getting better, and we do. But.... With each new breakthrough, each new level of professionalism/perfection we reach there is a cliff up the road with no sign of warning. And since reaching new levels is soul food and so energizing we rarely think about the cliff and how we struggled to get over it last time until we see the road drop off and the parachute is in the trunk, laying there in knots with the jack stands on top of it and a quart of oil with a loose cap oozing onto it. We can do our best to dodge it but the only way out is through. So please let me try and work the way through this with a bit of sense.. Grab a drink sit back and have a good read for a bit.
As we progress and make improvements we apply them, they become part of our memory , both in our minds and in physical action. Whether this applies to our drawing skills or leather working skills, the way it happens is the same, repetition , commitment to mental/physical memory and the ability for recall to apply new skills. When this happens there is peace in the world, all is incredible from start to finish and things are flowing with ease. Now, as this happens and afterwards there are small and some large discoveries that are put in a the side file in our brains, we are always recording new technique that we see as we work and move forward. These things aren't immediately applied and part of our usable repertoire in the moment unless that is purposely done, most of them are sitting on the side , stored for later use. This is constantly happening without the need for taking notes.
As time goes by the comfort we found in the past year or so with new skills starts to become a bit stale , our work is becoming familiar to us. You see, as creative humans we're always evolving and changing, our taste in music may change, our taste in clothing, our preferences in food change, we re paint our rooms in the house, things become to familiar. The same thing happens when we look at our work and the stage its in at the present moment after time goes by and we've been using those newly acquired skills , tricks and techniques we began to apply last year or last month. The active thought of wanting to improve hits all over again, then the dive into how and where starts up and we feel a bit unhappy with what we see.
Not because our work is terrible and over night it slid back to looking like we just started yesterday, but, all of those small Notes that are stored in the side file are starting to become visible . When we look at our work in its current state our mind is overlaying the improvements that are stored up and not yet applied to what our eyes are taking in. Think of it as holding tracing paper of the newest sketch you've done, over the very first sketch you ever did of the same exact image. Your mind sees where the improvements that need to be applied should be , but we aren't conscious of it yet so our eyes are missing it. So at this point we're trying to apply 2 methods at once , one is the familiar and the other is the stored improvement, one we're aware of one we're not. This creates a feeling of being disconnected and frustrated. Our mind knows, but our brain is set on working and getting work done. Those are the ingredients for disaster and a long over do meltdown about whats going on...
So, how do we deal with this and get through and over ? Well its complicated yet simple at the same time. Remember to recognize it , that is the most important step. Recognize that feeling and step back, not to the other side of the shop but step back behind yourself and Look "in" at whats going on. Try and see where You and or your work need improvement. Sometimes we get satisfied with where we are and happy with what our products look like. And , we don't want to lose that place or feeling. Its great to be in that space, but it breeds stagnation.
It might be how we're approaching our work, maybe we're not in the best spot in the shop, move your bench, paint the shop if it needs it, recover shelves, light bulbs play a HUGE part in this, be sure the bulbs you use to work leather are at least 4000 Kelvin and have a CRI of 85 minimum. A CRI of 90 and above is ideal but tough to find unless you want to pay a good amount for them. Leather is skin, and it will allow light in and then back out effecting the surface appearance of it. Im sure you noticed it looks different in every room of the house, each corner of the shop and outside. Every where you go the Kelvin in the room changes and the CRI seriously drops. Regular Florescent bulbs are some of the Lowest rated Bulbs for CRI and can make your leather look green . You'll never get the right dye color / hue if you're using terrible light. LED with a 4000 K rating and a CRI of 90 or above are best. You can get them in Tube and Bulb style.. They'll save money, create less heat and give a reliable light source for your work space.
If this is all where it needs to be, we might be in repetition compulsion, repeating for the sake of repeating because it feels safe and the results are good. Ever notice how your work for a certain period of time all looks the same? This can keep you on the wheel of tunnel vision, with tunnel vision results. A good way of seeing if this is happening is , lets say you're used to doing large work, Like Bags, Wallets, maybe some furniture, or large wall hangings. So you're used to hammering away , not worrying about stretch, over walking, crushing edges , or starting out with a portrait piece and ending up with something that looks like summer roadkill. When work is BIG, its easy and we get used to that process and amount of detailing. So, Draw out a rose, inside a border of 3 inches high by 5 inches wide and tool it in your spare time. Tool it as you normally would .
Then do the same rose inside a border of 2.25 x 2.25 and get the same amount of depth, detail and realism in it. Then do the same rose inside a border of 1.5x1.5 . This will tell you where you really are. If this ends up being impossible... Practice doing miniature works. Start with a letter and work up to a portrait.. Not only will this free up a side of your work you havent expressed yet, but it will install all of the upgrades sitting in the side file which you can then apply to larger work and the results on large work will be astounding! to say the least this will blow you away, but you have to put in the time. Practice, practice , practice, we're never to old or too good to put in practice on new techniques.. Also, practicing with no particular goal is a proven way to have the upgrades in the side file come out and get installed .
Pulling it apart to put it together .... Creating art is like writing music, most don't see it this way but it's identical. When we begin a piece we start with a sketch, Music begins with a groove, This is our foundation. Once the foundation is correct and feels natural from all angles, we work on embellishments, Time change, tempo change, and experiment with sounds on a the drum kit. This is where on leather we decide where our depth changes will be, smooth VS texture, hills and valleys , and the overall feel of the piece before color. Then comes the flavor and spice, writing fills, switch ups in the groove, playing over the bar line, etc etc.. this is where on leather we dive into detailing, shading, color and assembly decisions. Once these things are decided we have a complete song ready to be written and played with the band and recorded.
This is a short but brilliant example of how one person does it. Gavin Harrison and extremely talented drummer. In this clip , I timed it so you can hear the tune, then after he explains how he went about writing the drum parts to the idea that was sent to him. https://youtu.be/woI6t8dCQcQ?t=1696 . Key in on his left hand on the snare drum, watch his fingers tapping ghost notes as he plays cross stick. The smallest of techniques make a world of difference.
It's the same process mentally , look at your work in parts of a process to become a complete piece when you sit down to design it. You're writing a song your customer will listen to forever. Be sure its complete. A different approach can change up every thing and free you up from being stuck. Visualize, plan steps, be sure your steps link together and work together, write notes, and begin when you're soul is ready. Art in all forms is a mystical experience for the artist, if you rush into it you might as well not even do it. Don't just be the brush, be the brush with dye in it, be one with what you're doing.
Getting comfortable. This is usually where most people are half engaged and think an old office chair from living room and a dining room table will be fine for sitting at for 8-12 hours a day ... Ive talked to people in the past, other leather guys about seating , height and proper set up and its always the same reaction. " Yeah yeah... I have this chair that used to be in my spare room thats awesome... You can lead a horse to water as they say.. So, Im going to lay this out here because if you "think" you're comfortable and sitting properly, your body will let you know how wrong you are in many many ways. And those ways will leak out into your work leaving you puzzled as to what the hell is going on. So lets start with a good chair....
I've tried every chair on the market just about over the years, this is my 19th year in working leather and my 16th doing it full time, its all I do. If im not working leather im doing art work and to do either I'm sitting so using a quality chair is beyond important. A cheap chair will ruin you , you wont notice the ruin as it creeps up but trust me, it will. A cheap chair can cut off circulation, make you feel off balance, ruin your posture, not have you sit high enough, at the wrong tilt angle, to far from your work, all of these thing will then have your body constantly seeking to get balanced, and that removes your concentration. You should be at a height where you look down on your work, and you should be close enough to where the edge of your desk/bench is in contact with your stomach area, " In and Over" .
I've tried every chair from Staples office chairs to a Herman Miller Aeron , which is one of the only chairs to be in the museum of modern art. And its exactly that, another piece of useless modern art . I researched , read reviews, and saved cash for years to buy what they said was the best ergonomic chair ever made. When it arrived I couldnt wait to sit in weightlessness and finally be free the annoyances all the other chairs gave me. Well as soon as I sat in it I knew it was a HUGE mistake. Its the most uncomfortable chair I have ever tested/used. No matter what I did with it, it was torture. And im not the only one who experienced this over a grand disaster. So, it sits in the house next to the window by itself where it belongs.
Then I found the Tempur-Pedic TP8000 at Staples of all places.. Its memory Foam, contoured for the human shape, its adjustable in every way, even lumbar, it has a 10 year warranty too, if anything goes wrong, call them up send pictures and they send out new parts right away. Ive done this twice in 8 years. The seat height is the highest when all the way up I could find on any chair, the arm rests are adjustable and reversible. I took the armrests off, covered them in Leather and then swapped left and right which allowed me to slide under the front of the bench without having to removed them . This moves them back about 3 inches and they still function and feel normal. I usually work from 8am to about 10-11 pm daily and this chair keeps me comfortable without fail. Now, if you're thin like me and dont have any extra padding , over time you'll sink the center memory foam and start to feel the wood base because your body pressure isnt spread out over a large area. NOT fun... This can really give you some issues you wouldnt wish on an enemy. This happened after about 5 years and they sent me a new one. So... If you were born with extra padding in the trunk you wont have this issue and could probably sit on a milk crate and be happy, but us thin people need proper support and quality foam. Ever sit next to a skinny person on a church Pew? Ask them to rock side to side and listen closely.. You'll see what I mean.
What I did with the new one was remove the cover, the memory foam isnt glued down since it has great grip on its own and I installed a 1.5 inch layer of Blue Ultra LUX foam to the base under the memory foam and then put it all back together. LUX has a 16 year life span and has great flex, resistance to compression and spring back. The combo of the 2 is unreal and this chair is beyond anything I have ever used. Its not that expensive, Staples carries it, or have it shipped, the warranty wont let you down and your body and your work will thank you... This is it below with the armrests reversed.
Inspiration....... Sometimes we run dry on this... it happens to all of us. Find a local art museum, or gallery, even if its small and cheesy. Go and walk around, take time to really look at whats there, you'll for sure find some magic someones work that will light the bulbs again. Create something as a gift in your spare time, or do bits of it here and there until its finished. Give it to someone you care about who you know will appreciate it for what it is. Giving of yourself and your skills can be very inspirational as there is no money involved, you're building for the love of your art and to make someone happy with a surprise.
Perspectives....If you have a camera, not a cell phone camera... ugh... a real camera with lenses you can change out. Take the camera and put on a 50mm lens or wider. Go outside or even sit on the porch and look through the view finder as if you're filming, visualize what you're seeing as a movie, get the angle right, look for shadows and light direction, background and foreground. I know it sounds goofy, but this will easily open your mind up to creating full pieces instead piecing them together as you draw, it'll show you how to get perspective and depth in your art in the fastest way. Use the view finder center/square to frame what you want to see. If you have video on the camera film a few 20 sec clips and see if its film worthy, if not, keep doing it until you nail it all on the first go. This way when you sit to draw out a concept, it'll happen easily as you're training your brain to see full concepts and not parts ..
Toxins.... Negative people, energy vampires, Narcissistic conversationalists, disgustingly aloof people, make distance, limit your contact , and spend time with other creative people. Exchange ideas, talk about art and projects, music, supplies, colors,, etc etc... Toxic people are poison to your creativity and they know it. Toxic people arent creative, and that envy they have towards creative people will seep out at any given chance. It will poison you, it will poison your shop or work space and before long you'll be wondering why you cant create, concentrate or feel settled in yourself. If you don't distance yourself your work and your customers will suffer, and in turn so will you. get free.
You know the type, no matter the subject matter... You could bring up a garbage truck you saw with a bumper sticker you found funny and they can magically turn that into and towards themselves and before you know it its an hour long one sided conversation about them sprinkled with astounding numbers of pronoun density to the point you would rather jump into a bon fire than listen for one more second. Or the one who has a problem for every solution, yet calls you 2 months later bragging on the solution they found and it worked perfectly claiming it as theirs, meanwhile it was the one you gave to help out months back and they shit on it... yup. That type and many more. DISTANCE.
Self care.... be good to yourself, get Monthly Chiro adjustments as we sit bent over, angled and leaned to one side and using muscles in odd ways. Getting a generic adjustment once a month works wonders. Also, full body massage, from a professional, not the rub n tug, those people havent studied properly for a real massage. A real massage therapist knows the skeletal structure and muscle groupings like a scientist. This can really do your body wonders , keep you healthy, engaged and being able work as many hours as you want without any physical hindrance.
Crisis and Loss.... Going through loss will crush our worlds, losing a loved one, going through the grieving process , missing that person, experiencing all of the emotions that hit out of nowhere that we have never felt before is something we're never ready for. Grief of that magnitude brings us into a singular focus mentally. Emotionally we tend be all over the map, from sadness, to empathy, to sympathy for family members/ friends, and back around over and over.
Mentally we can end up in singular yet cyclical mental loop of focus which is very difficult to break free from. While grieving, the creative process will naturally take a back seat, let it. Leave it there until you heal from your loss. Creating from a place of loss/ heart break to soon will lead to disaster for most of us. That emotional energy will be the guide for your work , but it can and will bring up the entire range of emotional ingredients in grief, including anger. This can at times lead to some powerful works and if you're not under commission for work and you're creating to create, this would be a therapeutic way of dealing with what you're experiencing. But, if you are working on a commission or collaboration with a customer, be patient, be honest and up front that you need time. Give yourself time to get back to the place of creating from a place of love for your art, honor for your customers and the joy of the artistic process. Grief takes time , let it take its time before you jump back in to work. Talk with friends, talk with friends who can empathize with you, be sure to eat healthy, get some sunlight too, D3 is a hormone known for lifting the mood and lessening depression, of course some solitude and do what feels right for you until you're ready.
So, to close this loop...... get unstuck, I know there is a lot of information here to take in, but If I had to guess there were a few that hit you in the gut and you said Shit! thats it right there, you felt it like the curtains got pulled back and the room lit up. We're all different and it might be one, or a combo of many , my hope is that something here opened a window and shed light on whats going on and enable you to work through it, get passed it and move forward with improvements, peace, and motivation at hand...