Creative standstill, and the path forward

Recently I found myself deep in the valley of creative standstill.  It began last week when, frustrated with the results of staining my current furniture project, I began scraping it back down to bare wood with a card scraper, only to realize that the scraping operation would be just as tedious and risky as applying the stain itself.  Frustrated and demoralized, I avoided the project–and the shop itself–at all cost.

In short, I had allowed my frustration to become a roadblock that was preventing me from making progress. 

I was so blocked, in fact, that I was blaming the materials, looking for any excuse not to work with them.  This frustration came to a head when I found myself writing a new aesthetic statement to justify my feelings toward my current project.  In an early draft, I reasoned that I was dissatisfied with stains and dyes because they hide the natural beauty of the wood that I fall in love with in the early stages of a project.

But as I found myself sitting on the couch watching what passes for the evening news, I realized that I couldn’t postpone this work any longer.  No matter how closely my new aesthetic statement might represent my true sensibilities, I still had a project to finish, and I still needed to do it in a way that I found satisfying. 

So at 10:30 PM, restless and anxious, I made my way out to the workshop to get my project back on track.  After a few experiments, a bit of troubleshooting, and some analysis of the techniques I’d used, I’d finally found a path forward.  For the next two hours, I sanded, wiped, and applied a first coat of finish to the project.

In retrospect, I still find truth in that aesthetic statement I’d written.  It is the wood in its natural color and character that I find beautiful and exciting, and stains and dyes, can often obscure that beauty, which I find frustrating.  But it also seems silly to abandon a whole class of materials on principle.  I found eventually that by refining my technique, I could arrive at a result that I found pleasing and intriguing in its own right. 

Were they the original surfaces and colors I’d been excited about?  Of course not.  Those were gone, and I learned a valuable lesson about the creative process because of that.  But what I found was still exciting, still worth my time and energy. 

Willing myself up off the couch and out to the workshop, I also found a deeper appreciation of Hemingway’s recollection in A Moveable Feast:  “I always worked until I knew what was going to happen next.  That way I could be sure of going on the next day.” 

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One thought on “Creative standstill, and the path forward

  1. Pingback: Robert Lang on perserverance « life, revisited:

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