becoming unstuck

work in progress.  The idea of the 10,000 hours to mastery came up in Julia Galloway's workshop and now it's popping up everywhere - I don't know the history of the theory; I believe Malcolm Gladwell may have brought it mainstream.  I'm somewhere at around the 4000 hours mark in ceramics -   that makes me somewhere in the neighborhood of half an expert?  Uh, half ass, maybe.

don't know.

I do know that I have a lot to learn and a long way to go.  When I start a piece I usually have an idea fairly well formed in my mind.  I don't do drawings or plans on paper and I'm starting to wonder if I should.  I look at inspiration, do research and think a lot about it, picture it in my mind.  I'm a HUGE believer in focused visualization.  It may be why I have a migraine right now.  I like the freedom to let the piece create itself - ironically, it then feels more like drawing or painting.  I'm so averse to being hemmed in somewhere in my pea brain I'm thinking drawing out and forming an idea on paper is somehow hemming me in.  Yes. It's kind of dumb.  I get it.

And the reason I'm having this discussion with myself is; I'm stuck.  I am blank.  Guess what, the thing isn't making itself, it isn't creating any direction in me when I'm working on it.  I'm stuck.  It's stuck.  Another week she sits under the plastic bag while I try to move forward - in my head.  Do I add flowers, do I put a boat on her head - with flowers?  Hands?  What decoration, what glaze....I'm reaching for anything that gets me out of this stuck place.... it's wind, it's water, it's the perfect storm....

I also keep re-referencing  Ira Glass and his genius about just making a lot of work.   Funny thing, he's talking about the 10,000 hours program.

"The way to learn to do things is to do things. The way to learn a trade is to work at it. Success teaches how to succeed. Begin with the determination to succeed, and the work is half done already." - Mark Twain, writer and humorist.


  1. Just finish her and move on. Think about 10 years from now... Is this piece going to be the one that defines your work? Probably not, but the point is you really can't know. It's out of your hands. Someone once told me that to be a great artist you just need to make a lot of work, and not to be afraid of making bad work. In fact, she said, make lots of bad work. The more you make the greater a chance you have of coming up with a really great idea, which is, after all, all we are looking to do as artists.

    So, this piece is not anywhere near bad. Perhaps you put nothing in her hair, and just experiment with glazes on her. Play... and get to the next idea.

  2. I only found your blog recently, so I don't know your process. Do you do sketches after you've started a project to explore possible paths before committing it to clay? Do you consider some of the pieces themselves sketches? Do you have exercises that allow you to break certain rules or ignore processes that have turned into obstacles? I guess what I'm trying to ask is whether you feel you need to bang your head on the wall until you "break through", or whether you have ways of circumventing blockages.

    One of the reasons I'm drawn to making pots is that there is so little time invested in particular pieces of clay that nothing really counts as a mistake as long as you learn from it. The burden of dozens of hours spent on a single piece I'm sure creates more emotional weight to the outcome, but can you look past this (as Jesse suggests) and see that in the long run this one work won't define you?

    And it sometimes seems that this hesitation on our part can be the lack of confidence to just see what happens, especially if we have sacrificed good hard labor in its cause before and not seen much pay-off. But sometimes learning what not to do is as important a lesson as we can get from a particular piece. And so we sometimes need to let go of results as a measure of 'success' and see that results are also a measure of what we learn, both good and bad. And that both these things are important.

    As far as the practical issue of what to do next, sometimes I try to sketch out different options to see which directions hold promise. Sometimes I like to do smaller versions, mock-ups, that are done quicker and can explore a variety of options. In the end you almost need to just pick a direction and go. Once the mind gets itself too involved it can become its own worst enemy. Rediscovering the ease of working intuitively can be the best medicine to take the head out of the equation. Do you have any special tricks to put you back in that frame of mind that feels utterly free to explore?

    Good luck! And let us know how things went!

  3. I'm not familiar with the size of these and perhaps you already do this, but would it help to work on more than one of these pieces at a time so a single piece might become less precious and allow you more freedom in your decision making

  4. Jesse you are right! and I've already had this discussion with myself. Thing is, I am attached to the outcome and therefore I agonize (I exaggerate) trying to work out how to 'finish' this work. I kind of feel its my responsibility to finish so I CAN move on. Though, I have pieces that I do consider practice and I have a different attachment to them. I had a piece recently that just did not work and I was fine to let it go; I never finished it. I completely detached from it. So, I get it, I do.

    Carter; thanks for stopping by. My process is a little convoluted - it's mostly intuitive and I "feel" my way through which as we can see is fraught with fits and starts. Though it's loose, it's also frustrating and I may need to work on some discipline to focus in on a more productive use of my time. I am in agreement that much of what isn't working is a measure of where to look to improve process, productivity and success. I'm currently working with a friend in a four week sculpture intensive on faces where I have to draw an idea and then measure the drawing and build a piece to fit the drawn image. That means we're only making up to 8" pieces! We're working at small scale with the knowledge that none of the work will be fired - it's all going back in the bag! It's a great lesson.

    I like the idea of scaling down but seem to end up around the 20" mark. I do know this isn't the greatest piece of work, it isn't going to tip the scale one way or the other - and that's the way to think about it. It's the flip side of that that I have a hard time letting go; I like to be involved, and I want it to be a good piece!

    My takeaways are to employ more focus on the up front plan - draw and work out the direction. make smaller work and more of it.

  5. Hugs to you Linda. It is a struggle keep moving and not get paralyzed. My studio mate and I joke about how each new piece feels like we are jumping off a cliff. Each decision closes the door on so much potential. When I get stuck (which is often) I give my creative brain time to resolve the problem. This can take time. This is why I try to have several things in progress. It takes the pressure off of making decisions that need time to incubate. If it needs to sit I let it. This usually is not a comfortable move and I feel frustrated and annoyed at myself and my process.
    That being said giving yourself a deadline or having an up coming show can force your hand. With some work this is exactly what you need. 10,000 hours? I can't think of it that way. My art making feels like a journey down a winding unpaved road. Your odds of getting something good improve when you make as much work as possible. I wish you luck with getting unstuck.

  6. Thanks Jenn - kind words and they hit the mark. I'm not sure what I think about the quantifying of expertise - but it's up for discussion.

    For me Time is the master of all things. Time to work out issues, time to think, create, and time to improve over the landscape of the work. I did work on it last night and I'm getting comfortable with the idea that this piece is open ended...

    thanks again!

  7. I've been in a similar state lately, too, and am finally headed back to my studio today, to finish a piece I started last June. I draw, but not enough. I think too much. There are these perfect pieces in my brain, but I'm forcing myself to make the imperfect, though real, ones. I get way too attached, but the more I make, the more I find in my brain, which I prefer. I'm finally working on the next piece, sketching it out a bit, and realizing that "practice" pieces count, are just as legitimate as that supposedly ultimate piece. I'm training myself away from that great art b.s., and just make it, enjoy the process. I've got some age on you too, so I really need to get there. I enjoy your blog - I sent the link to a niece who's moving to CA soon and she likes it too. Good luck - naomi

  8. thanks Naomi! did you read the Ira Glass thing - if not I think it will resonate, it did for me. print it out and post it somewhere you can reconnect to it. I think it's taps right into truth which we can think our way right around a lot! thanks so much for coming by and commenting, and for passing on my blog!!