Creativity Initiative

When there is no work, make work.

Yesterday, after posting my last bit, I had a moment of inspiration. As I am looking for ideas to help send this project onto another level, it came to me in a flash. My expertise, as I have self proclaimed, is creativity. And what better thing to write about then something that is as close to my heart as blood pumping or air breathing.

So what I hope to do here, on a somewhat regular basis, is share with my readers my many years of experimentation, and attempts at creative manifestation. Mainly, the one area that has appealed most to my sensibility, is breaking through those periods where creativity seems to be stuck. Some call it writers block. An affliction that is not only particular to writers, but to artists of every kind. For instance, I have not been to my drawing desk since November. Why? Just not feeling it. But if you find yourself in a period of utter frustration with whatever it is that is confronting you, I would like to share some of the things I have done, and do, to break through. One of those things is writing this article, I think you get that already.

Prior to 2003, I had fallen into an extended period of not doing any artwork other than what I could do in my computer. The stuff I was doing in the computer was really cool, and I will discuss those images with you another time or you can visit my work at My hands on drawing was basically relegated to sketchbooks. After the September 11th tragedy here in NYC, something inside me shifted. The digital world was no longer satisfying my creative output. I needed to get back to touching the paper.

Initially I started a series of pencil drawings, but I still had the old tendencies to freeze up. My work attempted at being tight and therefore the images tended to be a little stiff. A criticism that was thrown at me more than once by people I respected. I needed a radical departure to invigorate my relationship with drawing. So I started a new sketchbook journal.

This journal, which I named “Random Scrawls” had only one intent: to scribble as freely as possible. To scribble and allow the freedom to guide me toward an image, or not. There was no failure. There was only the experiment. And the other rule was that I would try to spend at least 15 minutes every day doing just that. Scribbling, and then looking at the scribble and allow something to emerge. Here are two samples. They are untitled.

Bruce Zeines 2003 From the Sketchbook Random Scrawls

Bruce Zeines 2003 From the Sketchbook Random Scrawls

The images are somewhat reminiscent of early Picasso. I actually kept an image of his on my computer at that time which became one of my favorite pieces: Young Girl Leading the Blind Minotaur.

What emerged from this period? One day, while sitting with a bottle of pen and ink, I just began to obsessively crosshatch. No particular intention. Just ink on paper. I did not rise from my seat for 3 hours. What emerged was the face of a man. In hindsight, it was not one my best pieces, but it was the starting point of a whole new style. A style that went on to have shows, have articles written about it and prompted two video interviews. But I am not here to brag.

It was the process that was intriguing to me.

During this time I was attending a weekly networking meeting with other business people. Once a week, I would get up at some ungodly hour, dress up in some respectable business suit, and head into Manhattan for the 7 am breakfast meeting. People would introduce who they were and what hey did, and every week, one or two of us would get up and make a presentation to the group. I was there as an artist, even though I was running a design practice at the time. I wanted to use this creative understanding to help people outside my own realm. In the group were business coaches, health practitioners, insurance reps, printers and the regular pyramid marketing schemers.

The insurance company, which was a subsidiary of Wells Fargo, invited me to give a talk to their sales reps at one of their lunchtime presentations. They promised free pizza. How could I pass that up.

What appeared at this gathering were mostly uninterested in what I would bring, but were interested in getting free lunch. In attendance was the CEO of the sales team. An attractive and intelligent middle aged lady. She hung out in the back of the room as I made my pitch. I passed out pieces of blank paper. Inviting everyone to scribble with the pencils provided. scribble your hearts out, I told them. Scribble with your eyes closed. Scribble with your left hand. Turn the paper upside down and scribble.

What became interesting, was that all these folks were no different than me. Everyone had been in kindergarten at one time, and this process was natural to them. But as the years had gone by, the ability to allow oneself to be playful had disappeared. Many in the room had a hard time letting themselves go. they had forgotten how to scribble.

After the initial scribbling, I asked them to take a few minutes and stare at what they had done. Allow what you see to take you in. Let what ever images come to you be there. If you can and are willing, you can proceed to the next step and try to bring from the paper what you are seeing.

Now this was a room full of sales people. Insurance sales people. 90% of the room could not get into it. Did not understand. But when I walked around the room to look at what they had done, some had discovered something. And the CEO of the group told me she had a breakthrough. When she started the experiment, she had been struggling in her mind to resolve some conflict at work among her staff. Through this seemingly unrelated exercise, she had stumbled upon a solution as to how to handle her staff problem.

Last week, I spent a day at BFS. Some of my time is spent in the art room because that is one of the quietest places in the building. I brought with me my bottle of ink and some pens. One of the students, who very much wants to do art, came over to look at what I was working on. A few months earlier, I had given him his own bottle of ink and one of my pens. I asked if he was still working with them. He told me he had, but he had stopped because “I ran out of ideas.” I said “you never run out of ideas. You need to find other ways to get to them. It is better to have no idea when you begin. Then, who knows what can happen.”

A few minutes later he came back with his pen and bottle of ink. “You mean, I can just draw anything?”

“of course”, I said. “Stop worrying about it, and put the pen on paper. If you don’t like it. You can always do another one.”

When I looked over at him about 15 minutes later, what I saw was an explosion of line. Energy coming off the paper. He had a big smile on his face while he was working.

‘You see?”

He just nodded with a grin. This is the best reward of all. To set one free, one at a time. We all find ourselves at difficult places throughout our lives. Much of the time, I have no clue as to how to get past it.  This is an interval. And as we get older these intervals can get bigger and more difficult. The difficulty is the reward of trying. For each period of difficulty that comes upon me, the stronger and more knowledgeable I get in how to stay and wait. To keep probing the darkness. To even doubt my own opinions. But there is always a process to passing through. What I have just shared with you is only one way. There are others which hopefully I can bring forth in later posts.


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