Hello, my name is Mark Wilhelm and I am an artist and notebook enthusiast! I have been an artist in the Fine Art space for over twenty years and, before 2019, I had never dealt with artist block. I felt as though I had designed the perfect artistic life that would beat back artist block and I would dispense advice to my fellow artist like some kind of guru. “Just set limitations for how you make your work, the reduction in options will highlight a clear path,” I would say. Or “Just distract yourself with something else for a while and then you can sneak up on your muse while they are unaware!”
Thinking back, I realize how little I understood about artist block. While both those tactics could work, I realize how oversimplified and dismissive my advice was. Even now, after wading through three years of artist block, I can’t be sure I fully understand it. I hope to shed light on the fickle nature of artist block by sharing the story of how I inadvertently lifted my own block.
Currently, my partner and I are traveling the US full time. When we set out, I decided to leave most of my traditional art supplies at home and simplify my options by only bringing my iPad and Apple Pencil. I was hopeful that the constant change of scenery and efficient medium (digital art) would help with the block. But travel provides its own challenges. Adjusting to this way of life hasn’t been as easy as I thought it would be. While I managed a few digital paintings, nothing rekindled the fire to create that I am accustomed to feeling.
About seven months into the trip, I decided to start a travel journal. I have always loved notebooks and have purchased many, but this time I wanted to do my research and find the right “system”. Having well designed and purposeful items while traveling really enhances my experience. Every item I have with me has a specific function, is easy to pack, and is aesthetically pleasing. With these qualities in mind, I began my research and found Traveler’s Company.
I was completely hooked on the versatile and tactile nature of a fully kitted out notebook. I started my travel journal experience by keeping items from my travels and arranging them onto a page with my written thoughts. I think this act of creating something visual with no intention of ever sharing it with anyone made it an act of pure creativity. It cut away all the distractions and worries and reminded me of the way I use to feel while making art.
In the world of fine art, I found it very easy to lose sight of the physical art due to the cloud of other responsibilities and pressures that come along with it. I was the Artist-in-Residence for the Art Center of the Bluegrass for many years and my studio was open to the public. I created a routine that was primarily intended to keep my studio organized due to its public nature, but it became a part of my artistic process; Organization was the beginning. Before starting my work for the day I would put away dry brushes, stage my new work, or do general cleaning. I was surprised to find that the analogue items I currently use for journaling give me that same feeling. And through the process of journaling, I found my creative drive coming back.
We can call it luck, or happenstance, but Traveler’s Company carried watercolor paper inserts for the notebook that I use. I was excited by my renewed inclination to create and decided to equip myself with art materials using the same thoughtfulness I gave to my journaling system. I use the The Superior Labor (TSL) leather box for pens and washi tapes, the TSL pen pouch for my brushes, Daniel Smith watercolor tin, and Raphael and Escoda travel brushes. I spent time researching each item to make sure the whole system would work together, be easy to travel with, and look like a matching set.
Discovering that my artistic muse is fueled by organization and thoughtfulness has been eye opening! Spending time thinking through and researching each item before bringing it into my life has been a lesson in thoughtfulness. All of these items now keep me happy and in the mood for art because I am inspired by their quality in an age of mass production and replication. Discovering Baum-Kuchen and their thoughts on how analogue artifacts and everyday-use items become comforting and hold your stories made me realize that even the scrapes and dents my items pick up along the way could fuel my artistic drive.
For me, the whole experience of travel journaling rekindled my creative flame! The act of pure creativity and storytelling involved in journaling combined with the timeless appeal of analogue items continues to comfort and inspire me. As is fitting, my current abstract watercolor series is inspired heavily by my travel journal.
Every person is unique, so every art block is unique. But I guess I would add to my previous art block advice, “try and make something for yourself”. It might work and it might not, but the journey is the destination.
Text and photos by: Mark Wilhelm
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