"Sans Titre", Lucy Larousse and Liz Shepherd, 2012, 11" x 17" Watercolor and Screenprint

"Sans Titre", Lucy Larousse and Liz Shepherd, 2012, 11" x 17" Watercolor and Screenprint

Art / Creativity / Printing / Resources

Challenge Your Creativity (Discomfort Yields New Thinking)

“Sans Titre”, Lucy Larousse and Liz Shepherd, 2012, 11″ x 17″ Watercolor and Screenprint

By Liz Shepherd

Scads of self-help books as well as serious research have been written about creativity and I often find myself nervously drawn to those titles.  I am getting a pretty good sense of where my ideas come from but that doesn’t stop me from anxiously scanning the creativity boosting methodology of others to draw upon when my well of ideas dries up.

I have yet to learn very much from those books, except to confirm much of what I already know about being “blocked”, but I have noticed a few things about what I do when I am between projects and not enjoying it.

First, it is essential to acknowledge and welcome the feeling of being emptied out.  Instead of experiencing this as a frightening void, it helps to bask in the quiet of a resting mind.  Once calm, I am in “receiving mode”:  I read more, more non-fiction in particular,  I listen to other people’s stories of their travels or films they have seen, and books read, with improved attention, I go out of my way to choose films and music that usually wouldn’t interest me or are just rather odd.

It makes sense: If you put the same old stuff in your head, you are likely to get the same old stuff out. 

I have found that it is important to say “yes” to projects that make me feel  particularly cranky to push this theory that the discomfort accelerates creativity.

I was invited to participate in a group project, an exchange between some printmakers in Boston and a group in Strasbourg, France.  The idea was that the French artists would create a background that we, the Bostonians, would work over and we would do the same for them.  This is not a project that sounded fun to me, so I went for it

A watercolor (not a print!) of a forest, painted entirely in pale tones of blue was given to me as my background.  Huh?  I hate watercolor as a medium -so wimpy, so boring if it is not in the hands of a master (like JMW Turner, for one).  However, I love silkscreening which doesn’t require soaking the paper (like printing etchings) so, that was my default choice of medium to work on top of the watercolor.  Then what?  This is where I got cranky (“ I don’t know what to do with this stupid blue forest.”  “This is a stupid project.” etc.)

Dipping into the imagery that I have been working on lately, I screenprinted ladders in silver ink leaning up against a number of the trees in the forest.  I wasn’t sure what it meant; although I did have a hunch it meant something to me, lurking in the back room of my brain.

Fast-forward a few months.  My husband and I decide to take a driving trip out of Paris and settle on driving north: “we have a week, we haven’t been to Belgium before and I have heard interesting things about Antwerp.  Hey, as long as we are in Belgium, let’s go to the Ardennes forest and check out the place where my dad was wounded in World War II”.  This place, where the Allies and Germans fought the Battle of the Bulge, had mythic status for me. I had grown up hearing about my father’s experience, at 19 years old, of walking in the snow covered woods and suffering a devastating head wound that paralyzed the entire right side of his body.

We found the village of Houffalize, the town my father remembers being near when he was wounded.


"Ardennes", Liz Shepherd, 2013, Screenprint, 23" x 34"

There were three roads leading out of the town and we drove on each of them, getting out of the car to walk in the woods.  The forest was just as he described it: It was planted in neat rows, not like the wilds of New England.  I had seen footage of troops fighting here and it seems just the same.  It was October when we visited, already chilly. I imagined those young men wearing only cotton and wool clothing, freezing in one of the snowiest winters on record, terrified, they knew they were replacements for soldiers killed or wounded.  The ladders made sense to me:  “Please, get me out of here” and the spirit (or whatever) of the dead leaving their bodies.

Back in the studio, I collaged together the photos of the Ardennes Forest with my drawings of ladders, and then made four-color silkscreen prints on translucent silk that will be displayed from floor to ceiling.

What’s next?  I’m not sure.  I have to empty out my mind and get out of the studio to see what is going on.


Liz Shepherd ProfileLiz Shepherd teaches printmaking at the Museum School in Boston and also in her studio, where she rents out use of her studio and press to other printmakers.

She graduated with an MFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts/Tufts University where she twice won the Boit Award.   Her prints are in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston), Edinburgh (Scotland) College of Art, Syracuse University, the collections of Percussion Software and Cell Signaling Technologies as well as numerous private collections.

Visit her website: www.lizshepherd.com and for more information about the studio: www.shepherdprintstudio.com


Lucie Larousse has been studying illustration, etching and screenprinting at the School of Decorative Arts in Strasbourg for the past three years.

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