Genres: Mixed media, intuitive art practice     
Themes: Varied   
Location: Perth           
Business: Tranquil Canvas          

Dr Soma Datta a mixed media artist based in Perth runs courses in 'intuitive art' through Tranquil Canvas.  She is a mother, an online lecturer and teacher. She states that her passion lies in teaching others to find their 'happy place through art'. Just looking at her cheerful, happy face speaks volumes about positive transformations through art. Soma has very kindly sent through not only written responses but provided us with a couple of Youtube videos as well if you would prefer to watch her speak.  What a generous person and with so much to share! Thank you so much for being part of our Beyond Creatives that people can learn from when looking for hints and support, Soma :)

JFP: Hi Soma and welcome to Creative Isolation and Beyond :)

SMD: Hi, I am a post-grad qualified professional with over thirteen years of experience in teaching art and design. I started painting as a way to cope with bullying as a child and have always used it as a way to escape from stresses of life...however gave it up as it wasn’t considered an employable profession and pursued architecture instead. But @ 15 years later while in the middle of working on a doctorate...I found myself in a vicious circle of health concerns triggered by stress... which in turn was aggravated by chronic health issues.

An experienced counsellor helped me identify that the beginning of getting to and staying out of this circle of illness for good... was to pursue mental fitness as a way of life alongside a physical fitness regimen. This search for well-being led to me back to my old love of painting. I participated in numerous exhibitions in Perth and internationally... and won special recognition awards from a gallery in the US. My artworks sell through online galleries as well as local shops. And then I decided to share my experience and skills with others via my unique approach to using painting as a gateway to achieving well-being. The highlight of my career till date would be selling out all seats from the launch of my intuitive art workshops and then having to double the intake numbers to cope with demand. I run my own weekly art groups in Kwinana and recently launched my online art school with version 1 of my first Online art course on colour-mixing for absolute beginners on sale.

JFP: Could you describe a bit about your creative process, your favourite themes, mediums/genres? Anything you would like to share about what inspires you to keep creating, believing in your abilities?

SMD: My creative process is rooted in expressive arts therapy and depends on how I am feeling at any moment in time. I generally start with experiments inspired by objects from my environment...could be plastic bottle caps or lost and found objects or ...gum leaves from my garden. I play with paints and I love making marks with these objects....or see if any patterns emerge. Occasionally I leave these be...till inspiration to ‘where to next’ strikes...other times I put on meditation music to continue painting using acrylics and different mediums while using motifs, patterns and colours that make me happy. I stop at a point where I ‘feel’ that the painting is now ready to welcome a subject...I then look for/imagine shapes within the subject while also searching for inspiration in my garden, in books or online to go onto this painting. The final outcome is mostly a surprise and I love that about painting this way. Favourite themes ...would be from nature...I love painting birds, animals and flowers...And seek inspiration from nature not just literally but also from experiencing it in various sensory ways such as its seasons (sunshine and rain), scents (wildflowers in the bush across the street) and places of natural beauty (local beaches).

JFP: Have you ever experienced a creative block or time in your career as a creative where things were difficult that made it difficult to practice your craft? Would you mind sharing that in some way? How did it affect you? How did you move on from that?                   

SMD: I guess experiencing creative blocks as a creative is just a normal part of being an artist. Time and again, I find that I experience creative blocks when I'm putting a lot of pressure on myself to produce it could be to produce a body of works for, you know, which is due by a certain deadline maybe for an exhibition. Or it could be when I'm not doing what I want or painting what I want from my heart, or there are some boundaries within which I need to paint. But none of these is, are too difficult to overcome. There are some techniques that all of us have to sort of overcoming these kinds of blocks, but the worst one that I remember occurred, it started somewhere early this year and it just got worse when we hit the pandemic. So I was struggling with creating continuously an endless batch of tutorials, and these tutorials are simplified versions of how to do certain art subjects for beginners. And in that process where I was always in a state of creating art as a commodity for others, I wasn't painting for my own self. That's where I started encountering blocks which started affecting me in being able to creatively come up with solutions for my own projects. It also affected my functioning in creating further tutorials and samplers crucial to the functioning of my art practice.

I then also got caught up in the whole pandemic situation whereas an art practitioner; I needed to pivot my business into a new avatar. See… all my classes and workshops were in a brick and mortar version. I didn't have anything online and I just got into a headspace where I could not paint a single brushstroke or think of ways to translate my brick and mortar classes to online versions. And I needed to take a conscious pause and remind myself I do not need to run with the crowd since everyone is pivoting their business. I need to stop right now whatever I'm doing and take some creative me time off for my own self and paint without any objective, which is always has been a way of practice but somewhere in being an art practitioner and painting tutorials and creating work samples, I forgot that the whole point of why I'm creating it is so that I'm always connected with my intuitive creative self and so I use art as a way of self-care and maintaining well being. And I wasn't practising what I was preaching… that was a realization that came when I took that conscious pause and reminded me that I can achieve what I seek to achieve in my own time and pace… I do not need to run with the crowd… I do not need to be a part of the rat race…And I will get where I want to be once I take time off to reconnect with my creativity.

So I went back to using painting as a meditative process, which is where I do not paint with any structure. I do not analyze what's coming out of the painting process. I paint just to be in the moment. Then I started watching online tutorials of what work other artists were doing. And there are so many artists out there who are so generous with their skills and knowledge and just watching them enjoy what they were doing in their own practices gradually and slowly helped me ease myself back into this headspace where I could start painting again. I started warming up to different ideas, my imagination started coming back, and gently and gradually I ease myself into that state of creativity and productivity. The point is I was able to move on from that by being easy on myself and reminding myself that I do not need to do what everybody else is doing…and I will get wherever I need to be if I just enjoyed what I was doing. And before I knew it, I got there. Eventually, when I started painting again, I created an online course and launched live online art sessions…I got back into that state where I was creative and productive and it felt good to move on. So, yes, creative blocks happen to all of us. I guess it's important for us to take time off, walk away and come back when we feel ready. We need to recharge and inspire ourselves before we seek to inspire others.

JFP: Wow, that's so insightful, thank you. Yes, when we teach or are expected to inspire others, we tend to leave our own practice till the last minute. Well done for recognising that was the issue and moving forward from that. What would you advise someone in a creative block so that they can move on with their craft? And what are some steps or words of encouragement that it could possibly share with artists experiencing creative blocks?  

SMD: The best way where we can create well and create something that's inspiring and empowering and has life is when we ourselves feel good. So I suggest if you are in a creative block, and unable to ‘do your thing’ as a creative, then the first thing you need to do is find your own state of wellness …where your mind and heart are in sync. You know, have that cup of coffee or have the block of chocolate. Go for a walk, walk your dog or go meet the most cherished people in your life… who you may not have met because you've been so busy, just ticking boxes in your task list. Take time off to breathe. And eventually, when you find your state of well being where your mind and your heart are in sync, you'll find that you are ready to then start creating again. We need to feel good in ourselves to reach that state of happiness so we can then create or express our happiness on canvas.

Creativity itself is a very therapeutic process. Evidence shows that it helps us in so many positive ways mentally and physically. It helps keep our brain’s grey cells fit and helps with memory and retention. It reduces stress levels in our body. But I guess as artists because we do it as ‘work’… and not as leisure our brain possibly numbs out those pleasurable effects on our body and mind. And perhaps that's why as artists, we need to take some creative ‘me’ time off to gain those benefits of art practice for our creative self.

Some of the strategies that I have used to unblock creative hurdles are attending other artist workshops because every artist has their own unique take on how they express their artwork and how they create or produce their paintings. And it’s an amazing distraction to just go into another artist’s workshop or classes and experience their way of creative expression. Second, I watch YouTube videos since we are in a pandemic. So perhaps if don't have the time or opportunity to attend other artist’s workshops and you've got the internet then go onto YouTube. There are that many generous artists willing to share their skills and resources. It’s good to see different approaches to your own subjects and also other styles of art forms as you never know when different perspectives and variations could trigger your own creativity. So find something that is a pleasure to watch. Or you could listen to music… I love painting to music! Find out that one thing that makes you feel happy, and you will find that your imagination is reignited by simply distracting yourself to another pleasurable art form… And that you're easing yourself through the block into a creative headspace again.

A book that I would recommend would be a book by Tracy Verdugo. She's an Australian Mixed Media artist who’s published some wonderful mixed media books which I really love. I think its right there on my shelf. Let me grab it for you is that's one of our favourite books. It's called ‘Paint Mojo: a mixed media workshop’. And it takes you through creative layering techniques for personal expression. Now that's my go-to book when I feel stressed and experience creative blocks… this book takes you through these exploratory fun mixed media techniques, where there's no planning or outcome that you're focused on, you're just experimenting with a sense of curiosity and enjoying the process of creation. And at the end of the painting, you may have something that's incredibly colourful, with personal meaning. So that's the book I'd recommend if you're looking to overcome creative blocks and want to try out something that's really hands-on and gets you out of that headspace into a more creative mode.

JFP: Thank you so, so much Soma. You have been extremely generous with your advice. I wish you well in all your new online courses and please keep in touch. 

To see some of Soma Datta's work please go to the gallery. 


Tranquil Canvas Youtube channel   Courses with Soma   Facebook site   Facebook academy Instagram   Film of transcript (above) Creative Block 1  Creative Block 2