How To Keep Going If You Hit A Dead-End

“You Look CORNFUSED!” 

The old, hand-painted sign marked the first dead-end in the enormous corn maze.

I, however, was not cornfused nor was I disheartened by the maze’s mockery.

Throughout the course of my creative career, I have encountered many dead-ends and I’ve learned how to navigate with focus and patience.

Many artists react to every dead-end with a quick one-eighty and resume their aimless wandering – sweaty, exhausted and confused.

…hoping they’ll eventually get lucky and find a way out.

But you can save yourself a lot of sweat and frustration if you know how to deal with dead-ends…

Are You Walking Or Wandering?

The corn maze mocked us at every turn.

The corn maze mocked us at every turn.

Despite having spent most of my life in Ohio, this was my first corn maze.

…and I was SUPER-excited.

You see, I have a hard time remembering useful things like where I put my keys, Wednesday night is trash night, how to get home from Studio City before the Vegan Thai take-out gets cold and “Turn off the toaster oven or you’ll burn the house down” because my head is full of useless knowledge.

Of course, useless knowledge is only useless until you find a use for it.

I know the trick to finding your way out of just about any kind of maze – whether it’s a corn maze, a labyrinthian Minotaur-prison, etc.

Keep your right hand on the right wall and walk.

That’s it. It’s that simple.

But things got a little more complicated when I started to doubt myself…

Oh, Ye Of Little Faith…

An awesome goat at the Underwood Family Farms Harvest Festival in Ventura County, CA.

An awesome goat at the Underwood Family Farms Harvest Festival in Ventura County, CA.

After about five minutes into the corn maze, we discovered that first dead-end.

…the one with the CORNFUSED” sign.

Five minutes in and my own wife, possessed by the sarcastic power of The Maze, was already doubting me:

“Ooooh, so it looks like Chris was wrong after all.”

As silly as the whole situation was and despite the fact that my wife was just teasing me, I actually experienced a moment of self-doubt.

Maybe the maze-trick is just a myth. I’m going to look like a fool if it doesn’t work.

But I did not lose heart.

…and while responding to my wife, I discovered the lesson of the corn maze:

“I didn’t say we wouldn’t hit dead-ends. I said we would find our way out.”

The Changing Maze:

The Maze could be your creative career, your relationship with an unfit mentor, your own self-doubt or a difficult season of life.

It’s up to you to interpret this metaphor with as much good information and proper guidance as you can find.

But if you’re feeling lost, chances are you’re in some kind of maze.

A Maze Of Your Own Making:

If The Maze is one which you’ve entered by choice, like a new art course (A NEW Oatley Academy enrollment period begins this month!) or a personal project, you’ve entered with intent to find the exit.

…to solve The Maze.

In those scenarios, the dead-ends are a sign that you’re making progress. …unless you hit the same dead-end over and over again.

…then you’re wandering in circles.

You’ll need a guide or a fresh approach to close the loop.

Creative dead-ends are signs that you’re making progress. …unless you’re hitting the same one over and over.
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Dead-Ends Are Part Of The Deal.

The dead-ends are where you will be tempted to begin wandering aimlessly.

The dead-ends are where the signs will seem like they’re mocking you.

The dead-ends are when the doubters (Love you, Sweetie!) will speak up and try to deter you.

But in any kind of maze, dead ends are inevitable.

Don’t react to the dead-ends with a thoughtless one-eighty.

If you’re lost in The Maze, the last thing you need is to keep wandering aimlessly within it, wasting time and energy, sweaty, exhausted and confused.

Stay focused and be patient.

Put your right hand on the right wall and walk.

Chris Oatley: Conqueror Of The Corn Maze

My maze-trick worked. We conquered the corn maze without a single misstep.

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{ 45 comments… read them below or add one }

Tegan Clancy

Joining the Oatley Academy was the best artistic decision I have made for myself in years. I am still learning how to make it out of the cornfield but I don’t think I am going in circles any more!

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Scott Wiser

Yes!!! Great to hear that Tegan. Can’t wait to see the work you did.

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Chris Oatley

Yeah, Tegan! Not only do you have your right hand on the right wall, you are blazin’ ahead at a hundred mil… er… kilometers an hour!

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Tegan Clancy

Scott so many thumbnails and so many realisations on how to create drama in my art! Can not wait to create some finals, but i’m holding back, making sure I have the strongest foundations possible, and Chris’s guidance is almost like a map to the cornfield!

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Kevin Tan

This is great genuine advice Chris. I especially can relate to the quote “Creative dead-ends are signs that you’re making progress. …unless you’re hitting the same one over and over. ”

This year has been full of me actually making a decision instead of just wandering and hoping that I will learn how color works or how will I come up with my own style. I noticed the same in great artists, they take charge of things, even if they are lost in a maze, they never lose composure. They also never make excuses or get distracted, they make art until they find what they are looking for.

A book I’ve finished reading lately is called “Turning Pro” by Steven Pressfield, I couldn’t resist myself letting you know about it(not working for them in any way lol)because it’s connected to the topic. One quote I remembered from it is “If the muse sees your butt in the chair, she will deliver). Just gotta keep on walking until we see the exit. :)

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Chris Oatley

Wow. That sounds amazing. Pressfield is awesome. Thanks SO MUCH for the recommendation!

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Scott Wiser

Great metaphor! Often because of the roadblocks, finding your way out of the maze can be EXTREMELY rewarding – I’m experiencing that with my book right now – almost out of the maze!

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Chris Oatley

Yeah, Scott. You bring up a good point. it’s BECAUSE of the challenge we feel rewarded when we make it through.

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María Paiz

As always a very enlightening and encouraging post. I had always seen dead-ends as “END OF THE ROAD, APOCALYPSE NOW, GAME OVER, YOU ARE DEAD” kind of things. Yes, very dramatic. But I guess that before you do find the way out, you have to go through some of those and solve the difficulties ahead, or build up some self-confidence!!!! I’ll keep it in mind next time I face a dead end.

:D

BTW, u never mentioned if the right hand right wall trick worked in the end… let me know?

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Chris Oatley

Oh yeah. It totally worked. I should have said something about that. Maybe I’ll go back in and make a quick edit.

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Kristine

From my labrynthian braintastrophy…thank you!
When I was quite young I got in trouble at school for climbing in the bathrooms. Before I had to meet with the principal/Pastor, I ran off, climbed the church cross to see how far and which way I should go to get home. I got stuck on a nail as I was climbing down. The Pastor had to climb up and detach me before calling my Mom.

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Chris Oatley

Oh wow! A bunch of friends and I got away with sneaking up onto the roof of the building after school every day for about a week. But every day that went by, more and more of our fellow students heard about our adventures and wanted to join us. So by about the 4th day we had this whole parade of students sneaking up the courtyard fire escape. When we came back down the entire administrative staff and a few security guards were waiting for us. My friend Darran talked them out of punishing us. She was a favorite student of all the teachers so thank God for her.

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Laura Zarrin

Once again you have posted exactly what I needed to hear at the exact right moment. You’re really starting to freak me out, but thank you!

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Chris Oatley

Sauron’s Spies, Laura.

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Petra van Berkum

Thumbs up for this post!

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Chris Oatley

Thanks, Petra! But you’re going to need to keep one of those thumbs on the right wall of The Maze. ;)

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Celina

Wow, the first time I heard that phrase was actually my first day of junior high. I was switching classes early in the AM and noticed, for the first time, that the kids in my home room were going somewhere else and I didn’t know where I was heading. So I let that distract me and ended up dropping my books all over the hall (pencils and glasses included). A teacher nearby called by name and said, “Are you okay? You look corn-fused.” I will never forget that, and I think I’ll apply it to switching projects today.

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Chris Oatley

HA! Painful puns.

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Shawna JC Tenney

Chris, I love your parables. :)

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Chris Oatley

Thanks, Shawna! I love your illustrations!

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Tegan Clancy

hear hear to Chris’s parables and Shawna’s illustrations!

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Benjamin

That sign is CORNy

Where in Ohio have you been before?

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Chris Oatley

Yes, yes that sign is indeed CORNy.

I lived in Columbus for most of my time on this planet.

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Vinter

Thank you for this.
It’s very inspiring.
But what if the walls have fallen down and I’m wandering around aimlessly in the dark?

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Chris Oatley
Lana

Thanks for sharing this link! :)

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Andrew Cothill

This took me a while to apply but it’s actually levering a new way of thiniking into my mindset. I’ve always thought of this as a journey with waypoints that you set yourself because you know the desitnation. But what if you don’t know the destination and you’re just painting and drawing because it feels right? There’s the chance to feel adrfit and aimless and eventually lost (sweaty, exhausted and confused to boot!)
However, if i change the paradigm from a linear journey with clear goals (that i don’t have) to a maze with a with back turns and twists and an eventual mysterious exit; this is much easier to cope with. I don;t have to feel bad about not knowing exactly where i’m going but i do have keep going.

I’m not sure if you may have to reverse engineer that back to your point but i’m kind of working it out as i go.

Thanks again muchly much!

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Chris Oatley

That’s great, Andrew. Yeah, you don’t HAVE to have a goal, I just find that most artists feel a much greater sense of stability and focus when they do have one. But it’s true that art is just an exploration – an escape – for many people and that’s completely legit!

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todd daigle

Chris,
This is some great advice. I enjoy how you use situations from life to teach us lessons about art. Brings new meaning to the phrase drawings from life.

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Chris Oatley

Ha! Awesome. Thanks, Todd.

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Monica

Thanks Chris! This is exactly what I needed to read this morning. I’m in a crazy “maze” and I’ve been “wandering” in it for awhile since I got to Los Angeles to start my animation career. I can’t wait ti take your “Painting Drama” course soon.

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Chris Oatley

Thanks, Monica! Painting Drama will be available again VERY soon. Sign up here to join the early notification list and be the first to know: http://ChrisOatley.com/early

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The Pencilneck

It’s not only the creative side, the business side is also riddled with dead ends, pitfalls, hurdles, obstacles, and suspiciously convenient logs blocking the path and rustling sounds coming from the tall grass on either side.

Just this morning, the shipping company handling my completed commission (600 prints) for a trade show in Dubai informed me that the whole shipping schedule has been changed, so the new drawing of a Saker hawk I was going to take has to be completed, framed, and ready for shipping in 3 days!

No, I haven’t started yet.

And company’s coming this weekend from out of town…

No, the custom shipping crate for the drawing – which we’ve already paid for “can’t possibly be ready for Monday”, meaning that money is wasted (he HAS started).

And no, the custom framing we ordered for the Saker drawing isn’t here either…so THAT money is also down the crapper, and an alternative has to be found over the weekend.

Thus, I need to come up with a few Plan Bs…and it’s not like I’ll have heaps of free time to devote to these problems…but we shall prevail…we always do…

And a large part of that is lateral thinking – you’d be surprised at the odd, synchronicitous (look, I just made up a word!) places solutions can be found – and a complete unwillingness to accept the first ‘No’. Or the second, third or fourth ‘No’s.

The business side analogy of “Keep your right hand on the wall and start walking” is “There’s ALWAYS a way: Keep Kicking”…

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Chris Oatley

Owen, there’s no TIME to be making up words right now! You need to make drawings! ;)

Seriously, thanks for sharing. Yeah, it’s crazy how the minute you introduce a 3rd party (shipping/ printing etc) things get exponentially more time-consuming…

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Matthew Robert Davies

Hey Chris,
Wanted to say thanks for the post. It really helps knowing I’m not the only one currently dealing with this conundrum.

My problem is that I’ve just graduated from University and am taking a little bit of time to focus on what I really want in terms of a career. I wanted to do 2D animation for as long as I can remember, but I’ve been introduced to so many mediums since and also want to do live action filmaking or comics or web etc. just don’t want to set out on the wrong path and regret it years later.

So I have inadvertently let myself wander around the maze for a while to see if it would take me somewhere unexpected that I didn’t know was there, but now I find myself completely lost.

Or It seems there are multiple exits and I simply have to choose one, but there’s no way of knowing which one is the right choice.

I really ran with that metaphor, but it really applies to where I’m at.

Have you, or the other viewers out there, (Hi guys :) had to choose between different passions and if so, how did you choose? Don’t want this post to turn into a pity party or anything :) but I’m sure we’ve all been through times of self doubt.

P.S Will there be other classes available after Painting Drama? I was wondering if any Character Design classes may be on the horizon :)

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Chris Oatley

Matthew – Well, you’re definitely not alone. I think this is something MOST artists struggle with.

For me, I’ve found that there never was really a wrong choice because everything you learn informs your art. We all want to find our own creative voices and we can’t really find them without some searching.

Last year even, I had to put my comic on hold in order to focus fully on building The Oatley Academy. Eventually, I’ll be able to pick it up again but man, that was hard. It was REALLY tough to set it down for a while. But it just made the most sense for my life at the time. If I was serious about taking that huge risk and trying to leave Disney so I could do Oatley Academy, I had to focus and set myself up to succeed.

…so I had to intentionally stop wandering as much as possible.

And yes, there will be a significant amount of Character Design education at Oatley Academy. Some of it will be available in the near future.

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Matthew Robert Davies

Thanks for the reply Chris.
I get what you mean about how other mediums and aspects of art inform each other. I think my main problem at the moment relates to your previous entry on the Inner-Critic. I just need to choose a road and ease on down it.

If it goes horribly wrong, then that just makes the next decision even easier :)

I’m really glad that your risks have payed off and that the Oatley A is going great! I’ll keep an eye out for those classes :) Heck, I can afford them with all this free therapy :D

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Adam Hartlaub

Hey Chris! Great article here, definitely a very true answer. That’s an interesting approach to mazes. I never considered that putting your right hand on the right wall (I suppose the same would work with your left hand on left wall, just working counter clockwise?) would eventually exhaust every possible direction until you found the exit. Most certainly a philosophy to be applied to other things in life, development as an artist, job-hunting, or pretty much anytime we feel lost in our guidance in life. Just stick through it, keep going, and you will find your way. Great post! :]

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Chris Oatley

Adam – Yeah, I think it works with the left hand too. I don’t see why it wouldn’t. It’s just that the word “RIGHT” is a homonym and thus, I opted to take advantage of the double-meaning. “Right” as in the opposite of left and “right” as in “accurate.”

And yes. You gotta just keep going.

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Diane Kress Hower

Oats. You are the creative Sage and spot on with timing of this. I woke up at 2:30 am in a near anxiety attack and was able to set a limit with how someone was treating me. I leaned right and kept walking knowing that this will pass and something better will open and if not, then the time can be used differently within my creative career. Great post:) I have learned not to take it personal. sometimes we just need a nudge to do something different.

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Chris Oatley

Yeah. I’ve been in that kind of situation more times than I can count. And you make a great point – those are THE times when just walking and getting the heck out of The Maze is the only constructive solution…

Hang in there, Diane! And I haven’t forgotten about the other thing we were discussing in regard to the Academy – I’ve just been spinning too many plates. Things will level out after this next wave of students get started…

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Maya Bakalars

Chris Oatley: The king of simple straightforward metaphors that echo in our minds and guide us when we need it most. Thanks!

PS, love the triumphant far-seeking gaze photo. Classic.

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Chris Oatley

And here’s yet another metaphor for you…

…that ziggurat of haystacks I was standing on was disconcertingly unstable…

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Daniel burton

Nice site. Glad I found it. A quicker way out of the maze is to ask for the solution from someone who has been threw the maze before and has made a map.

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DadaHyena

Thank you for sharing the positive thinking, Chris! It’s easy to feel defeated when you run into those dead ends in the maze (along with the occasional unfriendly Minotaur). Hope we all find our way through!

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