One of the most confidence draining experiences as an artist is hitting that dreaded wall we call artist’s block. Similar to the phenomenon of writer’s block, Artist’s block is an experience where (for one reason or another) your imagination runs dry, all inspiration disappears, and you can’t produce great art.
You try, but there’s nothing. If you’re like me, that’s when things get dark. The super negative self-talk/impostor syndrome blows up across your already overly sensitive artist’s psyche and before you know it you’re in the middle of a full blown existential crisis.
“I suck. I’m horrible. I can’t draw my way out of a paper bag. I'm so worthless I'm not even fit to die and be eaten by worms.”
Your whole internal world comes crashing down.
I totally get it. I’ve been there. (I was actually there this afternoon.)
Thankfully this phenomenon is temporary. All artists experience these dry spots.
You can and will push through it.
A little intentionality and strategy can really help.
In this article, I’m going to give you five tips on how to punch your way through the stubborn edifice that is obstructing your art flow.
Let’s get started.
Step 1: Get off your damn phone.
That’s right. Put it away. Put it on airplane mode, put it in another room, give it to someone else and tell them not to give it back to you until after a certain time.
Do it for yourself.
I can’t emphasize this enough. (And I say this because I’m a guilty offender!) Constantly unlocking that thing and looking at your snap chat, Instagram, whatever, is jacking with your attention span and ability to focus.
While you’re at it, TURN OFF YOUR NOTIFICATIONS. All those things are giving you ADHD. (Or in my case making my ADHD 10X worse)
Serious, just put it away.
It will be there for you later and nothing of epic proportions will have happened.
Step 2: Get “Un-bored”:
I have noticed that I tend to only like to draw the subject matter I am comfortable with and already draw super well. Chances are you’re a little like that too.
But you have to challenge yourself.
Maintaining a creative comfort zone of only those things you’ve mastered will cause you to stagnate as an artist.
Look at your recent work. What have you been drawing or painting? How can you take what you’ve already accomplished at and push yourself even more? How do you make what you’re doing even better?
What do you suck at drawing?
OK, now go draw that thing 10 times in your sketch book until you don’t suck at drawing it any more.
Continually ask yourself:
What can I do to make this drawing even better?
What can I do to push myself?
How could I add more emotion?
How can I improve my draftsmanship?
How can I be more professional in how I approach art?
Consider the affliction of “artist’s block” a friend who just wants to heighten your skill level and take it to new heights.
Step 3: Keep Moving
Where are you stuck?
Bounce to another part of your creative process.
If you’re painting, bounce to do doing preliminary drawings for future projects. If you’re doing sketches, jump to begin working on the final product.
Whatever you are working on, switch to some other part of your creative workflow. Find where the inspiration is moving.
If that fails then jump to writing or journaling.
Whatever you do, KEEP MOVING.
Step 4: Seek Inspiration:
We stand on the shoulders of creative giants, and thousands of years of art history.
What makes me want to draw?
Who makes me want to draw?
What do I watch that makes me want to draw?
What do I read that makes me want to draw?
What music makes me want to draw?
What concepts or ideas make me want to draw?
One thing I do to help foster great ideas is keep a robust armory of visual inspiration.
I have plastic boxes filled with a vintage action figure packaging. I also keep a big binder of cut out images that I frequently peruse. Not to mention a library of great literary and visual books.
This tip is especially crucial at the brainstorming phase. I break open the binder and I start looking and let my mind wander. I sift through the things that naturally inspire me.
Vintage toy pictures, monster images, Creepy typography, and anything random I think may speak to me at some point in the future.
In addition to that, I have a folder on my dropbox just called “inspiration” with lots of little sub folders in it called things like, “vintage Halloween costumes,” “Retro sci-fi book covers,” “Pushead,” or “Planet of the Apes cartoon intro.”
Whatever seems to give you ideas or motivate you to make art, start saving those items.
Pinterest and Google images are also very helpful in this regard.
Always be open to new sources of inspiration as well.
Step 5: Go Do Something Else
Sometimes the best thing you can do when you’ve hit a creative wall is to put everything down, and go do something else.
Go spend time with your family.
Go take a shower.
Go take a nap.
Go watch cartoons.
Go play with your action figures.
Find something you enjoy. It will make it easier for the good ideas to find you later.
Whatever you do just keep your creative lights on and try to relax. You are merely disengaging from the “active” state of creation and switching to the “passive” state of creation.
Last summer I started riding my skateboard through the neighborhood I grew up in. I’m 41, so I’m sure I look crazy. But I love it so much, and it’s great exercise. It clears my mind and which then leaves room for the great ideas to begin to pour back in.
The basic idea here is this.
Catch your brain off guard! Use your artist’s block as an opportunity to grow yourself in a new direction.
Remember, every artist faces this. Next time you hit a roadblock, try using one or more of these art hacks.
Next week we’ll tackle five more ways on how to push through artist’s block!
Now, go make something RAD!