It is a dark, lonely and soul destroying place. Your inspiration has evaporated into thin air but you press on anyway because you love what you do and simply cannot put those brushes down. You unwittingly produce work that doesn’t satisfy you which in turn erodes your confidence and so eventually you come to a grinding halt.
It might be hard to believe but your Mojo hasn’t deserted you. Artists Block is only a temporary state which most of us come up against from time to time. It will pass and you will recover so it’s important that you don’t stress as this will subconsciously have a further negative effect on your creativity. Cut yourself some slack and consider how hard you might have been working and just how mentally exhausting painting is. You are not alone . . .
“If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all” Michelangelo
Are going through a confidence crisis? The art critic Robert Hughes wrote;
“The greater the artist the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize”
Doubt can be good but remember we are often our own harshest critics.
Get realistic – You haven’t become a rubbish painter overnight but it is unlikely that everything you produce is going to be a master piece. Artists Block is it is simply part of the process. The sooner that you accept this the sooner you will overcome it.
Here are a few tactics that I and other Artists have employed to help.
STOP! Take a Break/Get Away
I know from experience that this is not easy to do particularly if your income relies solely on painting. If you have a strong work ethic like me and love what you do it can be doubly difficult to stop. But just like everyone else Artists need a break sometimes and getting away completely from your work for a period of time will allow you to recharge your creative batteries and come back to the easel with fresh eyes.
Writing this I realised that I experience Artists Block mostly from frustration when I am concentrating more on the outcome than on the process. And of course the outcome is the first casualty of losing touch with the process. Typically this happens when I am putting a show together or working to a deadline.
I have found that stopping gets me out of the rut that I have fallen into. More often than not I do come back refreshed with new ideas and a keaner eye. So maybe take some time off away from your work completely. If you can afford it take a trip away.
Clean and Tidy your Studio
I do this (no really I do!) whenever I ‘Stop’. The way I see it is that my studio is the environment associated with my block and so I need to change it. First I clear out anything from the Studio that isnt working – from hues of paint I no longer get on with right the way through to that irritating brush with a lose hair that always turns up at the wrong moment. Failed and abandoned paintings all go as well. Its a gloriously cathartic thing to do. The idea being that when I do come back to the studio to paint I don’t want any distractions or obstacles in my way.
Then I clean, hoover and mop and tidy to the extent that my mother would have been proud of me and the studio becomes so inviting that on occasion simply doing this unblocks me.
Work in a Different Medium
Whatever medium you work in try something very different. This helps in several ways. It focuses us back into the process because we are using unfamiliar materials and are therefore more ‘mindful of our mark making’. Exploring the mark making properties of new mediums can in itself generate new ideas on how to render or express subjects in your chosen medium in future. If you are going to try this I suggest you challenge yourself and select a medium far removed from that which you are currently working in. Remember – if you always do what you have always done you’ll always get what you’ve always got!
Read Something Inspirational or Nurturing
Sit yourself down, feet up, a cuppa and a good read. There are plenty of books on the market about technique and one these might help. If you feel like something nurturing then I suggest ‘The Artist’s Way’ by Julia Cameron. It is a 12 week course designed to help tackle issues which hold artists back during which Julia becomes an understanding and supportive companion from off the page.
My ‘Go To’ book for inspiration is ‘The Art Spirit’ by Robert Henri which covers technical advice, critical comment and many truly inspirational passages on painting and life as an artist in general. It is a wonderful book never far from my studio. Highly recommended.
Take a Workshop
This might be in the form of a refresher or with an artist whose work you enjoy. Either way you might learn something new and/or uncover an issue that you hadn’t realised was holding you back. There is always something new to learn. If you cannot attend in person there are many online courses and workshops from some exciting artists these days. Get googling.
Visit a Gallery & Look at Some Great Art
It sounds like the obvious thing to do but how many of us follow through on this? This can be so inspirational. If distance is a problem look at great work online.
Get Out Into Nature . . . While there is still some left!
Getting out into nature sharpens the senses and recalibrates the mind.
Always Carry a Sketchbook
This is more of a preventative measure. Inspiration and ideas can occur at anytime but if we dont record them they may get forgotten. A pocket sketchbook of recorded ideas can be an invaluable in the studio when you are scraping the barrel for inspiration. If you feel intimidated by drawing in public then carry a note pad and capture the ideas in words.
Often Artists Block is total burn out when we are running on empty and so mentally exhausted we that don’t realise that this is the case -‘been there and the only solution is sleep and give yourself extra TLC . . . and ice cream.
Show Up and Ride Through It
“Inspiration is for amateurs the rest of us show up and get to work” Chuck Close
For some Artists the answer is to simply keep plugging away and using Artists Block literally as part of the process of creating art. It doesn’t work for me but who knows it might be the answer for you.
Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously
“Don’t think about creating art just get it done and let everyone else decide if its good or bad whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding make even more art”
Sometimes we can be too sensitive and precious about our work and ourselves. This can lead to Artists Block. We need to remind ourselves that we are painting because we it love so much. When we lose sight of this our work suffers . . . when we fall in love with the process all over again we triumph.
I hope that you might gain something from these ideas.
I will wrap up this blog post with some inspiring words from Ella Wheeler Wilcox who wrote:
“No difficulty can discourage, no obstacle dismay, no trouble dishearten the man who has acquired the art of being alive. Difficulties are but dares of fate, obstacles but hurdles to try his skill, troubles but bitter tonics to give him strength; and he rises higher and looms greater after each encounter with adversity”
I wish you every success.