Creativity is a funny thing. One day you’re brimming full of ideas and the next you can’t even draw a face with a 6 and a 4. You caught it: The artist’s block bug. But, don’t fret! Even though I’m no doctor, I’ll show you how to overcome artist’s block, even when you have a lot of work to do!
Have you ever drawn a face using a 4 and a 6? Probably not. My father taught me when I was young and I found it ridiculously hilarious. And it's probably one of the very first drawing experiences I've ever had.
I must have drawn hundreds of heads using that technique. But, fortunately for me, I no longer rely on that to draw heads and faces 😉 Though it still remains as fun as the first time!
Are you done…? Nice work! 😀 Now you’ll always have a way to confirm you have art block. Whenever you’re not able to draw even that, you’ll know ALL HOPE IS LOST!!1!
Or, is it…?
Art Block is tough, let’s be real. But it’s not the end of the world and you need to find the strategies that work best for you to avoid and reduce the time art block keeps you from drawing.
✦ Related: Journal prompts to help you regain your passion for art.
Understanding Artist's Block
Every so often your creativity dwindles and seems to fade away. You’re not able to come up with anything to draw or, even if you do, you’re not able to draw it at all.
You’ll feel like it just won’t come out. Like drawing doesn’t feel right. Nothing is good enough and you’ll want to do anything but create art.
That lack of creativity and inability to produce art is what we call “Artist’s block”.
You’re mentally blocked and you’re unable to draw like you normally would. It’s something every artist goes through every so often and it can be caused by plenty of things.
The good thing is that it’s not permanent and you can overcome it soon enough if you apply the right strategies to get your creative juices flowing again!
What causes artist’s block?
There are many causes and possible explanations for your artist’s block, and you’re the only one that can know with certainty.
However, there are some common causes and you should be on the lookout to avoid them.
1. CREATING TOO MUCH ART IN A VERY SHORT PERIOD OF TIME
This is one of the most common causes of artist’s block. Sometimes you’re so inspired that you start creating lots and lots of artworks in a very short period of time.
You have loads of amazing ideas and they turn out great when you draw them. So you keep doing that. You’ve never been so productive and it’s thrilling!
But, all good things come to an end and so does your creativity. Suddenly you feel like you no longer have any ideas or you’re unable to draw them when you try.
Enter creativity burnout.
Imagine it like having a little battery attached to your body. You’ve used up your creativity and it’s time to recharge it before you can continue creating art.
You have done so much that your mind just can’t keep up with the pace. You’ve burned yourself out and you need a well-deserved break, even if you don’t realize it yet.
How to prevent it:
Take it easy! There’s no rush to get a hundred works out per month. Take your time with each piece, enjoy the process. Don’t overexert yourself creating art and don’t neglect other parts of your life in order to draw more. Balance is key.
2. FALLING FOR THE COMPARISON TRAP
Ah, the comparison trap. Always getting the worst of artists…
As an artist, you’re always surrounded by art created by others. It can be an incredible experience, seeing all those gorgeous pieces, filling you with inspiration and the motivation to keep working hard. If only to reach their level one day…
But sometimes you fall for the comparison trap. You compare yourself to other more experienced artists and you feel discouraged.
"I’ll never reach their level, I’m not good enough"
"They are younger than me and already 10x better than me – I’m a failure"
"I’m not improving despite all my efforts, maybe I shouldn’t be an artist"
And… You’re caught up in the tangled web of comparisons and self-deprecation.
You’ll try to draw, unaware that you’re blocked by your own negative thoughts, but you won’t be able to create anything worthy.
Nothing that will ever live up to your own sky-high expectations anyway. You’ll feel even more unmotivated and you’ll keep going in circles, comparing yourself to others and undervaluing yourself.
And the more you do this, the more that tangled web will tighten up, strangling your creativity. A never ending cycle of artist’s block that can lead you to quitting art altogether.
Don’t. Compare. Yourself. To. Others.
How to prevent it:
Art is not a race. It’s not a competition. Walk at your own pace. Believe in yourself. Strive to be better than yesterday but don’t set unrealistic goals for yourself.
Don’t compare your beginning to someone’s end either. One step at a time will take you further than a leap in the wrong direction.
3. FEELING OVERWHELMED BY ALL THE WORK YOU HAVE TO DO
Whether you’re still in school, have a 9 to 5 day job or you’re a full-time artist, chances are you’ll feel overwhelmed by your to-do list at some point.
And when that happens, your creativity will be the first to suffer the consequences.
You’ll feel so overwhelmed and stressed out that you’ll want to release some of that anxiety by doing something you love: creating art.
But you won’t be able to.
When it first happened to me, I thought something was wrong with me, but then I asked my other artist friends and they confirmed it happened to them as well.
When you’re working on your important tasks, you’ll wish you were drawing and you won’t be able to stop thinking about it.
However, when you finally take the time to draw, you’ll feel guilty that you’re not working on your actual work. You’ll feel bad for “slacking off”.
And that will lead you to being paralyzed and not being able to draw anything and also be unfocused in your other work.
It gets even worse if you’re a professional artist. You’ll feel guilty that you’re drawing things for yourself when you should be working on your commissions and other assignments.
But you won’t be able to work on those either because you’re suffering from artist’s block as a result of the overwhelm.
How to overcome artist’s block
You know what art block feels like and what causes it. But how the heck do you “cure it”? How can you overcome it fast and go back to being your creative self?
There are many ways in which you could break through creative block. But not all will work for you. There’s no “one size fits all” for this. You need to try these strategies and choose the one that helps you the most.
1. LETTING GO AND NOT FORCING YOURSELF TO DRAW FOR A WHILE
This may feel counter intuitive but sometimes forcing yourself to draw is the worst thing that you can do to overcome artist’s block. You’ll only be reinforcing the reason that made you suffer from art block and keep you from overcoming it.
Take some time off. Don’t draw anything. Do other things that you enjoy instead.
Play some videogames, go out with your friends, spend some time with your family and your pets.
Anything that doesn’t involve putting your pencil to paper, or graphic tablet.
By letting go of drawing for some time, you’ll be able to recharge your creativity and you’ll feel less pressured to draw.
Your mind will slowly wander back to art. Imagining new things to draw, visualizing ideas, craving to create again.
So when you finally return to art, you’ll be fully recovered. Your creativity will flow limitlessly.
Step away from art for a while. Don’t draw anything for a few days, a week, a month… Take as long as you need to find your passion for art again.
2. FINDING NEW SOURCES OF INSPIRATION TO SUPERCHARGE YOUR CREATIVITY
I know that sometimes letting go and not drawing for a while is not an option. Especially if you’re a full-time artist that relies on creating art in order to pay your bills.
It’s just not possible.
If you’re in that position, the best thing you can do is to try and find new sources of inspiration that can overcome your lack of creativity and replenish your will to draw.
My main sources of inspiration are movies, music and the weather. Every so often, just seeing it rain will make me want to draw a rainy scene.
Or a new song can urge me to create a piece of art based on it. Like I did when I heard Panic! at the Disco’s “Emperor’s New Clothes” song and it inspired me to create my own designs for Antisepticeye and Darkiplier.
Or when I heard the song “Racing for life” and I couldn’t help but make a piece that conveyed all the motivation that song filled me with.
Sometimes all you need is a reminder of why you create art. What’s the common denominator behind your pieces? Why do you create art?
In my case, I want to convey emotions to the viewers. I want to make them feel all kinds of emotions.
And I’m reminded of that when I watch a movie, play a game, listen to a song or do anything else that conveys strong emotions to me.
Find that which reminds you of why you became an artist, find a source of inspiration that is strong enough to overcome your creative block.
3. ORGANIZE YOURSELF TO REDUCE OVERWHELM AND TACKLE YOUR TO-DO LIST
If the source of your art block is that you have too much on your plate and you’re paralyzed, you’ll need to solve that before you can overcome your artist’s block.
Make a list of all the things you need to do and write their deadlines down. Now make a list of the things you’d like to do for yourself, for your own entertainment.
Print a calendar of the current month and add your projects and their deadlines to the calendar. Now add any other tasks or chores you need to do (ie. doctor’s appointments, meetings at work, exams at school, etc.).
Now you have a clear view of when everything you need to do is due, and you’ll be able to prioritize your tasks.
Think of how long each task should take you. Try to account for more time than you think, in case something happens and it takes you longer to complete them. That way you’ll have a safety net and you won’t feel overwhelmed by taking longer than expected.
In a different colour, add on the calendar the days you’re going to work on each task and when you’d like to have them completed by. Do this in an organized way so that you’ll get everything done in time without rushing or procrastinating.
Now, if you have a daily planner, schedule each task according to the monthly plan you made. Account for the tasks you need to do that day and block certain times in the day to work on that task without distractions.
Do that for all your tasks and, whenever possible, reserve some time on your day to spend doing things you love. That way, you’ll have a balance between work and leisure time.
Doing that will reduce the anxiety when you’re working, wishing you were drawing. And the guilt when you’re drawing, thinking you should be working.
This balance will let you complete more tasks, have time for yourself and reduce the overwhelm you feel. Once you trim down your to-do list, you’ll feel less pressured and your artist’s block should go away very fast.
Get a monthly calendar and a daily planner to schedule your work regularly and get things done with less overwhelm.
4. SLOWLY PUSHING YOURSELF TO DRAW & RECOVERING YOUR PRODUCTIVITY
If you’re also suffering from burnout, organizing yourself won’t be 100% effective. In this case, the best thing you could do is stop drawing for a time. But, if you’re a professional artist, the odds are you won’t be able to afford that luxury.
I would recommend that you push yourself to draw your commissions or projects little by little.
- If you can’t sit and draw for an hour, just try rounds of 15 minutes and take a break between each.
- Use references from other pieces you’ve done in the past, to make it easier to get the shapes, angles or poses right.
- Practice drawing things you like, such as fan art of a show you‘re a fan of. It doesn’t have to be a full-blown drawing, quick sketches will do. It’s just a way to get your creative juices flowing.
- Meditate for a while using videos on Youtube or Spotify. The guided meditations will help you relax and reconnect with your inner creativity. There are videos with positive affirmations that will help you feel confident and increase your productivity again. Watch them before drawing, or before going to bed, to gain clarity and break through your creative block. This one is my go-to guided meditation to fill me with inspiration.
Push yourself to draw, little by little, until you return to your usual state. Listen to guided meditations and affirmations to help you relax and regain your productivity levels.
You're now ready to overcome artist's block!
Now you’re ready to prevent and overcome artist’s block if and when it strikes! Don’t overexert yourself by creating too much in too little time, surround yourself with the things that inspire you and take some time off to enjoy other aspects of your life! You’ll maintain the right balance between life, work and art – keeping your creative juices flowing constantly.
What do you do when you have art block? How long does it take you to beat it on average?
Is there any method you use and recommend that you’d like to see added to the list?
Let me know in the comments below!
I had an idea recently to draw one specific character every time I have artblock. The character I draw is a weird looking crow named “art block cro” and I just draw him doing random things (stealing my pencil, eating, screeching at me) to get my creative juices pumping. Honestly it works as a warmup and to (temporarily) get rid of artblock 😉
Oh! That’s actually such a fun and useful idea! I love it! I’m going to try it next time too 🙂 Thank you for sharing!
love that. I've been struggling against artblock for the past few days, im a young artist, so im not a fansatic one, but ill try that!