In simple terms, artist block is similar to writer’s block. It is when an artist is unable to produce any new art and can’t seem to find a way out of their situation.
Our world is filled with artist blocks, as I mentioned earlier all creative types such as artists, writers, musicians etc suffer from it at one point in time.
In fact, it could be said that for every artist there is a period of time where they can’t seem to create anything inspiring or motivating enough to get them going again.
The artist block might affect different people in different ways.
Some artists find that everything they do just feels stale and uninspiring, while others might cycle through periods of euphoria and creative bursts followed by long spells in which they simply cannot feel motivated at all.
Creative blocks can manifest themselves several ways:
- A complete lack of inspiration
- Making excuses not to work
- Acute depression
- Chronic stress
- Difficulty finishing projects
- Difficulty starting projects
- Fear of failure or success
- Chronic procrastination
Why artist block manifests itself is not really known but typically it is related to an individual’s mental health, their physical wellbeing, home life, professional and personal stressors and personal drive.
Some people are such perfectionists that they can’t even start something new as they are waiting for the right moment, the right feeling, the right muse etc.
The psychology of artist block
There are many artist block stories that you can find online. Some of them are rather catastrophic, but the good news is – there’s hope.
We won’t go into detail about artist block psychology here as this topic requires a separate article to be fully explored, but for now let’s just summarize artist block with three points:
1) artist block is real and it’s not an excuse to take a break from your art
2) artist block isn’t related to age or gender or experience
3) artist block happens more often in some individuals than others.
Generally speaking if you’re blocked out of nowhere without any explanation it might be a sign you’re unhappy with something in your life (relationship issues, losing loved ones etc).
It may also be a sign that you are so happy with life that you can’t get inspired to sit and create.
Artist block or artist burnout?
Taking a break from your art is not always the solution. If you’ve been drawing or painting for an extended period of time artist block can be due to artist burnout.
Artist burnout is when you overwork yourself on projects, losing interest bit by bit until you’re too tired to do anything.
It’s fine if artist block happens every once in a while but if it’s frequent you might want to re-evaluate things (like taking some time off) or maybe start teaching others.
The second point I mentioned is artist block isn’t related to age, gender, experience etc. Men, women and other genders suffer from artist block equally.
Their experience may help some overcome artist block faster as they have learned techniques to help them power through the tough times so more experienced artists may suffer it less.
It is actually ok to suffer artist block.
I’m not saying this just because I want everyone to feel good about themselves but artist block happens more often in some individuals than others regardless of age and gender. It’s not an age or gender specific thing.
If you find that it’s not just art that is blocked but other parts of your life then chances are there may be deeper issues you need to address.
It may also mean you have reached a creative plateau and you now have to lift yourself to a higher level.
Artist block is also influenced by your mental health and how you cope with things, particularly the environmental influences that caused something like artist burnout.
If artist burnout happens more than once (I say this as some artist block is normal and passes eventually), there could be a larger problem going on in your life.
The third point I mentioned is artist block can happen to any artist at any level of experience. This includes beginners and professionals – anyone who creates art professionally or just a hobbyist.
Just because someone has been doing this for a long time doesn’t mean they can’t suffer from artist block!
There have been many professional artists who have suffered from artist block and just stopped creating work.
Some have found coaches to help, some have turned to other means such as drugs and alcohol.
What causes art block?
You might think that artist block can only be caused by three things:
– not having any inspiration
– not liking what you’re creating
– being overwhelmed with too much work to do, but artist block is a little more complicated than this.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say one of the most likely causes of artist block is lack of sleep. Yes, I’m serious!
A recent study has shown that people who are tired struggle with planning their next move when completing tasks which can lead to artist block.
If your body isn’t getting enough rest then it’s harder for you to think clearly, process thoughts and predict outcomes. You’ll find yourself struggling at work or school, even in activities you enjoy doing.
Another possible cause can be overloading yourself with too many ideas. If your mind is constantly racing with different paths you can take, artist block may be a result of trying to make sense of it all! Instead, try picking an idea and really focusing on one project at a time.
This will help you develop a routine and figure out what works best for you.
Other causes of artist block have been linked to depression and other mental illnesses.
If you’ve been having a tough time at work or school, have lost interest in activities you used to enjoy, are constantly stressed out or are just not happy with your life then artist block may be the result of it all.
Once you think you have worked out a root cause, you can work on the solution. If you believe you can’t figure out the root cause of your artist block then don’t lose hope, you can still trick your brain into getting it’s creative mojo back.
11 Ways to overcome artist block
Many artists believe that artist block can only be overcome by some divine creative intervention. That is not true. Artist block is just a small speed hump that we have to get over in order to move forward. We can overcome it by grinding away it using simple tricks.
1. Set aside time each day to be creative.
If you have artist block, you might already feel guilty about the lack of art in your life, so guilt tripping yourself is not going to help matters.
The best thing you can do for artist block is find a few minutes every day to get out that sketchbook or get on that computer and work on something formless.
That way eventually artist block will come to an end since it won’t seem like such a big problem anymore when you’re working on it constantly.
I know one artist who creates tiny artworks on a post-it note every day.
It is a genius move as he has limited the size of the work and thus he can’t get bogged down with scale. The surface (the notes themselves) are easy to find or carry around and they are fun to create.
2. Have fun with what you’re creating!
Sometimes people push through artist block by forcing themselves to create but trying too hard to make it work results in less-than-stellar artwork.
Think back on what made you want to be artist in the first place.
Was it playing with color or making cool characters? Once you figure out what it is that excites you, have fun with it!
Whether it’s working on a character sheet for your next D&D campaign or doing some concept sketches of just let your imagination run wild.
When my daughter can’t work out what to draw, she doesn’t complain that she has run out of ideas. She pulls out her Pokemon encyclopedia and randomly picks a page and starts drawing one of the characters.
By the end of an hour she has not only drawn a few characters but has developed an entire battle scene.
3. You don’t have to create every day.
One artist I know has told me that he used to do daily sketching but eventually found himself dreading these drawings so much that he could no longer motivate himself to continue drawing each day.
The artist block only worsened as he became more and more frustrated because his schedule was taking him further away from his passion instead of bringing him closer towards achieving his artistic goals.
Once he picked a day of the week he was able to stick to his schedule. It became his art day and he looked forward to it.
4. Always remember that artist block is normal and will happen to everyone.
Acknowledge it and move on or you can take a break.
5. Take a break
Take a break and do something completely different like: read a book, watch a movie, play with your pet or whatever you enjoy doing.
This may sound counterintuitive but sometimes we need to distance ourselves from our work in order to come back refreshed and ready to tackle the problems head-on.
6. Hang out with other artists
Find yourself some artist friends (online or offline) who can help motivate you as well as offer helpful tips for getting past artist block when it starts to hit you hard. Don’t become the complainer, be positive and try not to drag them down into the abyss with you.
7. Don’t compare yourself with others
Don’t constantly compare your work with those of other artists; this tends to make us lose confidence which leads directly into artist block territory because it creates unnecessary stress on an artist’s shoulders.
8. Seek constructive feedback
If you have been artistically blocked for weeks or months on end, consider getting someone to give you a fresh overview of your work and see what problems might arise from it.
They can suggest changes or tell you things you can add or remove. Don’t take it personally, be open and listen.
Apply some changes if you are comfortable.
However, don’t try to change everything at once, start with one thing and when that part feels perfect move onto the next while still keeping an eye out for new opportunities to improve things even further!
Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day (it just looks like it!). The key here is do things in baby steps.
9. Don’t force creativity
When you’re artistically blocked and nothing seems to be working despite all your hard work, take a break from creating.
Don’t call yourself names or constantly think about how terrible your situation is – this only depresses you further into artist block hell where is no escape.
Instead, do something completely different and unrelated to your art.
Go for a walk, go out for lunch with friends, read a book, exercise at the gym, play video games – basically anything that can take your mind off of artist block.
When you return to making art again you might be surprised at how well things went due to not thinking about it so much.
10. Go visit an art gallery or museum.
Surrounding yourself with art does wonders to your own creative juices.
One of my personal loves when I feel like this is to visit the art studios of artists where they have been left as the artist left them when they died.
I don’t know what it is but I find myself absorbing something, some energy from the studios or homes of the artists and I go home wanting to create something, even if it is just a copy of a work I saw.
11. Lastly, copy copy and copy art that you love.
I love to make copies of Caravaggio works, copies of Jan Vermeer paintings and the like. The process of making art, without having to worry about creating art can help you out of your funk.
Dealing with negative self-talk
Sometimes we can be our own worst enemy. Sometimes we beat ourselves up for no good reason and tell ourselves that we’re terrible at art, or that we can’t paint or draw, or worse yet: that we don’t like to make art (For some reason, this is a common problem for me).
And then we feel bummed out and think “well what’s the point of continuing” and next thing you know… artist block.
So let’s start off with how to combat negative self-talk. I like to keep two lists in my head when it comes to my moods while drawing/painting.
The first list has all evil words that I should avoid saying while I am feeling like this. The second list is all good words that I should say to myself instead.
So let’s say you are feeling really uninspired and worthless as an artist, here are some of the things your mind might start telling yourself:
“I feel so uninspired and awful.”
“Everyone seems to be having fun making art except me.”
“Why even bother? It doesn’t matter what I do anyways.”
These thoughts will not help you in any way. You need to push those out of your head and replace them with more positive thoughts such as:
“It’ll get better if I keep practicing.”
“Other artist appear to be having fun too!” (This one is important)
I know it sounds like hippy talk but positive self affirmations actually do work.
Tips for staying motivated
There are several things you can do artistically that will help keep your motivation up. It doesn’t matter what they are, just find something to get yourself excited about.
For example, if you enjoy drawing landscapes, spend an entire day tackling nothing but landscapes. If your favorite artist is digital artist ‘A’ and you want to emulate their style, go ahead and try!
Make it fun for yourself by setting up a challenge .
For example: draw 30 unique tree drawings in one day or draw 5 original monsters in one week. I used to roll my eyes at Instagram daily challenges but I started to see a benefit in doing similar challenges when I actually participated in one.
I started to challenge myself to get better and see what others were doing and becoming inspired by them. This made me want to try new things and in turn, it motivated me to create more.
Finally, as the song goes “Let it go”. Free yourself if you feel restrained. I found whenever I picked up a pencil or brush I would switch into perfect artist mode.
I then came across an artist who would draw with a pencil taped to a mannequin’s hand and she would hold the arm and draw.
Sounds crazy but the results were messy but amazing original drawings that were as far from perfection as you could get but they were totally original.
She then started making her own drawing and painting tools using bent sticks, animal bones, long wires that moved with pressure etc.
These tools removed her ability to be perfect and oddly enough, her artworks now look more perfect than ever.
Joseph Colella (Joe Colella) is an Editor and Writer at WastedTalentInc. As a frustrated artist with over 40 years experience making art (who moonlights as a certified Business Analyst with over 20 years of experience in tech).
While Joseph holds a Diploma in Information Technology, in true wasted talent fashion he spent years applying for various Art degrees; from the Accademia di Belle Arti (Napoli), to failing to get into the Bachelor of Arts (Fine Arts) at the University of Western Sydney.
While he jokes about his failures at gaining formal art qualifications, as a self-taught artist he has had a fruitful career in business, technology and the arts making Art his full time source of income from the age of 18 until 25.
His goal is to attend the Julian Ashton School of Art at The Rocks Sydney when he retires from full time work. Joseph’s art has been sold to private collectors all over the world from the USA, Europe and Australasia.
He is a trusted source for reliable art advice and tutorials to copyright/fair use advice and is committed to helping his readers make informed decisions about making them a better artist.