Tips: Getting around the artist block

There are many online creative communities in which artists share their frustrations about feeling blocked. I consider myself lucky that I’ve managed to find ways to make sure my creative momentum keeps its flow. Luckily, I’ve not had artist block in years. Here are a few of the tricks I’ve learnt over the years that help me keep my creative flow alive, even when life and work encroach on my time. Hopefully one or two of these tips might work for you too.

1. Learn a new creative skill

Learn a musical instrument, go to a pottery or weaving class, join a dance class, try something creative that you’ve not done before. Anything that is going ignite your right brain could give you a nudge back into flow. In my 20s, lack of confidence had gotten the better of me and I’d stopped drawing and painting apart from the occasional doomed stop-start project that reinforced my limited beliefs. I had a few drum lessons and suddenly found myself drawing again. 

Set of 3 ballerina greetings cards – black line drawings

2. Try some of those (familiar) art school exercises

Take a line for a walk said Paul Klee (a Swiss-German artist from the early 20th century who, among other associations, taught at the Bauhaus). There’s something to be said for just doing it. A blind contour drawing, continuous line sketch, drawing or painting to music, even basic colouring in – anything that is going to get you warmed up a bit and reengage that hand–eye coordination can be a good start. Because these are “exercises” they feel a little less threatening. You don’t need to come up with a big idea, you just need to put marks on paper. If you keep doing this, the ideas will come.

3. Create some swatches

We all love colour swatches. All those little squares of colour are very satisfying. Grab your medium of choice and experiment with different colour palettes. Mixing colours is fun. Step it up a notch and play with juxtaposing different colours next to each other. You can also create texture swatches or collect printed textiles or papers for collating.

4. Make some cards

Artist block is often caused by fear of failure. Ease the pressure on yourself. Don’t try create a masterpiece, just enjoy making something small. I’ve always enjoyed creating cards. But, card-making was the way I hailed myself out of a long period of emotional and creative stagnation. And now cards are an integral part of my creative practice (and regular sales). Crafting is an essential part of my creative flow.

Set of 3 ballerina line drawing greetings cards with red ribbon

5. Write, write, write

Julia Cameron advocates daily writing in her bestseller, The artist’s way. I’m out of the habit of writing morning pages these days but they have done me good in the past. Similarly, art journals are increasingly popular these days. Jotting down ideas, doodling in notebooks, making wish lists, acknowledging your intentions, etc. – all these little things add up and nurture your creative mindset. 

6. Get out of your comfort zone

Life drawing is currently my chosen challenge. I’ve always felt more confident painting than drawing. And, as I didn’t study fine art as my first degree but only took the theory and history modules, my lack of life drawing experience has been a bit of a limiting belief for me. I don’t manage to get to drawing every week but it’s certainly keeping my creative momentum afloat. And, each week, I feel a little more inclined to be more playful in my approach. There are some truly magical moments when instead of your left brain telling you what you ought to see and trying too hard to get it right, you actually manage to draw what you see and it looks so much better.

7. Binge on culture

Feed your inner creator. Play your favourite music, watch a show, go to a gallery, go travelling. Treat yourself to the things that fill up the creative well. 

P.S. Artist block and the need to rest are not the same thing. We all have days when we're not feeling it because we're exhausted or unwell. Sometimes we need to rest and it's important to do that. Don't bully your inner artist.

P.P.S. If you enjoyed these tips, please sign up for my artist newsletter. Scroll down, it's below.

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