I recently received an email from a student and friend. She described her current situation with a lack of creativity and asked for advice on getting over artist’s block.
I have been there many times, and for a variety of reasons. I know how frustrating and discouraging it can be, so I’m sorry to hear about anyone enduring such a time.
But sympathy is of no use if it doesn’t prompt action. So I’d like to share a few suggestions for dealing with artist’s block, followed by some possible remedies.
Getting Over Artist’s Block
Before I discuss tips for getting over artist’s block, it’s important to talk about some of the causes for artist’s block. They fall into three main categories:
- Other Responsibilities
- Life Changes
Right now, for example, I don’t have time to draw because I’m learning a new content management system. The lessons and exercises take most of the time I might otherwise have given to drawing. So right now, I have no time to draw.
At other times, I’ve just lost interest in artwork either because I wasn’t well physically, had other responsibilities (taking care of orphan kittens,) or family obligations.
And sometimes, I just got tired of drawing. It was no longer motivating or engaging enough to make me get out my pencils and paper!
Knowing why you might be experiencing artist’s block is important in deciding how to respond to it. Some responses may work no matter what the cause, but it is still helpful to know why.
Following are a few suggestions based on specific causes. I’ll follow up with more general responses that have helped me overcome artist’s block, no matter why it’s happening.
After Changes in Health
Any significant change in health affects creativity. When I have something as relatively minor as a head cold, just about the last thing I want to do is draw.
Imagine you’ve just recovered from a more serious illness, injury or surgery. It takes time to recover endurance and energy. You just won’t have the interest in most of the things that interested you before. It will take time to get back to that level.
Whatever the health concern, you need to rest first and foremost. Regather your energies and let your body recover. As that happens, your mind will also regain energy and your interest in art will return.
I really dislike mentioning this, but the older you get, the longer it takes to recover. That’s just a fact of life! I used to recover from colds in 7 to 10 days. Now it often takes up to two full weeks! I have to allow for that recovery time in planning even the most routine activities.
So the best advice I have to offer anyone in this situation (yes, even myself) is to relax and recover. Let your body heal and regain strength and energy without the added pressure of feeling like you have to draw.
I mentioned above that I’m learning a new content management system. I enjoy the lessons, and I also enjoy implementing those lessons.
But the process is mentally tiring. This past weekend, my husband and I did two different things. He did physical work outside and spent most of the day in that activity.
I, on the other hand, put the finishing touches on the May issue of CP Magic! magazine, then spent a couple of hours on my lessons. I ended the day just as tired as he did, and “all I did” was sit in a chair.
Except my mind was working.
Your other responsibilities might be family-related. They might also be work-related or school-related. Even getting ready for a big show or talking with current or potential clients is a responsibility that drains energy and takes away from drawing time.
In situations like this, the best thing to do is realize that you may not have time to make art at your usual levels until you fulfill those other responsibilities.
Maybe artwork is completely out of the picture (no pun intended) for a while. I know a lot of you set aside artwork to raise families or launch and maintain a career, because you’ve told me.
But I also know you came back to art once those responsibilities lessened or were completed. You’ve told me that, too.
The important thing to remember in situations like this is that nothing lasts forever. The seasons change every year.
The seasons of life change, too.
The season of artist’s block may look like it will never change, but it will.
The term “life changes” covers a wide variety of situations, good and not-so-good. Moving, getting married, births, losing a loved one, changing jobs…. The list goes on.
Whether the change is positive or not, it involves a period of adjustment. That period of adjustment may result in artist’s block or even in just not having the time to be creative.
Just about the only thing you can do in these situations is endure them. Accept the fact that for a short time (or maybe a not-so-short time,) life is going to be different and that making art might not be part of it.
I know that’s probably not what you want to hear, but I’ve learned over the decades that trying to force myself to be creative in the middle of big life changes does more harm than good in the long run. It’s better to understand that art is on the back burner for a while. That reduces the stress, and also allows you to focus on the adjustments (and activities) made necessary by such life changes.
General Tips for Getting Over Artist’s Block
That takes care of the possible causes for artist’s block.
Let’s say you’ve endured one of the above-mentioned situations and you still have no interest in drawing. What do you do then?
Try Something Different
In 2020-2021, I had a serious case of artist’s block (or creative stillness). Months went by and I didn’t care if I drew or not. Two or three pieces went unfinished and that was discouraging.
I finally switched from doing “finished” art to sketching. I started out by sketching from life, a sketch or two here and a sketch or two there.
This is the first sketch I did that year.
In July 2020, I started doing a sketch a day. The sketches were small, four by six inches or smaller, and most of them weren’t very detailed.
But they allowed me to start and finish something in 30 minute or less. They also allowed me to draw what attracted my attention.
The freedom was very good for me and so was the opportunity to make art without any of the pressure that goes with portrait work or creating more detailed work. I sketched like that for nearly a year.
Why did that work? Because I did something different; something outside my comfort zone.
So if you usually work large, try working small.
If your preferred style is tightly detailed, try drawing in a looser style.
The point is to try recharging your creative batteries by doing something different. Sometimes that simple change is enough to get you started.
Try a New Medium
Combining a second medium with colored pencils is also a good way to re-ignite an interest in art. Or switch to that medium altogether.
Even a medium similar to colored pencils (like graphite) requires some level of learning. Taking the time to learn that second medium may be exactly what you need.
I experiment with watercolors or watercolor pencils sometimes when I have no interest in colored pencils. I can tell you from personal experience that it does sometimes work.
You don’t have to give up colored pencils, but experimenting with a new medium allows you to take a break from colored pencils without also taking a break from art.
New Paper, New Subject, Something Else New
Sometimes all you really need is something new, because the real problem is boredom with the same ol’ same ol’.
Possible “new things” include paper, the time of day you draw, or even where you draw.
You can try a new subject without buying anything new.
You can even switch the hand you draw with. I’ve injured my right hand a couple of times and was forced to draw with my left hand or not draw. Believe it or not, I drew pretty well with my left hand!
So even when my right is perfectly fine, I still sometimes draw with my left hand, just to keep things interesting!
This little sketch is one of the left-handed sketches from 2022. I rather like the boldness of it!
How You Respond to Artist’s Block
I need to also mention that drawing is just one form of creativity.
One thing I currently struggle with is the idea that I HAVE TO DRAW because that’s the only way my creativity is expressed. The fact of the matter is that that is not true. Writing this blog post is creative. Publishing the magazine is creative. Even learning a new CMS (content management system) is creative.
So just because I’m not drawing doesn’t mean I’m not creating.
The same might be true for you, too. It’s possible that your best reaction to artist’s block with colored pencils is giving creative energies to some of the other creative activities you enjoy.
I hope that helps. I know every situation is different and the things that have helped me might not help you.
But I hope they do.
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