What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do Next

What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do Next

Sooner or later, every piece reaches a moment of decision (or possibly indecision.) Maybe it doesn’t look finished, but you don’t know what more to do. Or maybe you know it’s not finished, but the next step is unclear. You wish like anything you knew what to do when you don’t know what to do.

You may not think of it this way, but this is a form of artist’s block. Probably the most common form.

What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do Next

Every one of my paintings reaches this point of momentary artist’s block.  Usually, it’s late in the process, when I think the painting is unfinished, but I can’t think what more to do with it.

But sometimes I can clearly see the painting isn’t finished. It’s just as clear that I have no idea what to do next.

This is Afternoon Graze at that point. The landscape looks good. Even the dark horse looks pretty good. But that chestnut! Yikes! There was still a lot to do, but for some reason or another, I couldn’t decide the next step.

What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do Next

What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do Next

Here are a few things I do to counter this type of momentary artist’s block.

Take a break and do something that’s not art.

A lot of times, the problem with artist’s block is fatigue. You’ve been working on that piece for so long, you’ve squeezed the last bit of creative juice out of yourself.

That was the case with Afternoon Graze. It took a lot of hours stretched over about six weeks to finish. I was about four weeks into the process when momentary artist’s block struck.

What do you do at a time like that?

Something that’s not art or art-related. Something relaxing. I find doing dishes by hand relaxes both my hands and my mind. It’s the sort of physical activity that doesn’t require a great deal of concentration, so it’s an ideal brain break.

Gardening might be your thing, or going for a walk, and spending time with a pet.

The goal is to step away from art for ten or fifteen minutes, then return to it.

Set the work aside for an extended time.

Quite often, it’s helpful to take more than just a short break.

Sometimes you may need to put that piece away for the day, and look at it again with fresh eyes the next day. Or the next week if you happen to be stopping on a Friday.

More often than not, I’m tired physically, mentally or creatively when I encounter these sorts of momentary artist’s block. After sufficient rest, the problems are either far less intimidating, or non-existent.

When I sit down to work the next day, my mind is fresh and I can look at the piece more like someone seeing it for the first time. A lot of times, I can’t find anything wrong with it. The problem was all in my imagination.

If there are still problems, they may not look so terrifying, or I may know what to do next.

Find something small and easy to fix.

Sometimes, there’s more than one problem to correct. Look for something you can fix fairly quickly and easily. Something you know how to fix.

If there aren’t any specific problems with the piece beyond that big one, then make some little adjustment.

In other words, look for a place to begin. Once you begin, it’s likely you’ll fall into the rhythm of creation, and when it comes time to tackle that big problem, you’ll know instinctively what to do.

Stop thinking and just do.

When it comes time to tackle that big problem, don’t over think it. Quite often, I discover that when I have a gut instinct to use a certain color, but I think about it long enough to choose a different color, I’ve thought too much.

And I’ve made a mistake that needs to be corrected.

With Afternoon Graze, my gut instinct was to add another layer of orange to the chestnut horse. For some reason, I didn’t want to do that, but I didn’t know what to do instead, and everything came to a screeching halt.

When I stopped resisting that gut instinct, the momentary artist’s block disappeared.

So How Did Afternoon Graze Turn Out?

I think it looks pretty good.


Most of the time, overcoming momentary artist’s block has more to do with what’s going on inside you, than on the paper. In times like those, the best thing to do is give yourself permission to lay the pencils down.

Even when there are problems with the art, there are usually ways to overcome them.

One thing you must never do is allow it to hinder you permanently.

Afternoon Graze is featured in an in-depth tutorial from Ann Kullberg*. Get your tutorial today.

*Affiliate link.


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