What do you do when you don’t feel like drawing?
I confess. There have been a lot of days of late when making art is a struggle. Too many things on my to-do list is usually the cause, but there are other times when I just don’t feel creative.
There are a lot of reasons to lose that creative spark. Illness. Stress. Circumstances. Even the most creative and optimistic person goes through times of creative apathy.
I, for one, wrestle with depression on a regular basis. That’s part of the reason I haven’t watched broadcast news in years.
The last few weeks have been especially difficult. In addition to the challenges of publishing one magazine and one tutorial every month, and daily chores that must be done, there have been losses in our circle of friends. Three funerals in our congregation in less than two months is a bit to take in. Things like that tend to make all the other things in day-to-day life heavier. More difficult to bear.
Combined with broader circumstances, personal situations like these can easily dampen creativity.
When You Don’t Feel Like Drawing
Can you do anything about creative apathy?
Understand What’s Happening
It’s important to understand what’s going on internally.
When you’re unwell, rest is important. I’ve learned that lesson (again) this week, and have yielded to the need to rest, even when it seems necessary every two hours. It takes time to recover and recovery takes energy. Accept the fact that it may be some time before your mind and body have recovered to the point that creativity returns.
It’s also important to know yourself. For example, I know that I’m prone to mild depression and that it can easily turn into something worse. So I take precautions. Vitamin D taken on a daily basis is a good preventative.
So is daily Bible reading (especially the psalms) and prayer. There is a noticeable difference between days started that way and days started without it.
I also know I need to keep news intake to a minimum and that I need to be selective in my sources.
And I know that there will be days when nothing seems important.
Since I know days like this will happen, they’re not as debilitating when they occur. I also know from past experience that they pass. That, my friend, is important.
Depression may not be your problem. You may have family or work responsibilities that either take time away from art or leave you too exhausted to be creative. The key is recognizing the things that leave you creatively apathetic, and to know whether or not they can be avoided, reduced, or delegated.
Have a Plan of Action
It’s not enough to understand what’s happening. It’s just as important to develop a plan of action.
Whether you’re dealing with external situations or internal situations, find ways to work around them. How, you ask? Start by evaluating circumstances.
Are they internal or external?
Are they short-term or long-term?
Can you do anything about them or are they beyond your control? Be careful with this one. It’s so easy to think you have no control at all when you may have some control. It’s just as easy to think you can fix everything when you may not be able to.
Take the time to accurately assess your circumstances, understand what you can do, and what you can’t do.
Think of ways to do what you can, and avoid worrying over the things you can’t change.
Don’t Wait for Creative Apathy to Plan for It
Ideally, make your plans when you are in a creative mood because you won’t want to do it when you’re not already creative.
Nothing is more discouraging than trying to figure out how to handle a situation while you’re in the middle of it. Sure, the first time it happens to you, you may be caught off guard. That’s understandable.
Once you’ve experienced it, however, it’s time to consider how to respond the next time.
Keep it Simple
But keep it simple. Don’t plan elaborate things even if they seem doable when you’re in good spirits. Believe me, there are times when everything looks possible.
“Everything” is not what you need when you don’t feel like drawing or doing anything else creative.
And easy helps, too.
So what do I suggest? Here are a few things I do when I’m down.
Read a good book
Go for a walk
Take a nap (I’ve been doing a lot of that lately!)
Spend time with your spouse and family
Spend time with a pet
Put a jigsaw puzzle together
See? Simple and easy!
You already know what activities you enjoy and that relax you. When you don’t feel like drawing, those activities are your first line of defense.
Find Other Ways to Be Creative
Art isn’t the only way to be creative and it’s possible that your problem is that you’re bored with your art. If that’s the case, you need to find something else to do for a while.
I know many of you do fabric art. Sewing, knitting, embroidery, cross-stitch. Do some of that.
Or work wood or cook or bake or whatever else you enjoy that’s in any way creative.
One Thing You Shouldn’t Do
These measures are designed for those times when life gets to you and drains you. Not for simple cases of “I don’t want to draw.” Setting aside drawing on the basis of temporary moods is a certain path to not drawing at all. You don’t want that.
At least I hope you don’t.
When You Don’t Feel Like Drawing
I’m the first to admit that the artist’s life is difficult, especially if your art is more than a hobby. There are days when the last thing you want to do is pick up a pencil and start drawing.
But you don’t have to let creative apathy drag you down long-term. It can be survived!
If you want to read more on this topic, check out Getting and Staying Motivated when Art Gets Tough for more tips.
It is a strange thing, but I know when I am don’t feel like drawing, that if I start, I will enjoy it and keep drawing. 🙂 Thank you for sharing. I agree that Bible reading and prayer help gain perspective.
Thank you for your comment and you’re welcome.
I’ve found, too, that just getting started is sometimes the most difficult part of the drawing process. There always seems to be something more important to do!
I find your words are wise and compassionate. My creativity used to be Silk painting but when my husband died I some how lost the ability. Now I’m into Kumihimo beading, started when I was recovering from an operation to keep my hands busy. Silk painting lingers in my thoughts, there’s so such fun and adventure in it but it’s not happening, even though I realize my problem I can’t find the solution. However, beading is beautiful, it carries me for now.
Thank you for the news letter, all the best, Diana
I understand what you’re saying. Writing novels is (or was) one of my great pleasures in life, but I haven’t worked on a novel in a couple of years, now. I think about it frequently, but that’s all the further it goes.
Like you, I’ve found another way to be creative in writing, and that’s through this blog, the magazine, tutorials, and freelance writing. No, it’s not the same, but it is productive, and I believe the time will come when novel writing happens again.
You still think about Silk painting, so it seems there’s a future in that for you, as well.
Thank you for your very kind words. I’m glad to have been of some encouragement to you. Best wishes to you.
Struggling with many of the same things you mention. I also am turning to the Bible and the Lord. Christian music seems to help as well. Like Betty mentions above, I find too that if I push myself a little and do a bit of art each day it also helps to brighten my mood. Just that first push for myself and then I am usually hooked on the project I have picked out. This is what helps me thru the “I don’t feel like drawing” hurdle.
Thanks for sharing. Your comments are always so helpful to me, too.
My way of keeping my hand in right now is by doing the drawing exercises from Amy Lindenberger’s book, Colors A Workbook. I cannot recommend that book enough, and should probably add it to my game plan for dealing with artistic apathy. It has been an encouragement to have someone else tell me what to do and how to do it, and then complete each exercise. I like some of the other art I’ve done this year, but my favorite piece so far is the maximum color value charts from Amy’s book. I’m attaching an image of it.
I’ve enjoyed those exercises so much, I’d like to do them with other brands of pencils (I used Faber-Castell Polychromos.)
Sounds like a cool idea Carrie. I too like the book and expect to use it a lot in future projects. Am ready to start the eggs now.
Thank you for this.
I’m not depressed , but lonely. Spending many hours alone.
I find picking up a pencil or a brush a great help, but what I produce is rubbish.
Should I keep going and get better, or find something else to occupy my waking hours?
I understand loneliness.
By all means keep drawing. If you saw some of the things I drew when I was first starting out, you’d be surprised.
The simple truth is that everyone starts out as a beginner. The more your draw, the better you’ll get.
So don’t give up.
And thank you for reading and commenting.
Thank you so much. That article comes at a very real time for me. It just told me that I am not alone anymore. It is always good to face the inertia and knowing that it will pass. Like the pain will lessen.
It is why I started to do coloring books at least I am still close to my art, not as hard on my brain, I hope one day I will do something more valuable. My problem is that I do not feel as productive as I used to. I had to quit knitting and sewing because my hands rebel, the pain takes all the place, fogged brain. I learned that many artists suffer from fibromyalgia, not to console me but knowing I am not alone
I keep reading your articles you help me, is a good part of my day.
I am so glad I was able to encourage you.
I like the word “inertia.” It’s such a good word, and very apt!
Coloring books are a good way to continue to draw even when you don’t feel like drawing something of your own.
Do you know that I learned to paint by doing oil paint-by-number sets? It’s true! I did every horse project I could find and did some of them twice. It was a good way to learn how paint behaves, how to do brush work, and mix colors, and all the other basics.
You can definitely also learn about layering, pencil strokes, and all the other basics by doing coloring books. So if that’s where you are right now, then enjoy the time and let your mind and hands rest.
There do seem to be a lot of artists who suffer from fibromyalgia. You might listen to a few of Lisa Clough’s livestreams. She has serious problems with fibromyalgia, but has found ways to control it through diet and pain management. She’s very open in discussing it while she works, especially some of her earlier videos. A good place to start is her vlog post, How I Became an Artist and the Impact of Fibromyalgia. It’s a short video, only 14 minutes, but shares a lot of tips.
She does a lot of different mediums, but look for some of the colored pencil streams. She almost quit colored pencil work because of pain, so the topic comes up more often in those streams than in other videos. Some of what works for her might also work for you!
Yes I do follow her Youtube she really impressed me, it is good that I can back up her videos at times I lose her, she talks so fast. I heard her talk about her chronic condition. I am amazed that she can do what she does. I went through many long years of crazy pains before knowing what was eating me raw physically and mentally. I guess for her the worst of the recognition of the condition is on a good way. Art used to be my medicine. I could get lost some days painting not realizing the time going by. But in the last few years, I seem to not be able to start or stay on a project, I discovered coloring books with my granddaughter it is our special bond.
Should have say I rediscovered coloring book.
I, too, have been motivated by Lisa’s story. I often catch myself thinking that if she can do what she does dealing with all the health issues she has to deal with, then what’s holding me back?
Ah-ha! You have someone to draw with! That’s important, too. It gives you a reason to pick up those pencils when you might not otherwise. Another good tip. Thank you!
If you need a break from drawing or the urge just isn’t there at the time, I find it helps to simply grab a camera and go out on a photo shoot and collect images that I know can be used for inspiration and reference for my next drawing sessions down the road.
It helps keep my mind in tune and focused on the fact that I enjoy
drawing and sketching and in turn, makes the photo day that much more enjoyable knowing that these images will eventually come in handy for me.
That’s a great idea! I should have mentioned that since I also enjoy photography. Thank you for sharing that!
Yes, yes, yes! Photography is a great way to get past creative apathy and it’s fairly easy and simple, as well. Great idea!
I normally like to draw something almost everyday. It helps keep my mind off the fact that I’m physically handicapped and have been for 14 years now. I was down in the dumps back then after having been a big, strong guy who worked hard all his life. But at 53, I finally had back surgery for the bad back I had dealt with for about half my adult life. For 4 months after the surgery, I was like a new man but it didn’t last. I began getting increasing leg pain & it got to the point where I couldn’t take it anymore. It’s a long story so I’ll cut out some of the details. I had a nerve block surgery & everything went south afterwards. Eventually they found I had 3 ballooned fistulas in my spine that probably would’ve killed me had one of them burst. So I had a surgery where they ran a tube or catheter from my groin on up to these fistulas and shot ‘medicated super glue’ onto them which sealed them & helped open the blocked passages up. But now I have irreparable nerve damage from my waist down to the bottoms of my feet. Now at 66 I have been diagnosed with colon cancer. I will start radiation next week. I hope to feel well enough after treatments to be able to draw more but you never know. I guess I’ll have to wait & see how it goes. But drawing not only helps me keep my mind off of the bad stuff, but it also helps me make a little supplemental income sometimes. I hope I don’t lose it.
Thank you for sharing. I’m sorry to hear about your cancer, especially on top of everything else. Keep us posted on your progress, will you?
Hi Richard I just want to say how much I understand exactly where you’re at and I sympathize, I’ve been through a similar situation, I taught fitness for 20 years and felt pretty smug about my health & strength, then I also had to go through back surgery followed with a knee replacement, neither operation went well & I’m left with a lot of pain, with a disability in walking,but I find we have to keep our hands busy, I feel if the brain is busy making something it can’t concentrate on our pain. You are to be complimented you work as much as you do, this should inspire others, and I just wanted to say you’re not alone and if you keep doing what you’re doing you won’t “lose it.” All the best, Diana
Awe, thanks, Diana! I don’t wish my condition[s] on anyone but it’s nice to know someone out there with similar problems. I so hope you’re able to deal with yours as well. Sounds like you’re a lot like me in that drawing or any form of artwork you do helps you to forget about the pain & frustration of being physically handicapped. You should be proud of yourself for handling it as well as you do. My hat’s off to you. God Bless & Thank You!!!
I’ll try. With the pandemic going on, I’ve had to go through several delays and it scares me knowing that this tumor is probably growing some daily. God Bless you all.
Thanks Richard, I always think any kind of artistic talent is an outlet we should be so grateful for, can’t imagine dealing with life challenges without it. May you continue to share your gift. Diana
And the same back to you, Diana. Best wishes to you and good luck with your future artwork. – Richard