As an artist, one of the most frustrating experiences is going through an art block.
When creating new artwork feels next to impossible.
You have no idea what to create, and the ideas that normally come to you with ease seem to have vanished! What’s worse is you’re not sure how to overcome art block.
Not to worry, remember that you aren’t alone, and sooner or later everyone goes through periods where they just can’t seem to create.
What is art block?
An art block also referred to as a creativity block, is when you have run out of ideas and you can’t seem to create anything. You end up feeling stuck and frustrated, with no idea of what to do.
Artists experience art blocks differently depending on the individual. For some, you have the idea but you can’t seem to bring yourself to create anything anyway. Others who once experienced a flood of ideas now come up empty-handed but still have the motivation to create. Either way, each person is experiencing some sort of mental block.
How long can an art block last?
An art block can last anywhere between a few days, weeks, or months. In rare cases, it can even last up to a few years. Not to worry though, first, you are not alone, it’s only natural to experience a creative block and unless you give up, your art block won’t last forever.
Below you’ll find 20 methods you can try out to overcome your art block.
20 methods to overcome art block
Go back to basics
When you have an art block with no idea of what to create, going back to the basics can make a difference. As a beginner, you learn by practicing new techniques and painting simplified scenes. The more you practice, the more your skill set grows thus allowing you to opt for more complicated subjects.
When you’re going through an art block it can help to go back to those simplified subjects and work with those instead. This could jog your memory and allow new ideas to develop!
Discover a new artist
Sometimes all it takes to get the creative juices flowing is by finding a new artist whose work inspires you! I prefer to use Pinterest to search for ideas and new artists. The process is simple, I search for artwork in the medium I’m working on e.g Watercolor painting.
When I see an art piece that I admire, I look at the other pieces the artist has created and then try to figure out what in particular caught my eye. It helps even more when I watch a video of them creating something!
Other times, I search for easy painting tutorials and follow along. This usually helps motivate me!
Art idea generators
Another way to get new ideas flowing is through the use of an art idea generator. Art idea generators help by providing you with prompts to work from. You choose a category, then keep generating prompts in that category until you find one you prefer to work with.
You can try this drawing prompt generator which could prove useful!
Recycle an old idea
If you can’t think of any new ideas, it may help to recycle an old idea. You could re-create the same artwork or readjust its idea. For example, instead of remaking the piece you could try creating it at different angles, or use a different color scheme, or implement some new techniques.
You can even try using a different medium or developing the idea further.
Try different techniques
Work with techniques that you don’t regularly use in your artwork. For example, I rarely use the watercolor salt technique, so creating a landscape or abstract piece using the salt technique can help challenge and push me out of my comfort zone.
You may surprise yourself with this method and start to get ideas of what to create.
Take a break
Sometimes forcing yourself to be creative when you’re not feeling up to it can actually worsen your art block by adding pressure. Perhaps all you need is some time to recharge and relax. Do something that makes you happy, it can be watching a movie, reading a book, listening to some music, spending time with a loved one, going on a bike ride… whatever works for you.
Just remember, taking a break can turn into procrastinating. It might help to set aside a certain amount of time to take a break, recharge, and then go back to your artwork after.
Explore a new subject
Instead of creating what you’re used to, try to experiment and create sketches of a different subject. It doesn’t have to be unique or interesting, simply grab your sketchbook and draw the first thing that you see.
This may help to loosen the ideas and let the creativity out again.
Another option is to look through old photos on your phone of when you were on vacation and visited somewhere new. This could help by jogging your memory and unblocking your creativity.
Work with a different medium
What really helps me when I’m going through a creative block is switching to another medium. Perhaps one where you have more control or more experience. What works for me is switching from watercolor to graphite pencil.
Another option is to switch to a new medium you’re not used to. You could find yourself learning something new and coming up with fresh ideas.
This method is similar to exploring a new subject, however, the main objective is to roughly sketch or draw your surroundings within a given time frame.
I like to set a timer for five minutes and then sketch the first thing that’s right in front of me. You can reduce the time to make it more challenging.
It can also help if you take your sketchbook with you in a different area, for example in the park, a cafe, or somewhere in public.
It doesn’t really matter where you go as long as it’s someplace other than your workstation.
The great thing about this method is you don’t have to think too much about what you’re gonna draw or how it’ll turn out. You just have to create what you can before the timer rings.
Instead of creating whole pieces, simply grab a pen and start doodling. Draw some lines and patterns and eventually, you can start adding some color. Who knows, the ideas may slowly start coming back to you!
The image below shows an example of easy watercolor doodles you could try:
Revisit an old source of inspiration
As an artist, it’s always helpful to have a place where you can record all your ideas when you do feel inspired. You can keep a sketchbook where you create rough ideas or even snap photos of things that inspire you with your phone then save them in a separate folder!
That way when you’re out of ideas you can scroll through those photos or flip through your sketchbook and try out an idea.
Sometimes your art block could be caused by stress or overthinking. In those cases, it may help to take a few minutes to meditate and listen to your thoughts.
On many occasions, artists can fall into a negative headspace causing self-doubt, overthinking, and ending up with a negative mentality. Sometimes you may not even be self-aware until you pay closer attention to your thoughts. Meditating can help you be aware and cope with those thoughts and emotions.
Change your environment
Sometimes working in a different space can make a huge difference!
This is something that helped me when I was going through an art block.
Simply working in a different room of my home, going to a library, park, or anywhere different has helped with the creative block.
Exercise could be the answer to overcoming your art block!
Doing a good workout can help put you in a better mood. After all, with physical activity, your brain releases endorphins which help you feel good. Exercising will also take your mind off creating art, allowing you to recharge and feel fresh.
Clear your workstation
If your workstation is messy or stuffed with so many things it can be disorienting and cause you to lose focus and experience art block.
To fix this, put away the things you aren’t currently using and clean up any dirt.
It can also help to set the mood, for example during the day I like to open the curtains and let the natural light in. If I’m drawing at night I use a yellow lamp.
Also, take note if your workspace is chaotic from family members or roommates. If that’s the case, try to find somewhere quiet where you can create in peace and quiet without interruptions.
Work in your sketchbook instead
Working on a separate piece of paper can be more intimidating than painting in a sketchbook.
Maybe this is because the separate piece of paper indicates that you’re going to create a new art piece on expensive paper, which magnifies the pressure.
This pressure could be the cause of your art block.
Whereas sketchbooks tend to be cheaper and nobody has to look inside if you don’t want to show them.
This makes it feel more easygoing to work in your sketchbook where you’re allowed to make mistakes and create “ugly” pieces.
Journal or talk to a close friend or family member
If you’re experiencing mental and physical exhaustion, this could be the cause of your art block. It might help to free your mind by writing down your thoughts and feelings on paper.
Another alternative could be to talk to a close friend or family member about what you’re going through.
Sometimes letting it all out can help you feel better and put you in more of a creative mood.
However, if you’re going through something difficult it’s also important to allow yourself to take some time and space to heal.
Try some background music or a movie
When I paint I love playing some music in the background or a movie/tv show that I have already seen before but that I really enjoy.
This helps to lift my spirits and put me in a better mood which makes me more likely to be creative.
It also stops me from overthinking and spiraling into a negative head space!
In some cases, it may help to try some visualization exercises before you try painting anything.
Start by closing your eyes, taking a deep breath, and imagining yourself sitting in your workstation and sketching something.
It could even be something you’ve created in the past.
Spend a few minutes fabricating as many details as you can in your imagination. Imagine yourself sitting down, getting out your supplies, and prepping your workstation.
Go for a walk
Going on a walk through nature can help clear your mind, put you in a better mood and you may even see a few things that catch your eye!
Try taking photos with your phone or bring a sketchbook with you and try do some sketching.
Get it done anyways
If nothing else works then perhaps all you have to do is get started no matter what. Sometimes the only way out is through. Simply start without thinking of the outcome, it may help shift your mind into gear and help you out of your art block!
What causes art block?
Overthinking during the process of creating can be the cause of your art block. For example, thinking whether or not you’re using the right techniques, or if that particular element in your painting looks “right”. This is especially true for beginners who are still learning and afraid to make mistakes.
In times like these it’s important to remind yourself that making mistakes is part of the process of learning and growing your skills. It’s okay to make a few mistakes because as time goes with practice you’ll get way better.
It happens to everyone at some point! You see an artist who is more skilled than you and you begin to compare yourself. You only see the flaws in your artwork and feel pressured to create masterpieces.
The irony is that pressuring yourself to outperform every time could be the reason why you’re experiencing a mental block that’s stopping you from creating anything.
If you notice yourself spiraling and staying in a negative head space then it could be self-doubt that’s causing your art block.
If you’re going through this then remember that artist that you are comparing yourself to probably has numerous failed paintings as he/she was learning. Sometimes you could be comparing yourself to someone who has spent years honing their skill!
Another thing to remember is that as time goes on, with practice, your skills will grow and, it’ll get easier to overcome your feelings of self-doubt.
If you’re experiencing stress of any kind in other aspects of your life such as work, or family…etc then it could be the cause of your creative block. In this case, it’s important to listen to your body, take a break and give yourself time to heal!
Having too many things going on at once can leave you feeling overwhelmed. This can happen if you’re exhausting yourself by trying to do too many things at once. When you’re feeling this way it may be time to take a step back and reprioritize and refocus your energy. Or perhaps all you need to do is organize yourself differently.