Do You Really Have Artist’s Block?

Staring at a blank sheet of paper and wondering what to paint is familiar and frustrating to any artist. So what’s artist’s block really all about?

For starters, I believe there are two types of artist’s block. There is what I’ll call “true” artist’s block, which I believe to be pretty rare, and the second more common version, which is simply “indecisiveness.”

Which One Are You?

True artist’s block could be defined as creative exhaustion. To be in this rare category, you’re probably a professional or practicing, prolific artist who has painted, drawn or designed their keister off and, for what ever reason, has reached a point of being out of creative gas. All of a sudden, no visual idea seems worthy to pursue given the body of work you’ve already done. You just don’t feel inspired with an idea you can use. If you’re a professional, full-time painter, designer or illustrator, you’ve probably actually faced this dilemma. However, for hobbyists or the casual spare-time artist its rarely the case. Why? … Stay with me here.

The second, more common type of artist’s block, I believe, is simply indecision or overthinking. In other words, creating a crisis out of deciding what to create next. This block usually comes because we don’t draw or paint often enough to be out of ideas, so instead we want to put our limited time to good use, and that makes our choices feel much more critical. This can be a hyper fixation on which direction would offer us the most success and satisfaction. It can be a tough choice and feel exactly like the other artist’s block

Good News!

The second type is the easiest to deal with. Why? Because half the battle is realizing why you’re blocked. Think about it. Does your next drawing or painting really hang on having a totally original, cool, rock-your-world idea? Um, probably not. Its a lot like being given a quiver with one arrow. You’re going to shoot that arrow but at what? You’ve only got one! Better make it count.

The best way to combat this block is first to think about your art goals. Why do you paint or draw in the first place? Fun, relaxation, improving your skill? The solution is easier than you think. Just do a little self butt kicking and paint or draw anything. Literally ANYTHING! Just do it! NOW! Ok fine, draw or paint something you love. Is it flowers? Don’t look for the perfect floral arrangement or try to be the next Susan Harrison Tustain. Just find a flower reference anywhere and get started – your yard, a magazine, online photo search, anywhere. Forget the thoughts of, “oh, thats just a simple daisy photo I’ve seen a hundred times.” Well, how many times have YOU drawn a daisy? Nine times out of ten, getting started is the hardest part. As you draw, more ideas will come. Trust me, they will! Do you do art work to give away as gifts? Then start asking those recipients what art they would love to have from you. Easy peasy! Stop making artistic choices such hard choices. Instead make snap choices. Open a door, any door. You’ll be surprised what adventure is behind it.

Here’s the Point

Take an explorer’s approach to art. Putting pencil to paper is an exploration. Every curve, shadow and mark is getting to know something better. This should at least be one of your goals as an artist. Its usually easier to explore than it is to envision your next great work. Get granular with your exploration. If you love landscape, don’t try to figure out the next beautiful scene you’ll paint. Instead explore specific elements you most want to explore – trees, stones, bushes, skies, water, etc. Make those your next focus. Then pick another and another. If it turns into some cool art, thats awesome!

The Rare Birds

If you are one of the rare types with “true” artists block, I have a simple suggestion for you – Google. There are mountains of articles out there already that deal with the exhaustion of creative ideas. I won’t deal with it here. Most artists have plenty of ideas, they just don’t know how to pick. If you realize that the process and the exploration matters more than the subject choice, then you’re on your block-busting way to fun times with art. Yay!