Before we start
I just wanted to say here, that although this document contains a lot of information, I would recommend you read it all the way through rather than skimming over it. Only because there are key points I am trying to get across and I think the reason I suffered so long is that I didn’t have all the pieces to this rather simple to resolve, yet seemingly impossible problem, artist’s block.
This is for people who have suffered from long term artist block, maybe weeks, months or sometimes years, though it may help people who just want to get their muses going again.
It hits without warning.
One day you go to your task, you can’t wait to create the next big thing in your portfolio. You get all your kit out, be it pencil, graphics tablet, song sheet, dance shoes or whatever. You take a deep breath, you move to your work, and… nothing! Or worse, it ends up as something that’s not even remotely close to what you had in mind!
It has to be the most frustrating, depressing, aggravating bottle neck in any artist’s progression andor career!
This affects artists of any kind, be it musician, sculptor, sketch artist, painter, singer, dancer, designer, illustrator, wood worker… the list goes on…
There are so many reasons why an artist gets this block, and yet for some reason the cures are illusive and remote. In many cases just finding the cause can be near on impossible. Many people I speak to about it simply say “I’m just kind of… stuck…and I don’t know why!”
I write about this from experience. I was in this boat and I spent 6 years just “stuck”.
Yep that’s right, no exaggeration. 6 years!
I would go to my graphics tablet, load up Photoshop, Zbrush, Painter or whatever, or maybe I would get a sketch pad out and pencil…. I would lean in to start work and then…… BLANK…… NOTHING…… ZIP! Maybe I draw a couple of lines, rub them out. Or I would create something that looked childish.
I knew I could do it, I had the skill, but for some reason I couldn’t do it.
It’s not even as though I didn’t know what I wanted to create. It was just something would get lost between my imagination and my pen or pencil. I had literally whole worlds of ideas in my mind, but I simply could not get them out on paper.
I would see friends of mine producing fantastic works and would want to join in, but always the block would be there.
I’d be lying if I said it didn’t get me upset. I would sometimes walk away from the drawing board completely depressed. Many times I would simply give up and say “no more, I’m not meant to be an artist!” One time, and I don’t enjoy admitting this, as a grown man, I burst into tears. Pathetic I know, but it had been years where I couldn’t do what I loved and frustration was getting the better of me.
As I said, this went on for 6 years or so, and in the last few months of that, I started realising not only what was wrong, but how to resolve it. It took some time to do so, but every day, I could feel myself slowly moving forward instead of backward.
Then, one day, out of nowhere, I created something worthy of my desires. It wasn’t a master piece, but it was the first image in years that was complete and I was VERY happy with.
Suddenly I could not stop creating! It was liberating! All those ideas I had were going to paper or my computer. I had a ton of projects going at the same time. I even finished some old concepts from before the start of the block.
6 years is one hell of a long time to get blocked like this, and I think it’s an extreme of the condition rather than the norm. However the long story short is that I managed to get over it. In fact, I suddenly seemed to acquire a higher level of skill than I had before the block started! Good news!
In this document, I hope to share with you some of the information I have used to get over this most terrible and yet stupid of conditions.
You are not alone if you are suffering like I did. And I hope to at least re-assure you that this is not forever. In fact in some cases the “block” is a necessary phase for any artist to go through. And there is light at the end of the tunnel.
I hope you enjoy this document, and I sincerely hope it helps you get back into the freedom of your creativity!
What is this “Block”
To be honest, this is probably the hardest part to nail down. In many ways, trying to figure out what this “block” is contributes to the block its self. Sounds silly? Read on.
Artist block is not a real thing! It’s not a gremlin that is shaking the pen or pencil while you are trying to work. It’s not bad luck or a lack of natural skill.
The block is not tangible. It’s not something you can show a doctor and say “do I need a cream for this?”
Is it a lack of skill? Well if you are like me, you probably just “know” you can produce the work and you know you have the skill. Even if you don’t feel that way, you just know it will take you a little bit longer. So really, it’s not that.
Is it a lack of self-confidence? To be honest nearly every artist on the planet suffers from self-confidence problems. We are, after all, our own worst critics! But I tend to think that’s a symptom of the block, or at least made worse by the block rather than the other way around.
You see, half of my time dealing with this block was spent trying to figure out what the hell it was!
As it turns out, this was only contributing the block itself. By agonising over the problem I was feeding it.
Why? Well, in simplistic terms, the block for me at least, and most likely you too, was caused by plain old frustration.
So is that it? Frustration is the cause of the block? That’s it?
Well… yeah! The block is fed by frustration. In fact it’s a nasty little cycle that seems to have no end. Frustration causes the block. You get frustrated by the block. Frustration is added to the block… and it goes on and on.
The truth is every artist will go through a phase where frustration of some kind will take over their own self-confidence and motivation.
The main issue with this frustration is that it can suddenly take over and you don’t even know it’s happened. You just suddenly find yourself artistically crippled.
Actually I’m going to say here that if you have encountered the block, then that’s a good thing. “WHAT!” I hear you shout. No really, it’s a good thing.
Why? Well if you are getting frustrated, it means you want to take your art to the next level. The block is like the mental equivalent of what marathon runners call “The Wall”. Simply put, you learn anything new, or push yourself, you will eventually hit the wall or the block or bar or upper skill level or anything you want to call it. Eventually your mind want’s a break to absorb and re-adjust. As your mind is lagging behind your desire, albeit temporarily, you get frustrated with yourself.
The issue is when you don’t recognise it for what it is you can suddenly find yourself disappointed with your work, unhappy with your results… frustrated! And then… the cycle will start.
In other words, the block can just be your mind trying to catch up and automate your newly learned skills. If you don’t realise this period is temporary, you feel like a failure and you get frustrated.
Really though, we shouldn’t care about what the block is as that’s not the key to stopping it. We just need to stop the cycle.
Enough jibber-jabber! How do I fix this?
To fix this is actually quite simple, but it takes time and patience. And the later has to be developed using the following ideas. What I will say here, is that in most cases, it’s not going to resolve overnight. It takes time for your mind to adjust to new ways of thinking and set the foundations for you to improve.
So, if we can deal with the frustration, by default the block will go away, right? And that’s what the following will try to resolve.
It’s supposed to be fun! Remember?
This was the first thing that I realised when I finally started on the road to snapping out of the block. IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE FUN!! Art can be a very serious business, when it’s in a gallery for example. But let’s face it most of us do it because it’s fun.
When it stops being fun and becomes a chore, that’s when the frustration can really kick in.
If you’re finding it chore to get out your sketch book and pencil then try pastels instead for a while. Or try and draw something silly and funny, ANYTHING will do. A chinchilla in a tutu if that helps! Then go back to your drawing, when you’re feeling a bit less serious.
If you’re struggling writing or mastering that piece of music, try and play something silly and childish before you have another go!
If your sculpture isn’t going well, get some Play Dough or Silly Putty and try and make something daft. Or simply just start throwing clay at the wall and see what shapes you get.
If your novel or story is just not going anywhere, write (in another document of course) about a fairy who likes to live in a cheese house or something. Or about how your mother in law used to be queen of the witches.
Bring back the fun to your work! Go and put on some of your favourite music on. Something uplifting and fun, and sing your heart out. Then, go do your thing!
What about the bits that aren’t fun?
Hmmmm now this is one of the most important bits, but not at all the most obvious! When I realised this, the gates to freedom simply opened!
Work just as hard if not harder on the bits that aren’t so fun as much as the bits that are.
Why? Well usually the bits we work on that are fun are the bits that in the past have given good results, but are easier for us to do. However, by working hard on the bits we don’t enjoy so much, we will improve in those areas as well and we become better overall.
See, I love the sketching part of drawing, but the shading or hatching part I find hard, and so I was naturally shying away from it. So my drawings always seemed to have that unfinished look about them.
However, these days, I work just as hard, if not harder on the shading and hatching part and now my drawings have gone up a level or two in quality.
We easily work on something when it’s fun and a novelty because it’s new and exciting. But when that novelty wears off, we need to keep going if we wish to learn and progress.
Your mind is a wonderful thing and it will adapt over time. So things that are both fun and not as fun become automated and you don’t have to concentrate on them so hard. You can just create!
Are you losing your direction?
If you’re self-taught like me, then it’s more than likely you will come a point where you simply don’t know what to do next.
Or maybe it’s just that you are floundering for ideas or motivation.
Or maybe you have too many books or trainings in one go and don’t know where to start.
This is a kind of block I suppose, but really it’s more of a lack of direction.
Do you need some structure in your learning for example? Maybe, you need to enrolee at a night school or Open University. Or do you need to find a mentor who can motivate and give you a learning path?
Or is it just that you need to set some goals you want to achieve and work out how to work towards them?
There is tons of goal setting information on the web, so I won’t go into it here. However I encourage you to take a look a look at this article as I found it REALY useful!
Most art is about being free. However there is nothing at all wrong with having a distinct direction to go in. And having a goal to achieve makes it all so worthwhile when you achieve it! Trust me!
See, you’re always moving forward.
If you’re like me you almost never want to keep the stuff you created you consider to be junk.
However, it’s important to keep anything you create so you can see how you are progressing over time.
Everything you create should be filed in a portfolio so you can see your progress over time. Even the bad stuff should be filed and accessible.
And keep trying. Remember, any time you try, your mind is learning. When you look back at your creations over time, you will see an improvement. By default, the more you do, the more you will improve, the more you will see it, the better you will become.
Try to keep your art activity consistent
I would sometimes go weeks without creating anything, mostly as the block as causing me to lose all my motivation. However, I still wanted to move forward in my art skill.
The hard truth is if you don’t regularly practice your skill, then you will never improve.
Put a little in every day, even if it’s just 30 mins.
Can you get up 30 mins earlier? Or take a shorter lunch break or go to bed a bit later? Maybe instead of watching TV you could go and do some drawing, painting or whatever for 30 mins?
Most of us can find the time, it’s just that we always find other things we would rather be doing.
Although I said this should not become a chore, you still have to put in some effort. And the more you do, the quicker you will get over this block.
Look objectively at your results, not despairingly. Constructive self-criticism NOT destructive self-disgust.
Frustration in small doses is actually a good thing from time to time. If we were happy with everything we create then let’s face it, we would never progress. If I was happy with the wobbly half melted drawings I created when I first started out, well then I would always stay at that level and never improve!
However, it’s a very fine line between constructive self-criticism and self-disgust.
Look at what you created, and try and see objectively what you need to improve. Don’t let self-disgust take over. If it comes and you just want to bin your creation, then walk away for bit and look again when you can be calmer.
Let other people offer advice too! There are just so many forums out there with the best artists in the world willing to offer you good advice for fee! Use them! Learn from them!
These are a lot easier to say than actually do, I realise that honestly. I am the king at taking my creations and binning them before giving them a chance. DON’T! Just take deep a breath, put it in a file and look at it later when you feel in a more objective frame of mind.
Get enough failures!
That’s right, I did say it. Get enough failures!
What do I mean? Well, the more you fail, the more likely it is that you will eventually succeed! If you give up after failing once or twice, you are guaranteed never to succeed!
You have to have the failures to learn from.
You need those to show other people so they can help you improve where you went wrong.
You need the failures so you can see how you are improving.
You need the failures so you can smile at yourself.
There is no such thing as a failure really, only an education!
So go out there and get enough failures! For every one you get, that’s one step closer to success!
Don’t rush things!
You are in control here. You know that right?
Here’s the thing:
Over time you will master it and become so much more. But just have patience! Don’t worry about being a master at your craft right now! Just look at the level you are at now and then set the bar one step higher!
Look over the hints I have given above and you will see one common theme. It’s all about perception and direction and patience!
Are you looking down because you feel you are failing? Or are you looking up because you are climbing to success?
Keep going my friend! It’s nowhere near over yet! I promise you!
Look at me. I was stuck for 6 years. And now? I am happy, VERY happy! I’m not a master artist yet, but I don’t care about that right now. I want to get there, but now I take pride in what I have done as I can see how I am improving every time. And I love creating again.
What a blessing that I have the luxury to do this. Right?
I’ll see your creations in the galleries, websites and magazines of the world.
Peace to you all brothers and sisters!