Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Overcoming Artist's Block

Every artist encounters Artist Block, that familiar feeling of wanting to produce but having NO good ideas or inspiration. You feel like everything you start to put down is something you’ve done a million times already. When you are a beginning artist, it’s a killer. You think it’s your fault, that if you “were really an artist” you would have a constant wellspring of inspiration and drive. Artist Block feels like a wall, and many people let that wall stop them not knowing that there are ways around that wall, if you know where to look.

Many people start with seeking inspiration in places that have made them excited about creating their own art in the past. Maybe it’s watching some cool movies, or flipping through art books, magazines, or websites. This can indeed work, but there is a very real danger that seeking inspiration instead turns into simply watching a movie or reading a book. In other words, the danger is you just decided to do something else instead of working on your art. Oops. It’s a bit of a trap, and I know I’ve fallen into it, and I’ve heard plenty of other artists say much the same. For this reason, I don’t recommend this, and I think we can find some better options.

One of the most immediate ways to deal with artist block is to simply work through the feeling. Sometimes just the act of starting the brain working on those visual problems can get it jump started and back on the right track. A good place to start is to do some warm up studies. Studies aren’t meant to be great artistic achievements, and thus don’t take as much “inspiration” as they do observation and thinking. By getting your brain thinking and active, you may find that sluggish feeling of artist block slip away, and creativity taking it’s place. This isn’t always the right solution, but it seems to work well when the problem isn’t a deep artist rut, so much as it’s just not being in the right mental space for being productive. It’s easy to get distracted by other things in life, and this solution works well to help you gain back your focus.

More fundamental artistic ruts, I believe, are caused by needing to stoke the artistic fires in more fundamental ways. You need to get out and DO some stuff, gain some experiences that are worthy of wanting to express creatively.  It’s my personal opinion that the best Artist Block busting experiences are things you haven’t seen or done before, or at least things you rarely do. Going to a zoo might be great, but if you go once a week, it’s probably not going to be the shake up you need to really jolt your inner muse. If you are a city kid, maybe you need to go camping, or spend a day riding a horse. If you have always lived in the country, maybe you can go to a big city and visit some huge natural history museum.

There are thousands of things you have never done before, that are likely within your reach. If your dream is to one day draw fantasy characters, have you ever actually held and swung a sword or an axe? If you want to design characters for first person shooters, have you ever spent a day playing paintball, or gone to a gun range to fire real guns? These are all great examples of things that would directly enrich your understanding and excitement for a topic. The more you can back up your art, not just with visuals, but with actual experiences and emotions, the more you have to draw on when you are creating.

That isn’t to say that you should stick to activities that directly relate to the type of art you like to do. Even better sometimes are other things that are interesting to you, but unrelated. Some of the most interesting artistic ideas are combining unrelated things in unexpected ways. Don’t limit yourself, explore everything.

Fighting an artistic rut isn’t something to only worry about when you are having the problem. You can take preventative measures by remembering to get out and do something new and exciting every now and then. Everything you see and do becomes material for your future expression.

Below are some photos from one of my "Rut Buster" excursions. This one wasn't the most thrilling, as it was simply taking some photos around the city I live in, New Haven, Connecticut. These amazing relief sculptures are found on many of the buildings around Yale. Hundreds of people walk past them every day and rarely look up and appreciate their beauty. In fact I'd go so far as to say that many probably don't notice them at all and never realize they are there.

Wait, is that the Burger King?

Outside one of the Yale libraries, paying tribute to the early materials for making paper.


  1. Hi, I'm very happy to have stumbled across your DIY artschool. It's just what I need and I will be following you along with great interest. And last but not least, that logo rocks!

  2. Thanks, that's great to hear! Glad you like the logo as well :)

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