How do you get past artist block? Tell me your secrets!

  • For me there seems to be two different types of artistic block I deal with:

    1. I can't think of anything to draw
    2. Everything I seem to draw comes out horrible.

    It is weird, because I rarely have issues with #1, but #2 really likes to make me feel like I am Elaine from Sienfield trying to dance. I think I rarely struggle with #1 because I tend to like to try new things, which really brings about new ideas, but recently I have had a lot of trouble just making thumbnails. Maybe it is because I am tired, and my brain is not functioning correctly, or it could be that I am getting older and less interesting. Are my good mental years behind me? Should I move into a home with others just like me, and start painting bowls of fruit?

    Any advice?

  • Pro SVS OG

    #1 What helps me, when I get stuck (which happens 😒) is to get my self an assignment (like #draw50things, or #design100something... etc, or I just pretend I'm illustrating my favorite fairytale book - so I do a dummy, I work on sketches etc.)
    #2 I just draw and redraw. When I'm lucky, I can see what is wrong with my drawing. In that case I google how to do this specific thing correctly. On the other hand, if I'm not able to see what's wrong... I just draw. And eventually I will go through... 🙂

    Do not worry! The block will end! It always does.

  • SVS OG

    @Eric-Castleman I may have more thoughts but to offer a quick thought... In addition to what @mag said:

    If I am having a hard time, I try to allow myself to play and forget about goals (so I suppose a little bit in the opposite direction of @mag but I agree with @mag's thoughts too)

    One exercise that helps is to either "scribble" then turn it into something (this is kind of like imagining things seen in the clouds) or to have more firm, random shape that you turn into multiple somethings. For example (to be clear, the following are not mine but pulled from my Pinterest at

    1_1488827019454_19af112883471e6e4865024a3e3628e4.jpg 0_1488827019453_8b2aec7b96c6765c434b8ffb3b17fb49.jpg

  • SVS OG

    @Eric-Castleman Another thing I'll do is have a list of things/characters to draw. The list exists beforehand and can be categorized, but the point is that I can look at it and randomly pick whatever catches my eye according to the mood I may be in during the block. Similarly, there are apps, like Shuffle which are randomizers, generating animal/human type, action, genre, etc. which are helpful in having some sort of prompt imposed on you.

    The point of these ideas and the one I shared a few minutes ago are less of attempting to create a portfolio piece and more of "remembering" our love of creating in of itself. From there, the assumption is that it will spur on excitement, inspiration, etc. where you can then pursue more intentional pieces.

  • SVS OG

    Keep. Moving. Forward.

    Its hard, because I've been feeling a bit "blocked" lately myself. Its also helpful to realize that it is OKAY to sometimes take a break from drawing and do something else. Yes. Kind of like @Jake-Parker 's analogy of "filling your creative bank account", you might be feeling "blocked" because you're "bouncing checks" so to say. I've been feeling that lately (though lack of sleep I believe is a big contributor ;-).

    But don't let any breaks you take go on too long. Have a nice break, then do a bit of sketching, and maybe find a new project you're excited about.

    Of course, Its most difficult if you're on deadline and HAVE to make something, when you're just doing personal stuff its not as bad.

  • Age doesn't matter. One good thing is to get out and look at stuff that inspires you, meet with other artists locally just to hang out and talk. Go to a conference, crit, just anything that will get the gears turning in your head. Go for a walk. Instead of putting pressure on yourself to create, loosen up and dream. Ideas will pop up, or as the instructors often say, create a project for yourself. Pick a book to illustrate, make daily illustrations of you pet, pick a different fruit to illustrate every day, anything really and then start creating for that. Be yourself and the rest will come

  • SVS OG

    I don't think age is an issue...I think one of the wonderful things about illustration is that hopefully, it will be something you can do until very advanced years compared to other, more physical jobs.

    But getting past the 'I hate it' moment....honestly, half the time I am drawing I don't like what I make. Even though it's clearly better than what came before (and I get satisfaction from that), I can see how it could and should be better...and always I feel like I'm chasing a rainbow. When will I ever catch it, and really be happy about my art? I don't know - but I still want to keep on chasing - to find out!

    I think you have to have a certain acceptance that creativity has a component of struggle, and dissatisfaction...and that is part of the process of improvement. It's entirely possible that you hate everything you draw right now, because you're moving up a level and you can 'see' better than you did before...and maybe your art will shortly take (another?) leap forward. There's only one way to find out - do more illustrations!! 😉

    So I agree with what's been said before, that you should just keep going...and maybe pick something you've always wanted to draw, something you get back into the groove of enjoying your work.

  • Thumbnails can be a good way. For one u don't invest hardly any rendering time so you can work quick and throw random ideas down and just kind of speed through them while keeping design principles like tone, placement, angles etc in mind.

  • SVS OG

    I've been in that rut lately. The project I am currently working on is losing it's appeal! But I started doing some doll rehab and started trying to write some stories to play with in between. I think one of my big problems is that I am in the house a lot and need to get out more and just take a walk or something. I set up a date with a mom with young kids to read books with them on Wednesday. Since my little grndson moved away I need to get back around little kids more often and make an effort so I can be inspired...I think. I've also been going to the library and grabbing piles of picture books and reading them to try and kickstart my creative side and get some fresh ideas. I also think it's a good idea to take a break.

  • SVS OG

    Bobby Chiu videos! Interviews or demos ... always inspirational - also Stephen Silver - they both have such infectious positive energy - I love Bobby's refrain of "punch laziness in the face" - if I'm feeling uninspired I listen to these guys or watch a tutorial of some kind to get me going again. Besides watching and listening to inspirational artists I force myself to keep drawing through the many layers of awful ideas I have - I'll open an A4 canvas in Procreate with the goal of filling as many layers as possible (thumbnail sized) until I get something that works (maybe spend a minute on each layer) - can be demoralizing really but I do have a new voice that has popped into my head recently that was not there before - it tells me to keep going instead of to give up... that something will turn up if I just keep trying.

  • @Eric-Castleman Well, first of all, I try to keep my mind constantly being stimulated by something. I always have movies to watch, books to read, among other things to do in my free time that can help me keep coming with new ideas. I never do more of the same for too long, I try to vary on genres, year and style of whatever I'm doing at the moment, so I can get influences from all sorts of places at once. It's kinda like keeping an archive of ideas in your mind that so you can just open it and ask for help every once and a while.

    If this is not enough, I just force myself to work. No internet, no fun (and by that, I mean not-productive fun, since working on some project I like is really pleasant for me), until I can get some work done. If it's not good the first time, take your time, look at it, keep your brain trying to work something out of it, go do something else for a while, then go back and see if you can figure out a way to fix your problem. But no matter what, finish your projects from the beginning to the end, no matter if you think it's good or bad. There's always times we're going to hate whatever we have done, then go back in a few days and think "What was wrong with me? This is not that bad at all!". So yeah, no real mystery here, the key to solve any block is to keep working on it, don't give up, just try again. I'm sure at some point you will find the perfect solution. And then it will start getting easier to get out of it every time you're stuck, because your brain will be ready to come up with new solutions based on the kind of trouble you experienced the first time around.

    Being inspired is not all that important, we can come up with good and bad ideas when we're inspired. Every idea need to be polished and that only can be done with hard work. I hope this can help!

  • I am glad I asked this question. I like all of your answers, and think I need to stop stressing out so much. This just popped up a day ago, after feeling as though I was on a roll. The last piece I was working on took more time than I expected, and I feel as though I somewhat lost my groove because of it. I know it sounds superstitious, and in every other area of my life I am quite rational, but for some reason when it comes to art I start wearing my hat inside out wondering if that is what is wrong.

    I will keep everything everybody said here in mind, and I think it will help me right away.

    Thanks everyone!!

  • SVS OG

    Hey, great question! Lots of really good answers here too.

    Since my income is based entirely on my performance as an artist, getting artist block isn't just frustrating it can be financially dangerous. So I've thought a lot about this over the years and how best to avoid it!

    I think in order to treat artist block (actually, I like the term creative block, because it isn't a problem that only artists have, so I'm calling it that from here on out), in order to treat creative block you need to know what is causing it.

    In my experience creative block happens when either your body, your mind, or your soul are over stressed. You can't create and perform at the top of your abilities when any one of these things are not being taken care of.

    When I get slammed with creative block I do a personal audit and see what I need to do to help relieve the stress.

    I start with my body:

    I check my diet first. I love eating things that are bad for me. And sometimes I make bad food choices without even thinking about it. By reviewing my eating habits I see if I need to course correct, or overhaul my diet.

    I then check if I've strayed off of my exercise routine. Often times creative block strikes on weeks that I haven't been to the gym or gone running. If it's been a while I make a plan to get back into it. If it's just an off day, I'll schedule some time that day to get a good work out in. One where I'm really sweaty and beat.

    Then I check my sleeping patterns. Am I getting enough rest? Since the start of the year I've been going to bed early and waking up early and it's done wonders for my creativity.

    Next I move on to my mind:

    This is where all the creative bank account stuff I talk about happens. I check to see if I'm doing things that actively engage my brain. Sometimes I can go a month in creative mode and not consume any books, tv, films, video games, or anything if I'm not careful. You need to have a balance of input/output.

    Start a new book, study (don't just watch) a film or tv show. Go to a museum and take notes, or do studies. Go on a trip to a new city, or just go to the other side of town.

    All of these things engage the brain, and fill it with dots that you can connect later when you're needing to be creative.

    And lastly the soul (for lack of a better term):

    How are your relationships with others? If you're religious, how is your relationship with God? Are you being honest in all your dealings? Are you trying to do right by everyone in your life? Are you taking responsibility for your actions?

    When you're in a fight with someone, or you're not seeing eye to eye with your spouse or partner, or if you're trying to get away with something, it all costs you energy. Energy that could be funneled into your creativity. So, take time to reconnect with loved ones, friends, children, and make sure your life is in order.

    In short, if I'm ever hit with creative block I go run a few miles, I read a good book, I eat a healthy meal, I spend some quality time with my wife, and I go to bed early. The next day I'm a creative powerhouse, not to be messed with!

    It's what works for me. I hope that helps.

  • @Jake-Parker Great response! Each area is definitely been less than stellar for me, so I can see how this might be contributing to my issues. I have a three year old boy, and am still adjusting to a sleep schedule that allows me to have enough energy to operate at full steam. I am using the time with him as a good resource for taking in content from picture books and kids movies/shows, but I know I need much more than that.

    Thanks for all the help!

  • I usually give myself assignments. Like "today make something based on this shape.". Sometimes I just look at other artists work for inspiration. When I don't have ideas I also copy other's work in a sketchbook I never show. This is so I don't waste time and at least learn something.

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