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Overcoming the Artist Block: How to undo the daily struggle we all have as artists

Updated on June 5, 2014

Drawing: Elephant and Lamb

You can pull some inspiration simply from what poles' favorite animals are. This one was for a baby shower gift. Mother likes Elephants and the theme was lamb.
You can pull some inspiration simply from what poles' favorite animals are. This one was for a baby shower gift. Mother likes Elephants and the theme was lamb. | Source

The Artist Struggle

As an artist you can pool your creative juices into just about anything. Anything and everything is an inspiration that triggers some form of artist vibe. It is that very thing that causes the artist to lock up and draw a blank. We see so much in everything that we tend to overwhelm ourselves.

Where do we start? I have 30 ideas for this one thing WHICH one do I do? Someone has requested a drawing of something but there is about 10 different ways I can draw it!

These are some of the things that go through my head when I am doing artwork. The list goes on forever too. Artists constantly create roadblocks on a daily basis as their creative juices boil together idea after idea until their head is so full it seems empty.

You know what I mean. You probably feel it right now. The tension in your head like your mind is a soda bottle shaken so much the bottle is impossible to squeeze. You just want to create, Draw, Sculpt, Paint, Craft, or whatever else you so desire. Yet the overwhelm of creativity is so much you can do nothing but stare blankly developing a tiny bit of self loathing.

Notebook and Sketchbook

These are the sketchbook and notebooks that go everywhere with me.
These are the sketchbook and notebooks that go everywhere with me. | Source

Artist Journal, or the Idea book

I have always carried around with me a sketchbook but I started to carry a notebook more too. As I walk around or interact with everything I accumulate many ideas. I found that if I did not write them down in the notebook, or sketch them in my sketchbook I tend to fill up and forget most of it. I have a pretty good memory for the most part and can multitask with the best of them, but as an artist it is our job to fill up with so many ideas we simply can take anything more in. So having a sketchbook and notebook helps to remedy your full mind by emptying some of it down for later. I have filled a notebook a month now, and I have a huge stack of sketchbooks which come in very handy when I have a big mental block day and need some inspiration. I have found some pretty amusing stuff going back also. Its pretty much a diary or journal of my artist mind. I am not sure if anyone else will ever make sense of it, but that just makes it that much more valuable to me. I am even getting more ideas as I am writing this, which I will have to put in my journal.

One thing I also started to do, especially with my sketchbook, is everyday I sketch something. This exercises your brain and helps to keep your ideas from getting too entangled in your head. I fail every once in a while and miss a few days of sketching but it really helps. Also whenever I really struggle I can go back to one of my many books and be re-inspired. Plus it is a good entertainment to just go back to some of your older sketches. I have found some stuff that looks pretty odd but does spark some intrigue and fun ideas.

Inspiration through Friends

During one of my blocks, a friend came up with a project. They had a childhood toy box they wanted decorated for their new child.
During one of my blocks, a friend came up with a project. They had a childhood toy box they wanted decorated for their new child. | Source
Through conversation I came up with the idea of a sort of illustration of a rabbit geared up to stand against a dragon.
Through conversation I came up with the idea of a sort of illustration of a rabbit geared up to stand against a dragon. | Source
Off to the cave the bunny went not knowing if the dragon was friend or foe.
Off to the cave the bunny went not knowing if the dragon was friend or foe. | Source
The courageous young rabbit had a spectator looking on from afar.
The courageous young rabbit had a spectator looking on from afar. | Source

Friends and Family

The people in your life are great for when you are struggling for inspiration, or you can't hurdle over your overfilled mind. Your friends and family know how you work. They have seen what you can do and can remedy your empty/ full head with reminding you or encouraging you on what you should do next.

Sometimes simply being in their presence is enough to loosen the old noggin. Sitting around chatting about this and that, pretty much just putting you in a state of relaxation, or distracting you enough from your artist slump to give it a good jolt. You may find that you were simply too focused on trying to do something that you locked yourself out. The best way to do art is to flow into it. The best way to flow into it is to learn to chill and sit back. I can not chill, and sitting back is very hard for me to do as a person who needs to constantly move, so hanging with the family and shooting the breeze with friends tricks me into a standstill s my mind can have a moment to organize.

Also, if you can not figure out where to start on a project, or you want to start a piece of art, but you don't have a good solid idea, I usually will call out to friends and family to see what they want. They might have a piece they want done. This helps get my mind off one project while I do something for them which helps get me in a good mood because I'm doing something for someone I care for and I am so busy concentrating on this task my other project is subconsciously working itself out. I usually feel 10 times better after doing something for somebody and my juices are really going I can usually get more of my own projects done than ever before.

Pets inspire through attentiveness

my cat, rest her little soul, always ready to try to eat my pencil or swat my paper while I try and work through a problem
my cat, rest her little soul, always ready to try to eat my pencil or swat my paper while I try and work through a problem | Source
Through the play of my cats I felt obliged to use them in my art with great results.
Through the play of my cats I felt obliged to use them in my art with great results. | Source

Pets

I find even my pets try to help me out. I can sit and stare at a piece of paper for hours and have it not help me at all. I have a particular idea in mind I want to do. A vast city encompassing a lake with strange creatures swimming around. At least that was my original plan.

I found myself just sitting there, occasionally drawing a line and then erasing it. I would repeat that over and over again for a couple of days. I was getting pretty frustrated because I had this great idea that looked awesome in my head on my drive home from work. Yet when I got home and took out my giant pad of paper I found myself lost. The details had softened and begun to fade away.

Then along came Artemis. My little kitty saw an opportunity that could not be passed up. A moving object on a flat surface that needed attacking. Up she hopped and tried to eat my pencil and swat at my drawing. This went on for a while as my second cat sat by my feet and watched the progress. I completely forgot I was drawing for a while as I simply put my time and effort into entertaining my whiskered friend.

The outcome of the experience was not a city and a strange creatures lake but of my two cats entertaining themselves with a firefly. I found that some projects should be let go of for the benefit of others. I felt pretty good with my decision.

Inspire and Re-Inspire

Music is an inspiration that goes through your mind and wiggles all your ideas loose.
Music is an inspiration that goes through your mind and wiggles all your ideas loose. | Source
Nothing more inspiring than relaxing at camp
Nothing more inspiring than relaxing at camp | Source
Going for a walk or run and finding inspiration or loosening up ideas along the way.
Going for a walk or run and finding inspiration or loosening up ideas along the way. | Source
Friends and family hanging around the fire, or any event can help with your artist block by simply being surrounded by positive human distraction.
Friends and family hanging around the fire, or any event can help with your artist block by simply being surrounded by positive human distraction. | Source

Breaking the artist block

What have you done to break your artist struggle?

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Inspiration

When you are on an artist block you just need to ask yourself, "What do I need to do to re-inspire?"

  • As I sit here typing this I am doing one of my favorite ways to relax and get my mind in a rhythm to be more creative and not so locked up. I am listening to a selected playlist on Pandora. I have different lists for different moods I want to be in. This helps me get a better feel on what I want to do. There is nothing better for me than the beat of a tune reverberating my extensively full mind, loosening my thoughts so I can pick through like a kid at a candy store. I have the hardest time relaxing and can lean more towards the uptight, but get some good music on and I can be Jello.
  • Are you the type that pulls their inspiration from nature? You will find that the best way to unblock a nature block is to immerse yourself in it. Go camping or go for a long hike where the only thing that surrounds you is the dense beautiful world around you. Take a dip in an icy mountain lake and watch as fish swim around in the crystal clear pools and birds swoop down bouncing their reflections off the surface. Listen to the breeze as it rustles the leaves and flows across the grass making it look like a green river. Nature is a great place for inspiration. it is a great place to think to yourself and hear your thoughts. I try to go to my camp as much as I can for the very reason that the peaceful surroundings of the lake and woods and the added bonus of family is very nourishing to inspiration.
  • Sometimes I like to go for a walk or run to get my mind going again. I put on my headphones and head out to see where my feet will take me. A lot of thoughts pass back and forth as I put one foot in front of another heading towards no real destination, occasionally stopping as I find something that catches my attention or nudges some idea floating around in my artist mind and I need to jot it down or get a quick sketch of it. When I am done with my walk or run I am energized and ready for anything so I take advantage and use the stimulus towards the artistic ideas poring out of my mind.
  • Friends and family sitting around a bonfire reminiscing or just shooting the breeze usually gets a lot of creative influences going. A lot of ideas of mine have stemmed off of a subject from a simple how was your day? I have a great group of friends and a very supportive family. They are great for bouncing ideas off of or if you need a distraction they are always there for one.
  • Sometimes just figuring out your emotion is a simple way to get the job done. Different moods get different pieces of art. If you were to draw the same thing over and over again, each in a different mood, you would find it very different than the other.

There are so many ways to inspire and re-inspire you. The hard part is pinpointing what helps make you tick. The fun part is just go ahead and try everything! The only way that you will find you place of artistic Nirvana is to immerse yourself in everything that goes around. Make a daily thing of it especially during your heavier artist blocks. Go on a hike one day, a run another, a cookout, and so on and on until you are well inspired or properly distracted that you have the ability to do anything.


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