Some of the ways I have used in the past to overcome artist’s block
I got into a really bad place with my art at the start of lockdown (I mean, didn't we all!) and so I thought that if anyone is still in that bad place, I would share some of the tricks I used to bust out of my artist’s block.
There are many tried and tested ways to inspire creative ideas to blossom, most of which you have probably heard before. Keep a notebook. Record your dreams. Sleep. Take a long walk in nature. listen to music. Try some blue-sky thinking.
These hacks might work under ordinary circumstances. But these are not ordinary times we are living in.
I would like to outline some of the methods I used to get me out of one of the worst periods of artist’s block ever. These are methods which personally work for me; but might help you too.
Believe it or not, I found that watching YouTube art videos really helps me to overcome artist’s block. Watching any kind of shows can unexpectedly spark that something you need, but the random nature of the YouTube algorithm’s viewing suggestions means that there is that element of the unknown which can surprise you with something new.
And it’s amazing that people are sharing their artwork and creative process online for free.
I discovered some fantastic artists on there, which really got my creative juices flowing. I also found that watching someone trying out a new art material got me thinking of all the random stuff I have accumulated, and what I could make with it.
However, the danger here is that you may be tempted to buy some of the art materials suggested. If you have the money, go ahead. We can also benefit from some retail therapy. But, be aware that this could just be another form of procrastination for not making art.
Instead, why not get as creative as possible with what you have. Perhaps this is why the 5-Minute Crafts channel has taken off so spectacularly in recent years.
Simple, how to draw videos can be even better. Sometimes, watching a drawing video, when I haven’t drawn anything for a while, will actually make my hand start clenching and wanting to draw. (if it’s a particularly good video).
In fact, it was watching some of my favourite YouTube Channels which inspired me to create my own. Why not check it out here for some inspiration.
2. Just Draw
However, art block comes in many forms. Sometimes it can be caused by overwhelming emotions (as in the case of the fear generated with the Covid Crisis) and, in this instance, it is useful to just choose a picture and copy it.
By disengaging the brain, and focusing on the physical process of drawing, you concentrate solely on the object in front of you and let muscle memory do its stuff. Doing this often enough will eventually pull you out of an emotional block.
Sometimes even just drawing random shapes, like spirals or mandalas, until an idea appears, or redrawing old art can work as a loosening up of the hand muscles. By choosing a totally random image, you will not feel at all precious about what you make. This can help a lot at this stage.
3. Art Games
When we feel precious about what we are going to create, there is the fear that whatever we make might not be any good. By treating the whole thing like a game, we release the fear.
When selecting a random image to draw, I use an art 'game,' or random prompts generator. Two really fun art game I discovered (both from Jazza's YouTube channel) are 'Jazza's Arty Games' which is a prompt generator and 'Passpartout: the starving artist' which is a painting simulation game. These have both helped me to not feel precious about what I make and just enjoy making art.
Playing Passpartout has also worked on a whole other level for me, as a quick-fire idea generator for making real-life finished artworks.
4. Routines and deadlines
Something else which has worked for me in the past is creating a self-imposed deadline. By setting yourself a mini challenge, you can actually force your creative juices to get going, even if they don’t want to.
Or even just setting aside a particular time of day when you only work on creative stuff, can help. According to neuroscientist Deb Knobelman, PhD:
“Creating a routine …de-clutters your mind. Setting that routine and schedule in advance clears an important space. You know what’s going to happen. You don’t have to think about it or keep the topic going in the back of your mind. And these routines can allow your brain to disengage when it needs to. Which is really the key to creativity”.
But remember to be kind to yourself and never try to force a deadline which is self-imposed. They can be bad enough in the real world, without making it harder on yourself. Be aware that we are all prone to Planning Fallacy, which means we all underestimate how long a certain task will take us. This is a scientific fact.
There are several ways around this, however. The easiest way I have found, when I set myself deadlines, is to allow myself at least double the amount of time I think I will need to get the task done. Then I time myself and work from that when I need to do something similar.
There is something about the satisfaction of completing a self-imposed challenge, which is highly motivating, and inspires me to create more.
5. Try something new
Why not take a different path? If you see something you want to try, why not try it. One of the easiest ways to overcome artist’s block is to just broaden your mind. Experiment. Have fun with your art by acting like a child again. Get messy with the paint and don’t worry about the consequences (but put down some newspapers first!)
Exploring different genres of writing or different creative disciplines like character design or cartoons can take you to totally different worlds of ideas which you might never have thought of. I am a great believer in cross-discipline thinking. My publication ‘The Molten Mind Space’ is where I explore this concept.
If you have written too much non-fiction, try fiction or poetry. Try writing a batch of short pieces and then go back and link them all together. Be bold. Be brave.
You can get out!
So, these are some of the ideas which I found worked for me.
There are lots of things which can work, but whenever you are in a bad place creatively remember to make some time for you, take some time off, treat yourself; never beat yourself up about it (because creatives are the worst for this!) and even indulge yourself a little.
Binge watch your favourite shows and then try out some random stuff on YouTube to see where it takes you. Play some art games. Just draw. Experiment with some new stuff. Or some old stuff you have lying about the house. See what you can make. Have fun. Get lost in the process. And you are creating again.
I want you to know that you can get out.