Overcoming Creative Block

"I'll never paint again."
"I've used up all my creativity, I have nothing left."
"I'll never be able to finish this piece - I don't know where to go with it next."

How many times throughout an artist's career do these thoughts of self-doubt crop up? If you're like most of us, you struggle from time to time with Creative Block - that disheartening, sinking feeling that no matter what you do, you couldn't come up with a creative idea to save your life.

There can be many contributors to creative block - environmental, psychological, physiological, or combinations of all three. Your right-brain, usually in control of creativity, may be taking a bit of a "nap" (perhaps your pesky left-brain has been in control too long, doing budgeting, planning and organizing schedules, researching details, etc.) Maybe you're physically tired and in need of some rest & relaxation. Or could it be that you're simply experiencing the low wave of your natural creativity cycle?

While the only cure for physical exhaustion is rest, there are several ways to reconnect with your right-brain, and re-energize your creativity.


Other artists are wonderful company. Creative people radiate a unique energy that feeds those around them. If you are having a dry spell, get together with your art pals - no need to paint or draw together; in fact, there's even no need to be in the same city. Surf the Web, join an art chat room or web-based art community. Simply spending some time in the company of creative people will re-energize you, and their unique perspective on things will help you to overcome your creative block. If you can't connect with people, get out into your local arts community - tour a museum, take in some live theatre, visit your favorite funky coffee shop, or that great restaurant with local artists exhibits. Anywhere that there is color, creativity, and a unique environment will feed your creativity.


Don't take this temporary condition too seriously. Do you tend to be a perfectionist, wanting each brush stroke to be just right? Maybe you feel that every phase of a new painting must contribute to the final output. You may need to look at the bigger picture. Just begin by putting paint to canvas, and don't worry about how that brilliant cadmium orange or cerulean blue will fit into the final painting. Don't bother with careful selection of a particular brush size or type - just close your eyes and grab a big fat brush that's closest to you. The simple act of starting is what's important. Remember that most artists suffer with creative block at least once throughout their career. Have faith that it will pass. If you place too much pressure on yourself to produce, you'll probably only prolong the dry spell.


Step back from yourself, and try to see your creative block from a new perspective. Is this an opportunity for you to slow down and take stock? Take a close look at your art. Which pieces made you happy while you were creating them? Which ones did you produce for the money? How do you feel about each piece of art you have created? Get in touch with the reasons why you wanted to become an artist in the first place.


If you're in the throes of a creative block, try some of these simple techniques to get the wheels spinning again.

Stimulate your other creative juices. Read an inspirational book. Listen to your favorite songs from high school. Create a brand new recipe, something that you've never tried before, and don't worry about it turning out. Plan next year's garden with plants you've always wanted to own, and redraw your landscaping in a new or unique way. Build a giant fort out of Lego blocks with your kids. It really doesn't matter what the activity is, as long as you're accessing and stimulating your right-brain creativity centre.

Take the opportunity to review some of your art books, instruction manuals or techniques. Sign up for an art class in a completely different medium or subject than the ones you're used to. Ferret through your old photographs or reference books for new and different ideas, or get outside with your camera and start snapping. Just playing in and around your creative environment will help you to feel more connected.

You know the old saying "a change is as good as a rest". Well the same holds true when trying to overcome creative block. If you work in oils on canvas, try something new, like watercolor on paper. Or get right out of the box and create a clay sculpture or collage. If you usually paint landscapes, try an abstract. Even a subtle change, like using a completely different color palette than you'd normally choose, can be magic - who said trees have to be green and sky has to be blue? You don't have to abandon your original medium altogether - why not try adding charcoal, pencil, ink, paper, or bits of "found items" to your artwork. You may find a unique new approach to art that will relight the fire in your belly.

Get away from the creative process altogether. Create or update your slide presentations. Reorganize your art studio to re-energize your creative space. You may even come across old ideas, books or tools & supplies that will spark a new project.

Try some creativity aerobics to really jump-start your right-brain. Take a little kitchen timer or stop watch, and set it for ten minutes. Imagine yourself in an exciting competition where your objective is to create as many quick sketches or creative ideas as possible on a particular theme, and within the timeframe. Then set it again and choose three or four of your quick sketches to refine against the clock.

Talk to yourself. Replace negative thinking and perceptions with positive affirmations. Instead of telling yourself (and everyone around you) that you're suffering from creative block, do a mental inventory of the successful works of art you've created, and all the special talents you have that make you a good artist. Review any complimentary letters or emails you've received from people who have appreciated your creativity in the past. Reassure yourself that they're right!


Once you're over the creative block hump, you'll want to do what you can to keep it from happening again. There are a few things you can do to ensure your continuous creative energy flow.

1) The Idea Bank
When you're on top of your creative game, you probably have several ideas and inspirations at any one time - many more than you can actually act on. Write your ideas down, or do a quick sketch of your vision, and tuck them away for a rainy day in your Idea Bank, even if you don't ever plan to use them. Add an Image Reference File to your Idea Bank - pictures and magazine clippings to help you generate ideas & inspiration during those "lean times". You'll be amazed at what a valuable resource this can be when you're experiencing creative block.

2) Be There
Even if you're just sitting at your art table or in front of your easel, spend some quality time with yourself in your creative environment at least once every day. Do some quick sketches, flip through your latest issue of Artist magazine, or listen to music that inspires you. Whatever you choose, just spending time in your physical space will help you to form a healthy creative habit.

3) Make Friends
Using the collective creative energy of other artists not only helps you to overcome creative block, it can help you prevent it. Keep in touch with your artist friends, join your local community art club or start one of your own. Take classes at the local community college. You'll not only stay creatively connected yourself, but you may also help other artists who are experiencing a dry spell, by providing your creative inspirations to them!

4) Be Selective
Although feedback about your artwork can be an important tool if you're trying to increase sales or cater to a particular market, it can also be a creativity-buster. The opinions, criticisms or free advice of friends, family, gallery owners and prospective buyers are important and may be offered up with the best of intentions, but you should be careful not to take criticism too literally. Stay true to yourself, authentic in your approach, and take elements from the feedback of others that you believe will work within your context.

Finally, creativity is within each of us. Your creative block is a temporary situation, one that you have the ability to move beyond. Be gentle with yourself, and know that this too shall pass.

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Art Designs by Leslie Rohonczy