We have all been there – sitting in front of a blank screen, baffled by the non-appearance of the words that must be buried somewhere within your head, standing before an empty canvas, the white space staring back at you and uncooperatively refusing to provide you with ideas. It can come at any time, sometimes for no obvious reason, and it leaves you confused, frustrated and most importantly, stuck.
The first thing to remember is that this is completely normal. Great artists of all fields have faced this barrier and overcame it. There is no need to panic, and nothing to worry about. An artist’s block is a temporary stage that you’re sharing with many other artists throughout the centuries – and quite probably hundreds, if not thousands of people right now.
It may mean that you’ve come to the end of a particular strain of inspiration and are now ready to move on to something new, which will require time and thought before it is ready to emerge. It may even happen because you have too many things on your mind that are getting in the way of your creativity.
There are a number of things you can do to help yourself out of a rut that makes it difficult for you to continue your current practice, or that seems to prevent you from moving forward. Here is what we recommend!
Take Your Time
Take some time to work out what the problem might be. If you realize you need to go in a new direction, work on that. If you’re overwhelmed by other concerns, order them in a list, work out which ones are really urgent and which ones simply desirable to complete at some point, and stick to it. You might simply need a break to relax – engage in an activity you enjoy, like cooking or reading. Try to pick something that will give you space for your mind to work, but that doesn’t remind you too clearly of the waiting work.
Some artists find that they benefit from having a quiet space that they know belongs to them and where they can exist in peace, undisturbed by anyone. If you feel that your normal space is becoming claustrophobic, go for a walk, run, or ride around an area you know or want to explore, remembering to be open to new sights or emotions. If you feel the problem is in your workspace itself, work out ways to change it or cheer it up – but be wary of spending too much time on what may be simply procrastination. Bear in mind that the goal is to return to your work with a fresh outlook.
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Look Back Or Look Ahead
When you are going through an artist’s block, it’s generally worth thinking back over your recent work. Perhaps there has been a theme running through it, or you were guided by a central concept. Work out what the fundamental shared element was, and then have a brainstorming session about it; associations, possible developments, opposites. Often, you’ll find that there is more to it than you had thought and that there’s more to be said and done, albeit in a slightly different direction than before.
If, on the other hand, you really feel that you simply have no more interest in your earlier theme, accept it. This can be somewhat bittersweet, as we often get attached to the ideas we work with for some time, but of course, you can always choose to return to it in the future if new changes in your life mean that you find more to say.
Keep An Open Mind
When seeking a new source of inspiration, it can be useful to keep a consciously open mind. Anything at all can be the starting point for your next direction – including things you come across in daily life which have no obvious connection to art or any themes you’ve touched before. When you’re reading the newspaper, watching TV, talking to neighbors, shopping, and going about your daily life, there should always be a little awareness at the back of your mind of what you’re seeing and doing, watching out for something to strike you.
It’s worth sitting down and thinking about areas that interest you – not necessarily ones which are directly related to art, but which have some meaning or fascination for you, perhaps even some you would be interested in researching a little out of pure interest. Don’t be shy about putting down things that seem wild and unlikely to go anywhere – it can be extremely valuable to have as much choice as possible. When you come back to your notes a little while later, you never know which idea will spark some new connection in your mind that you will want to follow up.
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Experimentation Is Key
Don’t be afraid of trying new techniques in your work. If someone tells you about a new method they’ve found of using acrylics, consider trying it out even if you normally prefer oils. You can even look online for methods and techniques that interest you. There’s no need to jump in and make an entire painting out of it, but experiment in a small way to see if it surprises you. After all, art is all about exploring and experimenting!
Prevention Is Better Than Cure
If you’re fine at the moment, but aware that you can be prone to attacks of artist’s block (or merely concerned that it might someday hit), it can be helpful to get into the regular habit of looking out for things that strike you as unusual, interesting or attractive in the world as you move through it. Collect these things in a scrapbook (cuttings from newspapers or magazines, photos, descriptions of things you saw or dreamed, little drawings of thoughts, or accounts of conversations online or in person) to be ready to look at when you feel that you need a little more inspiration.
It doesn’t need to be an especially organized or coherent collection, though it can be (and should be if you know that suits your personality better) – the point is not to lose the flashes you get when you’re too busy to use them, and to store them up for when you have time or need a little creative boost.
An important aspect of finding your path back is simple hard work. Even when you don’t want to sketch or paint or spend any time in the studio, it’s vital that you keep your skills sharp and your creative mind alive by getting work time in when you can.
It may be that a number of the things you try during this period will be dead ends – don’t be embarrassed or concerned about that. It’s part of the process to working out where you want to go next. Don’t be discouraged and don’t give up – everything you try gives you more knowledge and takes you a step closer to where you’re headed.
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Have you got some useful tips for how to deal with artist’s block? Share them in the comments!