How to Overcome Artist Block
I’ve been asked very frequently how I come up with ideas and also if I ever fall into ‘artist block’. I wouldn’t really call myself a creative person, so there are methods I’ve put into place that help me consistently come up with new compositions and keep me moving forward.
The easiest way I’ve found to create a consistent body of work as well as consistently coming up with new ideas is to simply limit myself. It’s hard to be creative if you’re not working within any restrictions. By limiting the type of materials you use, the size or orientation of your art, and the subject matter you’re able to exercise your creativity.
My limitations are the size of my art (22x30”-inches), the materials I use (watercolor and charcoal) and the subject matter (female portrait and elements of nature). By continuing to work within these limitations I’m able to build a strong body of work because each piece ties into the others. It also helps me to be more creative because I have to constantly come up with new and interesting compositions while using the same set of boundaries I’ve set for all of my other pieces.
There have even been studies proving that when people are given too many options they are unable to make a decision. It’s the same with your artwork. If you can do anything and everything, your mind goes blank. However if you have restrictions that you have to work within you’re able to problem solve and come up with creative new ideas within those limitations.
Don’t Go With Your First Idea
I had a professor in art school who would make us come up with at least 2-3 compositions before we could start on our pieces. Even if I was excited about my first idea, he would make me re-work the composition over and over before approving it. Your first idea is rarely your best idea. So by re-working the elements within my art for each piece I create I’m able to learn something new and solve problems I may have encountered in my previous piece.
If you’re working on one single piece, like for a commission, try sketching about 3 different ideas before settling on one. You’ll be surprised how many ways you can interpret a piece. For me, however, I like to use this concept every time I create a piece of art since all of my pieces basically fall within the same composition boundaries.
Create a Series
Working within a series has kept me from becoming bored with my work as well as allowing me a space to explore new ideas. I try to limit my series to 4-6 pieces, and after that I move on. Sometimes I’ll try a new technique or work on something I know I’m not great at, and having a limit to the number of pieces I have to create keeps me motivated when it starts to get difficult.
You don’t have to be too crazy or detailed when coming up with a series idea. And no one else has to necessarily know what the series is about. This is really just for you. The series I’m finishing up now is based on a singular color for each piece. For example, one piece will have red as the main color, the next will have blue, then yellow, etc. Again, this keeps each piece fresh and helps to narrow down my options when coming up with a composition.
It also keeps my art moving forward. I’m always thinking of ways to challenge myself in my work and to dive into themes that excite me which keeps my art from becoming stagnant. I just started using this method and it has helped me so much when it comes to thinking up ideas and moving my portfolio forward.
Change of Scenery
I’ve been very fortunate this year (2018) to be able to travel outside of Dallas frequently. I’ve been to Denver, Augusta, Bend, and San Francisco this year already and I plan to go back to Augusta and then to Tacoma and Lake Tahoe during the holidays. The change in pace and surroundings helps replenish your mental catalog when you’re trying to come up with new ideas.
I’m a major home-body and can easily spend 2 weeks alone in my apartment without seeing another soul. However I’ve noticed that I start become repetitive in my work when I don’t take the time to get out of my normal environment. I plan to prioritize getting out once a month and simply going on walks in local nature reserves or exploring new spots in Dallas. I understand that travel is expensive, and I couldn’t afford to do it if most of my trips this year weren’t paid for by the friends and family I was visiting. But exploring locally is pretty affordable, and it does wonders when it comes to your creativity.
This one might be subjective for artists; however I’ve found that I work much better when I have structure and routine. This clashes a bit with what I wrote above about traveling, but it’s just as important in my experience. I tend to get stressed a few days leading up to traveling away from home because when I am home I tend to keep to a pretty rigid routine.
I’ve found that waking up at the same time, eating at the same time, and starting tasks at the same time every day helps me to mentally prepare for what I need to be doing. There are many days where I don’t feel like painting and my head just isn’t in it. But since I’ve built it into my routine I’ve found those days to be fewer and further between. When I sit down to paint my brain is able to quickly shift into ‘artist mode’ and I can push everything else out of my mind and immerse myself in creating my art.
Along with being disciplined is knowing how to gauge yourself. Sometimes I don’t feel like working, but I know I just have to push through and paint. Other times my head just isn’t in it and I know if I force myself to paint I’ll end up messing up my work. In which case I just do other tasks (like blogging).
These are all things that I’ve noticed make a significant difference in how I produce art. Not only do they keep me from getting bored with my work, but they help in coming up with new ideas. A lot of people think that creating art is always this mysterious and spontaneous act, but for artists like myself that’s rarely the case. Usually it takes a lot of prep work, planning, and discipline. But, at the end of the day, what I love is the act of painting and drawing and I will gladly follow a schedule and force myself to leave my studio if it means that I’ll be able to keep doing what I love.