My #1 Trick to get through Artist Block

As some of you know I am back from quite a long break. I went on a hiatus due to health issues in my last pregnancy and post partum; these life events took a big toll on me. Not just becoming a family of four but having a difficult pregnancy with complications, going into heart failure, having surgery in December (unrelated to my heart), and just dealing with life in general. My time away was not something I wanted or planned. I am now, very luckily, doing well. I’m good health and getting better every day while I work towards being the healthiest me I can be.

As you can imagine, and as the long break will suggest, my life was full of stuff in this time. In the past year, I did still find some time here and there to create but it was quite limited. I allowed myself to be caught up with everything else, not taking time for this, for my art. Understandable? Yes, I am sure it is but truthfully, this is me. Being an artist is who I am, it is how I express myself, work through things, relax, make sense of the world, create beauty, and help others do the same.

Birthday Bear Painting by Letitia Pfinder
Birthday Bear – Watercolour on Paper- This was the first thing and one of the few things I created in this past 14 months.

Getting back into creating is not an easy thing for a person to do. You know the saying, “if you don’t use it you lose it”. I’m sure you’ve also heard the phrase “writer’s block”, fortunately for writers yet unfortunately for every other creative being, it is not something that is solely a writer’s curse. Any creative person can suffer from a block.

You have the urge to create setting the blank page in front of you. You grab your pencil ready to make some beautiful creative magic. Put the pencil to the paper and…. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. You cannot think of something to draw for the life of you, the disappointment and stress of the attempt makes you put your pencil away. This continues, one day you’ll pick it back up and force it. You’ll scribble something random on a page, perhaps something sitting right in front of you, but it doesn’t turn out right, it never does when this happens. It is like running into a brick wall that you just can’t seem to find a way over. Quite literally a block that your brain just won’t get past.

I know the feeling all too well, I have had this happen many-a-times in my life. Most recently while all these health issues were going on. Then it just got to the point where it was like, I just didn’t know how to anymore. Nothing I did was good enough, nothing felt right or done, my skills had depleted (luckily this is another cliché example, but it is just like riding a bike, it comes back with practice).

I am not telling you all of this so you can throw me a pity party. I am telling you this so that you know that you’re not the only one. You are most certainly not alone in this creative block. At this very moment, there are countless creatives just as frustrated as you. What is about to set you apart is that you came here. You came here looking for a way out.

One of the ways I help myself out of blocks (because they can and do happen throughout your life) is to use prompts. More specifically, I use challenges when I really need something continual to get me going. I am sure you’ve seen month-long drawing challenges out there. Some popular ones include Inktober and MerMay.

Why a month-long challenge?

I use a month-long challenge as a tool to get me drawing daily. These don’t have to be frame ready or Instagram worthy masterpieces. You can grab a sketchbook or even some scrap paper and go for it. It doesn’t have to be good, it just must be done.

Using a longer challenge instead of a single prompt works on a few levels:

  1. The, above mentioned, push to create daily. Building good creative habits is important. Pushing through will allow you to keep those creative channels open and eventually allowing them to flow again. The daily prompts that often come along with these challenges takes the “I don’t know what to draw, so I just won’t” excuse out of the equation. Even if you are literal about your take on the prompt or super simple, no worries. No one has to see it but you.
  1. The “challenge” aspect. As a competitive person I like a good challenge. Having a goal to work towards, especially if written down, is commonly regarded as one of the most effective ways to achieve what you want. Allow the challenge to drive you to complete the entire month of drawings, paintings, whatever it is you are doing.

  1. Community. Ever heard the saying, “it takes a village”? Humans are social creatures, in fact socializing and having healthy relationships with others is an important part of wellness for us humanoids. Challenges, especially popular ones, allow you to take part in something bigger (even if via social media). There is no reason you couldn’t set up a challenge for you and your artsy peers as well. Something you can all work towards. Having people cheer you on is a great motivator. If you would like to keep it all to yourself it is still an awesome way to get inspiration and join in. You may not be posting your own stuff but you can still join in by commenting on other people’s work while you do your own thing in private.

This year I happened to hear about MerMay as I was looking for a push. I’m not the biggest mermaid fan. Not that I don’t love mythical creatures, I had just never had the urge to draw them. I went for it anyway. I did different things; drawing, painting, digital. My goal wasn’t to make gorgeous work, I just knew I needed to get myself going again, and I happened across an announcement for this challenge. It is also a great exercise to create something you wouldn’t normally. So, I gave it a go.

The best piece of advice I can give a person who is struggling to create is: KEEP GOING! It may sound cheesy, like a lot of the cliché phrases I used in this post, but it is the biggest piece of truth I can give you.

Let me know in the comments below what your biggest struggle currently is artistically.

Until next time, my creative friends!

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