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10 Ways to Overcome Artist's Block

Artwork by Sarah O’Brien

Artwork by Sarah O’Brien

Inspiration Comes From Within

We've all heard of writer's block, but what about artist's block? That feeling of being stuck, of being inside an empty void where no ideas come to inspire us. Artists experience this, too. It happens to all of us. The good news is, it doesn't have to keep us from creating. We can actually tap into this creative source within us at any time. An older meaning of the word inspire is “To breathe into; to fill with the breath; to animate”. So you could imagine that your are breathing life into your creative work. Sometimes a little moving around and a new perspective will help open you up to that creative flowing breath. Provided are some examples activities you can do whenever you are feeling "stuck." They are suggestions to help you find your way to begin, continue, complete, and share your creative work. If something doesn't work for you drop it and move on.

The hardest part of any task is just getting started. Remember, as Laozi said, "a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step." No matter how far you have to go, how large your project is, or how difficult, just make one tiny step. And then another. Before you know it you will be picking up speed and be on your way to accomplishing all your dreams and goals!

Sarah O’Brien Painting

Sarah O’Brien Painting

Answer the Question

Why do you paint (or compose or write or dance, etc.)? Can you remember how you felt when your first began your creative path? Write freely in your journal or sketching book and let your thoughts flow. Don't worry about editing yourself. Sometimes a gentle reminder of why you began to make creative work in the first place will inspire you to get going!

Acrylic Painting by Sarah O’Brien

Acrylic Painting by Sarah O’Brien

Warm Ups

These are short, arbitrarily structured exercises that use the medium of your expression. These are not intended to produce profound work but to simply get you started and keep you going. For example do 10 paintings in 10 minutes, or write a story about an image you saw in a magazine in under 10 minutes. Keep a list of these warm-ups and add to it.


A New Point of View

Spend some time with people who see things differently. Often we find ourselves spending time with people who share the same views as we do, and think in similar ways as we do. Being with people who have different experiences and viewpoints open us up to new perceptions and more importantly helps us become aware of our habitual blinders.


Try a Different Medium

If you paint, dance. If you dance, draw. You get the idea. Explore with new materials and tools. Don't feel confined to one way of creating. Be brave and try something new. When you practice another form that is uncomfortable or unfamiliar it forces you to slow down and really think about the process and materials involved. The results may bring you to new and interesting directions in your own creative path! Can painting, movement, and photography all be combined? What can you learn from one medium that you can apply to another?


Play Like a Child

Try fingerpainting or simply flinging paint at a canvas. Dance like the different animals at the zoo. Children are great at really enjoying the process without worrying about the results. Make sure you are having fun. Do this to loosen up and don't worry about the outcome. In fact, maybe you want to invite some children that you know to join you in your artistic endeavors. You may be surprised what they can teach you!


Keep a Sketchbook

Bring this sketchbook with you everywhere! Inspiration, subject matter, and ideas are all around you. It is just a matter of tuning into them. Allow the ordinary to become extraordinary. Remember that not every page has to be a masterpiece. You can doodle, write down inspiring quotes, or even paste receipts into your sketchbook! Try to add something to your sketchbook everyday and make it a daily practice. In time, you will have your visual journey of ideas documented and be able to look back on your thoughts.


Take a Class

Perhaps a structured environment with assignments is exactly what you need to get back into things. Having real deadlines may just be the extra push that you need. Creating with other people around you can be very helpful as well. You'll be able to see what other artists are doing as well as get their opinion on your own work. Open conversation and critiques can provide you with great insights that you never saw before.


Move Around

It helps to move our body when we are feeling stuck. Sitting and staring at a blank page of paper is usually not very productive. Try going for a walk or run. Even dancing and moving right where you are can open yourself up to spontaneous movement which will help you begin again. Don't even think about any artistic blocks your are experiencing, but instead allow you body to move freely in a way that feels good to you. Sometimes we just need to step away from what we are doing for a moment in order to come back to it feeling refreshed and renewed.

Acrylic Painting by Sarah O’Brien

Acrylic Painting by Sarah O’Brien


If you know what subject matter you want to express in your medium, reasearch it intensely. Find out everything you can about it. Be informed about what you are creating. Think about what your work might have meant to other people in different time periods and what it means today. If you don't have a specific idea in mind, choose a topic that has always interested you and explore it further. Get lost in the books at the library and see what comes up.


Begin Where You Are

Leave the dishes in the sink, the laundry undone and set that appointment some other time. The list is endless. There will always be something else you could be doing. Make it your choice to create. Reluctance to begin is normal, but don't let it stop you from starting. The important thing is that you begin to do the creative work, keep your pen moving across the page, the brush across the canvas, or your feet across the floor. If you are boring yourself, stop and start again somewhere else. The important part is to keep going.


Art Block Feelings

Questions & Answers

Question: I just can’t put my vision down on paper. I don’t even have ideas. What should I do?

Answer: This is a great question, and you are not alone in your struggle! Many people have a hard time coming up with ideas. Here is an activity that can help generate ideas. I suggest taking a notebook and making a list of things that inspire you. This list may include places, people, colors, artworks by others, events, and so on. Don't think too much about it, just jot down whatever comes to mind. Then take one or two things off your list and do some research! Look at images online, read articles, and go to places that relate to your inspiration. Jot down any feelings or concepts as you do this, even a single word will do. Then look at what you have written and see if you can notice a common thread in what you have discovered. This will point you in the direction that you will naturally want to go. Even if you don't have a specific concept yet, just start making art! This could mean cutting out images from magazines and arranging a collage, or making a few mini paintings. It doesn't have to be "good." The most important thing is simply to start. I hope this helps and good luck!

Question: Recently, with the COVID crisis, I have been so angry at the world that I cannot get any work done. How can I get out of this rut?

Answer: One of the great things about art is that you can actually use it as a tool to navigate and express your emotions. What does anger look like on paper? What does inner calm look like? What colors or marks express angry emotions? If you find that you are too angry to sit and make artwork the way you normally do, consider a different approach. For example, throwing paint aggressively at a large canvas, or something else that involves the movement of the body. How does anger come out in the form of a dance? How do you imagine a more harmonious world to look like? Instead of letting anger be a block, consider that it could potentially become the fuel for great work and self exploration.

Comments on July 18, 2016:

I am new back to the art return has picked up a momentum on its own and that has poor a fear in me...I can't seem to talk myself down. I should be own show has fell on my lap...custimers are waiting for an Adult coloring book...and I am awaitin for a call back for a commission to add to the walls of an important building in my hometown...And I lay here...un-inspired...waiting for the last minute..I don't know what happened to my drive...taking the jobs is one thing...following through has proven to be tougher. Is it fear of success, fear of failure...Once upon a time..I didn't care..and my art was alive.

Sarah O'Brien (author) from Pennsylvania on May 31, 2012:

Thank you! I completely understand how life can get in the way. Packing your sketchpad with your laptop is a great idea! Even in the midst of business you may find a moment to just down a few words or drawings. :)

chrisinhawaii on May 31, 2012:

Hi teacup. #6...I used to do that...until I let life get in the way. Maybe it's time to pack my sketchpad right in here with my laptop - just in case!

You've sure been busy these past 10 days. That's awesome! Welcome to HubPages!