Everyone’s been there. When you’re just working along and suddenly your mind goes blank. It’s as if you’ve never had a creative idea before and you can’t possibly imagine creating anything worthwhile again. This can be particularly frustrating for artists who make their living based on their creativity.
Don’t worry so much about it, everyone faces these roadblocks from time to time. And it’s how you overcome these challenges that separate the successful artists from the mediocre. You may be the most talented person in the room but if you’re not willing to stretch your mind in different ways to get past a roadblock you’ll never make it as a professional artist.
From art students taking classes to someone who’s been in the field for 50 years, it can be difficult to know what to do to get the creative juices flowing again. If you’re looking for suggestions on how you can battle the moments of an artistic slump, then check out these five ways here.
1. Keep An Art Idea Journal
You probably already know that the best offense is a good defense right? But what does that have to do with art? Well, you need to keep track of all of your great ideas. Maybe at this moment, you’re lamenting that you’ve never had any good thoughts or plans, and that’s probably just not true. You simply can’t remember them.
So keep an idea journal. It only takes a few seconds to write down the latest idea you had, and then when you find yourself in a creative black hole you can go to your journal for inspiration. Carrying a little notebook around doesn’t take much space or energy, but that notebook could just become the life preserver you need to get back to creating.
The thing about an idea journal is that by keeping one you’ll actually be less likely to need it since writing things down tends to cement ideas into your brain. But being able to look at a rough sketch you’d like to flesh out can be helpful when you’re looking for a new or interesting next project.
Maybe you’ve found that if you put down a difficult piece long enough that when you circle back to it you’re able to complete it. The idea journal follows that philosophy as well. Consider it your locker of ideas and inspiration. You can decide what goes into your journal.
Did you read a quote that you’d like to bring to life visually? Put it in your journal. Did you see a new creature at the zoo that you’d just love to incorporate into something someday? Put a sketch of him in your journal too. Keeping track of what inspires you when you don’t need an idea can certainly help you get back on track with a spark of creativity.
2. Take A Break From Your Art
It sounds super simple when you put it that way, but when was the last time you allowed yourself a break? Walking away from an art project can be exactly what you need in order to feel re-energized. It’s perfectly acceptable to come back to something later, especially if you think something is finished. Sleep on it and check it again in the morning to be sure you love it.
When you step back from something, you can change your perspective from that of the artist to that of the intended audience. Hopefully, any glaring issues will stand out or you can be satisfied that you’ve done your very best work. Either way, the break gave you the chance to clear your mind and concentrate on something else.
It may help you to have more than one project going at a time, so if one piece is starting to seem difficult you can switch what you’re working on and stay productive while still taking a break. This may not always work in every situation but it is something to consider since working on something unfamiliar may help your mind refocus easier.
You can also change your perspective by flipping the image, allowing you to see your work from a new angle may inspire you in a new and exciting way. You’ll know which techniques to change your mindset will work best for you, but the important thing is that you mix it up and take the break!
If it seems like you are getting more and more blocked it could be a sign you are overworked and need to take a longer break than lunch or overnight. Vacations are important whether you realize it or not. Time off can allow your mind and body to relax and rejuvenate, and as you clear your mind you may find yourself full of inspiration. (So keep your idea journal handy on a trip!)
3. Ask For Other Opinions To Help Get Over An Artistic Roadblock
Two minds are better than one right? When you don’t know how to make a drawing work or a painting shine go ahead and get some advice! One caveat, make sure that you ask someone who’s opinion will add actual artistic value. If your spouse is supportive but doesn’t know how to paint then their “it looks wonderful” isn’t going to be particularly helpful.
Seek out advice from mentors, art teachers, or even co-workers for solid advice that can help you break through the walls of mental blocks. Not only will their advice let you know what you’re doing well, but they could also help you grow your skills going forward. Take any advice with a grain of salt, after all, you’re the artist. If you don’t agree, say thank you and move on.
A complete stranger may give you some great feedback that you can use but often the most helpful opinions are from those people who are artistically talented like you. It’s possible people may be too busy to drop everything to take a look at your work and offer advice. That’s okay! Use this time you’re waiting for advice to take that break you need from before.
Getting someone else’s opinion can help you break through a mental block but it can also start a discussion about art that you could draw future inspiration from as well. Maybe you don’t need to add a specific type of shading in this piece you’re working on but that idea could help you on your next project. (Get that idea journal out and jot it down so you don’t forget.)
If you don’t have a large artistic network to ask for advice it can be particularly stressful to get trusted opinions. Taking a leap and reaching out to dream mentors and artists whose work you’ve always admired can take courage. It may be scary to put yourself out there and ask for feedback, but if you’re struggling with an artistic roadblock it will probably be worth it!
4. Look at Other Stuff
This goes hand in hand with taking a break: but go do something else. Go for a walk and enjoy nature. Play with your children. Go to a museum and seek out some inspiration from other artists. While you’re looking at these other things, keep the objective in the forefront of your mind. Perhaps something in the world around you will become the solution.
With a little practice, you can keep your perspective up and focused on the task at hand. Spending some time in the world can lead to many ideas and solutions for any roadblock as you are creating, drawing, or painting. Anything you observe could become the inspiration you need: people arguing, a lady eating an ice cream cone, or a dog chewing on a bone.
It may seem odd to relate the real world into your art but since art is meant to be a reflection of life, no matter what you’re creating could benefit from you looking at other things. Maybe the color of the sky is so breathtaking that you must incorporate that color into your current work, which changes the mood of the painting entirely? You’ll never know until you try.
The solution may jump out at you in an unexpected place so seeking out a change of scenery while still looking for a solution may be just the ticket. Taking something real and shifting it through your imagination so that it becomes something completely different is a fun creative exercise for any artist, but especially ones who have hit a mental roadblock.
Getting a fresh look at things can help your prospective growth and can provide inspiration, all while you’re removed from the situation. From the grocery store to the sculpture garden, the inspiration you want may be right in front of your eyes and you don’t even realize it!
5. Take A Class
When nothing else seems to work, you’ve asked for advice and have taken a break, it may be time to pull out the big guns: take a class. Whether you opt to learn a completely new technique or artistic medium or simply brush up on your basic skills and techniques, taking an art class can help you in so many ways.
Not only can you improve as an artist by learning more, but you may learn a specific technique that could further your career. Not only can you pave new roads for yourself with your increase of knowledge, but taking a class can give you more inspiration, and a network of people to get opinions from who have an artistic background.
You’re never too old to learn and improve your artistic skills. Having a chance to take a class can help you with your current and future roadblocks all the while helping you grow as an artist. Since classes may have specific assignments, you can focus on one specific thing at a time, which can also be the distraction you need immediately.
Classes can be a great way to explore your ideas to see if they have merit. Assignments typically have a set of parameters and so if you need to explore an idea that you aren’t certain will work it can be a safe space to try new things and techniques. It can be difficult when you have too many options and you can almost freeze up with the endless possibilities.
Taking a class can be a great way to bring you to focus on your art and limit your options so that you can create without mental stress or anguish. Making the decision to take an art class, whether in person or online, can be a great use of your time and help prevent roadblocks going forward in your career. The more you learn, the more you’ll know!
Artistic roadblocks can be frustrating and difficult to navigate. But when you have these tips in your back pocket, like keeping an idea journal, taking a break, or looking at something new and different, getting opinions and taking a class, you can navigate through any lack of creativity with ease. All artists hit roadblocks, but great artists know how to push through and keep going!