5 Ways to Get Past Art Block for Good

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Painting is a wonderful way to bring your ideas out of your mind and into the real world. But what if you don’t have any ideas? Rather than wait around for inspiration to strike, professional artists have ways to overcome creative block and get back to work. Here are a few ways to get started, too; try these, and you’ll be painting again in no time!  

1. Try New Materials 

If you feel like you’re in a rut, perhaps changing a few things will give you a new perspective. You don’t even need to buy new materials! Combine the ones you have in new ways.

Have you tried using watercolour to tint a graphite drawing? How many different textures of paper do you have, and have you tried every medium you own on all of them? Maybe you can come up with a new and different use for washi tape. Even if your experiments don’t turn out, you’ll get new ideas from applying yourself to them. 

2. Do a Portrait Study 

If you’re doing a portrait study, you don’t have to have an idea at all. Simply refer to a photo and try to be as accurate as possible. Challenge yourself to change the lighting and colour to separate your work from the photo.

If you want to take it a step further, use a video screenshot as your reference rather than an actual still photo. Older screenshots, in particular, will be low-resolution and more of a challenge, but the end result if you’re patient, will be a really impressive portrait.  

3. Make a Picture that Tells a Story 

One of the best ways to get good drawing practice is to make comic pages because they’re essentially several small scenes in one. You get to plan the composition of each little picture, then make sure all those pictures work as a whole.

It’s the ultimate exercise in planning and design, and since it’s so much more narrative than other types of drawings, it’s easier to think of interesting things to put in it.  

If you can’t think of a made-up story for this, think about things going on in your life to see if any of them would make a good story. These can be events like moving, taking a new job, finishing school or welcoming a new child, but they can also be everyday things like eating breakfast or going for a walk.

You could make a diary comic plain and simple, or you could combine or exaggerate any of your real-life stories to create a new fictional story for a character of yours.  

Comics can also be the inspirational gift that keeps giving if you do a long-form project like a graphic novel or web series. You’ll get weeks of drawing from just one idea! If you’re struggling to keep yourself accountable and draw regularly, a long-form project may be what you need to get that consistent practice and get to the next level. 

4. Cut Your Paintings Out 

What if you made a collage out of existing things you’ve painted in your sketchbook? You likely have some botanical studies or animal paintings lying around that don’t have backgrounds and were mainly just experiments. Why not cut them out with a sharp knife and give them new life as a collage?

You can paste them onto a journal cover, a different coloured piece of paper, a box you want to decorate, and so much more. Just be sure to use archival quality glue or tape so that the adhesive won’t yellow your creations over time. 

5. Keep a Tidy Workspace

This advice is less fun than the rest but still very important. If your workspace is messy, it can overwhelm your mind and make it hard to be inspired. You can only create when you’re not anxious because your mind will want to solve what it perceives to be an urgent problem before it can get to things that are important to you but not pressing matters. By cleaning your workspace, you give your brain room to breathe and room to have ideas.  

Try personalizing your workspace, too, if you can. Hang pictures you like, pictures you’ve made, some posters, and maybe a corkboard for pins and other odds and ends. When the workspace is clean and feels like home, you’ll enjoy creating things in it more.  

I hope these tips helped! Remember that it still takes work and patience to have an idea that’s really worth having, so never give up. Please show us what you come up with on social media, and be sure to tag us! Subscribe to our email newsletter for more art tips and updates, and have a good time painting! 

Elsa Wahlstrom is an illustrator/writer living in the southern Idaho hill country. She loves to create cozy, homey pictures and populate them with funny little creatures  having surreal little adventures. Her biggest inspiration is the music and comedy that came out of England in the late 60s. When she’s not busy making art, she goes for long hikes, plays a few instruments, and collects vinyl. 
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2 Comments

  • Thank you for great information. I cleaned up my art space last night before reading this and it makes good sense to know how our minds cannot work when we are anxious. I’m one of those artists who can keep procrastinating by cleaning the bathroom, vacuuming, pulling weeds, etc. Making your studio “your own” makes so much sense and would welcome more creative ideas. I love the one I call “less is more.” As my cleaning progressed, I realized I have more tubes of paint, more brushes and more tools than I could ever use, but I keep chasing the idea that the next palette or brand of paint will do the trick, when I have everything I need at my fingertips! I’ve even given supplies away thinking it would help, but it made room for more. This is a lesson in being grateful for the things we have. Thanks for sharing and allowing me to share. The future looks brighter already!

    Cindy Van Dine on
  • Thanks for the info and offer. I have journals yet to fill, so I am good for now but a good offer. The tips were helpful. Love the small comic book idea. Great for a travel sketch book idea. You can paint the scene quickly even in the car as a passenger (not if you are driving of course) and fill in the days events later with other fun graphics, collage or notes. Wonderful tip. Thanks
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    Etchr Lab replied:
    Glad to hear you found this one useful Veronica – thanks for letting us know!

    Veronica Hodges on

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