It always starts the same: a great idea and tons of excitement as you begin whatever project you have in front of you. The first few minutes are fun! Every paint stroke or vector curve seems to fit perfectly….then the next few minutes get a little trickier, you forgot that there are actually a million little choices to make: What color palette should I operate in? Is this too big for the scale? Is the spacing balanced? Is this idea good at all?!! It’s not turning out as I thought! Then the breakdown…. Am I even a good artist? Why did I choose this profession?! What is my life??!!!!
We’ve all been there. You’re fine.
Let’s start by breathing and stepping away from the project before you do something you’re going to regret to your piece of artwork. Every creative hits a wall from time to time, so try not to be too discouraged. Every finessed piece has a handful of rough drafts preceding it. Many pieces were ones started long ago that the artist recently came back to, finally seeing the bigger picture and clarity of their idea. That’s the step you need to get to, but first, you have to walk away and clear your mind. The more you dwell on it the worse it gets. I’ll share with you some of my favorite tips that I use to overcome Artist’s block:
1.Leave the room that you are working in. Literally, stand up and walk out. Right now. Grab a glass of water and go for a brisk walk. Not only will this refresh your mind (which has been crunching and circling the same problem for the past few hours) but it could also bring the inspiration you needed to answer your problem. For me, a simple walk in our Old Town district can do wonders. Sometimes walking past store signs or seeing paintings in shop windows is just what I need. Looking at different art styles, usually simple stuff: street signs, book covers, band posters… the variety expands my mind from the narrow focus I was stuck in.
2. Get offline. Unplug. Say goodby to Pinterest and Instagram for an hour. Don’t get me wrong, we LOVE our social media. But there is so much content out there, and so much copying of the same ideas over and over. That’s not what you need. No, you need fresh, authentic, analog inspiration. Read a book, pick up a magazine, flip through some records at your favorite antique store. Anything that’s not looking at a screen will help renew your mind and bring some clarity and originality back to your project.
3.When you come back to your project look at it from a further distance. It might look different. You could be surprised; it probably looks a lot better than you remembered it! Often times, you’ll spot the problem immediately from a distance because when you’re so focused on a specific detail or element, you lose sight of the whole. Look from a distance, look from a different angle, see it through a new lens. Your mind is refreshed, so refresh your eyes as well, and approach the problem with new perspective.
4.Be willing to change your work. This one can be tough because you’ve poured hours into your piece already and erasing something or going a different direction can be painful. The reality is, sometimes we have to go the wrong direction for a while before finding the right one. Willem de Kooning painted his Woman I over 200 times before he felt he got it right! Think of it this way, if it’s worth doing, then it’s worth doing right… no matter how long it takes. I try not to hold anything too tightly, and let things evolve as the work dictates.
5.Remember that this one piece of work is not the only thing that defines you as an artist. Your larger body of work, how you conduct yourself, and how you handle the stresses and successes is what defines you. If this one project isn’t going the way you’d like, remember that it is just ONE project of the thousands that you will work on in your life as an artist. Let the problems roll off your back and try to rethink, problem solve, and re-create as best you can. You’re an amazing artist, keep your perspective!
What are your tips or tricks on dealing with frustrating projects? Let me know in the comments! If it works for you it might work for someone else, too. Take care creatives, and never stop creating. I love seeing what you come up with and hearing the stories of how the journey made the end product even richer.