If you are learning how to paint, you will probably go through some flat periods where creative inspiration seems lacking. The white canvas sits on your easel, bare of any paint for a day as you ponder over your first stroke. That day turns into a week, and sometimes that week turns into months or years. This is known as the dreaded artist block. If you are not careful, it could seriously damage your progression as an artist.
You may think that inspiration is the problem, but that is usually not the case. The real issue is a lack of activity.
Pablo Picasso once said:
“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”
The key word there is working. If you are not working, then inspiration will elude you.
The thing about activity is it can build momentum. One action usually leads to another, and another.
I put together some tips for overcoming artist block. These are practical tips focused on keeping you active.
1. Just put something on the canvas
Sometimes, the best way to get over artist block is just to put something on the canvas. It could be as simple as staining the canvas to get rid of the white, or a basic sketch.
The most important thing is to just get brush to canvas and see where that takes you. You will find that once there is something on the canvas, you will be able to draw inspiration from those marking and textures. Whatever you do, don't leave the white canvas on your easel for prolonged periods.
I wrote more about how to start a painting here.
When you stay in the same place and paint the same environment you may find you become desensitized to those little subtleties of nature which are usually the source of our inspiration and the reason we want to paint something in the first place. It is that subtle glimmer of light on the top of the water, or the colors of a delicate flower, or the interesting patterns created the shadow of a tree. You do not want to become desensitized to these things.
When you travel, everything will appear new and fresh again and those little subtleties of nature will reveal themselves to you.
You don’t need to plan a long overseas trip. It could be as simple as a trip to a local beach or park.
3. Visit the art museum
The old masters are a constant source of inspiration for me. If you are suffering from artist block, then make a trip to the local art museum. But make sure the museum has art which you actually appreciate and are inspired by (if you are a traditional landscape painter, then a modern art museum may not be a great source of inspiration for you).
If you are not able to visit an art museum, then you can peruse some of the master paintings online at websites such as Wikiart.
4. Enter an art competition
If you are feeling a bit flat in terms of creativity, then entering an upcoming art competition will give you something to work towards and a sense of urgency needed to spark your inspiration. Also, if you are selected as a finalist then you should have a chance to attend the art show and get inspiration from all the other finalists.
5. Read inspirational art quotes
If I am ever feeling a bit demotivated and in need of inspiration, I often refer to some of the quotes by the old masters of painting. These provide an incredible insight into the mindsets and processes of the masters.
It also humanizes them. Their quotes demonstrate that they too faced struggles, lacked inspiration at times and had to combat artist block.
6. Read an instructional art book
In the early days when I was learning how to paint, I remember how crippling it was when I felt lost with no direction. Some of the questions which plagued me were:
- What medium should I use?
- How do I start a painting?
- What is my unique style?
- How do I fix my mistakes?
- What should I paint?
- How do I use my materials?
There are some great art books which have guided me along the way. Some of those are listed in this post. In particular, I recommend you check out anything by Richard Schmid. He is a fantastic teacher and master artist.
7. Take a break
All the other tips are based on taking more action. But sometimes all you really need is to just stop everything and take a break from it all. Artist burnout is a real thing. By taking a break can reassess how you are going, what you want to achieve and how you are going to do it. Otherwise, you may end up spinning your wheels with no actual progress.
Also, if you are just stuck on one painting, then consider starting a new one and juggle between them. This is a great way to keep the inspiration flowing. Claude Monet was known to have multiple paintings on the go at the same time.
I hope you found these tips for overcoming artist block useful. If you have any tips of your own, please share them in the comments.
(If you want to learn more about color mixing and painting in general, I invite you to join my free email course, 7 Days to Better Paintings).