I have been an artist for over 20 years and have suffered from art blocks for as long as I can remember. Over time I have tried many methods to overcome and avoid them. Here’s how I came to never go through an art block again.
What is an Art Block ?
An art block is essentially a blank page syndrome extended to another creative field, like drawing, painting, sculpting. Singers will forget their lyrics, actors won’t come up with their lines and we, visual artists, get art blocks. We face our pages, canvases or lump of clay and nothing will come. It’s as if we don’t know how to work anymore, any attempt is feeble and void. Moreover, the closer the deadline is, the more your clients or customers remind you ofthe pending delivery and the more anguished and scared you are.
Like many artists, I suffered the consequences of these empty times. From missed deadlines to anxiety, stress, I sometimes even came to refusing contracts for fear of not getting there. This affects all creators, in all disciplines.
Getting rid of your blockage
However, all it takes is a spoonful of white vinegar and a little baking soda… No, sorry, joke aside, there are no magical tips or wonder treatment here. What you’ll have to do might seem completely counterproductive, but the method works for me. So I figured, maybe it might work for you too ?
In order to be productive, you have to put yourself in a MOOD. And preferably a good mood because we all know the doomed sad artist figure is the worst cliché. And it will not always be the same for everyone. Some artists do warm-up sketches, others need to make plans, draw something else. To me these tips are all so related to creating and producing something that they do not work. When I’m stuck into an artblock, I cannot draw or sculpt or paint ANYTHING at all.
So I found my unblocking method: do something else. I do not make anything, I am utterly unproductive for a while. And yet, I’m not just procrastinating by doing the dishes, it’s not about pushing back a deadline by doing something else while thinking about your deadline. Guilt cancels release. You’ll have to be mindful about doing something entirely different. You will own it, and do it fully. Knowing full well that you will get back to your work when you have the energy, the ability and above all the inclination. A variety of task and doing something else does not equal multitasking. Focus on ONE thing.
Artistic release and executive functions
I have serious executive function issues. I will systematically postpone all the chores and wait until the last minute. It has to do with a lot of factors but also the it’s also related with art blocks. When I’m stuck creation wise, I have several options available. My choice is based on my current energy level and the list includes tasks that I don’t want to do.
From the most demanding in energy to the lowest, I will choose a task from this list :
- High energy : Basic tasks, cleaning, tidying up, administration, posting this mail that has been dragging on for 3 weeks
- A relaxing activity, going out, walking, cycling, walking with the dog
- Passivity, watching a show, reading, playing a video game
- Low energy : NOTHING / a nap / a bath / sip a tea while watching the birds outside
Sometimes doing nothing is the best way to create
That’s right, your worth is not your production level. There’s so much more to you than what you will make today.
It’s been a few years now since I did not make myself create something. I noticed the more I try and force it, the longer and more painful the blockage. I managed to get out of creative blockages because over time my to-do list is so vast and varied that I always find a way out and don’t go around in circles. And in reality, it’s not so much that I find a way out, I make my own a way out. List your ideas, the things you need to do, the stuff you should have done weeks ago, and have a go at it.
Small tip, I recently came across the Notion App and it helps me stay organized. It’s very versatile and it can virtually be anything you’d like. Give it a try, it’s free. This link is not sponsored ^^
Let’s take a very practical example. Right now I should be painting figurines or inking a mosaic of raccoons but I need a breath, as I sculpted all day yesterday until late in the night. So today I’ll write, post, I’ll answer my emails, then I’ll go tidy up and vacuum and I’ll feel better. Tonight or tomorrow, or next week I will paint. I also took a week to translate this from French to English, and it did not matter.
Addressing delays with your customers
Does all this mean for you that you will spend less time working and therefore produce less? Not necessarily because moving at slug speed on a drawing because of the blockage will certainly be more damaging in terms of time and quality. On the other hand, doing something else and completing this job in 2 hours because you are available, fresh and rested will give you much more motivation and satisfaction.
For my part, I only take orders for which I no longer announce delivery dates. It will be delivered, but only in between 4 to 12 weeks, sometimes more, sometimes less. It is a prerequisite for my mental health. I am well aware that this is not possible for everyone, but if you can, do it.
Either way, if you’re in a tight spot, if you feel like you’re going to be behind on a contract, or fail to meet a deadline, your best bet is to get ahead of things. Send an e-mail, warn your customer you will be late, don’t give a date.Thank your customers for their patience and if necessary add a little extra at the end of the contract if you feel like it, it is not an obligation. Be aware that publishers and printers always plan ahead of schedule in production, and so should you. You should never announce the date when you think you will be done, allow yourself more time and plan for the extra week or two, or more. It will be more comfortable and will prove useful in case something happens. I already wrote a bit about that in the pricing advice article 🙂
Operating without creative blocking
Today, I no longer wait anxiously for the art block to come. The diversity in my activities allows me to breathe, and keeps me from getting bored. As it turns out, boredom always kills my creativity. I’d rather do anything but create something that bothers me. So that’s what I do.
Last little tip, for those of you with executive function issues : stimulate your intellect while you perform these tasks. I always put a podcast, often scientific, in my headphones to fold my laundry, it goes much faster and hurts much less !
Finally, don’t forget that all of these little tips have one thing in common: it’s basic self care. By taking care of yourself, you grow your creativity and your art blocks will rarify. Our brains are just not made to be productive 40 hours or more a week, take care of yourself! Moreover, a recent study shows that working more than 25 hours a week after 40 years can affect our cognition (source) …
Creative blockage and depression
If you are depressed or have anxiety disorders, you will find this hard to apply and probably dislike me a little, I know, I’ve been there. In that case, do what’s best for you. Seeing a mental health professional is a good option if you are able. Medication and therapy are important tools in depression. Also, don’t be afraid to pick the right professional for you.