How To Overcome Creative Block
Updated: Jan 8
Creative block sucks. Specifically, creative block for visual arts. There is absolutely nothing worse than wanting to create but having no inspiration. Creating becomes a war between you and a blank page, and losing to an inanimate object can definitely make you feel stupid, frustrated, and doubtful of your abilities.
I'm here to propose a few tricks that will at least help you put an end to the block and get something out, even if it's not great at first. (That's what a draft is for!) If you're in a bind, I guarantee that at least one of these methods will help.
Method 1: Look for Patterns
Now, listen. I know this is the #1 thing your therapist tells you not to do, but for a creative block-- it's pure gold.
For this one, start keeping your eyes peeled for anything you see that looks like something you could draw: the way the dish soap poured on that pan from last night that you're only now cleaning, the pattern left behind by glue after removing something (this was the inspiration behind my Glue series, left and center above), a weird trail of paint on a new sidewalk left behind by someone who probably wasn't paid enough (right).
Lines and patterns are everywhere! They're everywhere you look, you just have to start training yourself to see the little details hiding in the visual noise of the world.
Method 2: Use Nature's Models
An easy way to just get something down is drawing cute little plants and flowers you see while out and about.
They're the perfect models-- they sit still and you can look at them from any angle or distance without feeling like you're invading their personal space.
My friend Jess's tomatoes caught my eye since they were in (almost) perfect pairs and growing in a noticeable gradient, so I decided to take a picture and draw it later. This drawing went on to become my print called... Jess's Tomatoes.
Simply bring a little notebook and some pens/markers with you while you're out and about and stop to draw anything that catches your eye, even if you don't like how it looks at first! And if you don't want to lug a notebook around, take a picture and draw it later!
Plants and other natural things have interesting natural swirls, patterns and colours that can be really fun to explore.
Method 3: Other Still Models - Objects
Another great method to get out of a block: just draw random stuff sitting around!
My inspiration behind Base de Soupe (pictured above, left) was a packet of ramen flavouring that was laying around that caught the light in such a way that the crinkles started to jump out at me. I decided to interpret the light levels in a bright pink and purple.
Same as the focal point of Discomfort Isn't Pain (right) was from an image of a statue with paint dripping down it that I had seen on the internet (center).
An object can be literally anything laying around or a picture of something on the internet that you'd like to draw. This way, you can practice your skills and even play around with some concepts that flow from the object: colour palette, emotion evoked by the object, textures, patterns, etc. The possibilities are endless! If there's one things humans have an endless supply of, it's things. Man, did we create a lot of things.
Method 4: Funky Text
One of the more unconventional sources of inspiration that I draw from is funky typography-- text that is so weird and unique that it catches your eye.
Funky text could be from a font you see online, or applying a lens to words you see laying around your house (the wine glass is a good lens to warp text with).
One of these was a weird dress that I saw Marina (from & the Diamonds fame) wearing, that I just had to draw (as seen above left and center). Another instance (which I haven't drawn yet), was noticing the box of mud powder on the coffee table through a wine glass I had set down there (right). Wacky typography magic!
It's a weird one, but if you're blocked, anything goes at this point.
Method 5: Riff Off Another Artist's Work
Now, I'd like to begin by saying: please don't try to exactly copy someone else's work. The whole point of this one is to draw inspiration from other artists and twist it in your own style, or as a continuation or brainchild of their work. There are super respectful ways that you can use someone else's work as a launching pad.
For example, you might see a piece of art online that inspires you and you want to draw it. Whenever I do this, I try to add an aspect of my own, or switch up the colour palette (yes, this is a common theme, but again, super great way to develop your own style via art you know you like).
The top left image was a piece that I saw on Twitter, posted by an aesthetic bot. Unfortunately, there was no artist credit with the image. When this happens, I would suggest trying a reverse Google Image search. (Doing this search, I actually found out that the image was one of Galileo's sketches of Venus from 1609, which is super cool.) In my interpretation (top right), I added another layer of visuals and added some green in the palette.
Another inspiration I draw from constantly is the work of Piet Mondrian (bottom left). His abstract and box-like work with the primary colour palette inspires me to draw little boxes of my own (bottom right), with thicker and not-strictly-straight lines.
You can interpret the work of another artist in your own style or incorporate aspects of their work into a new piece, like small pieces, colours, concepts and style. By starting to draw pieces of what other artists create, you can start to feel out what you like and what you don't, and it can help you start developing your own style.
Method 6: Riff Off Your Own Work - Start a Series
Don't know what subject matter to tackle? Easy-- your own.
Making another iteration of a piece you've made in the past is a great way to get into a groove. For this, you can look at the previous piece and tackle it with a new palette, and you can even change some aspects that you didn't love with the first time around.
I did this with my Glue series, which began after transcribing a pattern I saw out and about into paint (Glue #0, left). After that, I was commissioned to iterate it a few more times with different colour palettes which sprung new concepts. You can see the evolution from #0 to Glue #1 (center), and then to Glue #2 (right).
That's the beauty of this method: you can evolve the concept of whichever piece closer to what you feel could be perfection (which, as an artist, we know it never will be).
Method 7: Riff Off Your Own Work - Remake One of Your Works in a Different Medium
If you're blocked and you've been itching to try a new medium for a while, this one is perfect. You don't need to think of a brand new concept, you can simply just pick one of your own pieces!
SOUP! (top left) started its journey as a little Sharpie doodle on a Home Depot paper from when I was bored and hated both my job and my life.
A bit later, I found a scrap piece of plywood lying around that I wanted to try painting something on. So I decided, I'm going to paint SOUP!. And so, SOUP! (the painting, center and right) was born.
Using something familiar as an anchor while you try a new medium can make it way easier to dip your toes in, and then hopefully take the plunge!
There are so many ways to force yourself out of an uninspired spiral! Most of them revolve around one simple concept: get inspired by the world around you!
There are so many possibilities of ways to be creative, but the first step is always just getting something down on a blank canvas.
Even if you hate it, it was at least something. And as an artist, will you ever really think anything you make is perfect?
I hope you enjoyed my tips for getting out of a creative block. Now, if you ask me about writer's block? That's a whole other animal. Let me know when someone solves that one.