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How to Overcome Art Block

Want to grow as an artist? Angi is here to share you through her process of defeating art block and how to draw inspiration to grow as an artist.

What’s the worst thing that could happen to any creative? I think it has to be stuck with art block. For those who don’t know, art block is what we stole from writers. It is basically a huge mountain placed in the middle of your creative journey. That mountain can be anything -- your skill limit, the likes you get on Instagram, or even discouragement seeing someone much younger than you creating masterpieces (none of these made me cry, I swear). It is hard, but I have learned a few tricks that make the journey through the mountains a lot easier. And maybe they can help guide you too.

To deal with art block, we must first figure out what we’re fighting against. The simplest way to do this? Pick up your pencil (or Apple Pencil) and just start drawing. Then figure out what stops that pencil from going further. There can be many causes, but in my experience, these are a few common ones. I will provide a suggested solution to each one!

Skill limit

Ever get the feeling that “what you see in your head doesn’t match what you see on the canvas?” I’ll be the one to say it – this usually means your expectations exceed the limit of your current skill set. Basically, where you are and where you want to be are still two very different things.

Solution: Time to grow your skill set.

Practice art to get better

Practice makes perfect!

If you can visualize where you want to be in your head, you’ve done half the work. Now we just need to figure out how to get there. For me, this was learning how to color and shade. I had absolutely no idea where to start, but one day I saw an illustration from an artist I followed which was exactly what I wanted to achieve. So I studied the piece closely, reading the lines and strokes and patches of color, trying to understand the artist’s decisions and intent. I then tried to mimic that same style with my own drawings. At first, they were horrible – absolutely horrendous – but each trial and error (and lots of Googling) gave me new knowledge and helped develop my skill set.

The change won’t happen overnight. Progress happens in baby steps. Lots and lots of them. But before long, and without you noticing, you’ll suddenly be capable of things you weren’t two weeks ago.

Out of ideas

You’re in the mood to draw, so you pick up your pencil (or Apple Pencil), press the tip to the surface, and… your mind goes completely blank. Nothing interesting comes to mind. You’ve entered the "no art Zen" mode.

Solution: There are multiple solutions to this.

Digital Gallery

Having a digital gallery at your fingertips really helps.

First, I highly recommend having a curated art gallery at hand, like literally on your phone. A hard cold truth for you – nothing is original. Anything you think of comes from something you’ve seen or heard before. So expose yourself to as many different styles and ideas as you can to load up your mental library. Everybody has internet, so there’s no excuse to not be able to see other people’s work. My personal go-to platforms are Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter. But I don’t just follow anyone; I carefully curate artists I admire. As they post, these apps generate feeds full of pieces I love and adore. Over time, and with some curation, these become personalized digital galleries I can visit for inspiration.

Second, don’t get caught up on the idea of creating a “masterpiece.” I often find myself without ideas because I always want my next piece to be THE masterpiece. And none of the ideas that come to my mind are “master” enough. I approach the entire process with too many expectations. The truth is that a “masterpiece” does not always start out like one. Like any other work, it starts as a rough sketch or random blobs that slowly grow and mature as you add more to them.

Lastly, fan art is your best friend in times like these. Don’t restrict yourself to just fan art of titles and movies you know and love. It can even be fan art of someone else’s piece. There’s a beautiful challenge online call #dtiys (draw this in your style) where artists invite the community to draw one of the artist’s pieces in their own unique style. These challenges give you something to work on to get that creative juice going. The best part of this challenge is that it gives you a reason to start drawing. Creativity is like a muscle. The more you use it, the more it grows. And if you share your work, it can even give you some online exposure!

External pressures

Maybe someone made a negative comment on your piece, you saw a new account gain more followers than you, you’re not getting the exposure you wish, or you start to feel like you’re creating things that have no purpose. In my opinion, these are the steepest and most difficult mountains to climb. It’s easy to lose confidence in your work and to start questioning your passion when comparing yourself to others.

Solution: Find out what you are doing it for.

Lars doing Thanksgiving

Showcase of my work.

Are you drawing for fun? Or are you doing it so one day you can get paid for your work? These are very different goals and require very different growth paths. I land in the former group – I draw for leisure. The beauty of this approach is that you’re doing it for yourself and yourself only. If you share your art publicly, it’s only because you want to share it. You don’t have to focus on everything that spirals from it, whether it’s the number of likes, retweet counts, or other people’s comments. It was for you. It’s a race against yourself and everyone’s racetrack is different.

If you are drawing or creating for work, then you should be over this mountain by now. Time is money. The more you do, the better you get. There’s no secret to it. There’s no time to doubt yourself. Pick up that pencil, or Apple Pencil, and get to work! The time you spend thinking whether you are good enough is already enough to make you better.

I hope these tips make that art block seem way less scary. The creative journey isn’t always filled with unicorns and rainbows (though it can be if that’s all you create) when you’re trying to grow it as a skill. But just know you aren’t the only one struggling because I’m right there with you. And finally, some good news for you – I’ve never let myself down when I compare the tracks I’ve made and where I am now. No matter how big or small, the learnings are visible. Be patient with yourself and, most importantly, enjoy the ride!

Check out my Instagram for more art posts.

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