Feeling at a creative loss? Creative block is pretty much inevitable. Whether you’re staring at a blank canvas, a block of wood, a sheet of paper, or a half-finished work that you don’t know where to go with, it hits us all at one time or another. They can be caused by a number of things, and you probably feel stalled, frustrated, and perhaps a little helpless. And while sometimes a block can last for a day or a week, sometimes they last much longer. Because the reasons a block comes about can vary widely (current events and politics; work stress; a personal loss; outside pressure to produce work; the “sophomore slump,” and so on) different tactics can help get you out of it. Here are some tips to help you beat the block and get back to making!
1. Slow down
Sometimes it’s good to just lessen the pace. Slow the heck down. Feeling pressured to make work for an upcoming show, or to follow up on a prior success? Don’t force yourself to “do” quite as much in the studio for a little while. Embrace the directionlessness.
Rediscover your medium by experimenting with it. Try different techniques. Mess around with new materials. Reimagine something you’ve already made in a different medium. Play around with computer apps or software; be over the top so that you have to scale back rather than pushing forward; make a mess and find a new way to interpret it as you put things back in place.
3. Tidy up
Organizing can be cathartic. During the process of making work, you’re allowed — expected! — to be messy, to be a little willy-nilly. If it’s been a while since you’ve straightened out your supplies, your bins, your racks, your flat files, your studio arrangement, take advantage of the opportunity to get your mind off your work and still be productive. A clean, organized environment could allow your mind to relax for a little while, and refresh you enough to get back to work.
Whether you read about other artists, or about travel, history, social sciences — maybe you’re the type who loves to read cookbooks — put your eyes on some words! Preferably on paper pages. Give your eyes a break from the screen. And avoid the type of reading that you know might raise your blood pressure. Absorb a few poems. Delve into a novel. Use that time to escape and refresh, while at the same time providing yourself with opportunities for ideas to spark a creative drive again.
5. Listen to music
Music is often a central part of making, but try separating yourself from the process of making your work and listening to music at the same time. Or try listening to something brand new. Streaming services allow you to make practically limitless, eclectic playlists that can help get you into a groove while also giving you something to do that can benefit your studio atmosphere while at the same time allowing you to not think about it for a little bit.
6. Get thee into the outside air
Sometimes we just feel cooped up, but don’t realize that’s what it is we’re feeling. You might mistake it as feeling distracted, anxious, or frustrated. Try getting out! Even if all you do is take a walk around a city block that you normally never pay attention to. Better yet, make time one morning to get out into nature and go for a walk. If you’re in the city all the time, make a point to find someplace rural. Let yourself be open to finding and appreciating “newness.” It doesn’t have to be lavish; all it has to be is different!
7. Throw ideas around
We all value some one-on-one time with like-minded folks who are sympathetic to what you’re going through. Get together with a friend — or many! — and talk. Be social. Discuss. Share ideas and open up the possibility that someone else’s perspective could shed light on something you’ve been unable to wrap your head around until now. Or, be introduced to something totally new!
8. Work repetitively — or just keep working
Taking a break doesn’t necessarily work for everyone. If you feel like you’ll be right back where you started if you vacate for a while, then focus your energy on continuing to make your work. Scale it down, simplify the process… be repetitive about it. Stream-of-consciously sketch, scribble, assemble, destroy, and start again. You never know when the answer you’ve been waiting for will leap out at you. And perhaps it won’t even leap, but simply slowly filter in. Either way, you’ll have created a catalogue of visual information for yourself in the meantime.
9. Look at art
Perhaps you do this anyway, but amp it up a little bit. Go to a bunch of shows. Immerse yourself in a book store’s art section. Really study a painting that you’ve looked at before. Find interviews with artists. Consider the ways in which others’ art, whether historical or contemporary, relates to yours — or doesn’t. Challenge yourself to view art or styles that you don’t typically pay attention to as much.
Have any other tips that have helped you get through a creative rut? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!
Image of work in progress by Ian Gonczarow.
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