Creative cycles: Understanding artist block and how to overcome it

What is an artist block and how to overcome artists block

“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”
– Stephen King

In today’s episode, we’ll talk about creative cycles and how to deal with a lack of creative mojo. I share experiences from my most recent artist block, discuss some of the reasons why we get blocked, and give you some of my top tips and suggestions for how to break out of an artist’s block. You’ll also find the shownotes + highlights from the episode below.

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What causes an artist block?

There are a ton of articles and books that deal with creative blocks – I think the dreaded writers block is one that is extensively discussed – because at some point or the other, we all fall into creative funks.

My most recent artist block was in July this year, and it was a doozy! There was a point when I almost felt like I had no more ideas…that maybe I couldn’t paint anymore. Almost all my painting sessions felt like a struggle, and some of them required a lot more work than usual, like I was trying to make my way forward through sticky molasses.

Looking back, one of the big contributing factors to this artists block was impostor complex. I was filming my lesson for Pull Pen Paint, a 10-month exploration of tarot, art and journaling. This year, I’m teaching a creative lesson, combining tarot with story as medicine, goddess mythology, and art. It’s the art part that really tripped me up, because there are some excellent artists who are also teaching on Pull Pen Paint this year, including a few from whom I have taken multiple courses!

So of course comparisonitis reared its ugly head, along with worries about weather I was “good enough” to teach alongside my teachers! Well…I guess you can imagine the field day my inner critic had with that one.

To add to that, I was experimenting with pure abstracts – a rather new art form for me. I was obsessed with understanding them and finding my own abstract language, so I wasn’t interested in falling back to the relative safety of intuitive painting and figurative abstracts.

Now can you see why the impostor complex and inner critic got together to have the party of a lifetime in my head?

{P.S.: In case you’re wondering, I did eventually film the class {in August!}, and I personally loved the piece of art I created for the course.}

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My top tips to help you overcome artist block + a look at creative cycles and fallow periods in art

Understanding creative fallow periods

I believe that a creative funk is part of the creative cycle. I think of an artists block as a fallow period. In farming, it may be the time between autumn harvest and spring planting, when the fields are left bare. Sometimes farmers allow a field to lay fallow for a year to let the soil “rest” – though there is no production for a year, that rest regenerates the soil and typically leads to better crops in the coming years.

Creative fallow periods are somewhat similar, you know? Very little seems to happen in terms of tangible or visible creative output – but a lot percolates within.

As artists, we usually tend to loose our creative mojo after we’ve finished a huge creative project. The high of working on and bringing to life a series of paintings or having an art show often gives way to a bit of a slump – it’s just part of the ebb and flow of creativity.

The other time when artists end up feeling blocked is when we start to notice a shift in our art – perhaps you’ve experienced this too? Your work may be taking a new direction, or new styles or techniques may be starting to make their way into your work. That’s also when your inner critic is likely to have a field day, making things even worse!

The importance of doing the work to overcome an artist block

When you’re suffering from an artists block, you can often feel too morose to even show up in the studio, to pick up a paint brush, or even to look at all your beautiful art supplies. Which is one of the reasons why having a consistent art practice is so very important. It becomes somewhat like muscle memory…an impulse that pulls you back into the studio regularly.

That, I think, is really important. To keep showing up and trying – frustrating  though it sometimes is, because it can be quite a struggle when we feel creatively blocked!

Also read: How to create a regular art practice

I think creative slumps are like the messy middle that we encounter in the painting process – that stage in the painting where it all looks like an ugly mess before it starts to come together again. For us artists, these creative fallow times can be our struggle, and we need to be able to find our way out again.

And once you have a couple of satisfying painting sessions, you do start to find your artistic voice once again. 

How to get rid of artist block

So how do you get rid of an artists block? Here are some ideas:

  • Prep your canvases
  • Make some backgrounds
  • Make gelli prints
  • Experiment with a different medium
  • Switch your focus to different projects
  • Go on an artist’s date
  • Rest
  • Browse through the work of your favorite artists for inspiration

I go into a lot more depth on these ideas in the podcast, so tune in and have a listen! You can catch the show on iTunesSpotifyStitcher, Google Podcasts, or Radio Public {or scroll up and play it right here in your browser}.

And if you have any more suggestions on how to overcome an artist block {or any creative block, really}, please do pop them in the comments!

Posted in Mindset for artists, The Art with Soul Podcast.

11 Comments

  1. I like the term “fallow” for the in between time when creativity is having a bad day or is just beginning to regenerate. I think this period is required by us in all spheres of our life and in every way that we do things. We often take a break to chill out or to recharge and that too is the fallow interim that is much needed. Its great you have appreciated it and not given into the shenanigans of your inner critic 🙂

  2. I understand what you mean. We go through that fallow period every now and then and come back refreshed. But sometimes it so happens that after a fallow period one’s confidence wanes. I just need to keep in mind that it’s not my confidence. 🙂 Thank you for this insightful podcast, Shinjini.

  3. Thank you for sharing such a thoughtful post, Shinjini! Loved your podcast—the subject speaks to my artist’s soul and your voice adds to the magic and sounds absolutely divine! 🙂
    There is so much to be said about the “fallow” periods that every creative individual undergoes. I think they are absolutely essential for learning and growth. I loved what you said about how little seems to happen in this phase in terms of visible creative output but how a lot percolates within. This is so spot on. I can totally relate to it.
    Looking forward to your forthcoming episodes, Shinjini. Your creative journey is so very inspiring.

    • Aww! Thank you, Esha! xx
      And yes, those fallow periods are important – often, they lead to me to new creative breakthroughs, so I’ve learnt to not fight them so hard!
      I do hope you continue to enjoy the podcast. Thank you so much for tuning in.

  4. Now that you have mentioned it, I do see a shift in my art when the inner critic rears its ugly head. Excellent points. I think I do the last one the most. Scrolling through artwork makes me both happy and inspired.

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