August 5, 2011

Top Ten Ways to Overcome Artist’s Block

Top Ten Ways to Overcome Artist’s Block

By Danielle S. Feldman

All artists experience artist’s block at some point. The following are some suggestions to get you creating again.

1. Try a new tool or mix some new colors

Ordering some new tools or new colors always gets me excited to try them out. See my article on the “Top Ten Not-so-obvious Must-have Very-affordable Tools for the Artist” to give you some ideas. Experiment with new colors. Try mixing non-horse-like, complimentary colors for some rich tones. Play around with the color palette and let loose a little.

2. Clean up your workspace

An organized and clean workspace can motivate productivity, whereas a dirty and messy one can stifle creativity. Take some time out to organize. Invest in some see-through bins to store your supplies, Try hanging up some peg-board to tack up your reference material. You may find you go through several organizational revisions to create a space that really works for you.

Our tiny, two bedroom apartment didn't stop me.
A card table doubled as a kitchen table and a workspace.

Even a tiny space can be organized. I use different containers to separate my pastel brushes from my acrylic painting brushes and my oil painting brushes. I have clear bins to seperate prepping items, sculpting items, and finishing work items. A crate holds my bottled acrylics and different art containers hold my tube acrylics, my pastels and my oils. It’s a little dusty, but everything is within reach.

3. Take a nature walk, Exercise, Stretch

Look to nature for inspiration; take a nice relaxing walk. Or get some exercise in and a good stretch. Releasing endorphins will boost your mood and get you energized. Sometimes just being outside will clear my mind enough to see through to the solution of an artistic dilemma. Other times, fresh ideas may abound.

4. Browse the galleries of your favorite artists, Read some of that reference material that’s piling up

Sometimes I like to browse the galleries of my favorite artists for inspiration. Not too copy their work, but to learn from it. Look through the stacks of magazines for real horses that might inspire you. Or sit down and read some of the reference material you’ve picked up, but not found time to read. That will keep you productive, even if you’re struggling to feel creative. You can find a comprehensive list of reading material in Sarah Minkiewicz-Breunig’s Reference Library Listing, published here, courtesy of the Model Horse Gallery. Sarah posted some highlights on her blog, starting with this one and then continuing to newer blog posts.


If you’re like me, you have an accumulating pile of reference material waiting to be read that can spawn creativity or improve your understanding of the equine subject.

5. Make something with the purpose of destroying it when you’re done

It is so hard to let go and just create with no end purpose in mind. Time is such a valuable asset that every working moment is reserved for finishing up models. Don’t let this trap stifle your creativity. Take some time and make something with the plan to strip it or squash it when you’re done. Chances are you’ll take some risks along the way and maybe discover some new techniques. At the very least, the pressure to be perfect is gone and that alone might topple the crippling artist’s block.

Head Study, Status: Destroyed!
(helps that it started oozing brown stuff from a reaction between the wires and clay)

6. Turn on the tunes, or maybe a movie

If you don’t usually work to music, give it a try. Or if your favorite tunes aren’t doing it, try a movie instead. Pride and Prejudice is my favorite when I have a good long block of time to work. It makes the time go by faster. I don’t really watch it, as much as listen to it, so I wouldn’t recommend trying to paint while watching that new movie you’ve been waiting to see. Better to choose an old favorite.

7. Reward yourself

It works with my 4 year old! Make a rewards system for yourself. If stickers won’t do it, try a chocolate bar when you finish a really good session. Or maybe a Starburst if you can just finish up the eyes on that model that just doesn’t want to get finished. If you’re not food motivated (or like me, are trying to be good), try putting a dollar in a jar for every horse in your back log that you finish to buy yourself that special something. Whatever motivates you.

8. Do a project for yourself

It may seem like a guilty pleasure, but if you’re so overwhelmed with creating for customers that you’ve lost interest and maybe even quality, then it may be time to do a little something for yourself. Taking the time to be true to your own vision may revitalize your work, which then benefits your customers. It’s hard to do, but taking a break from commissions may actually turn out to be the right thing for everyone.

9. Work in a different medium or technique

If you always airbrush, try your hand at pastels. If you always pastel, try working on a sculpture instead. Just try something different. Even kneading a loaf of bread can be therapeutic. Some different ideas include flatwork in pencil, charcoal, pastel, oils, watercolor, oil pastels, or try making a collage, sculpting with play doh or sculpey in fun colors, making holiday crafts, wood working, scrap booking, sewing, crocheting - the skies the limit… Creating outside of your normal venue can be so refreshing! If you're looking for some help on trying out pastel technique, I know just the thing.

10. Set a block of time aside, sit down, and push your way through it

If all else fails, sometimes you just have to push through. Sometimes the very act of doing will get you going. This has worked for me on more than one occasion. If you find your not getting results instantly, start with a practice body until you find your flow. The point is to persevere. Good luck!