"Failure is only for those who quit." Bud Biggs

Blockbusters for Artists
© 1999 Nita Leland

Every artist wants the answer to this question: How do you break blocks? The process is different for everyone, and probably different every time we get stuck. Here are some ideas to choose from that might help you jump over your hurdles:

  1. Adjust your priorities. It's all about choices. If you're not painting, it's because you've chosen to do something else. Like making a living? I know, life gets in the way sometimes. If you're watching soap operas, lose the remote. You know what you have to do each day. See what happens when you take the last thing on the list and do it first.

  2. Lower your expectations. You don't have to paint a winner every time. It's the process that's important. Why face a full sheet of watercolor paper or large canvas every time? Cut up some 5" x 7" cards and play with small compositions in paint or collage. You might come up with an idea for a design, but at the very least you'll be working. And you can use the small pieces for gifts.

  3. Do something art-related every day. You might just need to stoke the fire of creativity by visiting a little gallery or museum. Or take an artist friend to lunch and talk art. Just sorting sketches or photographs, tidying up your studio a bit, or puttering around your art space can sometimes stimulate your interest. Sharpen pencils, play with paint, whatever.

  4. Do one thing. Sometimes we get blocked because the task ahead looks too intimidating. Break it down into individual steps and start with the first one. Sounds too obvious, but the fact is, we let ourselves get psyched by the thought of doing a painting, when all we really need to do is stretch paper or canvas....then make a little compositional sketch.... then play with some colors...then do a drawing....you get the idea. Once you get started, you'll probably pick up momentum as you go along.

  5. Play with ideas. This is the "what if" scenario. Frequently, we get blocked because we're stuck on one idea or subject and we're just lukewarm to it, thus reluctant to get started. Take that idea and free associate or brainstorm. Write down every word you can think of relating to the idea, and if some seemingly unrelated word pops into mind, put that down, too. Then sift through your words for a transformation of your original idea. I once brainstormed the word "hat" and came up with a composition based on a pile of baseball hats stacked in the hall closet.

  6. Change one thing. For example, change the format of your picture. If you usually work horizontally, try vertical for a change. Or change the proportions of your canvas--long and narrow. Or the shape, from rectangular to oval. You'll find it more interesting to fit your subject into a different space, and this will frequently get you rolling again.

  7. Draw. Put a sketchbook in your car and sketch the scene around you while you're waiting for the car pool. You don't have to make pictures. Draw the traffic light, the stop sign, or the dashboard. Draw everything. You'll improve your skills and your self confidence at the same time, and possibly even break that block with a new idea for a picture.

  8. Finish something--anything! Take a piece from your stack of unfinished pictures and finish it, no matter what. It doesn't have to be a winner--see what you can learn from it. Try new techniques, collage over it, crop it, make it a diptych or triptych. If nothing works, throw it away without regrets and pull out another.

Janean Thompson writes: "I often take a mental break by simply walking away from a project. I fix a cup of tea and sip it while sitting on a lawn chair, under a big tree next to my studio. It is a commune with nature, a moment of quiet relaxation and a slate cleaning for the clutter in my mind. When I go back to work, it is with renewed clarity."

See The New Creative Artist and New Creative Collage Techniquesfor a great variety of projects and ideas for breaking blocks.

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