5 Ways to Work Through a Creative block

Torrey Pines State Beach

Torrey Pines State Beach


Do you ever find yourself staring blankly at a fresh sheet of watercolor paper, only to draw a complete blank as to what you want to paint? Or do you ever find yourself overcome with frustration as you go through one sheet of watercolor paper after another, unsatisfied with the final outcome of your paintings?

I hope I'm not the only one, because this happens to me. All. The. Time.

Whether it lasts for a few hours, a day, or even weeks, it is incredibly frustrating each time it happens. Not only because it feels like a waste of time and supplies, but because it feels like a long detour in my growth as an artist. Over the last year, as I found myself in a rut time and time again, I began to analyze these periods of creative drought and tested different methods to pull myself out of their suffocating grasp.

Today, I'm sharing 5 methods I use to get through a creative block. I really do believe these methods can be used by all in any creative industry.

1. Put your phone away

Put it on silent. Place it inside a drawer. Lock it up in your car trunk. Hide it in another room. Basically, make sure it's not within easy reach in your work space. This may induce anxiety for some of you, but trust me when I say that it will make a huge difference. Social media can be such a wonderful source of creativity, inspiration and even some healthy competition, but it can also be a huge distraction in your own creative process, and will likely leave you discouraged and unmotivated before you even start. Clear your mind and give yourself the breathing room to create something beautiful.

2. Create for yourself, not for an audience

Another anxiety inducing comment, I know. Over the past year, I caught myself repeatedly feeling the need to paint in order to have something to post on social media. I realize now how counterproductive that was. We tend to hold back when we create for others because we set false expectations and believe in false assumptions about what others want to see. We have no control over what other people will like or choose to like on social media. But we do have complete control over what we decide to create and put out there in the world. Instead of putting unnecessary stress on yourself over things you cannot control, put more of your effort into the areas that you can control, and give yourself permission to explore and try new things as an artist. This is definitely something I still struggle with, but the more I practice, the easier it's getting.

3. Start a personal project

Sometimes, inspiration strikes and you feel compelled to paint right away. Sometimes, you clear your schedule and tidy up your work space to paint, only to draw a blank as you stare at a new sheet of paper. I've been there. Many, many times.  But thankfully, there is actually a simple solution to this.

Take a moment to think about what you enjoy painting. Then take a moment to think about what you would like to learn to paint. Create a list and pick a subject, or two, for your personal project. For example, if you love painting flowers and want to expand your repertoire of flowers, make that your personal project and tackle a new flower when you have time to paint for yourself. The more specific you can get with your subject matter, the better. So, instead of flowers as a broad category, maybe you can focus on tropical flowers, or on different varieties of roses, etc. 

As for me, through the Native Plant Project (more on this later), I have been focusing on studying and painting native plant species in San Diego. Not only have I been painting plants outside of my comfort zone, but I have also been testing different painting techniques. Over the past four months, I have expanded both my knowledge of native plants and my skills as an artist by experimenting with different watercolor techniques.

Now this personal project doesn't have to be a daily thing. A lot of you have day jobs and/or client work on your schedule. You can go back to it whenever you find yourself catching a spare moment to paint for yourself. And instead of wasting time wondering what to paint, you'll know what to do.

4. Pick up a pencil

There is a widespread misconception that the only way or the best way to paint is to freehand. It may be the proliferation of viral videos on social media that show high speed videos of artists painting without a noticeable sketch beforehand. Don't get me wrong, I think freehand painting is an amazing skill. More power to you if you can easily compose and execute a painting in your head without any prep work beforehand. However, I am here to assure you that freehand painting is just one of many ways to paint and if you are not comfortable with it, that's okay. More often than not, a single painting requires a lot of prep work - including sketching and nailing down the composition - before a single stroke of paint lands on the paper. Don't feel ashamed to pick up the pencil and sketch out your paintings!

Sketching is a vital part of my own watercolor process. It helps me to better understand the anatomy of a plant and helps me figure out the composition of a piece before I start painting. For each painting in my Native Plant Project, I create a series of sketches in my sketch book to familiarize myself with my subject before I pick up a paintbrush. The simple existence of an eraser puts less pressure on you to create a masterpiece in one go. That tiny eraser is so liberating, allowing you to let go of any perfectionist tendencies and just create. And amazing things can happen in those spurts of untethered sketching. 

5. Take a Break

Take your mind off creating for a while. Get some fresh air. Pick up a new hobby. Be in a space that is inspiring, whether it is the outdoors, or a local gallery, or even your favorite cafe. Getting out of your work space can help you feel energized and refreshed when you get back. Self care is important to the creative process so make sure you take care of your mind and body on the daily.

I hope one or more of these methods will help you out the next time you find yourself facing a creative block. If you have any helpful tips to add, please share them in the comments below!