7 Questions to Help You Roll Past Creative Block

7 Question to Help You Roll Past Creative Block

How do you break through creative block?

At different times in my life, I’ve felt so removed from creativity, I wasn’t sure I remembered how to hold a brush. Have you been there? Making a list of 7 questions helped me roll through creative block, so I listed them below for you.

Methods for breaking through creative block are well documented online. In response to the last post about adding two hours of art to each week, I got some great emails from you. A few missives were related to the sources of creative block, so let’s unfold one of them here.

a watercolor in the early stages showing the outline of a bowl and the beginnings of two clementines in it
Sometimes its best to just pick up a brush and start painting, with no expectation of outcome

The Sludge of Creative Block

Stagnant creativity feels like a heavy fog pill slipped into your coffee when you weren’t looking.

You want to make things. A glimpse of your hands fluttering over art supplies would be a relief.

But there’s an invisible sludge haze blocking idea generation, inspiration and motivation to get something started.

a watercolor of a still life in process, featuring a white bowl with two clementines pulled from a tree with their leaves and stems pointing in opposing directions
The act of creating is in direct opposition to the passive experience of consuming

Everyone is Yelling

I wonder if part of that burdensome sludge has roots in this chapter of our history. We have perpetual online access to everything. We are constantly in a state of consuming it.

Gone are the days of not bothering to express yourself because there was no forum for it. Now, everyone is talking, simultaneously, all the time.

People are over-sharing, and broadcasting their opinions on social media, whether we’re interested or not. The chatter is constant.

But as consumers of the online torrent, we risk being seduced into a habit of numb-via-noise. We develop an attachment to consuming, rather than creating. Like needing a television on as background noise.

Quiet feels too foreign.

a row of artists' paint brushes lined up with encouragement to break through creative block by reaching for art supplies

Step into the Shelter of Art

Making art, and living a creative life comes in many flavors, but a big part of being an artist is solitude. Artistic expression ferments and propagates when it’s had a few hours of quiet, unencumbered alone-sunshine.

How can we know what we want to say, or express, or create if the noise of the world fills every cavity of space around us?

Have you ever been outside in a wind storm that was whipping trees, blowing loud, and pushing aggressively against your whole body?

Remember how it felt to walk into shelter and close the door? That sudden silence is a stark and visceral contrast from the assault of the storm. Maybe time with art supplies feels like that same height of contrast.

a grid of 15 tiny face doodle done in watercolor
A grid from a watercolor sketchbook of 15 tiny face doodle. Random poses, arbitrary colors, no expectation of anything other than dipping brushes in paint and making something goofy.

Take a Break, Pick up a Brush

We associate scrolling, lit screens in front of our eyes as down-time.

We’ve become unfamiliar with silence and self-made visual stimuli (art).

Being alone in a quiet space feels like a void. We get a little squirmy when there’s nothing to watch and distract. But we’ve just forgotten that we have art as a distraction, right?

an art studio table nestled into a corner of a room with art supplies everywhere
Making art is often accomplished when we’re alone with our supplies, and our ideas. Being alone can also percolate fears of uncertainty about how art should be done.

Me, Myself and My Art Supplies

Maybe we forget how to be alone with ourselves, and our own thoughts and feelings. Is it possible to close the catch basin on consumption for a few hours to just be quiet and contemplative with a sketchpad? Output instead of input?

I don’t know how to get things started… It’s like there’s this great big wheel I’ve got to start rolling only I don’t seem to have the muscles to get it going.

Carol Shields, The Stone Diaries

Breaking Through Creative Block Questionnaire

If you feel like your creativity is blocked, and inspiration eludes you, try this exercise. (There’s a printable version at the bottom of this post.)

  • Secure 30 minutes, a pen, a note pad, and some quiet time. Sit in a favorite chair, in a sunny spot in a quiet corner. If home is too chaotic, go to a coffee shop and sit in a sunshiny spot. In either case, if it helps, use earbuds or headphones, and listen to instrumental (no words) music. Fill in the blanks below…
  • If I were the King/Queen of the world, and I could sweep a magic wand to clear time and space to create a beautiful piece of art, I’d work in (fill in your medium: oil, acrylic, pastel, watercolor, pen and ink, colored pencil, graphite)._____________________________.
  • I could make something abstract, or impressionistic, or representational – and since I have a magic skill wand, I think I’ll choose _________________________________.
  • Since I’m in charge, when I think about size and format, I’d like to make something (small, medium large, huge)__________________________, and in a (horizontal, vertical, square)___________________________ format.
  • I’ve got a hankering to work on (paper, yupo, aquabord, canvas, panel, gesso’d paper)_____________________________________.
  • I’m imagining colors that appeal to me right now, in this season of my life, so I’ll focus on a prominence of these three colors, with supporting hues around them: ______________________________________________________.
  • I know I can choose any subject that appeals to me, like figurative, portrait, still life, landscape, city scene, interiors, sky/cloudscapes, animals, ocean/shorelines and genre scenes. So, right this second, I feel like painting a __________________________________, with elements of __________________ and ____________________ included.
  • Now, flip open to a fresh page on your notepad, and stomp on that creative block by doodling some layouts, angles, and compositions (no details, see below) that might fill the format of your paper or canvas.
9 tiny pencil sketches of still life flowers and fruit arranged in different compositions
Rolling Through Creative Block Exercise: Arrange a still life with three simple items (this was a bud vase, a plate of apple slices and a goblet, on a striped cloth) and play with angles and positions to generate ideas for a new painting.

The Secret is to Start (but How?)

After the questionnaire, you are seven steps closer to making art than you were 3o minutes ago. Look at those rough shapes, and imagine how they represent a loosey-juicey beginning.

Don’t squelch the momentum; gather some reference photos, or snap them yourself with your phone, and make this new art. Stay the course, and pull yourself out of the quicksand of stuck.

I’m rooting for you to begin your journey back to the joy creating paintings again.

And if you have workarounds to get through creative block, please leave us some tips in the comments.

Thanks for hanging out today, and I’ll see you in the next post.

Belinda

P.S. Here is a wonderful little demo (below) about starting a watercolor by the supremely generous and articulate James Gurney. I hope you find it inspiring.

P.P.S. If you’re new around here, be sure to subscribe so you’ll get each new post via email.

Watch this little watercolor demo to get your creative mojo fired up
quotes-about-creativity and breaking through creative block

Art Quote

I’ve always been a dreamer, and yes, I have always tried. And dreams are special things. But dreams are of no value if they’re not equipped with wings and feet and hands and all that. If you’re going to make a dream come true, you’ve got to work with it. You can’t just sit around. That’s a wish. That’s not a dream.

Dolly Parton
Seven Questions to Help You Roll Past Creative Block

Seven Questions to Help You Roll Past Creative Block

Yield: Progress
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Active Time: 30 minutes
Additional Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes

Stagnant creativity feels like a heavy fog pill slipped into your coffee when you weren’t looking. How do you get past Creative Block?

You want to make things. But there’s an invisible sludge haze blocking creative idea generation, inspiration and motivation to get something started. <---Started is the key word.

If you feel like your creativity is blocked, and inspiration eludes you, try this exercise. Sometimes, you just need a hand to hold on the Start part of making art....

Instructions

  1. Secure 30 minutes, a pen, a note pad, and some quiet time. Sit in a favorite chair, in a sunny spot in a quiet corner. If home is too chaotic, go to a coffee shop and sit in a sunshiny spot. In either case, if it helps, use earbuds or headphones, and listen to instrumental (no words) music. Fill in the blanks below…
  2. If I were the King/Queen of the world, and I could sweep a magic wand to clear time and space to create a beautiful piece of art, I’d work in (fill in your medium: oil, acrylic, pastel, watercolor, pen and ink, colored pencil, graphite)._____________________________. tin watercolor palette
  3. I could make something abstract, or impressionistic, or representational – and since I have a magic skill wand, I think I’ll choose _________________________________. watercolor-sketching-landscape
  4. Since I’m in charge, when I think about size and format, I’d like to make something (small, medium large, huge)__________________________, and in a (horizontal, vertical, square)___________________________ format. using a magnifier light to paint tiny details of a face in profile
  5. I’ve got a hankering to work on (paper, yupo, aquabord, canvas, panel, gesso’d paper)_____________________________________. three hahnemuhle paper blocks
  6. I’m imagining colors that appeal to me right now, in this season of my life, so I’ll focus on a prominence of these three colors, with supporting hues around them: ______________________________________________________. watercolor test swatches for wet in wet painting experiments
  7. I know I can choose any subject that appeals to me, like figurative, portrait, still life, landscape, city scene, interiors, sky/cloudscapes, animals, ocean/shorelines and genre scenes. So, right this second, I feel like painting a __________________________________, with elements of __________________ and ____________________ included. shading a graphite drawing of roses and a bowl of apples
  8. Now, flip open to a fresh page on your notepad, and stomp on that creative block by doodling some layouts, angles, and compositions (no details, see below) that might fill the format of your paper or canvas. 9 tiny pencil sketches of still life flowers and fruit arranged in different compositions

Notes

Feel free to print this, and alter the questions or add new ones that fit your style. Think about times when your art-making was more active, and jot down elements from that time (positive, encouraging) that you can visualize and pre-plan to help you get past the hump of stuckness.

You aren't alone in this. Every artist in history has felt creative block at one time or another, so we are all rooting for you. Set some time aside, and slay it. You've got this.

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Happy Art-Making! - Belinda

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