How to get through a creative block (in ten easy steps)

I have approached this subject before.  If you have any creative practice, at some point you are going to get block.  It’s the other side of the inspiration coin.  The good news is it’s just a moment in time which will pass.  Even better news there are some small simple things that can help you send artistic block on its way a little bit quicker.

I have packed this post with videos and podcasts in the hopes that if you come across it when you really need some help pushing through a block, one of these will spark something for you.

Here are just some of the things I have been playing with over the last 4 years.  If you try any of these tools, then please let me know how you get on in the comments.  Also if you have other ideas or tactics you use to bust the block then please let me know.

  1. Do something that makes you happy – It is a new theory I have been working on recently, but I’m pretty sure that the tortured artist trope has had its day.  I know when I am happy and feel like I am looking after myself then it is much easier to motivate myself.  If you are experiencing the frustration of artistic block, it can only be a good thing to switch your emotional gears.
  2. Try working in a different surrounding or cleaning/re-organising your space.  Your environment can have a big impact on your thinking.  I sometimes will move from my desk to sit in the kitchen or garden.  Or set aside some tidying time before I begin a drawing session so that there are fewer distractions.  It also helps that I hate tidying, so I am always really happy to be back to drawing by the time I’m done.  I also listen to music or put a film on in the background which can help to reset your mood.  My favourite go to is the Amadeus soundtrack.
  3. Sleep on it.  Not literally but the sentiment here is to step away from what you are doing.  Fresh eyes can really help you move past your inner inspiration walls.  This is a tactic I learnt from one of my mindfulness teachers Michelle Levey who taught me to cosy up and get curious about the challenges your mind can bring you.  If you have the luxury of time then sometimes this is a good tactic to take.  Take the time away from your project to get curious about what is stopping you.  You might find it helps you to tap into deeper resources.  The important thing if you try this to be kind to yourself, the worst thing you can do is to start making yourself feel bad about feeling bad.
  4. Top up your creative bank account -listen to music or a pod cast.  Inspiration is infectious.  If you have creative friends you will know that spending some time talking to them can spark ideas.  If you are looking for a good podcast about creativity then you can’t go wrong with Creative Loving Spirit by Paul Macauley.  Other good options are Mindfulness with Tamsin Bishton, The Art History Babes and Creative Pep Talk .  On the music front then Gudjor never fails to come at me left of field, it’s surprising and captivating.
  5. Surround yourself with things that you find inspiring.  I have created a wall of images I find inspiring and reassuring.  To get you started I would like to share this video which includes one of my favourite prints which never fails to lift my spirits and give me an idea. 
  6. Finished is better than perfect.  You might find yourself blocked because no matter what you try to finish, nothing ends up living up to your own expectations.  The quest for perfection creates a sense of paralysis faster than anything else I know.  Jake Parker has a great youtube video I turn to when I notice I’m skirting around the unbeatable tyrant that is perfection.
  7. Revisit unfinished work.  At any given moment I have a stack of at least 10 unfinished sketches.  If you find yourself falling out of love with a project half way through, don’t throw it away, put it aside for a rainy day instead.  This way you have somewhere to go when starting something from scratch seems difficult.
  8. Exercise your creative muscles.  Just like your real muscles, you can build your creative muscles so they can take you further on less energy.  One great way to exercise is by speed drawing. Simply go somewhere, set up what you need and then draw whatever is in front of you in 5-15 minutes.  No matter what the outcome finish at the time you have set yourself.  Turn 90 degree and begin again.  Even if you don’t like what you have done at the end, you will have at least four drawings by the time you do a full rotation back to where you started.
  9. Know what motivates you.  This is easy said and hard lived.  Knowing yourself is a life times work.  However there is one small thing I have noticed works for most people, which is break whatever goal you are trying to achieve into small easy steps.  I find it really demotivating to be working towards a far off goal and constantly feeling like I am getting nowhere.  Where as if I have a bunch of small things I can accomplish along the way, the more I do, the energy I gather as I go.
  10. Experiment.  Pick a piece of work that you have completed that you really like, then try and recreate it in a different medium. If you used pencils, try collage.  If you used water colour, try charcoal.  If you used ink try finger paints.  You may surprise yourself, and surprise in my opinion is the fore-bearer of creation.

Shop Highlight – Zen-Doodle Tee


This great zen-doodle tee is comfy and perfect for wearing while doodling.  You can buy it here.

I have partnered with the beautiful people over at Rapnui clothing and Tee mill to set up a clothing shop which won’t break the bank or the planet.  The t-shirts are ethically made and sourced, and super comfy.

How to survive #Inktober2019 – The art of daily practice

What is Inktober?

If you haven’t come across #Inktober then now is the right time to familiarise yourself with it.  Originally started by Jake Parker,  today social media will explode with brilliant drawings as people take on the Inktober Challenge.  The rules are simple:

2019promptlist“1) Make a drawing in ink (you can do a pencil under-drawing if you want).
2) Post it*
3) Hashtag it with #inktober and #inktober2019
4) Repeat”

For many it’s a fun a fun way to connect and contribute to a lively online artistic community.  I am always impressed by the variety of how people respond to the same prompt.  The results are a diverse and creative as the people taking part.

For the last couple of years I have taken part and had a lot of fun doing it.  It will be no surprise that I am a big supporter of anything that encourages daily creative practice.  I think doing anything creative is good fun and good for you.  It will feed your soul, inspire others and over time you will get to see the deeply satisfying results as your work improves.  I believe it’s never too late to start.  My amazing mum decided at 57 that she was going to learn to play the piano.  She had always encouraged us to learn instruments because it wasn’t something available to her as a child.  At 57 she became a musician for the first time in her life.  If she can do that, then anyone can pick up a pencil and start the journey of being an artist.

The pitfalls of challenges like Inktober

There is however, one thing that I find saddening about Inktober.  As the days progress past the initial public declarations of people taking part, the dialogue around Inktober shifts.  It becomes guilty, self-deprecating and borders on de-motivating.  What I think happens each year is that well-meaning intentions become over stretched as a new habit struggles to be established, and because we have declared ourselves publicly, we feel we are letting ourselves and others down by not meeting the expectations we have set.

The trouble with cultivating a daily practice is that it can take work and dedication.  When talking about my own daily doodling habits, I tend towards words like practice and discipline for a very good reason.  It didn’t happen overnight, it took years to develop the consistency with which I post today.  And even now I am not happy with everything I post.  When something comes along like Inktober, which is headed by the extremely talented artist Jake Parker, it can seem light and easy from the outside.  Like he just pulls theses beautifully inked works out over coffee first thing in the morning.  I’m sure he would be the first person to tell you that it takes dedication and work to get there.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start.  Doing a quick doodle in the evening between feeding your kids and feeding yourself, is better than if you had done nothing at all.  What I’m saying is that it doesn’t have to be big, it doesn’t have to be perfect, you don’t even have to love it at the end of the day.  Just pick up a pencil and you will already be doing better then you were doing yesterday.

What can help me get through Inktober?

As a daily doodler, I might not be able to offer much, but after just over 1200 days of daily doodling, I might be able to offer some bits and bobs I have learned that keep me coming back to the drawing table each day.

  1. Plan ahead.  Don’t think it will just slot into your life as it stands.  There is likely a list of other things you could be doing right now.  There always is, but for some reason you want to do this, so give it some importance and protection.  Like you would anything else, you need to cultivate the space and time to dedicate to it.  However you normally organise yourself, include drawing time.  If I have a busy week coming up I will actually plot practice time into my diary.  Also look at the prompts ahead of time.  Think about what resources you need to complete the drawing you have planned.
  2. Pick an upload schedule that works for you.  The quickest way to become de-motivated is to set a target that you know you will not be able to meet.   If a month of drawing seems too big, break it down into weeks, days, hours. Also don’t forget to read the fine print at the bottom of the rules: Note: you can do it daily, or go the half-marathon route and post every other day, or just do the 5K and post once a week. What ever you decide, just be consistent with it. Inktober is about growing and improving and forming positive habits, so the more you’re consistent the better. This also applies to the size of the drawings you want to do, the type of material you want to use.  If you only draw occasionally, and only ever in pencil on A5, maybe just try and change one of those things, rather than diving straight into an A1 ink drawing every day.  Last year October was a busy month for me outside of drawing so I decided that I would upload a day late for all my prompts.  That was worked for me best.
  3. Let others work inspire you, not discourage you.  With challenges like this then it is easy to compare yourself to others, and even easier to find yourself wanting.  Let’s be honest there will always be someone out there who is better than you. I sometimes joke that looking at some of the amazing work out there makes me want to chew off my own arm.  However if you are able to accept that there is always someone out there better than you, it frees you up to just focus on your own skills, your own goals, and comparing the you who is drawing today, to the you who was drawing yesterday.
  4. Keep your “self-talk” kind.  If you can’t be kind, just try and be non-judgemental.  Practice is difficult enough without you adding a heap of self-loathing into it.  Also if you are always focusing on what you are doing wrong, you run the risk of missing all the good work you have done right.  When I have a tough day or draw something I really don’t like, I try to find just one thing that will help me do better next time.  Which brings me to…
  5. Enjoy your fuck ups.  Nothing new every happened perfect the first time.  If every time you make a mistake, you learn something new, then you might even look forward to fucking-up.  I have seen many people talk about how they never finish art because it’s never good enough.  What they are missing out on is the wonderful creative problem solving that comes from when you have to incorporate a fuck up into your drawing.
  6. Do the prompts you enjoy.  If you don’t like the prompt, see rule 8. There are plenty of other things to tickle your inspiration.  Drawolleen is one that I see amazing images emerge from each year as well.  There is enough space on the internet for all, some, half and half.  What ever you are drawing, remember that it is supposed to be fun.  But don’t discard the prompt too quickly.  I have found in the past, the prompts I was least excited by at the start of a drawing, have become some of my favourite pieces.
  7. It’s okay to fall behind.  If you fall behind, just pick up wherever you can.  You don’t need to apologise to anyone for not drawing, not even yourself.  The important thing to practice is that if you stop you can always pick it up again.  The artists I am always impressed by are the ones that sometimes take longer.  They might not keep up with a daily drawing, they might still be finishing drawings in November, but the important thing is they keep coming back to the drawings.  Practice is as much about the fact that you keep coming back to the practice as it is about what you do while you are there.
  8. I also call this the Douglas Adam’s rule: “Don’t Panic”.  If today didn’t go well for you, there is always tomorrow.  A better piece of advise is, have fun and stay calm.  Good work comes from happy calm places.  The stereotype of the tortured artist is a infrequent occurrence, possibly even a total myth largely cultivated by brooding college fuckboys trying to get laid.
  9. It’s the activity that’s important not the result.  Try and separate yourself from the end result.  It is not the end picture that will make you a better artist, it’s the minutes, hours and days you spend working on it.  Again I have done drawings where I didn’t particularly like the end results, but I enjoyed the process.
  10. No matter who you are, and what you do, you are an expert in something.  When you feel your confidence wavering, remember you may not be an expert at drawing, but there will be some aspect of your life at which you are very competent.  It took you time to become an expert.  Remember that you are just a person, doing the best you can with what you have available to you at this moment in time.  Judging yourself poorly for trying to be better is just adding to your stress, and will probably make any learning much harder to grasp.  You already have a wealth of inner resources to draw upon when you are struggling with your practice.

So, everyone, good luck.  I hope that you find Inktober the fun and positive experience it was designed to be.

I will be posting a doodle a day as normal in response to the Inktober prompts (below), so if you haven’t already, make sure you follow to stay up to date.  And if you are taking part then please send me links to your work, because I love to see what you guys come up with.  Either comment below or tag me on Twitter.