It's amazing how in art, just like in life, bad habits constantly try to creep in and spoil a good thing.
An example: For the first time, I'm beginning to sketch and paint from memory and imagination. I'm thrilled! Before now, I had to look directly at something to be able to draw and paint it. Now, I'm able to draw a few things without a reference which is a huge step forward.
With any huge step forward will come a step (or five) backwards.
I was happily painting the landscape above, solely from my imagination, and having a wonderful time. And then I actually looked at it. I nearly fell out of my chair laughing! Apparently, I mixed up my seasons. I have an autumn backdrop with a stark, snow-covered foreground.
Yep, mistakes were made.
Not only with art but with any skill, roadblocks are constant. Thankfully, I've learned to expect them. Extra thankfully, I've also learned how to push through them.
I've written about discouragement several times before, but if you've lost your artistic mojo, I have a few tips that I hope will encourage you. Because I've been there and done that a thousand times over. Yet, I'm still here, and I'm still doing art.
And that says more than a million ugly landscapes.
Things to Do When You (Think You) Can't Do Art
Calm the chaos.
I've got a child with new braces and a learner's permit. (Double whammy.) We homeschool so I am principal, teacher, curriculum supervisor and oftentimes writer, scheduler, and general headmaster over everything. I'm in the middle of several product tests for reviews, plus I'm mushroom sketching, landscape sketching, and working on an autumn journal. Oh yes, we're also building a house.
Needless to say, I sometimes feel a bit overwhelmed.
I was surfing social media and drooling over artist feeds that showcase pristine workspaces and flawless art staged in a gorgeous setting. Yeah, I want that, but I also recognize that it probably won't happen in my lifetime.
So rebel that I am, I posted a photo of my messy desk.
The problem is that messy lives often result in messy art. When that begins happening, it's time to calm the chaos, and the best way to do that is through culling.
I'm following this advice and clearing out of a lot of unused art supplies. For now, I'm ditching the landscapes and focusing on finishing my autumn journal. I'm going to write those product reviews and many more blog posts... eventually. But at this moment, I'm going to rearrange a few priorities until I can hear my thoughts again.
When life starts to get in the way of creativity and joy, I highly recommend that you do the same. Be willing to let go of some things, even if it requires sacrifice, to make room for what really matters to you. Yes, it will be a battle to calm the chaos (chaos is aways at war with your soul) but never neglect to make time to follow your bliss.
Go back to basics.
If you've been drawing or painting for a while, you may (like me) feel the pressure to constantly excel and improve. The problem is that real growth doesn't work this way. The step backward is just as important—maybe more important—than the five forward.
If you take time to embrace the step backward, you'll often find that the next couple of steps forward will happen without any realization or effort on your part. So when creativity stalls and you begin to draw muck, go back to what you do know.
Going back to basics relieves the pressure and sparks memories of why you fell in love with this craft in the first place. Give yourself permission, at least for a time, to sketch with pencil and notebook paper. Break a scene down into shapes and will yourself to stop. Focus on quantity over quality, values and color charts. This stuff isn't just basic art knowledge, it's skill growth!
Maybe it's time for me to start looking at things again. As I continue to look, I'll continue to learn, and eventually there will be more than just a few things that I can draw from memory. At least, that's what I'm telling myself!
Keep pressing forward.
A sweet, artistic lady that I follow on social media recently posted that she had hit painter's block and couldn't even sit at her desk chair without feeling despondent. She asked for advice, and I offered, "Paint anyway."
In all honesty, if I painted or sketched only when I felt like it, I would rarely sketch. I'd certainly never get any better, nor would I find a lot of enjoyment in it. I've learned that (most times) if I push on through that disinterested feeling and give myself time to warm up, fresh energy begins to flow. Painting and sketching not only begin to be fun but also feel like an extension of my life and heart flowing onto the page.
And that's when magic happens. In those moments, I realize the joy I would forfeit had I not practiced a bit of discipline.
With work comes reward, so when times of discouragement or laziness occur, kick those feelings to the curb, and paint anyway.
Know when to say when.
Look, I get it. Sometimes you just can't push through. Sometimes a long walk or a baking spree or a Dr. Who binge can heal a heart and mind better than any amount of paint. Other times, a longer break is required to get the creative juices flowing again.
And unfortunately, sometimes life itself is so overwhelming that the thought of doing anything else, even the good stuff, seems like drudgery and a chore
Confession time: I usually take a sketching pack with me everywhere, but I don't always use it. I often just walk or sit, observe, and breathe. An appreciation of the moment is an artistic skill that should be cultivated and developed, and it's hard to cultivate with a head in a field guide or sketchbook.
You know your own heart and mind better than anyone, so whatever choice you make to nourish your creative soul will be for the best. Even if it means rest.
P.S. If you're new to sketching and having trouble getting past that first, blank page, I've got some tips for you here.