A few of my artist friends have confided in me about their struggle with artist's block, known by some as "art rut." Artist’s block is an incredibly common problem among us creative people. In essence, it involves not being able to find the motivation or inspiration to create art.
Today, I’ll share my personal struggle with it and the strategies I used to overcome it.
Some of these things are embarrassing to admit. But my hope is that if you've experienced some of these same struggles, you can learn from my mistakes and overcome them much quicker.
Mistake #1: I compared myself to others
From around 2008 to 2011 I was a doodler for Google, creating fun and fanciful illustrations to commemorate holidays, inventors, events, and other dates of note. Google decided it was time to expand the team of then three doodlers into a more robust team so we began hiring. The new artists were more skilled art illustration than I was and that fact made me insecure. I was comparing myself to them and feeling I came up short on everything. Their lines were so smooth, their colors were great...I could go on, but the point is I thought they were much better than I was, and that comparison made me insecure and less willing to give it my best to try and make good art.
It's true that even those of us who are successful illustrators and have had millions of people see our artwork are susceptible to this problem.
How to overcome comparing yourself to others
It wasn't until someone else pointed it out to me that I began to see how destructive this line of thinking was. I became more aware of my negative thoughts like “they’re better than me” and replaced them with less judgemental ones like “this person is further along in their artistic journey than I am.”
Even better would be to avoid making comparisons at all, and remind yourself that your art is just as valid and meaningful as anyone else's’. Full stop.
Mistake #2: I was a perfectionist
Some may talk about perfectionism as a positive trait expecting that it will cause you to create higher quality output. But the reality for me is that it completely blocked any output from seeing the light of day.
For example, when I came up with ideas for gifts I wanted to make for others, the negative thoughts would begin to creep in. "If I make this, it won't be as good as I want it to be, so there's no point in even trying."
How I overcame perfectionism
I had to get to the point where I acknowledged that perfectionism wasn't helping me and that producing more art, even if it didn't live up to my standards, was still progress and worth doing. Because the more we create, the better we get.
The perfectionism mindset is very damaging, and can prevent an artist from doing much of anything, but trying to pretend you’re not thinking that way can be just as damaging. Instead, acknowledge and accept that you’re having these thoughts. Acknowledge it, accept it for what it is, remind yourself that it’s not going to help you, and then set it to one side and move on.
This shift in mindset takes intentional daily practice. You can make yourself notes on post-its on your mirror, or any other form of reminder somewhere you’ll see it often. I do this through daily affirmations that say
“Perfect is the enemy of done”
“When negative thoughts arise, I think about my thoughts and reframe those that don't serve me.”
But feel free to come up with your own.
I owe a lot to my coach, Brett Thornhill, who has helped me identify these negative thought patterns and reframe them into positive ones. Thank you Brett!
Once I began working on overcoming my negative thoughts, I set the intention to work on my art more. And I began by starting a new drawing routine. By having a routine, it removed a lot of the friction to getting started with an art project. It's like performing maintenance on my inner art machine by adding oil to the gears.
I know from prior experience and my art studies that it all comes down to the fundamentals. If I work on the fundamentals, the rest of my art will improve. It also helped me to improve my confidence because I had more early success by practicing things I already had some knowledge to build upon.
What We’ve Learned
- Comparing yourself to others is destructive to your self esteem. Reframe these thoughts to more positive ones.
- Perfectionism can prevent you from finishing or even starting art projects. Intentionally work to curb negative thinking and let go of perfectionism.
- Starting a drawing routine can help ease you back into things after a rut, and improve your confidence.
Have you been challenged by artists block? How did you overcome it? Please share your strategies with the community so we can all benefit.