Creative Block Struggles in the Life of an Artist

Stan McLygin
5 min readAug 9, 2021

Creativity is the fuel that makes artists thrive. They find inspiration from what they’ve seen in magazines or on the Internet. But instead of making an exact copy of these items, they formulate ways to improve the artwork. Likewise, everyday situations spark ideas for amazing concepts. Once artists get going, they have an insatiable drive to keep creating until they’ve exhausted their energy.

However, the time comes when it’s not physical willingness that’s lacking. No matter how you squeeze your brain for ideas, nothing’s coming out. Artists and everyone else working in a creative industry go through these phases of creative drought if they’ve been working on their ideas non-stop. It’s hard to put them at fault, especially if their profession requires them to constantly develop artistic outputs for customers.

But the truth is, if they fail to do so, their creations may become obsolete. Trends in art come and go, and artists must ride the wave to stay relevant. But they must also claim trends as their own to avoid being tagged as a rip-off. Therefore, artists’ struggles with creative block can disrupt their flow.

That said, here’s how artists can win the battle against creative dehydration.

How to Overcome Creative Block

Artists must be in the proper mindset to create a masterpiece. It sounds like a cliché, but they must be “in the zone” to perform at their best. But even if everything is correctly set up before tackling a project, the dreaded creative block can still attack. While people have different ways of dealing with this problem, some steps will work every time.

The first approach involves stepping away from your workplace, especially your computer if it consumes most of your time. If you feel stuck, walk away or draw by hand to stimulate your creativity. So, keep a sketchbook nearby.

Also, don’t force creativity if it’s lacking. That’s contrary to what being creative means because creativity isn’t a skill. Both mind and emotion must come together to put you in the proper mindset. Your mind needs a reboot at times and walking away will do wonders to develop ideas.

You may also look for other sources of inspiration, especially from activities that are out of your comfort zone. If you have a favorite artist, try to think about how he or she would handle your situation. The answers may be unsettling, but at least you’re gaining some direction. A broader appreciation of their creative disciplines will help you find inspiration away from your own field. If visual artists can’t provide answers, you can listen to music or watch a movie.

Performing other tasks like cleaning your house or washing the dishes may help you deal with creative block. Clearing your head may help your creative mind get going, and a mundane task like cleaning doesn’t require much thinking. While it does require you to flex some muscles, your mind gets the reset it deserves before tackling work again. Likewise, doing these mundane tasks long enough will give you the itch to return to your creative desk.

On the other hand, it’s vital to erase the fear of failure. Getting things wrong might be stopping you from even getting started. Therefore, leave those doubts behind and just put in the work. You might be afraid to fail, especially if you’re working on a big project. However, mistakes help you grow and can also be the source of your best work. Allowing these errors will help stretch your creativity into another dimension.

It’s also hard to force creativity if you’re not feeling well. Your body might already be giving you signals to step away. Taking care of yourself is vital. Recharge, and you’ll come back better than ever. It doesn’t take an expert to understand that having a healthy body puts you in the right state of mind. Therefore, it’s counterproductive to forget about your physical well-being because you’re finishing a project.

Sometimes, tasks feel overwhelming and paralyze you from being creative. When that happens, divide your project into smaller chunks. Focusing on small ideas will keep your creativity flowing, and you may experience spikes of creativity in between tasks.

It doesn’t hurt to put some pressure on yourself. If you’re a true professional, you always have that mentality of getting the work done without excuses. Otherwise, you may procrastinate over complex tasks that you don’t know how to complete. Yes, creativity isn’t forced but going to work is imperative. Eventually, your imagination will catch up, especially if a firm deadline is looming.

Finally, be courageous in letting your creativity shine. Perhaps you’re just afraid of what other people might say. Being creative takes guts, and figuring out what’s holding you back will help you overcome your worries.

Artists Who Overcame Creative Block

Even some of the most iconic artists of all time experienced creative block at some point. At the height of her career, Agnes Martin gave away her art materials before leaving New York City. She settled in New Mexico and didn’t create a single painting for seven years. When she resurfaced as an artist, her work featured calm colors in clear symmetry.

Meanwhile, impressionist, Claude Monet, stepped away from painting when his wife passed away in 1911. Two years later, he made an artistic interpretation of the roses at the entrance to his water garden. He created 22 artworks under his Grandes Decorations collection, his most comprehensive work volume ever.

Likewise, Vincent Van Gogh famously said, “Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.” This principle is evident in his intricate paintings that feature multiple textures at varying depths. Looking at Van Gogh’s self-portrait is like seeing smaller pieces combined to reveal a grand masterpiece.

On the other hand, the death of Louise Bourgeois’ father caused her to fall into a depression that stopped her from displaying her creations. She only had one solo exhibition between 1953 and 1964. After that, she became more active by producing biomorphic sculptures made of bronze, latex, marble, and plaster.

Georgia O’Keeffe also suffered from creative block after being admitted to a New York hospital in 1933. Aside from the fear of failure, her then-husband, Alfred Steiglitz, may have helped induce her anxiety attacks. To escape from the stress, she moved to New Mexico, where she found inspiration from the limitless landscapes at Ghost Ranch.

Finally, Pablo Picasso lost his appetite for art after a divorce in 1935. His friend, Spanish artist Jaime Sabartes, shared that the unfortunate episode stopped him from going to his studio, and he would even throw fits at the sight of drawings. However, he was able to channel his creativity into poems that were published in Les Cahiers d’Art.

Even history’s greatest artists aren’t immune to creative block. So, be kind to yourself and follow the guidance provided in this article and other online resources to get your creative juices flowing once again.