Monday Morning Art School: Painter’s Block

Early Spring on Beech Hill, oil on canvasboard, Carol L. Douglas, 12X16, $1449 framed includes shipping in continental US.

“What do you suggest for the dreaded easel terrors, as in frozen or painter’s block on how to continue?” a reader asked me. As often happens, the painting she’s stuck on is going very well. I can’t tell if she is afraid to ‘ruin’ it, or if she’s blind to its qualities.

Take a Break: Stepping away from your work gives you a fresh perspective. Go for a brisk walk, since exercise boosts creativity. Or do something completely unrelated to give your subconscious mind time to figure out the answer.

Experiment: Start another painting that is completely outside your wheelhouse. Try a different medium, or a different style. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone can help push through your painter’s block.

Main Street, Owl’s Head, oil on archival canvasboard, $1623 includes shipping and handling in continental US.

Draw: Your brain knows that deep down you think drawing is harmless and insignificant. It won’t invest the energy trying to trip you up on a little thing. That helps you regain your looseness for your real project.

Preset your palette: If the problem is one of color, find a painting you love and mix six or eight colors from it. Then observe in what proportion the artist uses these colors, and consider how you could use these colors in your own painting.

Apple Tree with Swing, 16X20, oil on archival canvasboard, $2029 framed includes shipping and handling in continental US.

Seek background inspiration: Visit art galleries or museums, read art books, browse art websites, watch a movie or play a computer game-all seeing some kind of ideas on which you can build.

Change Your Environment: It’s almost spring. Go outside and paint. A change is as good as a rest.

Don’t worry that you’ll ‘ruin’ it. If you could paint it once, you can paint it a thousand times. Having said that, if you’re considering a big revision, try it in photo-editing software or on a scrap of canvas first.

Work at the same time every day, when possible. Inspiration follows effort, more than the other way around. Sometimes the only way to overcome painter’s block is to keep painting, even if you’re not in the mood.

Lobster pound, 14X18, oil on canvas, $1594 framed includes shipping and handling within the continental US.

Analyze what’s wrong: Are there underlying fears or doubts holding you back? Sometimes naming those fears is enough to banish them; if not, talk them over with a trusted friend.

Join a community: A problem shared is a problem halved. Artists are generally very supportive and they either will or have gone through the same temporary drought as you.

My 2024 workshops:

2 Replies to “Monday Morning Art School: Painter’s Block”

  1. When I’m feeling blocked, I get out the alcohol inks and Yupo paper. Then I just play with color and the crazy designs you can make in the ink with everyday objects. It’s fast and easy and gets me out of my head … my head being the problem.

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