I’ve conquered art block… for now

As is probably evident by my lack of posts here, I’ve been working through a major art block.

I think it had a bit to do with lack of inspiration, and a lot to do with fear of not being able to live up to a couple of pieces I’d done that I was really proud of. It’s funny how making something you really like can bring about a huge fear of failure to live up to your own work.

As much as I tried to remember that not everything I make is going to be great, I still felt that if I wasn’t making something great then I was failing, and this is a paralyzing way to think.

Here’s what worked for me:

I spent a lot of time not thinking about art, which was hard at first. I focused on fitness (my other time-suck of a hobby), and even stopped carrying around my sketchbook, which was quite literally a burden on my back.

I kept this distance from art and creating until I felt quite saddened by the separation. Once I felt sad about it I knew I was ready to go back to it. I didn’t go all at once, though. I  started by casually watching a couple of YouTube videos by my favourite art vloggers and looked at my old work. I spent a lot of time on Instagram looking at the work of those I admire, and fought the feelings of jealousy that tried to invade me. Then I took a day off from my day job to go to the Vancouver Art Gallery to see the Monet exhibit.

Monet piece at the Vancouver Art Gallery
Monet at the Vancouver Art Gallery

When faced with the option to abandon his home during World War I, Monet said “I would much rather die here in the middle of what I have done.”

His work and this particular quote brought back my desire to put pen to paper almost immediately. I hadn’t brought any tools along with me so, when we finished at the museum, I went to a dollar store and got what I needed. I sat at the beach and made some crappy drawings. But while the drawings were crappy, I enjoyed making them. I think it helped that it was a dollar store sketchbook. It removed any pressure to do great work.

The next morning I woke up at 4:30 to get ready for my morning workout and instead of heading out to the park, I got back into bed with my sketchbook. It was so early and I was so sleepy that my internal critic was still sleeping. The result surprised me. When I finally did fully wake up I’d made something that I was very proud of.

Drawing by Jessica Couture of a woman in a milk bath surrounded by flower petals
Made at 4:30 am before my internal critic was awake.

With this page in my sketchbook I considered my block busted, at least for now.

Let’s summarize what I’ve learned. Enjoy the process; to use a phrase I first heard from Anne Lemott, keep cranking out your “shitty first drafts”. Seek out inspiration if it’s not finding you, or play hard-to-get with it until you can’t take it anymore. Or just read or revisit Big Magic and get permission to suck until you no longer suck. And if you’ve filled piles of sketchbooks and you still think you suck, but at the same time you’re enjoying the process, then you’re doing it right.

I will definitely be revisiting this post when I come up against another block.

What are your tools and tricks for getting past a block? Whatever your creative outlet, I’m sure you’ve experienced a block before, and I’m just as sure that you’ve overcome it. Share your experience in the comments!


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