View Full Version : painting "block"

Lisa Fiore
03-07-2010, 12:15 PM
Hi. I'm wondering if anyone else has experienced this? I've been in a complete painting "slump" for a couple of weeks. It seems like nothing will go right in this area and I'm getting frustrated so easily. As an example, I've been unhappy with a painting I did recently of my youngest and wanted to brush off the face and attempt to get a better likeness--I became so annoyed after only a half hour that I bent up the (way too expensive) board and threw it in the trash--ugh! Yesterday I sat outside and tried to sketch some flowers and quickly became annoyed--it looked like cheap wallpaper! I normally find so much joy in painting, and I'm not sure what's wrong with me now. What's the best way to get through this? I guess I'm kind of acting like a spoiled brat... :mad:

Thanks for listening. :)

M Douglas
03-07-2010, 12:37 PM
Hi Lisa, I think we all go through painters block at one time or another. When it seems like nothing goes right. If a piece isn't working for me I put it away to sit until it is the right time to paint it. In the meantime focus on other art related things. Or try something in a different medium. Allow yourself time to play. (I have a hard time with this one, I think every painting has to be a masterpiece lol)
I usually know my block is over when I start to put gesso on canvas, even if i'm painting in pastel lol. Probably because there is no pressure to get it right.

Hope your block passes soon.


03-07-2010, 12:43 PM
One of the things that helps me with a painting block is to tackle something completely different, especially if it's something I haven't done before because I was too intimidated. I sometimes find that I can get more interest again if I get into a class or go into one of the tutorials in the library here. Or switch mediums.

Try doing just easy sketches and studies of different subjects.

Another thing that works is to dive right back into my comfort zone and try something so easy I normally wouldn't bother with it any more. Back to basics. I then see some progress over the last time I did the "easy" thing and it restores confidence.

You're probably tossing out perfectly wonderful art because you're reaching for something that's just on the edge of understanding -- a skill leap that will blossom with great intensity as soon as you find it. That's the "try something really challenging" approach -- but go slow and work up to it with all the preliminaries.

Part of that is the feeling that it's not so bad to fail if what you were trying to do seemed impossible anyway, you got closer to it, so that builds confidence.

Alternate the different experiments -- try "go easy" and then go way outside your comfort zone, try sketching and then try a detailed fully polished small painting. Do a lot of smaller projects. Do them for yourself, store them, don't toss anything even when you're in a mood. It may look a lot better when you come back to it later.

I can't count the number of times something looked awful and then a few months down the line I realized all it needed was a couple of finishing touches to be spectacular.

Also post for critique before demolishing anything. You may get help and suggestions that kick it over the line into that better than you thought category, or you may like I just did, find out that it'd be easier to vacuum it and start over.

Don't feel too bad about the expensive board in the trash though, it's only paper and everyone gets moods. Better that than taking it out on people.

But this might be a really good time to do sketchbook stuff that you don't have to get perfect, just fool around and play with things and experiment instead of trying to do something finished. That is a way of opening up whatever you're ruminating on.

I get this in writing too, fallow times when I can't compose fiction and don't even feel like it... and then whatever I do after that hiatus will come out tons better. Rumination is a part of any of the arts.

Kathryn Wilson
03-07-2010, 01:13 PM
Sometimes things in our personal lives takes over the brain and continues to "interrupt" the art thought process. Take it easy on yourself, read some art magazines or books - go to a museum and look at some different paintings other than pastels. It might give you a fresh outlook when you come back.

03-07-2010, 01:23 PM
We all have that problem at one time or another. Maybe you need to get out and commune with nature. Pull a few weeds or go to the beach. Watch the clouds go by and just relax. There are several paint along threads just seeing what other people are doing and joining in may help. I am doing the the Spotlight 2010 thread and it is a lot of fun. Anyway "this too will pass". Good luck. Jen

03-07-2010, 02:57 PM
Hi Elizabeth - I hear you - I think we all have this at times. Post this next to your easel "IT SIMPLY IS AN UNRESOLVED PAINTING - IT IS NOT FINISHED!!" My mentor tells me that all the time. When something doesn't feel right, try to figure out WHAT doesn't feel right. If you can't figure it out, put the painting away where you can't see it for a while and then pull it out and look at it with fresh eyes. Post it here to see if folks can help you figure out what needs to be resolved - people are so helpful and giving. You will get various ideas to mull over and think upon.

And sometimes I'm just not in the frame of mind to be creative because of those life interruptions Kathryn mentioned. It can be very difficult to deal with all of the pressures of life, and when that happens to me I need to escape - go somewhere else in my mind - and for me that is reading. The block won't last forever, and you will "get your groove back!"


03-07-2010, 03:38 PM
:( I feel your pain, I really do.

Yes, the painting block, I remember it well, and unfortunately, I'm sure it will come back to visit me again! I think we are all subject to that madness, now and again. For me, it seems to be the subject matter that I need to change, not the medium. In case I forget how much I love pastel, all I have to do is start a watercolor, and all of a sudden I remember, ooooh, pastels, that's right, they're much better for me! (I'm so hooked on pastels, that it is almost ridiculous!) If I've been working on portraits for a while, sometimes it helps me to switch it up and try a still life, or maybe a landscape. Everyone is different, though, and like Kathryn said, our personal life does get in the way. Her idea to read or go to a museum is a good one - it does help me when I get this way. Just know, it is only a temporary state, and something will spark you sooner or later, and staying somehow in touch with art really helps. Like Lynn, I also read, and that is another way for me to escape, if that is what I really need to do.

Hang in there - this, too shall pass! I know it will - it ALWAYS DOES! :smug:

03-07-2010, 03:55 PM
Lisa, you may be in that dip right before taking a quantum leap. Quite possible. The 'only' thing you'd need to do if that is the case, is to work and think through it. Experiment, and allow yourself to do stinkers, and the breakthrough will come.

This happens so often before the leap. Tossing out the idea as something to consider.


03-07-2010, 04:01 PM
I too hate the dreaded "painting block". Usually for me, I grab my backpack and go do some plein aire work. Even if it is just sketching and sitting in the open aire. The open aire seems to blow away the cobwebs and restore clarity of thought.

03-07-2010, 04:07 PM
I don't think there is an artist out there that does not go through blocks every once in a while. For whatever reason, stress, life challenges, burnout, etc...
In my humble experience the first warning signs (frustration, unfulfilling paintings, inability to finish a piece) are a signal to step back, take a break, and most importantly, to chill out and not take it so very seriously. Lighten up, go have some fun doing something completely different, leave the studio behind and go take walks, cook some comfort food, enjoy the family, garden, shovel snow, work out, anything that is not connected to doing artwork.
I used to do endurance training, and it is so easy to get burn out. Like doing artwork, we push ourselves to perform, perform, perform, and forget to schedule "down time" or rest. This sets us up for failure or dissatisfaction and injury to mind and body. It is much better to set one's self up for success, and that means finding balance in all things in our lives. Taking care of our minds and bodies and realizing that we need to be kind to ourselves and just take time off and allow ourselves to refill our inspirational tanks. You will find that most older athletes and artists who have had a long and productive careers make a point of doing this periodically through the year.

Deborah Secor
03-07-2010, 05:40 PM
When it happens to me, I go back to basics. I get out Betty Edwards' book 'Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain' and do a few of the exercises. I love making a blind contour drawing, or a vase face, or some silly thing that loosens up my hand and eye. I get out my Moleskine and draw my cup, my hand, the pencil on the table. Or I go into my studio and tone paper, or make some gesso-and-pumice mixture and coat boards in different colors, or do some framing (if I have to), or even (gasp!) update the books (only when DESPERATE!)

I'll tell you the same thing I tell folks all the time. It's something Albert Handell told me one day when he called and I was in a blue funk, making nothing but scrap paper. He said, "The older you get, the less you believe it will never go away." Oddly comforting, that. No one is getting any younger.

The blue funks come, but the blue funks always go. They really do... Keep going.


Lisa Fiore
03-07-2010, 06:05 PM
Wow, you all have offered such fantastic advice, thanks everyone for your amazing ideas and support! You have no idea how very much this means to me. I feel as if some stress has been lightened, and am more hopeful that this "phase" will pass... I will definitely be taking all of your advice!! It helps also to know I'm not alone in this--I started to think I was just losing it emotionally and artistically.
You guys are awesome!! :clap: Thanks again. :)

03-07-2010, 06:13 PM
Hi Elizabeth: Wow, I have gone thru this so many times and dumped so many good sheets of paper or canvas. Sometimes I take a complete vacation from art altogether and when I come back a week later, sit down with some great art mags and art history books.....just drinking in the images. It is not long before the inspiration comes and I can't wait to get into the studio. Another thing I've tried is getting into a media that I haven't tried in ages, like pen&ink, or scratchboard, crayon resist with watercolor....or even a little sculpture. Good luck.

Paula Ford
03-07-2010, 06:47 PM
Oh yes, been there done that, big time.

If you have a time set aside to paint, start out by listening to music that you love and can sing to. Singing is a right-brained activity and if you're listening to music you enjoy it will not only help you relax, it will help switch your brain over to be more creative.

The next thing I do is pull out my sketchbook and do thumbnail sketches and value sketches of photos that I plan to paint.

There is such wonderful advice here!! Great stuff!

Winny Kerr
03-07-2010, 06:55 PM
What a great thread and lots of good advice. I seem to get into this slump way too often. My problem is I never know WHAT I should paint because.....and I start looking at photo's and pictures and it confuses me even more and so I walk away and end up doing nothing and feeling really blue. I have to remember not everything has to be a masterpiece.....LOL
Talking about music.....I love your music you play on your blog Paula....I just sit and listen to that sometimes........so soothing.

Paula Ford
03-07-2010, 07:08 PM
Thanks Winny! I love Eva Cassidy and Stanton Lanier. They are both very relaxing to me. I play them when painting also.

There is also a cd/or mp3 download that I got from Amazon called Creative Mind System 2.0 by Dr. Jeffrey Thompson.


You can listen to samples there also.

Adriana Meiss
03-07-2010, 07:11 PM
It's very upsetting, but it's likely to happen at some point or another to all of us. I went through a slump that lasted 2 months! I would go the the studio and had to turn back because the drive to paint was not in me (I had a new job and was tired). After I got over it I told myself to never let anything keep me away from my pastels for so long. Of course, it's more easily said than done.
So, when I'm in that situation this is what I usually do:
I look at the work produced by my favorite artists.
Look at my photo references and put aside those that seem more appealing.
Start painting something that is not too challenging.
I tell myself that I'm allowed to fail.

Hope you'll get back on track soon!

03-07-2010, 08:44 PM
What's the best way to get through this?
Lisa, I agree with everyone who suggested a change of scene, a new material or medium, getting out into the fresh air, going back to basics.

I also find that taking a workshop or a class really refreshes me. Gets my juices flowing again with a vengeance.

There is also this book: Trust the Process: An Artist's Guide to Letting Go, by Shaun McNiff (1998) (http://books.google.com/books?id=LjN8QgAACAAJ&dq=Trust+the+Process:+An+Artist%27s+Guide+to+Letting+Go+by+Shaun+McNiff&cd=1)

Be patient and relax. And stop worrying. What you are going through is normal and common. The Muse (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muses) will come back. Always does, you know. :heart: :heart: :heart:


03-07-2010, 11:28 PM
Here's another good one: try to do something badly. Set out light heartedly to create an ugly drawing, something garish or oversentimental or silly. Odds are it'll actually turn out well when I do that, it's the permission to goof up that breaks the nervousness.

David Gerrold gave me a good block-breaker for writing in a writing workshop. He said "Get up and clean the house." Success at mindless physical tasks is cheering and encouraging, it's also tangible and restores confidence -- and they're boring enough that you start getting imaginative again. I remembered that when Deborah mentioned doing the books at the point of extreme frustration. Same thing -- something important done but it's so left brained and dull that you're screaming to paint afterward.

WC Lee
03-08-2010, 03:29 AM
Painters block happens to everyone at one time or another .. though I feel it happens to me way too often :( anyhow, I usually just switch mediums playing around with oils, acrylics, charcoal/graphite, or/and watercolor. Either that or I just sketch/paint something that is out of my norm without caring how it turns out.

03-13-2010, 09:32 AM
There is also this book: Trust the Process: An Artist's Guide to Letting Go, by Shaun McNiff (1998) (http://books.google.com/books?id=LjN8QgAACAAJ&dq=Trust+the+Process:+An+Artist%27s+Guide+to+Letting+Go+by+Shaun+McNiff&cd=1)
Just got around to reading this book and I retract my initial recommendation of it. Although all the suggestions and pieces of advice in it are good, there is nothing new. It is just one of your standard 'self-improvement' books that repeats the same stuff over and over again, slightly altered each time, sprinkled with unattributed quotes from everyone from Carl Jung to the Koran, to fill 200 pages. Blah blah blah.

Sorry for the original rec. Hope no one bought it. :rolleyes:


03-13-2010, 11:00 AM
Lisa, W C LEE has a good point that i do quite often.
"I just sketch/paint something that is out of my norm without caring how it turns out."
and find i end up doing something great. does the bolock go away then sometimes. I find doing the challenges helps alot painting quick and not careing what comes out of it. it tend to loosen me up and some times that really helps just loosening up. there are so many in the different Forums. some times this is all i will paint for a few weeks. you could get away for a day or part of it. go to the river or the beach with your camera take pic's of everything you see. alot of plants are starting to blum. It will pass.

03-13-2010, 11:30 AM
Weekend Drawing Event is usually good for stirring me up.

One of the ways I ease myself out of a block is to tell myself "I'll just do some gesture drawings" and either go to WDE in the All-Media Art Events forum or look at my cat in whatever position he's in. Then try to draw him fast in one to five minutes. The resulting sketches are loose and over a couple of years of doing this have started to be good maps for more detailed cat drawings, actual references.

But forcing myself to do it for only two minutes is a little push that gets me past the block if it's a mild one -- if it wouldn't take much effort. Doing the gestures reminds my hand that it's fun to draw. So there's another trick. And then if I don't feel like doing any more, at least I've drawn something that day.

03-13-2010, 12:50 PM
Hi guys...

lisa: Two weeks of block? coincidence- me too!
I've already abandoned one, ripped up two and have one on my easel which I am working on 10 minutes at a time, or not at all... LOL.

I thought it was me. Maybe there's something in the stars, or maybe i'm trying too hard :)

This thread was a relief to read :)

Lisa Fiore
03-14-2010, 10:00 AM
Thanks again everyone for your fantastic responses and advice!! I have actually taken a bit of time off--working in my flower and vegetable gardens now that it's finally warm enough to do so. I've started to do the Spotlight challenge also, and I think the block is breaking!! (fingers crossed, hoping) I've been having fun with this painting and so far, I'm satisified with it. :) Great advice, all!! :clap:

Yiannis, I hope your block will be ending soon. Maybe it is something in the stars, after all!!

03-14-2010, 03:16 PM
Or the weather. I get arthritis pain that can sometimes prevent me from doing anything in the spring, though where I live now there are some days that are the best I've had in months. Back in Kansas it was so bad that I could write off February, March and April as months I'd barely accomplish anything and count on lots of bed rest.

But as winter breaks up in temperate climates, restlessness sets in for people and animals alike. Anything you'd be doing in winter seems dull and boring while it's not yet nice enough to go outside and do the things your body's gearing up for. Constant changes of pressure are invisible even if the temperature's relatively consistent, producing mood swings. People argue and grumble more, people get touchy, and maybe that's the timing behind some of the art blocks.

I've been feeling frustrated with doing the series of reviews I'm doing, having to push myself to get started on them. Not as serious as block but something in that direction -- a cranky feeling of wishing I were doing something other than what I had planned. Whatever that plan is, something else always seems to be much more interesting until I rearrange my plans and do that, then some other thing seems much more fun.

My cat's been doing the same thing for days. He'll run around, play with one toy for a couple of swats, run in the bathroom meowing, eat one kibble, run up by the window and meow plaintively as if he wants something. Then run up and demand lap time, get cuddly out of nowhere, then want to play swat and bite. (He doesn't bite hard, it's more mouth grabbing.) He's discontent and I think it's the changing weather.

I think it's just spring, and that the climate affects mood even on people who don't get really obvious symptoms of arthritis or hay fever (which thankfully I don't have, I feel so sorry for people who do because I love wildflowers and nature.)

03-16-2010, 02:46 PM
Hi Lisa. I've been going through this same thing for awhile with pastels. Not being satisfied with anything I produced. I started looking around on some of the other forums and became fascinated with scratchboard and decided to give it a try. Luckily, my interest came at a good time because the local Michaels is discontinuing scratchboard so everything was marked way down. Anyway I love it and feel much more relaxed doing it. I'm itching to do another pastel just to see if the time away has helped. So my suggestion would be to try something different. It may help you get over the hump.

03-19-2010, 02:37 PM
My two cents' worth:

- Do something completely different
- Time to read and look at books and paintings since you are not in a creative mood
- Create something simple and you know you will succeed with no expectations at all to build up your confidence again

Sometimes my plan for a painting is too daunting because I was overestimating myself or trying too hard, I tend to heap more hope and aspirations on it and thus, I feel stressed when I should be enjoying or relaxing doing something I love??!!! How silly is that??

03-20-2010, 07:35 AM
Lisa.. .....this has happened to me so often over many years I hardly notice it any more... but I have found, with both myself and observing others, that Charlie's observation is very often true

Lisa, you may be in that dip right before taking a quantum leap. Quite possible. The 'only' thing you'd need to do if that is the case, is to work and think through it. Experiment, and allow yourself to do stinkers, and the breakthrough will come.

This happens so often before the leap. Tossing out the idea as something to consider.


.. though I rarely work through it with painting....... but expend my creative energy elsewhere.. the garden , upholstery, decorating.......then when I return from the break find something has indeed 'happened' positively.

I cannot 'Work Through' the phase in a painterly way ..... I just get more and more and more frustrated and unhappy....... my dissatisfaction reaching an unmanageable pitch......but I do endlessly buy and read Art books....... the sort that show how other painters tackle their work when they are good writers - that's important as I seem to go left brained for a bit...........I'm too impatient to go back to basics or follow step-by-steps.... or try a new medium from scratch !!

I now go with the non-flow..... !!!!

Hope you find your own successful way through it..... the one thing I CAN say for sure is you WILL find your way out the other side...... however long it takes...

[I hate to tell you but some of my blocks have gone on for many months .... even years!]