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5 Steps to Beat Illustrator's Block

5 Steps to beat illustrator's block
5 Steps to beat illustrator's block

Illustrator's block can be a major struggle. I've personally had to deal with illustrator's block so much that I've learnt many tricks to jump start a creative spark. As a creative, you know that it's more of a process than a quick fix, but if you set up certain things correctly you can go from it being a process to being a jump start.

1. Workspace Ready

Illustrator's workspace, drawing table, creative space

One of the things standing in the way of many new illustrators starting is getting set up to draw.

The best thing you can do for yourself is to make sure your workspace is ready to go. If you're fortunate enough to have a nice set up with a desk/table, all your materials and solitude then always make sure you leave it ready for the next project so that it doesn't put you off of starting next time.

If you don't have a set up, try to make one.

Easy drawing set up with tray and drawing tool roll
Easy drawing set up with tray and drawing tool roll
Easy drawing set up if you don't have a desk or table
Easy drawing set up if you don't have a desk or table

A mobile set up on a tray, drawing board or wide and short box may be a good idea. Have all your supplies (or just the ones you use often) together on a tray so you can whip it out whenever the feeling takes you. That way you can draw on your bed, on the kitchen table, coffee table, the floor - anywhere there's space.

Make your workspace something special, even sacred. Good lighting and adding plants and candles can make your workspace a soothing place to sit. If you make your drawing area enticing, you'll want to be there more often.

2. Manage Stress

Now this is a big one. Something that definitely puts me off starting a project is all the pressures I put on myself and the daily stresses that life throws my way. When you're tired from work, or stressed from daily situations, it's impossible to get into the right mind-set for being creative (unless it's your way to cope with stress).

The stress directly related to actually drawing that puts me off most is self-doubt, over-thinking and putting pressure on myself for not having drawn in a while.

Managing stress is a life skill that there are many techniques and methods for. What works for you is up to you, but I find certain things essential to my creative, emotional and mental wellbeing such as:

A. Regular Exercise

Drawing manikin doing exercising doing a push up

Exercising releases tension, works through the build up of chemicals and hormones produced by our bodies when it experiences stress and it also releases good hormones that are mood lifting. The list of benefits goes on. I'm sure you know many of them and if you don't, I suggest you do some research because it's such a vital part of day-to-day health.

B. Meditation

Drawing manikin meditating

Meditation is an important (daily if you can manage) practice that calms the mind, releases worry and creates space to let in creative ideas (among many other things!). When you incorporate meditation into your routine you'll start to notice that you'll have more patience and be less easily stressed out.

C. Play

drawing manikin on an AT-AT

Essential to creativity is right brain activity. Our left brain or analytical mind is responsible for analysing, worrying about things that have happened and things that will happen. It also controls language and other areas like logic and maths. Our right brain is where the creative magic happens. It's hard to get in the right brain mode when you're worrying and preoccupied with left brain problems. Right brain is about the here and now, about being present and letting go. I find that a good way to unlock it is to get into a playful and care-free state of mind.

Some of you will be thinking "Impossible in this day and age! Some of us have jobs, how dare you dangle a playful and care-free carrot in our faces!" And I feel you... This could be exactly what is standing in your way and drawing could be exactly what you need in your life to combat stress. A Catch-22 situation, right? This is why meditation comes before play in my list. First clear the mind, then do something fun.

These 3 points are all part of a balanced lifestyle and not a way to get over illustrator's block immediately. Don't go and run for a half hour, meditate for 10 minutes and play Candy crush and expect to feel inspired. The important thing that I've learnt is to live your life so that you can manage your stress levels before adding more stress by forcing yourself to be creative when what you actually need to do is rest and you end up being disappointed in yourself for not drawing like you planned. A vicious cycle my friends...

It takes a while to work through all the stress and get back into a calm state. I'm writing this during the Coronavirus lockdown and this is the perfect time to try and reset your body and mind so that you can get into the ideal creative mindset to make cool stuff. If you're reading this much later (I have so many questions for you) and are back to the daily grind, maybe take a few days off around a weekend. Tell your loved ones you're going to have a few days of silence and make an intention to get back to your creative core.

3. Take the Pressure off

Close up of a hand drawing in a little book

Instead of getting all set up and staring at a blank piece of paper, waiting for inspiration to strike, try and make drawing a habit. Next to your bed and the couch, always have a little book and pen/pencil around. Get any ideas of making 'good drawings' out of your head and think of it as just messing around. Take all pressure of creating anything 'good' off yourself and remember how fun and therapeutic it is to just put pen to paper. Now, this may be good for a while, but a problem I faced was I kept doing the same things over and over and I wasn't improving much or finding inspiration. If you get to this point observational drawing helps. Look for references of the subject matter you're doodling in your 'mess book' and take it a step further when you feel the urge. This way your routine develops into something a little more serious and you may go from couch to table pretty quickly.

4. Instant Inspiration

5 steps to beat illustrator's block

Okay so I'm going to get all millennial on you (chances are I'm probably much older than the average reader of this article though), but I've found that Instagram can be a real source of great inspiration, if you do it right. So if you don't have a separate Instagram account for your illustration, I suggest you create one. If you're nervous about people you know seeing your work, just make an anonymous account. The benefits are for your feed and not so much for your artwork at this stage. In this account, don't follow friends or celebrities or anything that is not illustration related and only follow people's work you admire and those who you genuinely like who are on par with you. Please don't follow people so they'll follow you back or fall into any of those games. If your work is good, they will come. Right now you need to actually do the work.

If you're struggling to find good artists to follow here are a few of my favourites:

@heikala: Lovely whimsical ink paintings and process videos.

@marijatiurina: Weird and quirky water colours with a beautiful colour palette.

@mister_vi: Wonderfully detailed architectural pen drawings.

@thierryduvalaqua: Incredibly realistic water colour paintings of scenery and city scapes. Gorgeously imaginative and colourful drawings for children's stories.

(I often post my favourite works of the day I see on my feed on my story which you can find on my account @thesalsacreative).

With a trove of great work on your feed, finding inspiration will be easy. Please remember that being inspired by specific works is great, copying them for your own technique improvement is fine, but please please don't copy people's work and post it or even worse - try and sell it. The instagram artist community is a considerate one, because we all know how much hard work goes into finding our style and get to where we are so we give credit where credit is due and we don't copy each other to get ahead.

Instagram is a great resource for inspiration and for getting to know like minded artists like yourself. I highly recommend using it and I am no way endorsed by them (wouldn't that be great though!).

So when you've got some down time, go onto your feed for 5-10mins and get inspired by all the beautiful colour palettes, rhythmic lines, strange stories and wonderful work illustrators are creating.

5. Sometimes You Just Need to Focus

Artists Desk: How to break a creative block

If you still can't get started after you've followed steps 1 - 4, maybe you need a little push. Set out time for yourself to just sit at your table and start something. It doesn't have to be perfect, but set aside an hour or 2 and get something down. Maybe you'll get stuck in or maybe you'll get distracted. The important thing is that you prioritise your drawing like the other important things in your life if you want to progress. Show up for yourself and put in the effort. I'm guessing you give your energy to other people all day long, sometimes you need to give a little to yourself too because you are just as important a