Fighting ‘Painter’s block’

Dear Artist, When three people in one day ask the same question, it’s time to pay attention, don’t you think? “What can I do about painter’s block?” they asked. First, you have to try to figure out which species of block is getting to you. As well as many subspecies, the main ones are fear of failure after previous success, fear of success due to a sense of unworthiness, lack of potential venue, jaded attitude, crisis of confidence, evidence of persistent poor quality, lackadaisical motivation and common everyday shortage of ideas. When you identify your main area of block, you need to dig around and try and find the potential origin. The unworthiness one, for example, can often be traced to poor self-esteem or overhanging guilt. By selectively reading art history, you can find lots of others who were, at some time, out on the same branch. It’s amazing how you can take courage from the Brotherhood and Sisterhood. Gaining insight from admired sources, you can take better aim at a bad bird. This is where the magic of persistence kicks in. Persistence is a branch of character, and once you make up your mind you are a person of character, the hunt becomes easier. People of character do something about what ails them. Great artists persist in overcoming everything from poor drawing, poor colour, poor composition, poor work habits and painter’s block. We all have our shortcomings. Getting over them fluffs up the fine feathers of professionalism. Now we come to the greatest anti-blocker of all. It’s all about finding the illusive love-birds of passion and excitement. This is not done by reading, thinking, exercising, talking to somebody or staring at a blank canvas. Excitement occurs automatically when you start billing and cooing. Passion comes from doing. If I could patent only this one idea I could pay off the Greek debt: Squeeze out before properly awakening, before first coffee, before the roosters, before you have any idea what the dickens you are going to do. Believe me, you’ll find the bluebird of happiness. Best regards, Robert PS: “The birds they sing at break of day, ‘Start again…’ I hear them say.” (Leonard Cohen)

Esoterica: “There is no such thing as a long piece of work, except one that you dare not start,” said Charles Baudelaire. At the same time, some artists get blocked when they find themselves making one mess after another. Trying to do too much can generate sloppy work and provoke a crisis of confidence. Taking a break — an hour or a week — can reboot creativity and give a fresh start. Self-understanding will determine how long a break you need. Beware — take too long and you may never fly again. Character prevails: Slow down, get centered. We all need to take our time to inhale this beautiful world.   Stop caring by Steve Blumenthal, Newburgh, NY, USA  

by Steve Blumenthal

For me, to overcome block, and it may sound counterintuitive, is to not care so much. If you care too much, I think that you become overly invested in a painting that you haven’t even yet begun. I suggest to my watercolor class to think of every start as a study and if it works out well, then you have a painting. I’ve even suggested that after the sketch, to wet the paper and hit it with some splatter just to break the ice (and the white). It takes some courage and meets with resistance, but it can work.     There are 5 comments for Stop caring by Steve Blumenthal
From: Anonymous — May 18, 2010

Great advice Steve!

From: Debra LePage — May 18, 2010

I agree-I just close the door and “play.” It helps tremendously.

From: Marti — May 18, 2010

Caring too much about the outcome is my chief paralyzer…..nice painting, by th way……fresh!

From: Katherine Spencer — May 18, 2010

I agree that the only way is to “squeeze out” and plunge in, but PLEASE, PLEASE,,NOT before I’ve had a coffee or two!!!!!!!!!

From: Suzette — May 18, 2010

Well put, Steve. If you start every piece with the intent of creating a masterpiece, it’ll never happen. You have to remind yourself that it’s just a piece of paper (or canvas or whatever).

  Just around the bend by Kathryn Townsend, Olympia, WA, USA  

“Rapids at Salmon La Sac”
oil painting
by Kathryn Townsend

I love it when the painting paints itself and wins an award. I think for half an hour that I can die happy. Then I become anxious — because past performance may not be indicative of future results. I don’t want to have to live up to that painting. I’d rather have the good painting just around the next bend. So then I have to reorient myself to my work ethic. Go back and start practicing scales again. Think about what I need to learn — remember what Rilke said: “If the Angel deigns to come it will be because you have convinced her, not by tears but by your humble resolve to be always beginning; to be a beginner.” There is 1 comment for Just around the bend by Kathryn Townsend
From: Gary Irish — May 18, 2010

I just enlarged your painting — what a grand lesson with incredible brush strokes. Dang, it’s fantastic! I looks like it might be one of your paintings that painted itself with someone (you) holding on for dear life and watching the scene flow out the end of the brush!! Thank you a lot.

  Steps to re-inspire by Priya Drews, Flagstaff, AZ, USA   Here are some ideas I use to get past painter’s block: 1. I go through my file of paintings that I love and I am re-inspired. 2. I go through my painting instruction books and great master works. 3. I set up my still life ahead of time instead of right before I paint or I decide which location I will paint at, days ahead of time. 4. I pick a subject like sunflowers, set up a simple vase with 3-4 blooms, tape off a canvas pad into smaller quadrants and do 3-4 quick oil sketches until I feel I have really learned to see and paint them in a different way. 5. I use new brushes, or another piece of equipment or paint. 6. The more often I paint, the easier it is to get back into it and feel more successful in my efforts. 7. I remind myself that every touch of the brush is just PRACTICE. It does not have to turn out well, salable or even good. Non-attachment, it’s not just a spiritual practice! 8. I go for a drive to seek out new locations to paint, and take reference photos when I find them.   Just paint by Ralph James, Mocksville, NC, USA  

“Gunsmith Shop, Old Salem”
oil painting
by Ralph James

It has to be just the right image with the right pose and the right lighting and that photo or setting does not always present itself when I am ready to paint. Because of that, I can enter the dark world of “painters block” fairly easily. When that happens I have one cure — just paint. In other words, just paint ANYTHING. It does not matter if you like the subject matter or not, or if the lighting or pose is appealing. Just paint — paint anything. What always happens to me is the process of making art takes over and fuels my creativity, which in turn seems to kill the block I am experiencing. After that exercise, I find I am ready to go again. Images and ideas come to mind easily. There are 2 comments for Just paint by Ralph James
From: Jackie — May 18, 2010

You have done an incredible job of capturing the gunsmith — shoulder, arm, hand, facial expression. I feel like I know him.

From: Sarah — May 18, 2010

Thank goodness your cure is to “just paint’ Your portrait is superb.

  Just do it by Mary Moquin, Sandwich, MA, USA  

“Perfect Balance”
mixed media painting
by Mary Moquin

I think you nailed it with persistence, or as Nike says, “Just do it.” I suggest buying a long roll of canvas, painting something every day, and then talk to me again after you’ve used up all the canvas. I think painters spend way too much time looking for inspiration from outside instead of discovering it on the canvas. My advice is to prime up a bunch of squares of canvas or even paper, not too big, say around 14″, tack or tape one to a board, and paint something, anything. Get excited again about the simple act of looking and manipulating paint. Discover the way the color shifts as it moves across an object. One of my favorite quotes is by Eric Maisel in his book Fearless Creating, “You will remain a beginner and find the work hard until you die. You need no longer feel sad about that.” So, stop whining about it, and just do it! There are 2 comments for Just do it by Mary Moquin
From: Linda Mallery — May 17, 2010

Lovely! The light just glows.

From: Todd Bonita — May 18, 2010

Mary, Stunning painting…it absolutely stopped me in my tracks this morning. I make many discoveries and work out painting issues by painting on small scale panels…6×8″ works for me. I think of them as studies, which I believe takes the psychological edge and pressure to produce unrealistic perfection. p.s. We have a mutual friend, Beaman Cole, who speaks highly of your work and artistic intelligence. I too am a Mary Moquin fan. Regards to you.

  Exploring other avenues by Terry Rempel-Mroz, Ottawa, ON, Canada  

“Le Prof”
original painting
by Terry Rempel-Mroz

I find myself traversing my longest painter’s block yet — as an abstract expressionist I haven’t painted an abstract in months (close to a year, actually). At first I thought it was a blip on the radar and I needed time ‘away.’ Then I got worried that I would never go back. Now I realize that the ideas rumbling around in my head just haven’t coalesced enough to make the journey to canvas yet. In the meantime, I am coping by working in realism — portraits mainly, in charcoal and graphite — and experimenting with oil pastels. One way to treat a specific ‘block’ is to explore other avenues of expression while you wait for the block to lift. My ‘abstract block’ is still there, but I no longer worry about IF it will fade — I’m surrounding it with a wall of art that will slowly unlock it one day, and I’ll be ready to start painting abstracts again. There are 2 comments for Exploring other avenues by Terry Rempel-Mroz
From: Marney Ward — May 18, 2010

Your portrait is wonderful, you have captured intelligence, sensitivity, even yearning. Perhaps you are just discovering a new outlet for expressing your feelings, one that requires a human face to convey subtle, tender nuances. I find it very moving. Marney

From: Mary Bullock — May 18, 2010

Ditto what Marney said!

  Troubles with multiple blocks by Cathy Harville, Gambrills, MD, USA  

“A time to rest”
original painting
by Cathy Harville

I simply cannot work on more than one piece at a time — no multi-tasking for this artist! When I get several canvases going, I lose focus, and nothing gets done. Blocks occur for many reasons. Sometimes, I can’t see the forest for the trees! My blocks include fatigue, foreground troubles, sky problems, hunger, outside stress, and being ill. Weird combination, but blocks can crop up at almost any time. I often turn my painting upside down for a few days, and things often become clearer. I also need to practice more in my sketchbook. Sometimes, I get too focused on the finished product, and forget that a painting is made of many little paintings. There are 2 comments for Troubles with multiple blocks by Cathy Harville
From: Vyvyan in NC — May 18, 2010

I love the beautiful, vivid colors, the diagonal lines of the fields and mountains, the vertical lines of the trees… Great painting with lots of energy, makes me want to be there!

From: Cathy Harville — May 19, 2010

Thank you for your comment! It was fun to paint. I actually painted it form a pencil drawing i did while inpatient in a mental hospital! I wanted to be there, too – the field, that is! Some of my best work comes from my being crazy. I feel so much, that painting is a great outlet.

  Clean it up! by Abbie Williams, Nobleboro, ME, USA  

“End of May”
original painting
by Abbie Williams

A suggestion to get past painting block is I thoroughly clean my studio and painting station. Wash brushes, scrub down the palette and put the mess away that has accumulated around my easel. Then I meditate and ask for images. If that doesn’t work, I ask for a dialogue with my heart and ask who I am as a painter and what to paint to express that. Usually by that time I realize there is a very challenging painting I have wanted to do but have put on the back burner because it felt too hard. In Anne Morrow Lindberg’s book, Gifts from the Sea, she talks about laying empty as a beach waiting for gifts from the sea. If our lives are filled to the brim with stuff, either physical or mental there is no room for new thoughts and ideas to enter. So a good cleaning always helps stimulate the creative soul. There are 3 comments for Clean it up! by Abbie Williams
From: Mary Bullock — May 18, 2010

Abbie – I love your painting! The shadow color on the front of the house is so accurate and the atmosphere in the painting really shows Maine in the spring. I love Maine!

From: Nina Allen Freeman — May 18, 2010

Gifts from the Sea is one of my favorite books. her wisdom speaks to us now I think it has been 60 or 70 years since it was written. Time and quiet to listen to your inner voice is so important.

From: Debra LePage — May 18, 2010

Yes, a real Maine scene! Love it.

  A weird situation by Paul Allen Taylor, Rochester, NY, USA  

“Sunset over Rock Island”
acrylic painting
by Paul Allen Taylor

I have been experiencing a block of sorts. Being a watercolorist for 20 plus years, I took up acrylics last year. I really enjoy them. I have the feel for the watery consistency that can be had while working stiffer to lay down more color. Sort of the exact recipe for my watercolors, but on a board mounted canvas instead of paper. However, I stopped using the acrylics after the summer. I’m not sure the reason. I just recently decided to put the paint into the stay-wet palette, get out the brushes, gesso up some panels and dive in. In about 30 minutes, I remembered what I loved about this medium as well as what I didn’t know, and that was the block. I understand watercolor fully. I have little knowledge of acrylics. I wonder if I took a sabbatical from watercolor for a period, would I fair better? Some people say “Oh, no, don’t do that, why spoil a good thing?” I have varying reasons, (material cost for one vs. mats, glass, labor etc.) But, after 20 years, I like the change. Honestly, I have developed a block for watercolor when working with acrylics. Weird. There are 2 comments for A weird situation by Paul Allen Taylor
From: Anonymous — May 18, 2010

Beautiful work here!

From: Anonymous — May 19, 2010

I think all you need is a new challenge, your talent will show itself no matter what medium you try. Good work.

  The long wait by Russ Hogger, Edmonton, AB, Canada  

“Artist of the year”
illustration by Russ Hogger

After an exhibition I had in March of 2009, I thought that a nice break from painting would be in order. Say a couple of weeks? Those two weeks turned into more than a year of doing nothing. At least nothing in the way of painting. What I did to keep my mind busy was to revert back to my old cartooning days. Instead of painting art I decided to think of the lighter side of art with all its complexities and such. Yesterday I made a big step forward and went to the art supply store and picked up the latest Winsor & Newton (no color shift) acrylics etc. and now I am ready to make up for some lost painting time.   There is 1 comment for The long wait by Russ Hogger
From: Dayle Ann Stratton — May 18, 2010

Love your cartoon. It hits home, for several reasons. I remember when rock performers began to be referred to as “artists”, I suppose in an effort to lift them from the merely commercial. Every rock performer these days seems to be referred to as an artist. I don’t get it. Musicians (and other performers) can indeed be artists, but please, not the run-of-the-mill, and rarely the simply famous. That can apply to some pretty bad visual artists too, and I kind of suspect that the hoopla has to do with commercial promotion as well.

  It’s called trust by Haim Mizrahi, East Hampton, NY, USA  

original painting
by Haim Mizrahi

Using cheap philosophy, as you suggest, to fight painter’s block will get you nowhere. The important thing, completely ignored by you, is to withdraw when one feels a sense of emptiness, or however one wants to describe the feeling of uselessness that takes over now and then in the creative process. Having a painter’s block is actually a blessing, a chance to look deeper into what it really means for a person to be committed to the creative process. Fighting it, or trying to correct it is a big mistake. One needs to take this new fresh time that one has in one’s hands on the account of the block, and wander around the circles of magic that are usually not on our list. Give it time. You are bound to come out a winner no matter what. It is called trust. There is 1 comment for It’s called trust by Haim Mizrahi
From: Laury Ravenstein — May 18, 2010

Very well said and I agree completely. I suffered from “the block” for over 3 years. I actively tried to push through it and never stopped painting, but my works were stiff and less than I hoped for. Realism lost it shine and I felt unable to break free of myself and explore more worlds. Finally, with lots of perservernce, I broke into a new area that enliven me to extremes that had me kissing my canvas with thankfulness. I would never had got to this point so dramically without my dreaded “block”. Now I feel blessed by it. It was a deeply spiritual experience and it makes me a better artist and for that, a better person too.

  [fbcomments url=””]  woa  

Earth Song

acrylic painting by Sheila Neufeld, Vancouver, BC, Canada

  You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013. That includes Iola Loría Benton who wrote, “I’ve been told, ‘The Muses are always flying around, it is better that they catch you working.’ “

And also Elizabeth Rutledgeof Chelsea, QC, Canada, who wrote, “I recommend The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. Read it and be consoled and inspired.”    

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Fighting ‘Painter’s block’

From: Ron Unruh — May 13, 2010

Excellent answer Robert, thoughtful and helpful.

From: Susie — May 14, 2010

I think I have one other reason for painter’s block. I can not find a place in my home that feels safe to be creative and free. It seems that I am best when I am alone and have a place that I can leave my work, coming and going as I please. I have tried various places but they each have a purpose other than for painting (living room, guest room, kitchen). What is this problem really about?

From: Susan Kellogg — May 14, 2010

Life happens to both sides of the brain at once. My notion of “artist’s block” has to do with the process of shifting mental control from the left (language) to the right (visual and feeling) brain. That shift over to the right may be perceived by the ego-protective left as crossing a dangerous chasm into the timeless, uncensored, seemingly uncharted, territory of vivid emotional associations to memories, feelings held ineffibly in the right. This adventure requires a real or imaginary safe place, materials and time. A plan may get you going, but it often has to be discarded when it goes awry in the service of art. If all goes well, the left and right establish a modus vivendi.

From: Win Dinn — May 14, 2010
From: Gail Allen — May 14, 2010
From: Carol Ann Cain — May 14, 2010

From your site several years ago, a reader recommended a lecture by Wolf Kahn on WGBH. Kahn said do whatever it takes to “keep up morale and productivity”. From his advice, I have created several series of paintings. These series are: Pollock Boggies, Textural Boggies, Boglets, and Boggy Scribblings on paper. Thank you Wolf Kahn and Robert Genn for being a wealth of information, and inspiration.

From: Phil Kendall — May 14, 2010

Painters Block? Me? I’m too damn busy painting…just finished Two with Two more on the easel…new brands of Acrylics yet to use….

From: Russ Henshall. — May 14, 2010

I do know that with five kids and nine grandchildren and a loving and ever patient wife – I really have little time left for such pastimes as finding excitement and passion! In fact my problem, as a very amateur writer who simply likes to write for fun, is not an inability to find subject or matter, it is to find time and space. I sat out in our little Norfolk (UK) garden this morning. I sipped my tea and munched on my toast and marmalade. I put my head back and rested, my presence washed by the sound of blackbirds singing and the splashing of water from our little pond waterfall. There was a gentle fresh breeze ruffling my hair and carrying the wonderful full fragrance of the orange blossom over me. Then, hey presto Robert I found myself writing again – to you this time!

From: Bill Hibberd — May 14, 2010

Try a different process or subject. I was invited to join with 20 other artists on a plein air adventure last Saturday with the goal of producing one piece each to be auctioned on behalf of an area Public Art Gallery. My default process is to paint one or two 12X16 boards but this day I decided to push myself to complete a 24X24 gallery wrapped canvas in the allotted time. I really was questioning my sanity about halfway in and although the success is subjective in the end I was happy and satisfied that I had stepped away from a comfortable process. Paint bigger, smaller, faster, slower, more transparently or opaquely.

From: Paul Allen Taylor — May 14, 2010

I have been experiencing a block of sorts. Being a watercolorist for 20 plus years, I took up acrylics last year. I really enjoy them. I have the feel for the watery consistency that can be had while working stiffer to lay down more color. Sort of the exact recipe for my watercolors, but on a board mounted canvas instead of paper. However, I stopped using the acrylics after the summer. I’m not sure the reason. I just recently decided to put the paint into the stay-wet palette, get out the brushes, gesso up a some panels and dive in. In about 30 minutes, I remembered what I loved about this medium as well as what I didn’t know, and that was the block. I understand watercolor fully. I have little knowledge of acrylics. I wonder if I took a sabbatical from watercolor for a period, would I fair better? Some people say “Oh, no, don’t do that, why spoil a good thing?” I have varying reasons, (material cost for one vs mats, glass, labor etc.) But, after 20 years, I like the change. Honestly, I have developed a block for watercolor when working with acrylics. Weird. I find that there should be no fear of art the emotions we deal with as a result of the “block anxiety”. I believe it makes us stronger for it. If I do make the switch for a time, I think my watercolors may be all that fresher, and there are still paintings to do that are best expressed in watercolor regardless.

From: Russ Hogger — May 14, 2010

After an exhibition I had in March of 2009, I thought that a nice break from painting would be in order. Say a couple of weeks? Those two weeks turned into more than a year of doing nothing. At least nothing in the way of painting. What I did to keep my mind busy was to revert back to my old cartooning days.Instead of painting art I decided to think of the lighter side of art with all it’s complexities and such. Yesterday I made a big step forward and went to the art supply store and picked up the latest Winsor & Newton ( no color shift) acrylics etc. and now I am ready to make up for some lost painting time.

From: Linda Blondheim — May 14, 2010

I am always amazed to see this topic come up. I have never had painter’s block in my 40 years as a painter. I can’t even imagine it. I have the opposite problem of not having enough hours in the day to paint everything I want to. I think it is because I consider painting to be a process not a finish. I love the process of painting, the discovery and the growth, a result of hard work. I don’t concern myself with whether my work is good enough or how it stacks up to anyone else’s. I paint for myself.

From: Cristina Monier — May 14, 2010

In 2008 40 painters were selected among 1200 applicants to participate in a show at the Metropolitan Museum of Buenos Aires and I was one of them. Most of the painters that were selected were well known, I am not, so for me it was big. And then came the painters block, I felt that I had arrived as far as I could go and though I kept on working I took it slow. This year I sent another application to the same contest and the funny thing is that in 2008 I was calm as I had no expectations and today I am a nervous wreck, waiting for the ax to fall.

From: Betty Newcomer — May 14, 2010

Painter’s Block?/ I could paint,or draw, all the time in many different mediums, however I find I have so much work, and even though people relate to it, and think it is something they would love to have, no one is buying Art!! It has a tendency to pile up! I have considered auction, but would be giving it away, so have been working smaller recently. The money they have [or mine]needs to go for more important things like food. I am taking time off to learn Tai Chi and hope to find more room to store more art soon.!! I am a senior [hate that word]and not up on uploading, downloading, or photographing my work, nor do I use photo shops, just original work, so I have no idea about a website or joining yours. Just another thought [mine]on why some of us are not inspired right now. Missed your letters when I moved and a new computer, etc.

From: Elsie Hilborn — May 14, 2010

I find that painting with a group of artists keeps up my interest in art. A bunch of us paint together every Friday.

From: Louise Francke — May 14, 2010

I’m a plodder although I too have had my depressions this past year. Post surgery syndrome. Instead of returning to oils and worrying about not feeling like painting on a given day and wasting expensive paints, I’ve switched temporarily to pastels. Not much clean up. Drawing has always gone much faster and once I get into the studio my fears of a new subject matter and media tend to disappear. I’m happiest when singing along with Neil Young or Ottis as I create. My new subject matter: the petite harlequin.

From: Rene Wojcik — May 14, 2010

Montagne Sainte-Victoire is celebrated for its many appearances in the paintings of Paul Cezanne. He is known to have painted this subject over 60 times. Now that is tenacious dedication. Do you think that he had what we call “painters block”. I doubt it. Perhaps there is something that we can learn from his work. Maybe we just need to find our own Montagne Sainte-Victoire and to be passionate about it.

From: Edna V. Hildebrandt — May 14, 2010

We can overcome that painter’s block by knowing ourselves and recognize that there are other part of us that belong to ourselves and people we love. I think that by finding time devoted to ourselves ;we have time to think and discover some ideas that my inspire us to create ,separate ourselves from our world in art to the living persona that is a member of a family and friends at large. We may find inspiration from our association with people. Take time to walk in a park or by the woods observing the play of lights on living things and shadows that they cast. See the children at play and other people enjoying each other. The common saying “All work and no play” makes Jack a dull boy. Where us it is true that all the probable causes of the block maybe psychological and may also just be devoting our time in doing or thinking art. A time out once in a while is called for to renew our ability to think and get inspired.

From: Gene Martin — May 14, 2010

I noticed a long time ago there was a cycle to my painting and my not painting. After keeping notes I found I work in 90 day periods of creativity and 30 days where I don’t mind reading about art, seeing art, going to museums and so forth but I do not want to create it. After 30 days something would catch my attention and the question would begin with-what if. I was off again. Now I still recognise this cycle but most of the time I am too busy painting to get caught up in it. If the paint just won’t flow then I stretch and prime canvas. A day or two of this and I am definitely willing to go back to painting.

From: L.M.McCurdy — May 15, 2010

For me, the cure for painters block has to be dependable and fast. Many times the desire to have dinner has depended on breaking through before the person wanting a portrait changes their mind. I’ve found that sitting at my easle and just starting with any line or brush stroke is the key- take the action, the motivation WILL follow!

From: Martina Spohr — May 15, 2010

When I was a teenager, I remember my beloved piano teacher ( Mr. Phemister) talking about persistence and how important it was. It was not just talent that propelled a person to greatness; it was that hard work and that word “persistence” would get a person to his or her goals.

From: Sue Rochford — May 16, 2010

The best bit of paper in my studio is on the wall and it simply says “Shut up and paint”. Works every time! Another way to quick-start yourself is to tell yourself not to go into the studio!

From: Cindy Nelms-Byrne — May 16, 2010

I loved it that you included a quote from Leonard Cohen. Right now I’m involved in a future exhibit of work based on poetry – realistic and abstract paintings expressive of certain poems – and my main inspiration is Leonard Cohen. I’ve seen him live in concert twice, and it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.

From: Gwen Fox — May 16, 2010

Having participated in many creativity blocks, I know how paralyzing and demoralizing they can be. As you stated there are many reasons that cause these blocks. A lot goes on in our lives that make us vulnerable to creative blocks so we need to give ourselves a little slack when they arrive. Gees, I get a block just thinking about learning Photo Shop! There are several things I do to remove a block when it arrives but the one that works 100% of the time is……..I go for a long walk. Yes, simple as it is, it works without fail. The key here is “long walk”. It doesn’t matter if you are depressed about not being able to paint, not having a degree in art, starting too old, others being better than you, wondering if there is another good painting in you or feeling insecure with yourself and your art. A long walk does wonders. Why? Well, it is rather simple. Nature allows you to share your feelings with her without judgment. One of the keys is to do something different while on this walk….skip, jump, sing out loud, etc. Being silly removes the weight of the world we are carrying so proudly. While on your walk, breathe deeply, smile, smell the air, feel the breeze. Allow the wind to remove the cobwebs in your brain. Stretch your arms out wide and give away your negative thoughts. Embrace gratitude. After all… are blessed with a gift that is screaming to be let loose.

From: Dorenda — May 16, 2010

Gene Martin…I have the same M.O….paint a few days, sketch a few days, paint a few days, go hiking and collect still life specimens, paint some more…it’s good that you realize that this is your pattern and it works for you…many artists struggle with the idea that they must work in a method that works for some, but not for all, and this in itself creates a “block” of sorts. The key to creating YOUR art is finding YOUR process…sounds like you have! :) Keep doing!

From: Mary — May 17, 2010

Susie, the way I live in the rooms of my house is symbolic of the way I feel about being myself. “You are your house, and the rooms are various aspects of you.” Do you have room in yourself for painting?

From: drinker — May 17, 2010

I recently had a shocking discovery about what affects my desire to paint, depression, PMS and a few other unhappy symptoms. It’s alcohol. The reason why this was shocking was because I drink very little (really). I have now tested this several times and there is no doubt – weeks without drinking are happy and industrious, with booze are depressing and the weight of the world is on my shoulders. I know for a fact that may people drink without this effect, but for some of you who might be in my category, give it a try. Quit the booze for couple weeks and the block may be gone. As a bonus, some other symptoms that you may have thought were an illness may disappear as well. I am embarrassed to say that I have been going from one to another doctor for couple years unable to get a diagnosis for some strange things – which are now entirely gone…what a waste of time and medical system that was! I am still hopeful that I may find some specific drink which will work for me and my art! Any suggestions?

From: “Wheatie” — May 17, 2010

Drinker: I had the same type of problem, but it was a mild gluten allergy! When I went gluten-free my creativity came back with a vengeance, not to mention my aches and pains of 47 years vanished! I had trouble sitting or standing at my easel, even 15 minutes was too much. Now I can paint all day and not think twice about it. No more cloudy thoughts. No more monkey-mindedness. No more depression. I feel like I got a new body and mind and I am SO thankful!

From: Stephanie Vagvolgyi — May 17, 2010

Your letter re artist’s block really hit home. The advice about persistence paying off in overcoming shortfalls is so true; it is also true that it is too easy to give up in the face of what we see as recurring errors. Here is where self confidence is so important; that’s not easy to come by. And you are so right, Robert, re “passion comes from doing”. One stumbles and gropes and eventually something clicks, and, miracle of miracles, there is a breakthrough. The excitement and exhilaration are wonderful. And the passion is reborn…Thanks for your thoughts. It’s so great to share this feeling with others who have been there.

From: Tony Konteos — May 17, 2010

It was an unfortunate remark. Stay away from politics. You have some Greek readers who have been offended.

From: Brad Greek — May 18, 2010

I’m not offended and I could use some help with my debt LOL,

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — May 18, 2010

Stay away from politics? Is that even possible in this world that becomes more politicized every second? Socialism creates certain problems. Everybody wants government support- even when the government isn’t making any money. Greece is the current example. Capitalism creates other problems. Watch Michael Moore’s movie “Capitalism: A Love Story” as it is stunning. Communism has an entirely different political problem- it destroys folks self-motivation. Would that we could actually find some form of government that works all the time for all the people. Got any good ideas? Or will government always break down in the end as unsustainable? Tony Konteos- you’re a bit too easily unnerved.

From: Dayle Ann Stratton — May 18, 2010

The style in which I work has recently been changing rapidly, which scares the heck out of me. A sort of block set in that grew out of uncertainty. To my surprise, a small child’s voice — that is the only way to describe it — asked if she could help. “I want to paint, too. It’s fun.” I realized that I’d shut off an important part of my creativity and that part of me wanted to emerge and play. I was ambidextrous as a child (still largely am, though over the years, each hand has taken on specific tasks, sometimes sharing them). My “child” preferred to use my left hand, so I started using that hand to lay out my paintings, and then using both hands to work out the rest. Still exploring, not pushing myself, but enjoying what is happening and seeing what emerges. Something inside is definitely freeing up. I carry on odd conversations with my child (I suppose I am simply letting myself access that part of me that holds the wonder and lack of judgement that I had as a child about the creative things I did). But I am learning from it all, and enjoying the “conversations”. Gosh, this is fun. Still muddling along, but whatever it is, it is leading me somewhere I want to be.

From: Connie Geerts — May 18, 2010

When I have painters block, I gesso canvases and put down prep colour on canvases. I find the act of sitting in front of the easel and just doing the movements involved in both those activities gets me in touch with my muse again and gets the paint flowing.

From: Maritza Bermudez — May 18, 2010

Every artist has gone thru painter’s block at one time or another. There is no such thing as being creative all the time same as I believe there is no such thing as a specific remedy for painter’s block. I have had painter’s block many times and broken the block with different techniques. Same as there are many things painters tell you not to do to avoid the block…do not go to bed late so you can get up fresh in the morning (I’ve done that and gotten up ready to roll), do not paint with a full stomach (guilty), do not listen to the radio or news or have the tv on (guilty) , do not have the computer in your studio (I have mine), and the main one, do not read a good book because you will not put it down and will not paint (very guilty here). What works for one person to break the painter’s block does not work for another. Once I had a bad painter’s block. I took my car went for a ride and ended up at a shopping mall! Came home with a new dress and all excited about starting a new painting! One of the techniques that work for me is doodle or throw paint randomly on paper or canvas, a la Jackson Pollock. It gets your juices flowing. Some of my random, crazy, colorful exercizes have turned out to be great pieces. Another advice is do not let it worry you too much, because the more you worry, the more blocked you are.

From: Dore’ Anderson — May 18, 2010

Thank You so much for sharing your insight to artists and others. You transitions flow making each visual image come alive, Your dialogue of your own experience takes on a force of its’ own and we are passengers on your visual train. What a wonderful way to travel. Thank You

From: Anne Alain — May 19, 2010

I can recall crying while going through a book of collections of famous impressionists. It simply filled me with joy;something similar to the pleasure of doing a work of my own regardless of the outcome. I like your view of this ‘beautiful world’ Art does help to define some of it. Truly enjoy your letters. Haven’t written is some time. At 77 I still plan to continue my search for ‘joy’ whether it be through art, or the many truly wonderful people I meet.


Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

Subscribe and receive the Twice-Weekly letter on art. You’ll be joining a worldwide community of artists.
Subscription is free.