Dear Artist, This time of year I get a truck-load of letters from artists who tell me they’re “stuck.” I used to wonder if it had something to do with the summer solstice — too much light around outside the studio. Letters include, “My painting has been on my easel for a month,” “I can’t finish what I started,” “I can’t get started,” and “Nothing heats me up anymore.” There are many reasons for these unpleasant situations. As I’ve been there myself and made the feature film, here are a few thoughts: Inert stuff on the easel can sometimes be traced to a personal crisis of self-worth. For periods of time the artist loses a sense of élan and lacks positive energy. Unsure of the value of the objects being created and in a frustrated desire for perfection, the artist opts to be stymied. In severe situations the artist may go on for years in a state of avoidance, fully occupied with all manner of non-creative distractions. Recent studies at Manchester University in the UK have found a link between issues of self-worth and depression. Looking at some of the current literature, it might seem that depression is the new normal — the malaise of choice for young and old. In the UK research, fMRI scans were given to individuals with and without a history of depression. They found that parts of the brain in the non-depressed are “functionally coupled,” and with some forms of depression those parts are separated from one another. This decoupling, they figure, makes depressed folks more prone to blame themselves inappropriately and to have damaged feelings of self-worth. In my meanderings among studios and in the fields of plein air, I’ve often noted that a healthy ego and a realistic sense of self-worth motivate artists to keep picking up the brush. With confidence brimming, it’s rather a joy to pick along at painterly problems. How to knock down mild depression? I believe in do-it-yourself psychiatry. While chronic depression may need professional help, and at the risk of putting the pros out of work, you need to count your blessings, build your spirit, prime your pump, rekindle your love of process, and know that a little bit of character beats all kinds of sitting around wondering. “Begin,” said Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “and the mind grows heated.” Best regards, Robert PS: “May I not forget that poverty and riches are of the spirit. Though the world knows me not, may my thoughts and actions be such as will keep me friendly with myself.” (Max Ehrmann) Esoterica: Depressed or not, every artist is, within himself, mysteriously blessed with both an empowering instructor and a struggling creator. The question, “How do you get out of your stuckness?” often brings out a clear plan. We artists need to develop personalized techniques to instruct ourselves. Think about it. Are you ever stuck? And if you ever are, how do you get out of it? We’d all love to hear your techniques.   Advice of an anxiety sufferer by Dan McGrath, Lexington, KY, USA  

“Late Winter Sun”
oil on panel, 8 x 12 inches
by Dan McGrath

To maximize results you need to choose a subject that is doable by you and also stretches you a little. If you’re a landscape painter, get away from the studio with its accusatory blank canvas, break the cycle, get outdoors with camera and small sketchpad and find something doable… Work smaller. Copy the work of a painter you admire, again, small in scale. Go back to drawing the subject, using cross-hatching to get good values, get back to your roots/fundamentals as an artist. Browse the galleries on the web to find artists whose work vaguely resembles yours, this, more often than not, inspires me, e.g. gives me permission to do a certain subject, paint looser, tighter, etc. Visit local art galleries for the same reason. I don’t suffer from depression, but from anxiety, so I’ve been there. There are 3 comments for Advice of an anxiety sufferer by Dan McGrath
From: Jeanette — Jun 27, 2013

Beautiful painting! I love the mood and the gradations in the sky.

From: Anon — Jun 28, 2013

These are some very powerful and great thoughts. Thank you.

From: William F. Oxford — Jul 04, 2013

Your painting has a feeling of optimism and control. I love it.

  Concerns of a ‘pro’ by Jeanette Zaimes, Milford, DE, USA   This week’s thoughts have a great deal of merit. However, with suicide rates on an alarming rise and as a “pro” as you called it, I must correct one thing. True clinical depression must be treated. Clinical depression can be a single, not always chronic event. Clinical depression has many of the following features: can’t sleep well or sleeping too much, change of appetite with weight loss or gain, poor concentration on any task, poor energy and increased anxiety with or without panic. Your suggestions are right on the money for the condition known as dysphoria (in a funk). It’s just that the clinical depression needs more help. (RG note) Jeanette M S Zaimes, MD is a Board Certified Psychiatrist, and painter. There is 1 comment for Concerns of a ‘pro’ by Jeanette Zaimes
From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — Jun 28, 2013

These are important distinctions! Thank you.

  Creating from passion by Alan Soffer, Wallingford, PA, USA  

“Lapis Lazuli”
acrylic painting, 78 x 96 inches
by Alan Soffer

This is a problem I hear about and yet no one has addressed in a proactive way until now. Team teachers Qatana Samanen, Alan Soffer and Libbie Soffer have developed a program which could be helpful. We call it “Creating From Passion” First, Qatana Samanen leads us in “guided imagery.” Sounded strange to me at first, but turned out to direct my work in a positive way, and I was doing it as one of the teachers. Second, I lead us all in cognitive values study–our version of “goal setting.” Especially powerful for those who aren’t happy with the touchy-feely stuff. Third, and possibly the most important, Libbie and myself lead students in experimental, primal art making. All of this is synthesized through discussion and by doing. So far, people have been extremely positive about the results. There are 2 comments for Creating from passion by Alan Soffer
From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — Jun 28, 2013

So nice…suggests an aerial view by Klimpt to me.

From: Rachel Elizabeth Bushnell — Jun 28, 2013

I’d like to be in the room with this powerful painting. I believe I could float!

  Three strategies to get unstuck by Lynn Sanguedolce, San Francisco, CA, USA  

Tom Poyner in the Studio
oil on canvas, 68 x 50 inches
by Lynn Sanguedolce

For me, the following strategies are helpful in becoming “unstuck”: 1. Shake up my typical routine. Wake up extra early and take a drive. Turn the music off. Just look at my surroundings. I sometimes will take a walk on a path I haven’t been down before. Go back to the studio and record some snippet of something that I discovered along the way that charmed me. It changes my attitude. 2. Give in to my “art obsession.” I go bananas for color relationships. I keep a huge bag of color swatches from local paint stores and love to see how they relate to one another. It is a silly habit, I admit, but just by quietly comparing the colors, and enjoying their subtle differences, it puts me immediately into an artist frame of mind and gets me excited to paint. (I find I have to put a cap on how much time I allow myself this little luxury…) 3. I remember I am always a student of art! Do a small painting as a study or “experiment.” Work on values, color, or some other concept. When I take baby steps in the direction of painting, and enjoy the simple process of just painting, it builds on itself and generates more work. There are 2 comments for Three strategies to get unstuck by Lynn Sanguedolce
From: Tinker Bachant — Jun 28, 2013

Lynn, I really like # 3 in in your response. Fits my concepts exactly!

From: Raymond DeLong — Jul 04, 2013

A lovely, academic, traditional painting with touches of Sargent and Sorolla and a strong sense of your personality Lynn. Congratulations!

  Fixing the ‘problem painting’ by John Dinan, Cong, County Mayo, Ireland  

Still Life
oil painting, 20 x 24 inches
by John Dinan

When I’m stuck with a painting my mantra is… SHAPES TONES COLOURS INSPIRATION Too often, despite the structured, Six Step approach to painting that I teach in my workshops — my enthusiasm gets the better of me and I start into a painting without adequate consideration of design, composition or colour ‘mood’ — the result, inevitably, is a Problem Painting — unsatisfactory in ways that are not always immediately apparent. When this happens (and as I said, that’s often) I go through my mantra checklist in the following order: 1. Are the SHAPES interesting and inter-related? 2. Do the TONES make a strong, simple design? 3. Are the COLOURS pleasing and do they reflect the MOOD wished for? This review/analysis usually solves most problems — and usually I have to make brave, sweeping changes — typically: simplifying the shapes, reducing the number of separate tonal masses and the number of colours, and having less detail. And finally — I check out… 4. Does my painting reflect the original INSPIRATION that made me want to paint that particular subject? If not — I continue to change the SHAPES, TONES AND COLOURS until I can say YES to all 4 Mantras. There are 2 comments for Fixing the ‘problem painting’ by John Dinan
From: Don Cadoret — Jun 28, 2013

Exceptional still life John! Fulfills your well thought out concept, with very strong composition, compelling color and drama.

From: Anonymous — Jun 28, 2013

This comment is very helpful — I’ve been in the same position, but haven’t had as well articulated strategies to fall back on. Thanks you.

  The golden act of ‘doing’ by Norman Ridenour, Prague, Czech Republic  

hand-turned wood
by Norman Ridenour

I look out my studio at the huge green chestnut tree and know that just half a mile away is the Elbe with bike paths on both sides and down these paths, about 15 km either way lies a good beer garden with grilled goodies and cool foaming beer. Toss in robust ladies wearing very little. Now you want me to stay and work!!!!! Come on man live it up. In Northern Europe, summer is a distraction. Now the long term slump is different. For much of my life, my ability to buy food and pay the rent has been directly related to how much and the quality of what goes out the studio door. I quite like eating, drinking wine and sleeping in a bed. SO I WORK! Only amateurs have the luxury of moods. Now, I have had what Winston Churchill called the black dog. I have considered suicide. I have seen life and especially my creative life as worthless. What do I do? I do long runs (these days walks) carry my sketch pad and jot down ideas and sketches. On a windy beach or in a forest one can scream and rant until exhaustion and I do. I write through the feelings and I go to the studio. Maybe I sit and look, maybe I clean it up, maybe I make something I promised my wife three years ago, or an old sketch ‘I never had time to do’ turns up but I get the hands to ‘doing it.’ Maybe the results are only for the fireplace but I am DOING. The hands start to itch for action before the brain. The art is in the doing not the result. There are 2 comments for The golden act of ‘doing’ by Norman Ridenour
From: gail maycher — Jun 29, 2013

My feeling exactly, the art is in the doing, not the results, art opens a place for spirt to enter,how lucky we artists are, just to do what we do, with out regard to product.

From: McCluskey — Jul 01, 2013

Your comment made me laugh and laughter is infectious, I loved it, I rave too, I walk and look at everything, touching everything until I drive everyone nuts, don’t come explore with me if you have a time crunch, and yes life is a distraction and I LOVE my comforts too. But everyday of my life has been an exploration. Get out even if it’s a patio with scantily dressed men (in my case) visual of any kind inspires me.

  The value of collaboration by Niharika Garg, India  

“The Maha-Kumbh Mela”
original painting
by Niharika Garg

I’m sure it’s the “Sun.” Had it been raining here… I would be flowing with the beautiful weather and been all rosy and happy. But you got me. It’s happening time and again, and like some of the artists who wrote to you about not able to finish a painting or not being able to start or not understanding what to paint, I’m also one of them. Keeping faith is an easy-to-say, difficult-to-do thing. And yes I guess we all try to get ourselves out of it. Can’t stay in there much or we’ll lose who we are. One of the ways out: meet different artists and work with them. Collaborate and go on sketching/ painting excursions. That way one has the drive to produce and show one’s worth. Human is a social animal and that’s what motivates me in those gloomy times. There is 1 comment for The value of collaboration by Niharika Garg
From: Allan Heath — Jul 04, 2013

Robert Genn has brought artists of all nations and all faiths together under one roof to share the vagaries and joys of one passion. Yes, to keep the faith, we painters need to collaborate.

  The alchemy of creativity by Don Kibble, Australia  

acrylic on canvas, 12 x 9 inches
by Don Kibble

How to get unstuck? “Stick to it,” I say. The way I ‘stick to it’ is with self-critiquing skills. I’m not highly regimented but I am persistent. I never forget a problem nor does a problem ever seem to forget me. Part of this situation may be the expectation that what is started must be finished: yes, but not necessarily in a continuous flow of work. I have read that many artists have many works underway at once. This is a good thing and takes the pressure off the need to ‘finish’. What is learned on one project can be used to solve a problem on another or at least give confidence to take up an unfinished work with new enthusiasm. The other technique that I use is to ‘hang loose.’ If a project is not working out I let it go, for now. I have works hanging about the studio, sometimes for months or years, which are not quite right somehow. A later casual glance at one of these can set off an idea to try something; a space of colour, new balance, a few more marks or a bit less texture, etc. Creativity in art is, after all, a bit of alchemy. There is 1 comment for The alchemy of creativity by Don Kibble
From: Egon Carlyle (Cyprus) — Jul 04, 2013

Today’s problem painting can find its solution after a week, a month, a year of laying fallow in a spidery corner of the studio.

  Emotional Freedom Technique by Angela Treat Lyon, Kailua, Hawaii, USA  

“Journey Master”
oil on canvas, 16 x 20 inches
by Angela Treat Lyon

I’m sure many people have heard of EFT, the Emotional Freedom Techniques. If it weren’t for this amazing self-help tool, I am absolutely certain that I wouldn’t be around today, because I had had a non-stop, 35-year back-of-the-mind whispering litany about how lousy a person I was, how horrible an artist I was, and how no one wanted my work. Someone turned me on to this simple, powerful technique when I was down in New Zealand as Artist-in-Residence (feeling guilty because of course I didn’t deserve it!), and in 6 weeks I no longer had any thoughts like that. Zero. It was like a miracle for me. I’m not saying it was easy! But after 6 weeks of really working it every day, I was free at last from such crippling thoughts, and am still. Now I can laugh because, looking back, it seems absurd that I went through enormous self-doubt about even using the tool at first, because I remembered my family saying I was self-indulgent, selfish, foolish, etc. and why didn’t I just “go out and get a regular job”? I feel like every drawing, painting and sculpture I’ve done since then is Miracle Gravy – something I probably wouldn’t have been alive to have on my plate if not for that enormous shift in my life. (RG note) Thanks, Angela. Angela was so stoked she has written a book on EFT. There are 3 comments for Emotional Freedom Technique by Angela Treat Lyon
From: Carolyn Caldwell — Jun 28, 2013

Yes EFT really works.

From: Kay Christopher — Jun 28, 2013

Indeed, it does!

From: Rob Zeer — Jun 30, 2013

Really beautiful ethereal painting.

  Just show up and paint by Christine Gedye, Seattle, WA, USA  

“Passing Through”
oil on panel, 20 x 20 inches
by Christine Gedye

Getting stuck is not an option if you have deadlines, so make sure you always have deadlines. Enter juried shows, commit several new works to your gallery for a specific date (I always set the date for my next show right as the current show is closing), or dig up commissions. Prep a bunch of panels (or get yourself busy doing anything art-related in the studio). Then you are ready to go, no excuses. Give yourself permission to paint something outside your box (NOT necessarily to show or sell). Experiment for a day (or even just an hour). Sign up for a class or workshop in a new medium. Pull out your favorite art books and tag the pages that make you swoon. Paint to swoon. Spend a morning walking through local art galleries, then go directly to the studio. Put on different music. Walk through a park (or around the block) just before you go into your studio. In the end, just show up and paint. You’re never going to get to 10,000 hours if you only paint when you feel inspired. Sometimes you just have to work.    

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Stuck!

From: Dee — Jun 24, 2013

Thanks for not writing about the floods in Alberta. I find that this time of year is time to re-charge. I don’t beat myself up over not painting enough when I am re-charging. I play with other media including my garden. Sometimes I find a group of kids to paint with, they are good for putting things in perspective. Tomorrow is one of those recharge days with a group of evacuated kids from one of the Alberta flood areas…There is no getting away from that flood, might as well try watercolor.

From: Lavonne Burgard — Jun 24, 2013

I share a studio with another artist that is very compatible with my personality. We each paint very differently from one another, but know how to get each other to kick start or get going if we aren’t feeling our stride. Everyone needs a cheerleader now and then.

From: Sandra — Jun 24, 2013

Stuck, stymied, avoidance, inert are all the perfect words to describe what can happen when a person (artist) becomes depressed. And that is why a person suffering from depression, even mild depression, cannot just “prime the pump” and become unstuck. Creativity involves making many choices and the decision making process is also affected by depression. This was an interesting article, as it let’s me know I am not the only artist to get stuck!

From: Janet Bonneau — Jun 25, 2013

I have ‘unstuck’ myself by switching my palette colors to something completely different and unfamiliar to me. I’ve used the old standby method of setting a timer for 20 mins. using small canvases. When the timer goes off, I switch canvas, rotate my view slightly and begin again. When unmotivated, I walk away from painting for a few hours or days, and start reading about other artists and looking at good artwork. AND I’ll pick up my guitar and start making music. I hope this helps anyone out there!

From: Diane Artz Furlong — Jun 25, 2013

From: Nina Allen Freeman — Jun 25, 2013

There is nothing worse than being stuck-that feeling of blankness where your energy of creativity used to be. During my husband’s illness and death I was unable to paint, and when I tried to start again, my energy was gone. I did a couple of sad things, not very good. Finally, I took out fresh paper, remembered my old way of starting a painting with a familiar subject and made “starts” on four fresh pieces of paper. Each one can be made into a painting. I have since been able to finish two of them. My advice is to start fresh with familiar subject and style and your creativity will follow.

From: Elaine Munro — Jun 25, 2013

From: Darla — Jun 25, 2013

I know I will get a lot of flack for saying this, but sometimes severe depression can only be alleviated by medication. When you are battling the black beast, all your energy seems to go to just continuing to exist, and there is none left over for self-improvement. Some depression is caused or exacerbated by brain chemistry, and you can’t get rid of it with positive thinking (almost impossible when depression is bad) or prayer. These things help with moderate depression.

From: Sandra Taylor Hedges — Jun 25, 2013

Often this time of year I become stuck, usually I have enough distractions around me not to focus on it too much. This year however several projects I expected to happen didn’t pan out and I find myself with too much time to mope over the dead projects and the lack of stimulation around me to paint. I am starting to think that I need a change of scenery maybe even a solitary trip somewhere to be alone with my art, hmmmm just thinking about it is lifting my funk. Baring that I will probably do what I usually do, just play. Forget about creating anything worth keeping and make some fun little paintings that may never see the light of day but often prime the pump.

From: LDeMatteo — Jun 25, 2013

Most of the comments here have been about exercising one’s strengths, what ever that may be. I find that simply exercising, a bike ride, a swim, a walk or raking the garden can be a rest for the mind and a necessary quieting of synapses, especially out in nature; the intermission of creation.

From: Rob Zeer — Jun 25, 2013

Our Ego self, the part of ourselves based on delusion or arrogance, is not where we want to go to to become unstuck, creative or happy. As true artists our highest calling is finding and creating from the purest truest part of ourselves. Often this is not a easy happy journey. It requires courage, humility and somehow the strength to pick up a paint brush, pencil or crayon. The act of creating from the purest place, without agenda, helps one find authentic sense of self worth and well being. The gratitude I have towards art, as tool for my well being and growth is immeasurable.

From: Jackie Knott — Jun 25, 2013

I’m surprised these letters come at this time of year when nature is in full bloom and a feast for the eyes. One would think the dead of winter more often leaves artists in a funk.

Our personal lives have a terrific impact on our professional ones. If the relationship is sour or the kids are floundering, ill parents, etc., very little of talking yourself “up” is going to be successful. When the people in our lives are doing well it is easy to tackle a project with zeal. We do our best to help but we all know there are situations and people we simply can’t help. It took me a very long time to learn that. It is realizing “I can’t fix this” that will free our minds to pursue our work. Angst will sap your energy until it paralyzes you. If possible (and sometimes it isn’t) distance yourself from the person or the problem and don’t feel guilty about it. Beyond that, I find travel energizes me. It doesn’t have to be a grand trip. A simple weekend getaway or day trip will give me enough food for inspiration I look forward to getting back in the studio or writing.

From: Marsha Hamby Savage — Jun 25, 2013

I shared your newsletter on my Facebook page this morning. I think the letter can have far reaching effects to many, artist and non-artist, if they give it a small amount of time to gestate. I have two friends that are not painting much at this time. One because of grandchildren and other family plans. The other is her father has not much time left here on this earth and her time is spent being with him and family. My words to them are always about doing what is important at that moment… the painting will come. Forcing the issue is sometimes the worst thing one can do.

This morning I also posted on the second friend’s page about resting and letting the mind do it’s thing … “Think of this … all those resting moments are recharging your batteries, creating thoughts buried deep in your mind, paintings just at the edge of thought … waiting on the time when you have time and the energy to work. They are not wasted minutes or hours, but something your body and mind needs. Forcing the issue anytime is usually counter-productive. Be good to your body, mind and spirit by resting and enjoying the time with family when not resting.” I think these words also are for those “stuck” times … recharge the batteries by doing something fun, restful, etc. and then before you know it, you have that feeling of “I must get to my studio, a painting, or drawing,” … or whatever the art medium is.” I rarely get stuck, but I do get a feeling of things are not working … so I go back to basics, slow down, no pressure, pure play … and before I know it, things are back on track.

From: Lisa Greenstein — Jun 25, 2013

I find that having regular contact with other artist’s through figure drawing groups, classes, and a monthly critique group help me through the dry times. Just making myself go to these, when I feel tired or low will boost me out of a block and even come away inspired, no matter whether the work I did there was any good. Its beneficial for me to be with the ‘artist tribe’ to remember who I am and why I am committed to drawing and painting.

From: Keith Thirgood — Jun 25, 2013

If clinical depression or big problems in your life are not at the root of your becoming stuck, and you’re simply not feeling inspired, I’ve found a way to get over that lack of energy or desire to paint. It works for me and for my students.

I got the idea from my other world, where part of what I do is write marketing copy for a living. When I’m stuck in front of a blank screen I start with “Once upon a time…” I just start writing, even if it;’s nonsense. As I keep pouring nonsense onto the screen, it starts to make sense and I get on a roll. When I get into a funk painting, which I get into often, I use a similar technique. I put the painting in question to the side, pick up a blank board and simply start putting brush marks on the board. I will use a reference, however, I won’t try for anything specific for a few minutes. I just randomly go at it. Then I order myself to try different brush strokes. Then new colour juxtapositions. Then some other new thing I haven’t tried or succeeded with before. Because I work in acrylic, I can keep layering on the paint over itself until something starts to emerge. After a half hour of this, I’m usually ready to pick up the original board that I was stymied by and begin painting in ernest again. I think what’s happening is that by switching back and forth, left brain right brain, you almost re-wire the sections of your brain that are causing the problem. (Dashing down random brush strokes right brained, trying techniques, left brain.)

From: Gene Martin — Jun 25, 2013

After a lot of time spent thinking about the lack of motivation I came to realize there is a cycle. I found this by writing down the dates of the down times and the creative cycles. My cycle is 90 days of creativity and 30 days of down time. In the 30 day cycle I am not opposed to reading about art, looking at art and discussing it with fellow artists but no painting or doing. In about 30 days a shadow on a wall, a comment, a book I am reading will re-ignite the spark and I am off again, for about 90 days. When I became aware of this cycle all creative block/depression related to art went away, and stayed away. It will take some time to work through the cycle but it is worth the effort.

From: ReneW — Jun 25, 2013

It seems to me that one gets stuck when they are in a rut. Doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result. This borders on insanity. To break away from a stuck situation maybe just a change in routine or a different medium would be a solution. Going to art exhibits, galleries, museums can reinvigorate your muse as well. Myself I’ve joined an Austin, Texas Urban Sketchers Group. It is fun. It is different and I get out of my studio. I have met new people and artists as well. I feel energized.

From: Adrienne Moore — Jun 25, 2013

I had a very challenging period recently when I had little time to paint as I moved into my basement close to my studio and with an aim to saving myself money. I rented the top part of my house so I would not have to climb stairs. The move was much more than I had bargained for and I was mentally and physically burnt out. I was fortunate to get away to a quiet wilderness lodge for a break. Even then, I had problems unloading my supplies and I had no motivation to paint. The weather did not improve my resolve as there was steady rain falling. However, I forced myself to get into the painting again and even though my chosen site was not a subject that I relished or wanted to paint, I did have an immediate lift as I observed the changing light and moved to complete a work. The following day a group of my students arrived and their enthusiasm was contagious. We had a full day of great plein air in glorious sunshine and I believe that it cured a lot of my blues.

From: Bill Kerr — Jun 25, 2013

My energy doldrums usually hit in May or June or this year in both. I was all gung ho to get outside and paint but it would not stop raining. I can cope with the rain but the light is generally brutal. I got stuck again.

In these times I go through my existing acrylic works that aren’t the best I have ever done and tart them up with oils. I learn a lot. I make them more painterly. I bounce up the colour a key or more. I do all sorts of reckless things. It is energizing!! If I go over the top I grab a rag and remove it all, and attack it again. Two results are the norm.. I get back in high gear and some, not all, paintings are much improved. Getting in gear is the real pay off.

From: Gary Conway — Jun 25, 2013

Just get back on the horse what throwed ya!

From: Joy Hanser — Jun 25, 2013

I have experienced the kinds of stuckness you describe many times, where my efforts don’t seem worthwhile.

Many things have worked to get me out of it, some better than others. A break, another project (something with money attached works quite well!), an inspiring trip somewhere, camera in hand, a kvetch session with a friend (time-limited – say, 5 minutes uninterrupted by agreement). Dinner with a favorite friend. Over the past few years, however, what has been a consistently sustaining influence is being part of a group of eight fellow artists. As we meet regularly, we have become more connected, and almost any depressive issue has been expressed by one or another of us over time, so when I experience those, I think of them. This inspires courage. We artists spend a lot of time alone mulling over our work, so to offset this we kindly critique each others’ work, giving as much encouragement as technical pointers. We use email between meetings, sending half-finished problematic works, and receive half a dozen interesting observations back for consideration. Sometimes we are a substitute jury, helping to choose the best works for a show. We have enjoyed choosing a theme, working on it, and exhibiting the results together in a public gallery, too. Not to mention our field trips and retreats together! I highly recommend this kind of group, of like-minded but unique peers, to toss ideas around, air negative feelings, and enjoy the creative process with.

From: Ian Semple — Jun 25, 2013

While I realize that this is not a methodology or a solution per se, I’ve found that one of the best ways to become unstuck is to effect the odd sale!

From: Colleen O’Brien — Jun 25, 2013

I was a bit stuck with the canvas I was working on here in flooded Calgary. I picked up a new canvas and decided to be relevant! It worked, and now back to the original Morocco scene from my recent Artist in Residence gig!

From: Catherine Stock — Jun 25, 2013

I know you won’t want to hear this, but nothing used to motivate me like a deadline. And sadly, a lot of people identify with this.

From: Jane Angelhart — Jun 25, 2013

From: Carmen Beecher — Jun 25, 2013

Maybe being stuck and depressed in summer has something to do with slow sales in the summer. After all, artists are validated when money changes hands. Compliments are great, but they won’t buy the groceries. People are outdoors or on vacation in the summer, not collecting art. To get more excited about painting, I did your 37-minute exercise. It was so much fun, I’m going to continue doing it and I look forward to getting to the easel in the morning.

From: Akke Stretch — Jun 25, 2013

Repainting a piece I had much success with, but doing it a different size or colour helps me get ‘unstuck’. As well, I paint with a friend every Friday and Monday morning. This assists me in having painting bookend my working week. This idea also ties in with a former piece on distraction. We listen to CBC’s Q while my friend and I paint.

From: Barbara MacDougall — Jun 25, 2013

Whenever I’m stuck, I go back to basics, whether it’s doing my beloved 2-minute gestures, or do any of the classic exercises learned in art school (my favourite is 50 drawings in four hours of a single object/subject). In the past I have gone for years without picking up a pencil, the pressure builds and all of a sudden I go nuts drawing for a few more years, then I go for a while doing nothing. After coming through the first dry spell, I didn’t get too bent out of shape about them recurring except for the realisation that time is ticking ever faster (duh) and I can’t afford the time off now. I make jewellery at the moment, and when I’m stumped or tired or bored, I make earwires and/or chains. After 50 or 100 earwires or several yards of chain, the wires and links get fancier and fancier and all of a sudden I’m on a roll again and the ideas are coming faster than I can finish them.

From: Cindi Walton — Jun 25, 2013

I had a professor who was a bit irritated with me for spending so much time on preliminary sketches, he finally said, “Just get to work!” I have it painted on a table in my studio to remind me. I also read that Mary Englebreit, an illustrator, said that when she has a deadline and needs to get to work, she sits down and just draws SOMETHING, anything, even if it has nothing to do with the deadline project. I took this as advice for myself: when I am stuck I sit down and start to draw SOMETHING!

From: Rita Benz — Jun 25, 2013

When stuck I find gesso is my friend.

From: Rosemary Fischer — Jun 25, 2013

From: Louise Francke — Jun 25, 2013

I find that as we age it isn’t so much depression as it is pain which disturbs one’s deep sleep and robs one of daytime energy. Quite often what I do to jump start my art is to change media. Sometimes doing a monoprint of an idea brings ideas once printed. There is always an element of surprise in print making and that stirs up other creative juices. I am also learning how to print and paint on silk where the unanticipated can also make one take a detour and explore something else which eventually might find its way back into one’s oil or acrylic paintings. I also work in the computer inventing new compositions which can be stored for future reference or use.

From: Gwen Luttrell — Jun 25, 2013

Thank you. I needed this today.

I have a show in September that requires 30 paintings…….Well, STUCK is where I have been the last few month. My painting time has been almost ZERO. Today is a new day and I WILL get going. Thanks for the push. Sometimes all we need is a few words to move us forward, that is what works for me..

From: Didi Martin — Jun 25, 2013

When I have been away from the studio for any period of time; and I feel a little rusty; I do the following to get unstuck. – First I clean my studio and organize my paints and brushes and dust and clean and go through old panels and get rid of crap that’s accumulated. – I then busy myself with mechanics like mixing medium, gessoing and sanding canvas, Stripping off old Canvas to reuse the frames. I might even thumb through a few books I been meaning to read. -I reassess my lighting,even move the furniture around a little bit. I’m basically fluffing my nest! Now I’m ready to actually paint. This is when I pull out old studies like small still life’s or old landscapes. I do some problem-solving, on something that isn’t precious. I loosen up on the minor stuff before facing my important work. All this really gets the juices flowing, and I feel like I’m back in the groove. I remind myself that creativity comes through good disciplined practice. This usually works for me. Good luck to all.

From: Judy Palermo — Jun 25, 2013

I am just barely digging out of a ‘Stuck!’ interval right now, where all plein air attempts felt like wandering, blind stabs in the dark. But for one mediocre effort of a flowering bush, I got an inkling of direction- ‘if I can just mix that cool blue-green color, I can reach that look I want’. That leads to thinking about how to mix my colors (maybe make color charts!), and think more about temperature etc. It’s that little grab for a constructive next step, that keeps from drowning.

From: Kira Neumann — Jun 25, 2013

When I’m stuck, and it happens all the time, I just paint. I keep a stack of cheaper canvases available and I put on loud music and I put paint to canvas – without a plan. Usually it ends up being an abstract something or other and not anything that I’d want to share with others, but I get ‘moving’ and I get the paint doing ‘something’. I usually end up trying new colour combinations or new brush techniques that I otherwise wouldn’t experiment with. This in itself inspires me. It is a huge effort to get going, but once I’m done I rarely still feel stuck!

From: Barbara Moseley — Jun 25, 2013

I am being treated for moderate chronic depression and for the most part am passionate about my art (quilting) on a daily basis. I have periodic spells when I lose interest, however, and experience days on end when I have no desire to start on any project, under construction or new, although I always have loads of plans in my head. I become intolerably bored with reading, playing computer games, my dogs, and I find at those times if I can just make myself go into my studio and pick up something, anything, I will soon find myself immersed and enjoying it again.

From: Erin — Jun 25, 2013

When I feel stuck, I don’t force it. Instead, I work in another medium, plant flowers, make fancy cookies or use a technique I never tried before, or a composition or subject unusual to me. Sometimes a few weeks goes by. I used to chide myself for that, but I remember even the earth goes through winter — so do we. We “should” ourselves too much. Don’t force it is my key.

From: Allan O’Marra — Jun 25, 2013

I can honestly say, in my forty years of painting, I have never been stuck and unable to make art (possibly with the exception of periods of anxiety/depression in the close aftermath of two messy divorces). I have exactly the opposite problem: not enough time in this lifetime to complete all the works of art from the ideas I have in my files and in my head. I maintain joy and creative and energetic push to complete work in an unending flow. And feel it’s a giant privilege to do so. In January, I hung a retrospective of my last four years of work and felt a little lost as to where to go next. Solved that by churning out thirty acrylic and mixed media abstracts on 22″ x 30″ paper based on favourite pieces by classical composers over the next twelve weeks. And when that was done, spent 6 weeks working on my recently finished large (40″ x 60″) oil on canvas painting of a group of boys titled Joy on the Water Slide. And now I’m on holidays and painting a large-scale nude.

From: Margaret Grey — Jun 25, 2013

I am sad to say I am “stuck”. I live in Calgary. I had to return home from a plein air painting trip in the mountains “post haste” due to flooding. Everything I want to paint is underwater or on the other side of a washed out bridge. This depresses me. It’s not the same kind of depression but it certainly brought my painting to a crashing halt. Anybody out there who is able to paint at home or en plein air — count your blessings.

From: Linda Franklin — Jun 25, 2013

I believe the answer to ” stuckness ” may be similar for others as it is for me. For me PLAY is the answer. If I have a piece not going well or I can’t decide on what to do next or how to proceed with some aspect of the work, I play. I play with paint, doodle with a pen, collage with bits of work on paper that don’t survive the internal critique, look thru’ my drawings and do something completely outside my “normal” practice. I look thru books and online and see what others produce and play with trying something different. I do a colour exercise and see if I can make a better green, a greyer grey or a colour bounce with complementaries.

From: Lucie Patou — Jun 25, 2013

All you need to do is keep going, knowing that you are about to rise to the next level. Put that “old” painting aside and experiment with abandon, never mind the outcome….you can always make a placemat out of it!

From: Celeste Rode — Jun 25, 2013

Just came back from the Oil Painters of America National Convention in Fredericksburg, Texas. I try to go every year. I live in an area of Southern B.C. that doesn’t have too big of a representational arts community. What a way to get unstuck. Watched Sherrie McGraw paint as well as 5 other amazing artists and saw a stunning show of work that is right in line with what I want to produce. This routine and developing relationships with specific art friends (from all over North America) at these conventions (keeping in touch on Facebook) has kept my spirits alive, focus on keeping quality up and inspiration to try new techniques and subject matter. Bottom line is I’m not stuck I’m growing. And my painting got accepted into the OPA Salon in Michigan that started last weekend.

From: Andre Satie — Jun 25, 2013

I am laughing out loud! Last week, I was thinking about writing to you to whine about my “stuckness”. I was working on it; I sketched, took photos, read a lot. I bought a couple of canvases in a size I don’t usually use. Then …. on Saturday, one of my galleries called to tell me he had sold two paintings to a lady who happened to drop in …. and could he please have some more …. Suddenly I’m inspired again. Grin.

From: Barbara Howard — Jun 25, 2013

Thank you. Your words are exactly what I need to hear today. Refreshing.

From: Andrea Cleall — Jun 25, 2013

To get unstuck I challenge myself with a new ‘model’. For instance I have recently finished several landscapes and am now going to paint a wolf. I will put my wolf into a wintry landscape and try to make him look hungry. It becomes like illustrating a story.

From: Bob Ragland — Jun 25, 2013

From: Ted Peterson — Jun 25, 2013

I feel sorry for those ‘Stuck’ people, otherwise known as writer’s block. It is simply, in my view, a self pity condition, a MIND over matter issue. When things get tough, the tough get going. That may sound condescending but that’s how I view it. Glen Arbor, MI, USA

From: gail harper — Jun 26, 2013

Rock music when I am draggy. Soothing music when I need to calm my inner creative gal

From: Marvin Humphrey — Jun 26, 2013

Not wanting to have “all my eggs in one basket”, I usually have 30-40 small pieces “in progress”, in various stages of completion. When “stuck” on one, I can move to another. Sometimes I have no idea of what to do next on a painting. I put it on the easel, look at it briefly, then have faith that it will clue me in as to how it wants to be completed, step-by-step. Then, just do it. As it’s been said, art is 2% inspiration, 98% perspiration.

From: Mike Barr — Jun 26, 2013

The ‘stuck’ problem has many causes. One of them is lack of sales and a growing stock of work at home. Many artists like myself, regard the selling of art to be a part of the process – a completion of the work itself. Works of art that do not go on to positively effect the lives of others, are not complete. Most artists will agree that sales are slow – very slow, and a large part of that problem is price. I certainly feel that I have out-priced myself and even though good-priced sales happen occasionally, it is not the norm. Recently, I have halved my prices more or less and the difference after only a couple of weeks is dramatic! I wonder how many artists are affected by this no-sales stuckness and can find a way to get things moving again. Artists are often admonished not to lower there prices, no matter what the cost – Mike Barr just did!

From: John Koehler — Jun 26, 2013

I am stuck on every painting, however,if i power on through it will come out with a painting that every one likes.. over the years i have found the creative process for me is broken down in to three phases, first its gang busters, picking out the subject ,composition, even size…, ,, second phase nothing seems to work right,, my all time record is redoing a painting 5 times,,then the third phase ,it all seems to come together…it helps to take a break and have a group of friends that paint and are complaisant with constructive criticism.

From: Margaret Ferraro — Jun 27, 2013

For more than the last 15 years, I have survived in the art world, and raised two children, as a single parent. How did I do it? Well,…..

1) I write every day, directing myself, just checking in, keeping my thoughts open and fluid. This alone has kept me from depression. 2) In my thinking and writing, I check-in, to make sure my goals and directions are realistic, considering all the other responsibilities I have. 3) KEEP, those realistic expectations. For example, most of my effort the last 5 years or so, has been to teach full time. I paint in class, and a bit on the side, but not much. I have to fit in hiking, yoga, and all the things I do for my kids. Living a full life is as important to an artist having worthwhile ideas to paint, as water is to fish. Quality. 4) Have the wisdom to know when my time is. That time is upon me, so this letter was really meaningful for me. My time is eminent. I’ve been planning for it for a long time. 5) When I haven’t been in the studio for a long time, I have this underlying anger that needs to express itself, before I can move on, and be creative and free. So I accept this part of myself, and allow it to happen. Anger passes.

From: Christine Versteeg — Jun 27, 2013

Blocked, stuck, stymied? Keep on producing, even if it is lousy. You can always burn it later. Thinking about how miserable the work looks is self-defeating, while trying to work through it seems to help. Even, just a few sketches a day. The zentangle helps a lot! Zentangle = doodling. Look it up on computer. Do nonsense stuff. Do anything, or even just read some art mags. or go to the library and look through books of art. Rembrandt and Picasso probably had dry spells, too.

From: Nonny Kudelka — Jun 27, 2013

I have been wholeheartedly delighted with my progress…. in cleaning/clearing 3 closets, in re-arranging the framed family portrait wall, in reprinting and framing 6 or 8 small copies of some of my early favorites, in successfully coming up with and sketching the composition of a mom/son portrait commission … as I briskly walk past the elephant in the room….. the 3ft by 5ft canvas on which I am trying acrylics for the first time and which hangs vertically on a door in my hallway/studio for 2 months, half done. It’ll come; it’ll come. It’s too prosaic, I need a graphic boost… it’ll come. I’m just delighted to have accomplished so much REAL LIFE stuff in the meantime…. (and I truly never “saw” what I was doing til you pointed out, you devil you!)

From: Gillian Easton — Jun 27, 2013

One good way to move forward is to get a firm plan ie. looking at tones, or rhythms and see how I can include them in my next work. Then, having done a couple of sketches there is just no excuse not to get started in order just to see how they work out. I am having a bit of a stuck patch at the moment so you are now prompting me out of it.

From: Sue Vermaas — Jun 27, 2013

I am one of those artists that constantly get “stuck”. The work will sit for months. I have found recently the cure for my “stuckness”. Beethoven’s 5th Piano Concerto is my starting point, i found that i listen to the music and the beautiful complexity of the symphony inspires me to such an extent that i want to create the same complexity on canvas. The work in front of me takes on a different look and feel. I have finished one canvas in this fashion and I was really pleased with the work.

From: Nana Dixie — Jun 27, 2013

Try doing something totally different. A large scale piece, or applied to a different material. It’s a new challenge. Perfection isn’t expected, its an experiment. It awakens my interest and seems to turn on the ‘juices’ again. This week I’m preparing to paint sunflowers on a garage door.

From: Vera Morgan — Jun 27, 2013

I can assure you that many Alberta artists are stuck in more ways than one. Relief and survival bring inspiration and hopefully not too many artists have had to trash their supplies. Give watercolours a whole new view and count your blessings.

From: Annette Hanna — Jun 27, 2013

What about trying another medium? I fluctuate between two–oil and pastel. Or another subject matter? I am also in an area (for the summer) where there are lots of plein -air painters and sketchers who go around and visit different places and work in watercolor, pen and ink, charcoal and graphite.. That will get your juices running and be a good change of pace.

From: Claire Remsberg — Jun 27, 2013

I get out of STUCK by getting out of town, away from the dirty dishes, laundry, bills, and all other “necessary” distractions. Just past the city limits can sometimes be good enough to open my eyes past my stuckness.

From: Liz Reday — Jun 27, 2013

I know I sound like a broken record on this, but the best cure for mild depression is getting outside in the sun and painting “sur le motif”. Just packing up the easel, paints and brushes gives forward momentum. Then being outside get you outside of yourself. If nature is your thing, then Mother Nature can soothe anyone. Myself, I like the edgy mild danger of looming urban structures in questionable parts of town. Anyway, the moving sun creates the necessity of speed and impetus. Passersby can really lift the spirits with positive comments, even when you feel like your painting is struggling. And I always feel like a plein air painting is a study in itself, an experiment in seeing, so there’s no success or failure, just a feeling of well being. Nothing like a bit of sun and the illusion of movement to lift the spirits.

From: Caraleen Baker — Jun 27, 2013

I, like many others, suffer from being ‘stuck’. I like to refer to it as “Creative Block”. After being laid up from many surgeries I found that they took their toll on my creativity. I would constantly do the negative self talk thing. And then one day my husband gave me the creative kick in the tush. He said, “I don’t care what you produce. Just get into your studio and do something.

As we all know, looking at a blank canvas can be one of the scariest things facing artists. My approach was to get out a 16 x 20 white canvas, a plethora of fluid acrylics, a spray bottle of water and some brushes. I just started to pour color on the canvas. My choice of color had no rhyme or reason, but reflected my mood at the time. Ultimately, I was able to pick out shapes on the canvas — much the same as we tend to look at a piece of linoleum on the floor and envisage all kinds of creatures. (I did that a lot as a kid). My piece turned into a garden floor in the fall with lots of interesting leaves. It was a piece that most people would comment on and say they loved it.

From: rena williams — Jun 28, 2013


From: Carole Pivarnik — Jun 28, 2013

I rarely get stuck but when I do, it is usually due to one of two reasons: I am tired and just need to rest my mind and eyes for a few days or my brain is struggling to integrate something new I have learned into my process or style and that just takes time and effort to work through–often with frustrating results in the interim where it seems I can’t paint worth a damn. We are not machines. Being more organically in tune with the natural ups and downs of our own selves and taking a break or changing focus for a short time — always keeping the bigger picture in mind — is not a bad thing.

From: Alice in Alberta — Jun 28, 2013

Dear Robert, the 3rd paragraph in ‘stuck’ fits me to a T. I seem to get stuck the worst right after a successful painting.

From: Bruce Doxey — Jun 28, 2013

If you begin doing a piece and find yourself “stuck,” there is probably something that you MUST do to get going. Often, that is you have to learn something. A type of brush stroke to create an effect that you want, analyze the color of a shadow, reclaim the vision that you were trying to create, or perhaps this piece of work is an obligation. If you don’t know what the question is, shelve it for the moment and work on something else. In time you will suddenly know the question and when it is defined, answering it is usually fairly easy.

From: Betty Dennis — Jun 28, 2013

The best way to discourage people from commenting on your work when you are painting out on a street is to put out of cup labeled for needy artist. People will leave you alone to paint.

From: Carolynn Wagler — Jul 01, 2013

Thanks for those great pics from Frank Eber. My goodness, so filled with light and natural beauty, they really touched me.

From: Lynnette Sproch — Jul 04, 2013

I am a bipolar artist and teacher. Without medication and talk therapy and psych. visits, i would be in bed round the clock. It is difficult to hear or read that if you just “seize the Day”, you can heal yourself. I approach my artwork, with a blank mind,I close my eyes and let my charcoal lead the way-usually gets broken up ,as my work is emotional,yet in a positive way. My pieces are all figurative,I use my past knowledge of anatomy study to draw the figures as I want to. i can approach artwork any time. I am full of uncreated pieces. I have had to run to the canvass at times that I was not well and it often felt like I was throwing up on my canvass and the relief was great! I remember a professor that said Van Gogh painted every day. I was stunned, and then began for over a year of painting every day( I do love Vincent). I hope this gives we artists a bit of a push-JUST APPROACH THE CANVASS AND MAKE A MARK ON IT!!!!!!! the rest will come! Good luck fellow gifted ones, it a lovely, lonely path we follow Before all else be true to yourself and create for only you (and spirit), that’s what the universe desires from you to give to us!

From: Mary Wilbanks — Jul 08, 2013

A surefire way for me to get unstuck and inspired is to review my sketchbooks, sometimes from years back.

From: valerie norberry vanorden — Jul 14, 2013

Every day or every other day I do the alphabet in Spencerian hand. This gets me going. I also do other kinds of art, acrylic paintings, but the Spencerian hand focuses my energies and feeds my spirit. With it, I can write a letter, flourish a bird or an angel, write a hymn. Thus recharged, I march off to the market to sell. I use various colored borders which are painted or photographed to set off the penmanship. Tamblyns has exercises for the hand which consist of circles and scribbles, then letters in circles. Engrossers were once the artists of the day who did quite a bit of drawing. By strengthening my hand muscles and eye-hand coordination, and by producing eye-candy, I am set free from doldrums and encouraged.

    Featured Workshop by Alan Wylie 062813_robert-genn Alan Wylie workshops Gibsons, B.C., Canada   The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order.     woa


oil painting, 20 x 16 inches by Lori Feldpausch, Marshall, MI, USA

  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 Allan O’Marra of Ajax, ON, Canada who wrote, “Stuck? Who’s got time for stuck?!” And also Linda Franklin of Tappen, BC, Canada who wrote, “For me, play is the source of renewal. It freshens me up. And it’s fun!” And also Robin Timms of North Vancouver, BC, Canada who wrote, “I highly recommend a book entitled, Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer. As he explains, “Every creative journey begins with a problem… Once we know how creativity works, we can make it work for us”… For me, I now have a kind of roadmap of how to reinvigorate my process and my creativity when I get stuck. A fantastic read.” And also Chris Schmidt of Hawaii, USA who wrote, “An ounce of pluck equals a pound of luck.”And also Susan Kellogg of Austin, Texas who wrote, “Here’s an inspirational photograph of an abandoned house on FM 1626 on the way to Buda, Texas.