Painter’s Block

As an artist do you ever get confused about what to paint? Do you ever get the painters version of writer’s block? I definitely find myself in this state from time to time. I’ll sometimes enjoy a season of great productivity. I know what I want to say and how I want to say it. It feels great. But it never seems to last for me for more than 6 months or so. I get stuck. How do you deal with this?

I guess I’m writing about this because I’m in one of those funky states right now. I really don’t want to paint what I’ve already painted. As a professional sometimes I need to do this anyway. We create a “product” that both the galleries and collectors want. They want to see more of those smashing pictures you did for your last show. But I have to confess: right now I don’t really give a crap what they want to see. I need some freshness. I need something to breathe life back into my work. I may eventually get back to the “old stuff” but right now I just can’t do it anymore. This is a not uncommon dilemma for many artists. When I’ve discussed this with my compatriots it seems it’s an all too familiar place in which to find oneself. So what do we do? What do I do?

Well…first and foremost, KEEP PAINTING. A short break may be in order. But don’t stay away too long. Keep painting. Keep moving. I have found I can’t get anywhere unless I stick to the path. Just keep going. Change the subject matter. Swap out some of your colors. Change your support. Try a new medium. But keep going. You can’t quit life. Life goes on. It’s the same for us creative types.

Do a master copy. See what you can learn from one of your favorite masters. This can take the pressure off you for a period of time to create something. In the meantime you may be picking up some valuable insights you may have lacked.

Sketch book. This can be so important. You don’t even need a subject. Just open it up and start making marks. Make some shapes. Draw something from your imagination. This can spark all kinds of ideas. I think for me it has been one of the most helpful things I’ve ever done to spark a new season of productivity. My sketch book always has lots of writing in it as well as images. I make notes. I write down ideas. Don’t underestimate the benefits of this tool.

Get inspired. Go to a museum, or a musical, or a movie, or… Put yourself somewhere where your creative juices can get stimulated. The beach. I don’t know. What I DON’T recommend is browsing images on the internet. For me this usually feeds self-doubt and negative comparison. I find this does not happen when I see paintings in real life. I don’t know why. Also, be open minded about what can inspire you. I’ve been inspired by just walking by our backyard vegetable garden and seeing the ripe tomatos. Try to keep your eyes open.

Paint with others. This can be helpful, as well as a hoot. I always enjoy the comaraderie of other artists in an open studio type session. I get energized talking with and working beside fellow artists. It’s great to hear their experiences, insights, grumbles, as well as their jokes. It sometimes sparks something. As painters we can often find ourselves too much alone. I know this is very true for me. So I sometimes have to be very active in making sure I hang out with other people. The open studio is a great place for me.

Be patient. If all else fails just be patient. You have the “creative gene” so to speak. You were made to make stuff. Don’t worry. Soon you’ll be back in the saddle. Don’t be too hard on yourself.

Best wishes and happy painting!


36 thoughts on “Painter’s Block”

  1. You speak a lot of truth, David, and bravo for sharing your struggle 🙂

    I agree that painting with others is a fantastic way to energize your artistic juices! You remind me that I’m overdue for some interaction…

    Thank you for sharing your experience and helping us grow as artists 🙂

    I’m looking forward to more, and the wordpress site looks great btw 😉


  2. I find unless I feel powerful love and awe, Im just not on the planet for painting. It also scares me when I do something good and I want to hide. Crazy. Im very grateful for your works it sets me on fire , thanks


  3. It’s true. Artists tend to be loners in their quest. i joined a group of artist that meet every Saturday to paint for three hours and it’s the highlight of my week. My pitfall thou is i leave the art for long stretches as other projects have me sidetrack, but i always come back.


  4. Painters block is awful. And I have found lack of inspiration to be equally devastating, My husband is a cancer patient and HE is inspiring, but the desire to continue painting and learn has stopped for me. My studio used to be a sanctuary and I want nothing more than to be productive once again.


  5. Thank you so much for sharing. I’m in that state and have been for quite awhile, can’t seem to get out of it finding one reason or another and feeling quite inadequate as a painter. I’m going to follow your advise and the first thing I do is not to go on the internet for inspiration because it was doing exactly that, fueling self doubt and I have plenty of that as it is. Thank you for being real and sharing 😉


  6. Wow, someone finally put it in clear writing – “just don’t care what they want to see, and tired of painting the same ol’ thing”… Thank you!
    I find too that sometimes reading something on art can breathe life into me, and subsequently into my painting… Your welcome! ;o)


  7. You are UNBELIEVABLE! no words to describe what I feel when I´m watching you painting!!!… I´m your FAN!!!… Sorry for my english, I guess I talk better that write! lol… A lot of HOLAS from México :)… Gaby


  8. Hi David,
    Loved the glazing video. Could you tell me what the white haze covering the painting is before you glaze.


      1. Don’t know if it’s the matte surface David. It appears to be somewhat of a chalky appearance over the painting before you glazed.


  9. David, this couldn’t have come at a better time for me! All great advice and fully embraced on my end… the sketchbook practice is something I’ve been doing lately. It was surprising to see how ‘addictive’ it has become… and the statement about how internet browsing can be counter to finding inspiration! So true! This article was a reality check in a way.. Thanks again, keep up the great work, and I hope to take a workshop of yours one day!

    Cheers and God Bless – CJ


  10. This sounds like a very positive attitude to something that could be translated to the state of depression that some of us suffer from. Liked it, liked it alot!


  11. David, no doubt that we all fear these creative artists crises. And yes change is needed. I do the following, I continue on the way always, continue to walk, certainly with some miles the scenery changes from something flat to hilly, or green and flowery fields. The sky may be dark and then it is clear without clouds, or perhaps with beautiful clouds divesos tones. The answer is the same, continue on the path, on the road, if it now seems a ground of hard stone, that hurts our feet when walking, will soon be a sweet and soft sand. Thank you and happy painting.


  12. David, I saw to many oil painters works from all over the world in my life.
    I just have to say this, when I watched your video of those two young girls, while you were painting the girl on the right side I really thought I died & went to paradise, not only she’s is beautiful as a young girl, but your fine & incredible work on it, the colors that you create in her fragile face, are not only excellent, its just much more than a piece of art.
    Probably you should not worry much about up & downs, your life is completely full of extreme knowledge that some another artist never thought they can get close to.
    God bless you always, thanks for sharing your art with us.


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