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The times when I’m not creative…

How to get over artist's block - a personal story.

The most frequent answer to the question “How to be an illustrator?” is: practice every day – and you can believe me, I have typed this question into Google gazillion times. But what happens when you just can’t?

The past couple of weeks have been rather difficult for me due to some personal changes in my life and even though I’m a really active, productive person, often I just spent my time doing passive things like reading or watching something instead of painting or writing. And I am neither a lazy, nor undisciplined.

So what is it like when you just can’t ?

Professional creatives actually deny that there is such a thing as ‘inspiration’ and I tend to think along the same line: if I stimulate my brain the right way, then ideas generate themselves. However, I can’t say that I don’t know the feeling of being ‘uninspired’, but in my case this ‘uninspiration’ mainly refers to the slightly depressed state when I don’t even have strength to trigger my creative radar.

Then there is another form of passivity: in this case I know perfectly well what I want to create and how I want to do it, I have the time/opportunity/equipment to do it, but at the very last moment I decide to curl up under the blanket with a book and my cat instead.

Is this a problem?

According to Tara Leaver there can be 3 major reasons for these moods.

  1. A new phase of your art is coming but it isn’t – or you are not – quite ready for it to be released yet.
  2. Things are percolating. You are constantly absorbing ideas and inspiration, including subconsciously, and it needs to be filed away in my internal library, with cross referencing and categorisation, so that what you need can come forward when the time is right.
  3. Another creative project is taking up most of the bandwidth, and painting requires a certain state,which needs less other stuff going on simultaneously.


To these 3 I would add the constant fear of not being good enough (without concern to your objective talent) and external difficulties that pop up in life sometimes.

On the other hand I think there is a cyclic change to art by nature. Active and passive periods come and go, while there is a periodic change in style and topic as well. Sometimes I feel better within my comfort zone, working with well-known techniques, sometimes I am bursting with the desire to experiment and try something new.

How to get over artist's block - a personal story.

However, passive periods can be really sly. The longer time you spend without creating, the harder it becomes to grab the paintbrushes again. The fear and the expectations you set yourself just keep increasing. After all, “practise every day” is not a silly advice. You get used to your creative process and you forgive yourself more easily if  you don’t create  perfect pieces, because you can have another go the next day. In this sense, passivity is a never-ending circle: the longer this period is, the more effort it takes to start again.

So how do I start again?

I am in a lucky (?) position: my finances do not depend on my art so I have the chance to slowly shepherd myself back to the creative route. At these times I am trying to set myself the smallest possible challenge and this way I trick my fear and anxiety: I let myself be inspired by other artists. If it’s the only way, I copy them. This way I get in touch with my own creativity again, and so my next project will not fill me with so much dread.

If the reason behind my passivity is some emotional roller (either positive or negative) then I try to ‘paint it out’. I silence the voice that tells me ‘I’m not good enough’ by saying that the whole point of painting is therapeutic, the goal is not to produce a perfect piece but to process my experiences more easily. This, again, re-connects my brush with me, so the next ‘real’ piece comes much more naturally.

How to get over artist's block - a personal story.

And if it still doesn’t work?

Then I give it a bit of time… Perhaps Tara is right, and then all you can do is wait until your creativity calls again. Or maybe you are just lazy. :D You are the only one who can answer to that.

How do you cope with the lack of inspiration and passive periods?

Comments (8)

  • Mishelle Milne

    June 26, 2017 at 12:58 pm

    I come across this problem quite a lot. I have so many ideas in my head, but my depression kicks in and tells me that there is no point in even trying. On good days I feel inspired and productive and can ignore the thoughts in my head, but some days I also find distractions like book reading and cleaning the entire house top to bottom. I do not have a job at the moment and my physical health means it’s very hard to find a job suitable for me, so I would ideally like to have a career in the arts but my head gets in the way of pushing that idea forward.

    1. Imelda

      June 26, 2017 at 1:49 pm

      Mish, I really hope you manage to get over these blocks. For me it is always helpful when I lower my expectations of myself. I found that for me the trick is to get in touch with my creativity again.

  • Elena Zahir

    June 26, 2017 at 2:37 pm

    I absolutely loved this post. To my best knowledge I’ve never experienced a creative block, but I’m not working full-time in a creative industry either. Your writing was wonderful, and your illustrations are breathtaking! I’m honestly impressed. Thanks for sharing love!
    xx Elena

    1. Imelda

      June 26, 2017 at 2:52 pm

      Elena, thank you so much for your super-kind words, I’m so happy to read them! I don’t work as a full-time artist either but it doesn’t prevent me from having creative blocks sometimes. :) Hope you never experience it!

  • Brian

    June 26, 2017 at 3:10 pm

    I’ve been feeling a lot of creative blocks lately and only being able to force my way through it in the last week or so. I do like your idea for getting past it – copying someone’s stuff is definitely viable! I don’t think a real artist can totally copy someone else’s stuff anyway without putting their own take on it.

    1. Imelda

      June 28, 2017 at 12:57 pm

      I suppose it is not only true of ‘real artists’ but of anyone. There is always some individuality, even if it’s unintentional.
      I’m happy you got over your block all right. Do you have some extra tips how you managed it?

  • Aulya Sisca

    April 19, 2022 at 6:02 am

    hi, imelda, greetings from Indonesia.
    i have been taking notes from your posts hehe.
    i am an aspiring watercolor illustrator and finding you is such a blessing. i could relate to your stories and motivations so much especially the illustrator series. your writings are so good as well, perfect for my morning. Hope to see you keep creating and stay healthy~

    1. Imelda

      April 19, 2022 at 9:20 am

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Aulya! <3

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