When You Get Stuck, What Do You Do?

We've all been there:

You stare at the artwork (or creative project) that you’re making, and it just doesn’t look anything like what you’ve been trying to create. Part of you feels like ditching the entire thing. But what about all of the time and materials you’ve already put into it? Maybe you should put it away for a while. Or perhaps give up on the original idea and see where this new work takes you. This frustrated state often ends in unfinished artworks.

I think there are several ways to handle this. Most importantly, you need to trust yourself and trust your learning. You will resolve this in the manner that’s best for you, so breathe deeply.

It’s totally OK to walk away from a work until the inspiration returns. The fact is, it could be weeks, months, or even years until that happens. That’s OK—You’ll be busy working on other artworks in the meantime, so don’t let this unfinished work trouble your mind in the meantime. Literally, forget about it so you can focus on your active projects.

Art supplies are expensive, and sometimes we get hung up on thoughts like “I don’t want to waste this paint / any more paint on this piece.” It is important to value our materials—it’s part of the reverence of what we do. Then again, part of our job is to use up our materials! I recall when I took figure drawing in college and I went through pad after giant pad of drawing paper, hundreds of pages, two-minute sketch after two-minute sketch. It wasn’t a waste—I learned so much in that class! Your materials are there to allow you to practice, and it’s not a waste to use them.

It’s sad to part with old work that you’ve spent time on, but if you’re really not loving it, it’s OK to recycle it, give it away, cut it up for collage, or paint over it. Perhaps you could donate it so someone could use it as a surface to paint over. Do something positive with it and move on!

When you have an artwork that’s 80% done and you’re feeling that you might ruin it and you also kind of want to let the whole thing go, remember that the artwork will never get to be in the world unless you make the next decision on it. Be brave! Take a chance, so the artwork can have its chance! Sometimes it takes me months or years to make that next decision. Often what it takes is a deadline. You can create your own deadline if that helps.

It’s normal for artwork (or creative projects of any kind) to reach this limbo stage sometimes. Don’t let it get you down. Trust yourself, use your materials, and take your time.

Do you have any other strategies for working through a "stuck" time in a creative project? I'd love to hear!

Being an artist and making your life's work is one hell of an adventure, and it really helps to have an enthusiastic guide. I'd absolutely love to work one-on-one with you to achieve your creative dreams. Click here to learn more about my creative mentoring programs.

Annamieka Davidson