How to Get Unstuck. Part 2

A video suggested by Rachel!


I polled other artists about their unsticking strategies and what a flurry of responses! I love all these ideas and comments. Thanks to you all and anyone else whom I missed on this roundup -- I'll keep adding. This is starting to look like a great article.

Michele Lasker says: 

I have been watching the multitude of DVDs I bought from Interweave and Double Trouble for inspiration and it seems to be working. It's hard to get going after the holidays.

I find that when I get stuck it's typically because there's been an interruption in my normal flow of work. usually it's because I just finished a major project (a typical project for me takes eight months to a year, so finishing one is a Very Big Deal) and need some time to get my head unwrapped from the project - there's a bit of a grieving process as I come to terms with the end of my (working) relationship with the piece, and I usually feel pretty emotionally drained by the time I finish.

Tien Chiu says:
Personal blog:

I typically do two things:

(1) Embrace boredom. That sounds really bizarre, but I've found that when my Muse has fled, it's because she needs a vacation. So I accept that I'm going to be bored and relatively unmotivated for a couple ofdays - it's part of the natural creative cycle for me. So instead of kicking myself about it, I let myself wander aimlessly about for a few days. Read books, clean up the kitchen, etc. I loathe being bored, but sometimes I need "time off" to recharge. In my experience trying to jumpstart faster doesn't work and just gets me more frustrated.

(2) Once I start feeling intensely bored (as opposed to bored and depressed), I start flipping through my idea notebook (mine is online, but they can be physical too), books on technique, books of swatches from sample exchanges, etc. I think of it as "teasing the Muse" - if you roll enough balls of tinfoil past a young cat, sooner or later its tail is going to start twitching and it will pounce. I figure the idea notebook and other idea sources make great balls of tinfoil for my Muse, so I simply parade ideas past her until something catches her/my fancy.

And after that, it's off again!

Barb Hilts says:

Me, I clean, which I do after every big project, Christmas included. Cleaning, puts things in order for another project. Out of the cleaning, ideas resurface.

Creative blocks are a period of growth. A dear friend of mine would suggest to work through the blocks in any creative medium, and your new path will emerge. 

From Barbara Schneider: (

I watch DVDs of other artists and try to use that time to go to Art Institute or somewhere like that. The Art 21 series on PBS is wonderful. I think there are 7 seasons worth of those with interviews and videos of artists in all kinds of mediums. It's a great way to see a variety of things and get out of your head for awhile. 

And then I clean the studio which always leads to something.

And Lisa Kerpoe chimes in from nearby:

Ha! We're thinking along the same lines. I just did a blog on creativity blocks and was planning to follow up next week with ways to overcome them! My favorite? I keep a drawer of unfinished items. Things that are fairly far along, but for some reason I just never finished them. I pull those out and start playing. That usually generates ideas that then work their way into other projects.
Lisa Kerpoe

And from Rachel in Arizona

This helped me when I was in the grip of the "Oh but I can't do art because..." monster and it gets me out of places where I'm not making any art, and I don't know why. It has also helped with the times I've gotten stuck because everything I make looks godawful and fit only to line the cat box. 

I read a book called Art and Fear, and it made me all indignant because in it somewhere it seemed to hint that I make a lot of excuses to avoid doing art. But but but my excuses are -- er my reasons, yeah that's it -- are all good exc-- reasons. I'm not feeling well! I'm feeling happy, so I should celebrate! I'm tired. I'm bored. I need to go to the store or I ought to clean the refrigerator. And on and on. And I began to have the sneaking suspicion that maybe I could somehow put all these important excuses aside for a little while and just make something. 

That alone didn't quite get me going, but I think it opened me up so that when someone sent me a link to a Youtube of writer Neil Gaiman's commencement speech to the graduating class at an art college, and I heard the following, a light came on and I started looking at art as something I maybe could do anyway: 

"Remember, whatever discipline you're in, whether you're a musician or a photographer, a fine artist or a cartoonist, a writer, a dancer, a singer, a designer, whatever you do, you have one thing that's unique: you have the ability to make art. And for me, and for so many of the people I've known, that's been a lifesaver, the ultimate lifesaver; it gets you through good times and it gets you through the other ones.

"Sometimes life is hard; things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do: make good art. I'm serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by a mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Someone on the Internet thinks what you're doing is stupid or evil or it's all been done before? Make good art. Probably things will work out somehow; eventually time will take the sting away and it doesn't even matter. Do what only you can do best: make good art. 

"Make it on the bad days. Make it on the good days too. And . . . while you're at it, make your art. Do the stuff that only you can do." 

Or maybe it's just going back to that speech and listening to Neil reading that aloud. :) But sometimes a reminder of why I want to dye cloth is exactly what I need to sweep all the rubbish aside. 

JC at Wellstrong Gallery suggests:

The best advice I've received for coping with writer's block is to write anything. Write a shopping list, a thank-you note, etc. Writing a journal is different, because that's a continuation. Journals do it for some people, but not me. It needs to be something new, and original (the shopping list has to be considered (in its nature) to work, e.g., if for food, for a new recipe, rather than milk, eggs, bread).

I do the same thing to get unstuck in the studio. I have what I call "mindless sewing projects". It could be an old project that has all of the conceptualizing done but needs finishing work (new and original isn't as important, because just handling the art gets me in an art frame of mind), or it could be a "crafts" project like a baby quilt. Or maybe it's prep work like dyeing etc. fabrics. Basically, working is working, and if I just keep working, things start to flow and the ideas and inspiration just come.

My biggest block is a cleaned up workspace. I try to leave something that's ready to just pick and get going on, either on my table, or in a milk crate ready to dump out. That way there isn't any of that breaking into a tidy space reluctance.

And from June Steegstra

I find reading through my books (I have an extensive library) and magazines gives me lots of ideas to addapt for my own.  I usually have two or three projects that are waiting for me to begin.

Su Butler chimed in:

 I remedied it by going to a meeting with people who do entirely different work that I do...I am primarily a weaver and dyer, but the people at the meeting were quilters, paper makers, felters, thread painters etc.  It was terribly inspiring and really invigorated my creative senses.  I am working on a piece entirely out of my usual medium and adjusting to the learning curve, but facing it with tremendous freedom because I honestly don't know what I am doing wrong....and that reminds me of how I need to feel when creating without my own "world"........ and I am feeling more and more creative as a result.   I call this "shock therapy"....introduce something so new and unknown that only creativity can make it happen....even in my ideas are old hat to someone else, they are new to me and it is very helpful and satisfying.

Hope everyone can find a renewal of their creative freedom this year!