Imagine, for a second, the following situation:
You’re an artist. You’ve always loved creating things. You’ve spent weeks, months or even years learning new techniques, perfecting your skills and working tirelessly to create beautiful things.
One day, however, you wake up and simply don’t feel like making anything. You drag yourself over to your easel or your illustration table but the magic feels lost. You find yourself unable to appreciate the things you spent years working on, the things of which you used to be proud. Looking at them now, they all seem so inadequate. You take your brush to the canvas but every stroke seems more pointless than the last.
It feels like someone has taken a fire extinguisher to the creativity that used to burn inside you.
Sound familiar? Don’t be too hard on yourself. Your creative life isn’t over just yet. You’re simply going through a period that we like to call “artist’s burnout." Every creative person goes through it at some point.
When you dedicate your life to something like painting, illustration or music, it’s easy to start doubting yourself. When self-doubt claws its way into your working process, you can start to feel like making anything is a waste of time.
Don’t worry, though. We’ve outlined a few tips that can help you move past your creative burnout so that you can get back to doing the work you were born to do.
1. Take a Break
There’s nothing wrong with closing your sketchbook for a week or two. In fact, it might actually be a productive thing to do. Taking some time away from your work can be a great way to view it with a fresh perspective.
If you feel like all of your sketches are rubbish and that you’re not progressing as an artist, give yourself some distance from those projects. Hide the sketchbook in a drawer and take a week to do something else. Read that book you’ve been putting off. Catch up on that Netflix show to which you’ve never gotten around. Spend some time with your dog (she’s been waiting for you to put the markers down and take her to the park).
When the week is over, pull the sketchbook out and browse through your old drawings. You’ll be surprised at how different they look after only a few days.
2. Find a New Place to Work
As artists, it’s easy for us to become comfortable with patterns. If you’re going through a creative burnout, take a look at your habits and consider changing something up.
Do you sit at the same desk every time you draw? Go work in another room! Listen to the same music whenever you’re painting? Make another playlist! Drink coffee from the same mug every day? Pick a new one!
The problem with habits is that once we start to associate them with negative emotions, they become linked in our brains. If you dread working at your desk because you’re afraid it will make you feel bad, it doesn’t make sense to sit there. Pull a chair up to your window or go sit in the park. Finding a place that feels fresh and exciting could help you to put some enthusiasm back into your artistic process.
3. Work in a New Medium
Too often, artists limit themselves to working in one medium. Just because you think of yourself as an illustrator, though, doesn’t mean that you’re confined to that forever. Who knows? There could be a sculptor hiding inside you that’s dying to break out!
Andy Warhol, for example, worked for years as a commercial illustrator before going on to make silkscreens, paintings, photographs, and films. If he’d never decided to take that risk, he never would have produced the brilliant work we know him for today.
If you’re experiencing burnout, do yourself a favor and try working in a new medium. There are tutorials on YouTube that you can use to learn any skill you could imagine. Always been interested in quilts? Pick up some Arteza quilting supplies and see what happens.
Not only will working in a new medium provide you with new creative opportunities, but it could also inform the way you think about the work you’re accustomed to making.
4. Share Your Artwork with Others
Most artwork comes from an intensely personal place. We use drawing, painting, and other mediums to express things that might be very difficult to put into words. As a result, it can be difficult to share with others, particularly if we don’t think that the work is adequate.
Sharing your work with friends, however, can be a great way to get some feedback. If you feel yourself burning out, ask someone else to take a look at the art you’ve been working on. Whether they're an artist or not, just say, “Hey, would you mind letting me know what you think of these?”
Even if they aren’t a fan, you’ll get an outside perspective on how other people view your work. It’s likely that their idea of what the artwork is will be completely different than your own. Their comments can give you an outside perspective on what you’re doing right, what’s not working so well and how you might approach future projects differently.
5. Keep Pushing On
The most important thing to keep in mind when you’re encountering a creative burnout is why you make art in the first place.
After all, even the most successful artists don’t do it to impress other people or get rich. Those things are nice, of course, but anyone who makes art does it because they love it. We spend countless hours toiling away at our craft because we want to get better. We want to create the best work of our ability.
If it feels like your artwork is going nowhere, remind yourself how far you’ve come. Creative burnout is simply a roadblock in the artistic process. While it might not feel like you’re always headed in the right direction, you’ll get where you need to go eventually. Just be persistent and keep driving.