Overcoming Art Block: Exercises for Every Timeframe & Skill Level | Erin Kate Archer | Skillshare

Overcoming Art Block: Exercises for Every Timeframe & Skill Level

Erin Kate Archer, art & illustration

Overcoming Art Block: Exercises for Every Timeframe & Skill Level

Erin Kate Archer, art & illustration

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9 Lessons (22m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. How to use this class

    • 3. Level 1 | Stretch Yourself!

    • 4. Level 2 | Creative Spark Exercises

    • 5. Level 3 | Seek Inspiration

    • 6. Level 4 | Examine

    • 7. Level 5 | Advancing

    • 8. Level 6 | Daily Projects

    • 9. Final thoughts

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About This Class

it's the common curse for artists both professional and hobbyists – you're itching to make something but sit down at the canvas or sketchbook and art block ties your hands. or maybe it's been a few weeks or months and you're making art but every piece makes you cringe. art block spans a range of severity and requires a range of solutions. i'm an artist and illustrator and recently experienced the higher end of the scale – months and months of each piece i finished feeling stale and unsatisfactory. i've spent hours researching how to overcome this and i'm sharing all i've learned in this class. while this is primarily aimed at visual artists, you could apply the principles to any medium. let's get started busting art block!

Meet Your Teacher

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Erin Kate Archer

art & illustration

Top Teacher

erin kate archer is a new york-based artist & illustrator with an ethereal, magical style. her work aims to calm, comfort, and soothe the soul. from immersive knitted seascapes and pastel galaxies to charming children’s book illustrations –  erin makes what was once a static image a tranquil visual journey. 


erin is the illustrator of finbar & fiona; was selected for the sing for hope NYC piano painting project; is a skillshare top teacher, and has created work for a number of consumer brands. 


follow along with her on instagram, check out her portfolio for some finished projects, and vis... See full profile

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1. Introduction: It's the common curse for artists, both professional and hobbyists. You're itching to make something but you sit down at the canvas or sketchbook and art block ties your hands. Maybe it's been a few weeks or even months and you're making art, but every piece makes you cringe. Art blocks spans a range of severity and requires a range of solutions. I'm an artist and illustrator and recently experienced the higher end of scale. Months and months of each piece I finished feel like stale and unsatisfactory. I spent hours researching how to overcome this and I'm sharing all I've learned in this class. We'll be looking at a range of solutions, some as simple as drawing exercises all the way to the more complex, digging into what makes your art your art. Whether you just have a few minutes or you're willing to dedicate a chunk of time to defeating your art block, this class is for you. 2. How to use this class: Before we get started, just a quick note on how to use this class. Lessons are arranged from quickest to most labor-intensive so if you start the class and Lesson 1 does the trick and vanishes your art block, great. Get painting. Save the class or return the next time you experience art block and go to the next level. If you've been experiencing a rough bout of art block for awhile now, I recommend still starting at the beginning and try each exercise. Building your skill and thought process along the way, you never know what might do the trick. 3. Level 1 | Stretch Yourself!: This trick is the easiest of the bunch, but sometimes the simplest do the best. If you're an artist, you probably have a drawer like this where miscellaneous supplies go to rest. Your mission is to choose something you normally wouldn't use, so a brush with an interesting shape or markers in the color palette different from what you normally gravitate towards. Bonus points for picking something that is permanent like this ink. If you normally work in something like wash acrylic where you're able to go over and correct different layers, working with something permanent will really help you loosen up. I'm going to use this pointed pen to do this exercise. My favorite way to put these supplies to use is to pull up Pinterest and draw whatever comes up on my home feed and try not to think and to try not to do lines more than once, just clean simple lines. I do this in my ugly sketchbook, which is the one that I don't normally show to people, so this is a special exception for you guys in this class. You can even use something like a paper bag or an old grocery list so you're really uninhibited in your drawing process. I don't want to promote excess consumerism, but I do find that buying a new brush or new a pen really does help motivate me. You could try that or you could try maybe doing an art swap with a friend. That said, you really don't need to buy something new or even have a stash of art supplies around to do something like this. If you normally work small, try working large. If you normally work with something very correctable, try something permanent. This worked because it resets your brain rather than relying on the muscle memory of the mediums you always use. You are able to take a step back and look at things from a new perspective and flex those muscles. The idea here is to not think, just draw. While I really do recommend you have something like an ugly sketchbook or discarded paper to do exercises like this on because it allows you to create without the fear of being judged or the fear of being liked on social media, all of that nonsense, I do find myself thinking that it feels like a waste of time, and so what I tell myself is, if I come up with something I like, like I really liked how this little flower girl came out, I just trim her up and I use this to cover up mistakes in what I call my clean sketchbook or the one that I would like to do sketchbook tours of, and I like to show spreads on social media so it feels like it's not a waste of my valuable art/business time at the end of the day. Not that everything you do in your art practice needs to be towards an end goal, but I find that this is motivating for me personally. 4. Level 2 | Creative Spark Exercises: This level is all about creativity, sparking exercises, and I have a few options here for you. I recommend you pick two or three to fill your 10-15 minutes. First up, we have hand-eye warm ups, so grab a big piece of paper or newsprint or you're ugly sketchbook. To start out, we're going to do circles. I'm sure you've done an exercise like this before, but the idea here is to just lock your wrist, don't bend it back and forth and draw from your shoulder, putting into practice everything you know about drawing and just try to make it as perfect of a circle as you can, switch directions, and just turn off your brain and try to become mechanical and let your arm and your body do the work. This will not only get your brain and the mind frame for doing art, it will also be really good for your wrist on top of your drawing when you go right into working. Plus drawing a good circle is a great skill to have because basically everything that you draw can be made up of circles and some reduced version of the shape. The next exercise I call the constellation exercise. You go ahead and fill your piece of paper with dots. I'm just using it the third here so that I can show you all the exercise quickly. Just fill your page with random dots, bigger and smaller, however you like, making sure that you have a lot of variety. Then we will try to pick two different dots and draw a smooth straight line from one to the other. This just helps again, get the muscle memory going and getting into the mind frame of creating art and also helps with our line work. You will then repeat this until all of the dots have a line connecting to them and you'll get a great crystal fractal shape, which is pretty satisfying. Continuing with our line theme, we have the final of the hand-eye exercises, which is to just really get familiar with their pattern. Make a bunch of vertical lines, make a bunch of horizontal lines. Make your lines thicker or thinner based on your different pressure you're applying. See how thin you can draw a line, see how thick you can draw a line. The possibilities here are really endless, you just want to get your hand moving and your brain moving and really get to know your medium. Option 2 is visual prompts. I like to use this site called Line of Action, its line-of-action.com, you might have heard of it. It's an amazing resource for a figure drawing, animal drawing, hands and feet, faces in an expression and environments. I'm just selecting figure here and you can pick if you want all models, only nude models, only covered, adult, female or male. I really recommend you select class mode, which if you use the 30-minute class, it is 10 poses for 30-seconds, five poses for one minute, two poses for five minutes, and one pose for 10 minutes. This gives you the opportunity to warm up and then really dedicate some time to studying as well. I'll show you some I did, so you can see how unfinished they are. These are the 30-second. You can see they're really just gestural and the one-minute and the five-minute, and then others are more rendered. If figures aren't really your thing, you can also do animal drawing or the faces. For animals we have feline or rodents or insects, whatever you'd like. I recommend again, you can do the class mode, but if you only have a few minutes, you could also just do the 10-minute drawing here and be done with this level of the class. Option 3 is another prompt generator, but this time we are doing accounts up to prompt. Go to artprompts.org and this is another great resource. You can choose a character or a creature here, and you'll get a bunch of different prompts you can use to do an illustration. Here you can see I have zombie hockey player, which isn't really my thing. I'm going to refresh and I have serpent like red dragon, which was pretty fun. Just to show you some other options, you can also do environment. Here we have the light pools over abandoned machines and the weeds that covered them. That's very interesting, it could go a lot of different directions with that. The idea here is you take this prompt and run with it. You can make it finished illustration or just a sketch like here I have a wooden shield, alien girl and her alien pet, a tribal mask, English bulldogs having a tea party and half man, half horse were prompts I got from this site. This can be really fun exercise and can really get your creative juices flowing. Option 4, we have the blob game, grab a giant piece of paper or your sketch book and some watercolor or another unpredictable medium. You could do something like alcohol ink. The name of the game here is pretty self-explanatory. We want to load up a big brush and just make some random blobs. Don't plan any shapes or styles or subjects we're just literally making random blobs here, if it's difficult for you to make random blobs without planning ahead, you could also have someone else make these blobs for you. It could be a really fun game where you and a friend can do blobs for each other and then see what you come up with them. I'm just here using different colors and just making literal random blobs, and I'll come back when they dry. We have our dried blobs that are a little bit less saturated now, that's the deal with watercolor. Just want to grab a pen. I like a nice black, fine tip pen. We are going to try to find some interesting shapes in our blobs. I was inspired by the little splashes from this green shape and thinking it looked like a dog shaking off water. The blob here really worked perfectly for me to make a mushroom. I think it's pretty self-explanatory how fun and how creativity invoking this game can be. I would have never guessed that I could've gotten a picture out of that middle section and I really struggled with this guy on the bottom right, but I ended up turning into caterpillar and thought it was really fun. Option 5, we have just painting different environments. This can be really helpful if you suffer from the blank page syndrome or when you sit in front of an open sketchbook and you just feel like you can't get anywhere with it because the blank page is terrifying. You just literally take a color you really like, or if you have leftover paint, this is a great use of it and create shapes that can be the background for your future illustrations. One of my favorite ways to use this exercise is to prepaint some pages in my sketchbook. The next time I open it, I don't get the blank page syndrome because I don't have blank pages. You'll see here I have a few like this piece of holly was just a purple circle that I ended up finishing and I have a few here that are works in progress. We are going to use our environments for number 6, which is a book prompts. I'm just grabbing a random book from my shelf, although this one isn't really that random, I find it has a lot of beautiful imagery. Definitely recommend if you're looking for some inspiration. We're going to flip to a random page and pick a random sentence. Here I have, "and should we capture eagles and harness them to drag us into the heavens?" I'm using that prompt and I am going to use one of my little environments here to illustrate it and obviously you could take this further than I am here just doing a quick sketch, but just using a different media can sometimes spark something and kick you out of the art block. 5. Level 3 | Seek Inspiration: Your art is made up of pieces of you, your experiences, your tastes, and skills. If you sit in front of the Canvas day after day without expanding your metaphorical palette and your experiences, your art room naturally go stagnant. This level we're seeking out inspiration in a different medium. There's a bunch of different ways to do this, but my first piece of advice is to avoid the Internet if you can. Think about what you really enjoyed as a child or the last time you felt really lit up and return to it. For example, picking up a novel or poetry book with beautiful imagery. Here are a few books suggestions I have, they are full of beautiful imagery and have worked for me in the past, and so they might work for you. Feel free to pause to read through them. If reading isn't so much your thing or hasn't been, maybe music is more your style. Looking through curated playlists for specific aesthetics and styles can be a great way to drag something in your brain. I put together also a few ideas here for you. If you have the opportunity to listen to live music, definitely do that. Shutting down and just listening to music while doing nothing else can be a great way to get your brain out of a funk. If you're the type of person who can't really sit still and just read a book or listen to music, try picking up a new hobby or craft, pottery or knitting or cooking, something that will allow your muscle memory to develop some new skills and you never know what might translate over to your real work. My final recommendation for seeking out inspiration via different medium is to get outside in your own city or travel if you're watching this later on then, it's being published during COVID times. Architecture can be a wonderful influence, and if you have a little sketchbook you carry with you, you can capture just the feeling and the colors and the patterns around you. Or go ahead and do a complete sketch of buildings in your neighborhood and can be a great way to see the place that you live or a place that you're being and really experience it. At the end of the day, being able to share experiences like that is what makes great art. 6. Level 4 | Examine: For level 4, we are going to be opening up Pinterest. You didn't think you'd be able to complete an art block class without it, did you? But we are going to try to use Pinterest in a structured way. We're not going to just go to our home feed and keep scrolling through. Our first step here is to create a secret board. I recommend doing this because it frees you up from other people's perceptions of you, and makes sure you are not putting on a front for whoever might see this board. We are going to be making a board full of our artistic inspirations and pieces that we would be completely 100 percent happy, if we were to create them today. Go ahead and create your secret board. I am calling this one art block for this class, but feel free to call it something more generic like artist inspiration, so you can feel free to add to it as time goes on, and it's not just a one time deal. Something you can keep building on and keep referring back to. I'm sure that you can think of a few artistic inspirations right off the cuff. Maybe you love Monet like I do, or you have a couple of comic artist that you really love, so go ahead and start your board using those. Then this is where the magic happens. We are going to capitalize on Pinterest's algorithm, and look into the More ideas folder and just build off this board. I would go until you have 15-20 images. Challenge yourself to have as many different artists in different mediums as possible, so that you can have a fully flushed on board. This exercise might feel a little silly, if you feel like you already know what your stylistic influences are. I know I love pastel colors, so it's no surprise that my artistic inspiration board is full of them. But I think you'll be surprised once you have a bunch of inspiration pulled into the same place to see what kind of patterns emerge. For example, I was looking through my board and was really surprised to see that there are a lot of abstraction in my inspiration pieces, something that I don't really include in my work, but I'm definitely going to explore in future. You might find that your inspiration board is full of human subjects, something that you don't currently include in your work, or has a lot of high contrast when you currently use a lot of low contrast. The next step is we are going to just look at our board, and we are going to try to define those patterns and those elements, and see what it is that really makes your heart sing and what will bring you some inspiration. For example, here is my board. A lot of beautiful things, of course. You can use the notes application just on Pinterest or even on your phone, but I prefer to look at my computer screen while writing on paper. This is your opportunity to play detective and see what it is about your artistic inspiration that connects them together, which really in the end is you. If you're having trouble discerning what exactly it is that you love about a specific piece, I have put together this list of just a few items areas that you can evaluate. Maybe you really love how someone is using color, or you really love the texture that someone's including in their digital art. I find having just a vocabulary or list to search through, can help you discover what it is that you really love about a specific piece. Defining what you love about other people's artwork is a great way for you to incorporate it into your own work. If your board is full of people using line in an expressive way, I encourage you to try to incorporate that into your next piece, and I hope it kicks you out of your old block. 7. Level 5 | Advancing: We are going to be building upon the previous Level 4, Level 5 here, so if you haven't completed Level 4 yet, I recommend you go back and watch it. This level is all about advancing your knowledge. We want to take that list you have from your Pinterest board and find classes that are relevant. Obviously Skillshare is an amazing resource. For example if you want to advance how you use color, there are lessons on Skillshare everything from selected color palettes to color ferry from the ground up. You can also go directly to artists that you know and love. For example Lena Rivo uses gouache in a really interesting way and has amazing color application, and it just so happens that if you go to her website, she offers some free PDF downloads and some complete self-served classes. Many accomplished artists get by also including some teaching in their work. For example Marco Bucci who you might know from YouTube, has some amazing books out, so I definitely pick those up as soon as I saw that they were available. You want to always be learning and consuming and creating the best version of yourself. I feel there are some stigma in our community about continuing education, but as an artist, you're always learning and growing and there should be no shame in that, so I definitely recommend you keep tabs on your favorite artist and never stop learning. It would be easy for me to say for this level, all you need to do is go and find some classes or some books to advance your knowledge, but something that I think is really important and I know I hate hearing is to make sure that you keep yourself completely present. Play the class on onetime speed, complete exercises along with the teacher rather than having it playing in the background while you multitask. I know it can seem really tempting to fill every hole of your day with something that can feel a little bit more productive like listening to a class, but I think you'd be shocked at how much you don't actually absorb if you're not doing this one thing at a time. Classes were designed to give you new skills but if you only follow them passively, your improvement will only be passive as well, and we're looking to see big improvement to draw you out of your art block. 8. Level 6 | Daily Projects: Level 6 means it's time to bring out the big guns. If you completed the class thus far and are still struggling with art block, first, I'm so sorry, I know it can be really tough. The next step is to start a project, 100-day project or even a 365-day project can work well here. You create something every single day and the idea here is that quantity will lead to quality. I know it can be super intimidating, but it doesn't have to be. Here are a few tips for success for doing 100 or 365-day project. Carve out a specific time. For example, maybe you are a morning person and you want to do your painting as soon as you wake up. Repeating this action at the same time every day will help you build the habit and makes it easier to complete each day. Let other people know that you're trying to complete a project like this to help them keep you accountable. I find it is a lot easier to just say, I'm trying to complete a 100-day project, so I have to go home after dinner than it is to say, I need to go home and paint. I know many people, including myself, post their progress on social media. Their daily painting each day goes on Instagram. But if you don't want to share your progress in that way but still want to be held accountable, you can find another space to share, for example, Skillshare class project. You're more than welcome to use this class to update your day-to-day project. Or a group chat with some like-minded friends or even just one other person, you could keep each other accountable. My last tip is to just keep going no matter what. If you get home at midnight one night and you think you're going to miss your painting, just literally do a quick pencil sketch and get it done. It's about the consistency and showing up for yourself. On a personal note, I just wanted to share that I had started my 100-day project in April. At the end of the project, I felt like I still wasn't in a great place and I wanted to keep going. I am on the tail end of my 365-project now. But I just wanted to share that I did not start feeling like I had overcome my art block until around 200 days in. I'm scrolling through to show you exactly where 200 days is on my Instagram feed of daily posting, just to show you how long of showing up can really take to defeat a particularly difficult case of art block. I know it seems like a huge undertaking, but the time is going to pass anyway. I highly recommend you start a project now and a year from now you'll be so pleased with how far you've come. 9. Final thoughts: Congrats on finishing the class. I hope that you are at the end of this with a bright and shiny perspective on your art, or at least some hope that you can get to the place you want to be. Just a few final notes before I let you go, I would love to see the exercise you do, whether it's just the simple hand-eye coordination exercises, or your 100, or 365-day project. You can post that in the project section of this class. I also want to mention that there are also some aspects of your life that might be impacting your art that you might think have nothing to do with it. For example, make sure you're exercising, eating healthy, and sleeping well. All of these contribute to your overall well-being which impacts your art. I know there is some glamorization of the disheveled, unhealthy artist, but I really think that if you find yourself journaling, meditating, doing therapy, cleaning your space, that you will find your art is all the better for it. Finally, I encourage you to take a break if you need it. Sometimes, all it takes is getting a fresh set of eyes to give you a new perspective. Best of luck.