If you practice making art regularly, then you are going to have off days. You are going to have days where you either can’t think of a good idea for a painting/drawing or days when the enthusiasm for making art just isn’t there. It happens to all of us and it’s perfectly normal.
Still, the true test of any aspiring artist is whether they can still practice making art when they are feeling uninspired. And, yes, it is possible to do this! In fact, sticking to a rigid practice schedule pretty much makes you learn how to do this.
At the time of writing this article, I found myself making a run of mildly uninspired digitally-edited paintings over several days (which will be posted here in early July). However, the thing that surprised me is that – even though I seemed to be lacking my usual enthusiasm for making art – I was still able to produce vaguely ok-looking, but mediocre, paintings. Here’s a reduced-size preview of one of them:
As you can see, the perspective is slightly off, some of the people are badly-drawn and there’s less detail than there should be. Not to mention that it’s also kind of vaguely similar to at least one better painting that I’ll be posting here in June. Yet, I was feeling slightly uninspired and I still made a painting which doesn’t look entirely terrible.
So, to use a popular phrase, how can you “fail better” at making art when you’re feeling uninspired? Here are three ways:
1) Know yourself and play to your strengths: If you have a particular art technique, colour palette, lighting technique etc… that you really like to use, then this is the time to use it!
Since it’s something you enjoy, there’s a good chance that you’ve practiced it a lot and it’s the kind of thing that you can almost do in your sleep. In other words, even a mediocre and uninspired example of it will probably look mildly impressive to non-artists.
For example, one of the things that I absolutely love is high-contrast lighting. I love how lighting stands out in dark locations. Since painting even vaguely realistic lighting requires a fair amount of practice (to the point where the thought processes involved are almost automatic), it’s something I’ve done a lot when I’ve felt inspired. So, when I’m uninspired, using this technique is almost second-nature and, as a result, it instantly gives even my mediocre and uninspired art a more distinctive “look”.
Likewise, if there’s a particular genre of art that you really enjoy making – then make something in it, no matter how dull or similar to your previous paintings it is – when you are uninspired.
Since this is a genre that you’ve probably practiced a lot, you’ll probably find it easier to come up with ideas for paintings in this one genre – even if they’re a bit mediocre. So, make something in this genre – it’ll look better than an uninspired painting in any other genre!
For example, the cyberpunk genre is one of the genres that I really love. It’s one of the genres that I tend to make art in when I’m feeling really inspired. As such, I’ve got a fair amount of practice at making cyberpunk art. So, when I’m uninspired, it’s one of the genres that I’ll instantly reach for because I can use all of that prior experience to come up with a better, but mediocre, idea for a painting.
2) Keep up your practice!: One of the good things about regular art practice is that you’ll improve without even knowing it. If you want to “fail better” when you are uninspired, then this is something that is worth bearing in mind. Every painting that you make, even the failed ones (especially the failed ones!) will make you very slightly better at making art. You won’t notice it at the time, but it all adds up eventually.
Although knowing this won’t directly improve your uninspired art, reminding yourself of it will help you to keep up your enthusiasm for making art. To do this, look at a “good” drawing or painting that you made a long time ago. Look at something that made you feel really proud when you made it, then compare it to your current “uninspired” art. Believe it or not, your current “uninspired” art will probably look better than your old “good” art does!
To give you an example, here’s a digitally-edited drawing that I made in late 2012 after about a year and a half of regular art practice. I was really proud of it at the time:
Now, here’s another copy of the “uninspired” art preview that I showed you earlier.
Even though the perspective isn’t perfect, it still looks better than the perspective in the “good” drawing from 2012. Likewise, the lighting is significantly better, there are realistic reflections, I’ve used more sophisticated digital editing techniques etc…
So, if you keep practicing, then even a “bad” painting that you make will look better than the “good” art that you used to make in the past.
3) See it as a challenge: Your attitude matters a lot when you are feeling uninspired. Back when I saw myself as a writer (rather than an artist), I used to react badly to writer’s block – I’d spend ages staring miserably at an empty page in frustration. This is the last thing that you want to do when you are uninspired!
These days, having an uninspired day might still involve me staring at a blank piece of watercolour paper for a few minutes, but I’ll usually end up trying something fairly quickly. I’ll challenge myself to make something, no matter how good or bad it is. Or, I’ll start randomly sketching some shapes in pencil and challenge myself to turn them into a painting – for example, the “uninspired” painting that I showed you earlier started out with a random doodle that looked a bit like this:
If you think of being uninspired as a challenge (rather than bad luck or something annoying), then it can really help you to think more creatively.
After all, a challenge is an opportunity to test and/or prove your skills as an artist. It’s more exciting than “bad luck” and it will help to spur you into action, rather than leaving you staring at an empty page. All of these things will result in better “uninspired” art.
A good way to form an attitude like this is to find a computer game that you really enjoy, and then to play it on the hardest difficulty setting. Yes, you’ll fail a lot, but you’ll already know that the game is winnable (after all, you’ve probably already “won” on the lower difficulty settings) and you’ll want to see if – or, rather, how– you can still win.
It can take a while to get into this mindset, but it will usually improve any uninspired artwork that you make.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂