Three Things To Do When You Can’t Think Of An Idea For A Painting (That Feels “Meaningful” Or “Relevant” Enough To Bother With)

I’m sure that I’ve probably written about this type of artistic uninspiration before, but I experienced one of the worst types of artist’s block the day before I wrote this article. This is the type of uninspiration where you can still make art, but it just doesn’t feel “meaningful” or “relevant” enough to bother with.

To give you an example, whilst trying to make a painting, I actually started a fairly good painting only to abandon it halfway through because “it’s just completely random. I don’t feel like I’m making art. I feel like I’m just doing a random practice exercise rather than expressing myself.

And, yes, I later ended up using this line art as the basis for a last-minute piece of digital art in January (after I’d prepared the first draft of this article).

So what do you do when you end up in this state of mind? How can you actually finish a piece of art? Here are a few tips:

1) Distract yourself with an inspiration: The thing that finally allowed me to finish a painting during that uninspired day was a combination of luck and distraction.

Sometimes, it can help to turn off the perfectionist parts of your brain slightly by watching a DVD or something like that whilst you’re making art. Having a non-interactive distraction in the background can be a good way to quell that nagging voice in your mind that says “I want to make MEANINGFUL ART! Whatever I make MUST be a MASTERPIECE!!

Another advantage to this approach is that whatever you distract yourself with may well end up inspiring you too. Since you’re being inspired by something that you’re looking at, this can also be a good way to circumvent the annoying part of your mind that insists that the art you make must be “relevant” to you in some way. Just be sure that you know the difference between taking inspiration and plagiarism!

To give you an example, after the failed attempt at making a painting that I showed you earlier (and another previous failed attempt), I ended up reaching for a DVD boxset of an old American detective show from the 1980s called “Murder, She Wrote” that I’d bought second-hand a few weeks earlier out of curiosity. To my delight, during a series of preview clips at the beginning of one episode, I was confronted with an uncharacteristically cool-looking scene:

This is a screenshot from “Murder, She Wrote” (Season 1, Episode 4). The episode is supposedly a condemnation of “immoral” horror films during the 1980s, but the segments from said film are – of course- the coolest parts of the episode LOL!

Not only did this remind me of how cool neon looks (eg: something “meaningful” to me), it also reminded me of this cool music video by Creeper [Mildly NSFW] which I’d seen shortly after I’d discovered that Metal Hammer magazine had been restarted (after shutting down for a while in late 2016/ early 2017). Needless to say, I wanted to make a cool-looking gothic painting that included neon lighting. It felt meaningful and relevant.

Yes, the final painting was somewhat crappy. But, I’d actually beaten artist’s block and finished a painting! Here’s a preview of the painting I made:

This is a reduced-size preview, the full-size painting will be posted here on the 28th March.

2) Memories And/Or Still Life: Another way to get over that annoying perfectionist mood where you can’t make art unless it feels “relevant” or “meaningful” to you, is simply to try to make some kind of autobiographical art that is based on your own memories or to make a still life painting of some kind.

Since these things are based on the real world, it can satisfy the part of your mind that will only allow you to make “relevant” art. However, this technique doesn’t always work for the simple reason that trying to find interesting memories to use as source material can be difficult when you’re thinking “Oh god, I can’t think of what to paint!!” or trying to look for interesting things around you to paint when you’ve already done this quite a few times before.

Still, it’s something to try. During a milder moment of uninspiration a couple of days earlier, I was able to use this technique successfully in order to finish a painting. Yes, like with the previous example, the painting wasn’t one of my best works – but it was a finished painting, that was based on my memory a car journey I’d taken a couple of days beforehand. Here’s a preview:

This is a reduced-size preview, the full-size painting will be posted here on the 25th March.

3) Politics and fan art: This one is pretty self-explanatory really. Either make some fan art based on some of your favourite TV shows, movies, games etc… or make some art that expresses one of your political opinions.

This is an “easy” way to satisfy the part of your mind that demands that the art that you make must feel “relevant” to you in some way. After all, if you’re the kind of person who makes art even semi-regularly, then you’re probably also going to be a fan of various things (after all, you need inspiration to be an artist) and you’re going to have opinions of some kind or another (eg: people don’t re-create the world in art if they think that the world is perfect).

So, put some punk music on in the background and just let rip! To give you an example, a few weeks before writing this article, I was able to make a digitally-edited drawing surprisingly quickly when I suddenly realised that one of the things that I really don’t like about modern Britain is that fact that it’s so bloody angry. Whether it’s people on the political right or people on the political left or even just mainstream popular entertainment, it’s just miserably furious these days. Here’s a preview of the drawing:

This is a reduced-size preview, the full-size painting will be posted here on the 7th March.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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