Do You Really Have Artist’s Block?

9172359 - hand breaking wall to touch the sun Staring at a blank sheet of paper and wondering what to paint is familiar and frustrating to any artist. So what’s artist’s block really all about?

For starters, I believe there are two types of artist’s block. There is what I’ll call “true” artist’s block, which I believe to be pretty rare, and the second more common version, which is simply “indecisiveness.”

Which One Are You?

True artist’s block could be defined as creative exhaustion. To be in this rare category, you’re probably a professional or practicing, prolific artist who has painted, drawn or designed their keister off and, for what ever reason, has reached a point of being out of creative gas. All of a sudden, no visual idea seems worthy to pursue given the body of work you’ve already done. You just don’t feel inspired with an idea you can use. If you’re a professional, full-time painter, designer or illustrator, you’ve probably actually faced this dilemma. However, for hobbyists or the casual spare-time artist its rarely the case. Why? … Stay with me here.

The second, more common type of artist’s block, I believe, is simply indecision or overthinking. In other words, creating a crisis out of deciding what to create next. This block usually comes because we don’t draw or paint often enough to be out of ideas, so instead we want to put our limited time to good use, and that makes our choices feel much more critical. This can be a hyper fixation on which direction would offer us the most success and satisfaction. It can be a tough choice and feel exactly like the other artist’s block

Good News!

The second type is the easiest to deal with. Why? Because half the battle is realizing why you’re blocked. Think about it. Does your next drawing or painting really hang on having a totally original, cool, rock-your-world idea? Um, probably not. Its a lot like being given a quiver with one arrow. You’re going to shoot that arrow but at what? You’ve only got one! Better make it count.

The best way to combat this block is first to think about your art goals. Why do you paint or draw in the first place? Fun, relaxation, improving your skill? The solution is easier than you think. Just do a little self butt kicking and paint or draw anything. Literally ANYTHING! Just do it! NOW! Ok fine, draw or paint something you love. Is it flowers? Don’t look for the perfect floral arrangement or try to be the next Susan Harrison Tustain. Just find a flower reference anywhere and get started – your yard, a magazine, online photo search, anywhere. Forget the thoughts of, “oh, thats just a simple daisy photo I’ve seen a hundred times.” Well, how many times have YOU drawn a daisy? Nine times out of ten, getting started is the hardest part. As you draw, more ideas will come. Trust me, they will! Do you do art work to give away as gifts? Then start asking those recipients what art they would love to have from you. Easy peasy! Stop making artistic choices such hard choices. Instead make snap choices. Open a door, any door. You’ll be surprised what adventure is behind it.

Here’s the Point

Take an explorer’s approach to art. Putting pencil to paper is an exploration. Every curve, shadow and mark is getting to know something better. This should at least be one of your goals as an artist. Its usually easier to explore than it is to envision your next great work. Get granular with your exploration. If you love landscape, don’t try to figure out the next beautiful scene you’ll paint. Instead explore specific elements you most want to explore – trees, stones, bushes, skies, water, etc. Make those your next focus. Then pick another and another. If it turns into some cool art, thats awesome!

The Rare Birds

If you are one of the rare types with “true” artists block, I have a simple suggestion for you – Google. There are mountains of articles out there already that deal with the exhaustion of creative ideas. I won’t deal with it here. Most artists have plenty of ideas, they just don’t know how to pick. If you realize that the process and the exploration matters more than the subject choice, then you’re on your block-busting way to fun times with art. Yay!

Copyright: dancelav / 123RF Stock Photo

What Exactly is a Painting Study?

3207760 - two students in art class painting Ok, so I hear this sort of confusion frequently, and I admit the term “study” sounds pretty stuffy and academic. It smacks of homework, research and other stinky school tasks many of us prefer not to revisit. However, in art it is very misunderstood.

Practice? Aww, Do I have to?

First off lets address the old joke: a study is any piece of art that failed. Yeah I know, ha, ha, ha! But not so fast. Truth my friends! Yeah, practice really is that simple. Try, fail, try again. I mean seriously, how many pianists have you heard of that can play through a totally new piece of music the first time without a hitch (pros and Mozart-like prodigies notwithstanding). One of my daughters was a college piano major and she would practice a single piece of music repeatedly in preparation for a performance. First few times was for technical mastery, that is, playing all the correct notes. The more she practiced a piece the more she concentrated on subtleties, changes in volume, tempo and style nuances that turned a collection of notes on a page into a beautiful, personal rendition.

The Talent Myth

So, why is the myth still floating around that a really talented artist can paint a picture right the first time and if YOU can’t, well you better cash in your art chips, honey, cause you ain’t got it (depression ensues). Is that even remotely true or do really accomplished artists practice, plan and work at producing really sensational art? You bet your sweet sketchbook they do! Yeah, I know some artists “get it” quicker than others, but substantial improvement is within everyone’s reach regardless of skill level or talent. Bottom line – why does improvement matter? It increases your joy and satisfaction in the results. If art is a hobby for your enjoyment (in other words you’re not a professional artist trying to please clients or an employer), then improvement is for you and you alone. You need not improve or set your art goals for anyone else. In the end improving for someone else’s sake is a set up for constant disappointment. Never the less, enjoyment increases with every improvement you make and thats 50 years of art experience talking ladies and gents.

Discovery Baby!

Oh, but now it seems we’re back to that stuffy, boring “study” task again. Or are we? If your goal is to draw and paint and that brings you joy and relaxation, then by doing studies, I just gave you an excuse to draw or paint much more often than you did before, and with very little pressure to turn out anything more substantial than a few rough brush strokes or pencil lines. Pardon me for saying so, but isn’t that the sort of fun we used to have with art projects in elementary school? Remember when the idea of a set of crayons and a blank piece of construction paper held nothing but promise and joy? No pressure, no unrealistic standards to follow. Just play and discover! HAH…wait a minute! Did I just possibly define what a study could be for an aspiring adult artist too? Why yes, yes, I believe I did. So back to the question. What exactly is a painting study? Why, playing and discovering of course…while adding the slightly more mature goal of honing skills which in turn fires up your enjoyment of the process. Sweet!

Here are some tips to take a more “studied” approach to drawing and painting.

  1. Draw, draw, draw – All artists should draw…a lot! Duh, right? Its the most basic type of study. Only one problem and I see it again and again. Artists somehow feel like their sketchbook should also be a work of art. Every page! WHAT?! Thats like hitting tennis rebounds against a practice wall and having someone photograph every swing for a photo album. I don’t think I have to point out the hesitancy that approach will generate. And then, as if thats not enough, artists go out and buy these beautiful, hard bound, leather-embossed, gilded edge volumes from the book store.  At first you’ll think, “now THIS beautiful book will get me drawing again.” Actually the opposite is usually true. Gorgeous sketchbooks make you even more apprehensive about sketching in it until you have found a worthy subject and then only if you’re confident enough to draw it. Buy the most basic, cheap sketchbook you can and just doodle. Doodle a specific subject from life when possible, but doodle and doodle often. Don’t concern yourself much with the results. Put it in a secret location and don’t show it to anyone if it makes you feel better. The goal is to get more comfortable with drawing period. Think of it as a book that you could happily toss in the trash and not think twice about.
  2. Go ahead and do a painting – If you’re confident enough to paint a subject fully from the start, by all means go ahead. If it fails, simply review the particulars and what needs fixing. Congratulations you just did your first study! Leave the pressure and feeling of failure in the waste bin. Take Thomas Edison’s more positive approach of discovering 1000 ways NOT to make a light bulb. “Hey, look everybody, I just discovered how NOT to paint a tree, yippee!” Make notes about it if you feel you’ll forget what you’ve learned. If you come away from a painting with nothing more than the idea that you failed, you missed an incredible opportunity. Go back and find at least ONE THING you learned from doing the work. Did you find one? Ok, look again, maybe there was something else.
  3. Get familiar – Do a study as a rough dress rehearsal for your final painting. Studies are great ways to get to know the subject in detail. They force you to look at every nook and cranny of your subject, thinking through all the particulars and asking questions as you draw and paint it.
  4. Address specific confidence issues – If you don’t feel confident enough to launch into a full painting then address the specifics. Is drawing the main subject of the painting intimidating? Draw several views of that subject until you feel more comfortable? Not sure what colors to use? Work that out. Have fun doing it. No pressure. Once again judge your studies more by what you learn than by the results. Do it again. Do it differently. Work on improvement.
  5. Set your own study goals – What do you want to fine tune? Value? Color? Composition? Scale? Perspective? Set that as your goal for a particular study. Do the study simply and roughly in a thumbnail if you prefer. Remove decisions from the final painting process that will just add to the confusion and stress. Its really amazing to me how even a good compositional thumbnail, for example, can increase the fun and enjoyment of doing the final painting.
  6. Study whenever and whatever – Don’t have a particular painting in mind? No worries. You don’t need a reason. I often have an idea come to me in the shower or in the middle of the night and it could be as simple as, “what does the shape of a nose look like from a high perspective.” I don’t need to be thinking of a painting. I just want to explore a simple idea. So I get out my sketchbook or paints or both and tackle the problem (no, I don’t do that in the middle of the night).
  7. Ask what-if questions – Studies can start for all sorts of reasons. You could be trying out a new brush or wanting to mix up a color you’ve never mixed before. Come up with some of your own “what-if” questions. What if that subject was lit from the other side or what if I mixed all my browns for the foreground instead of using browns from a tube. Then set out to learn the answer by doing it.

I hope this is a help. This is what studies are all about. For me, at least, studies add tremendously to the joy of the art process. The biggest benefit? Studies turbo-charge the learning experience. Just try it and see if it isn’t true

World Watercolor Month

world-watercolor-month-square-badge-simple2Hello Minders,

I think I will try to participate in this as much as I’m able. Sounds like a lot of fun.

What’s World Watercolor Month? After many of us have been celebrating various national and international days with watercolor on Doodlewash, it became apparent that there wasn’t an official celebration of the medium we all love. Over 18,000 applications are submitted for “official days” each year and only 30 are added to the calendar so it was a long shot, but the registrars agreed with the cause and now it’s official! July is now and forever World Watercolor Month! Let’s make sure nobody misses out, please help spread the word!

3-Layer Watercolor Landscape Challenge w/Postings

Hello Minders,

Last week I posted a YouTube video with a simple challenge. If you haven’t seen it, here’s the video again so you can take part. I’ve also reposted the guidelines for the challenge which are simple and flexible and meant to be a quick painting starter for which you don’t need to do a lot of planning and drawing unless you want to. At the bottom of this post I’ve included a Tagboard link so you can see some of the posts from other viewers who’ve already participated. This interaction has been really fun to see and there have been a lot of great posts and ideas. So keep on painting and posting. There is no immediate deadline so as long a people want to keep tagging their posts this will continue.

Challenge Guidelines

1. It should be recognizable as a landscape with 3 discernible layers representing foreground, middle ground and background. You don’t have to paint them in any specific order. These three layers do not have to include the sky.

2. Layers can be any size, width or shape. They can contain textures, water, tree lines, fields, buildings, rock formations, or any other landscape elements you can think of. Elements from one layer such as trees or a house, can appear to break the line and overlap a layer behind it.

3. Layers can be any color but work on good foreground to distance scale and Aerial Perspective (closer objects are warmer and more contrasty, the more distant they are, the cooler, less detailed and lower their contrast).

4. Draw it out on your paper ahead of time if you wish but you don’t have too. Just start painting if you prefer.

5. Painting from reference such as photo reference is fine but keep it quick and simple and try to paint more than one.

Have fun!

***Share your work with me and other Minders on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook with hashtag #tmowatercolor I’ll be monitoring the hashtag on all three networks and looking for my favorites.***

Click below to see the Tagboard gallery of other participants work so far. Tagboard doesn’t always bring in every post perfectly so I apologize if it somehow missed yours. I will try to refresh this board from time to time.

tagboard pic


Finding Art Show Inspiration

ideabulbSpring has fully sprung and with it comes a springboard of festival and art show opportunities right on through Fall. Its a great way to get out and get in some walking, but also a boon for artistic inspiration.

Here are some tips to take full advantage of the opportunities.

All Genres are Game

It doesn’t matter that all you do is draw, or that you draw or paint a particular subject or in a specific medium. If you are looking only for the same genre and medium you prefer, you’re missing a lot. There is motivation to be had in every artistic genre and medium. I’ve been motivated to paint by looking at ceramics and even jewelry. And if the work itself doesn’t provide that inspiration, sometimes the artist’s dedication and unique approach to their craft will.

Composition and Design

I made a big point of this in my video (below) but its a huge part of creating good art. A part that all too often is totally ignored by lesser artists. I love good art shows for this because I’m so often taken to school in the area of composition and design. These two artistic qualities are tightly intertwined but I would define composition as the artful balance of the elements in the piece. Design takes that a step further by the careful choice and arrangement of shapes, use of negative and positive space and combining those elements into a dynamic, graphic visual that moves the eye or interacts in ways that may have nothing to do with the realistic depiction of the subject. For me, a piece with great design can dispense with the realism entirely and still end up with an abstract that is artistically compelling.

Colors and Textures

Being primarily a watercolorist I frequently look for this type of inspiration. In addition to paintings and drawings, great colors and textures can be found in abundance in works like woodworking, ceramics, sculpture or jewelry. Art exhibits can provide a prime opportunity to visualize various color combinations and palettes you might not have thought of otherwise.

Subject Matter

A good art exhibition often times sends my creative imagination off in unexpected directions with an artist’s unique treatment of certain subjects. Not just choice of subject but the point of view, scale, lighting, placement, crop, combination with other subjects or objects, etc. Interesting treatment of a subject can also supply clues as to how you might treat a totally different subject. Let your mind roam free with the ideas you encounter. “Hey, I never thought of combining a flower and vase with pruning shears in exactly that way, maybe I can do a similar thing with…”

Talk to the Artists

This is perhaps one of the most fun and engaging activities at an art show. You’ll learn a lot and strike up some interesting conversations in the process. Its true a few exhibitors are hesitant to talk or share. If they’re sitting in a chair behind their booth reading a book, its a good bet they prefer to be left alone (hmm, not so good for sales either unfortunately). Most artists, however, are anxious to discuss their work and some will even talk your ear off. Take advantage of it, but talk to them about THEM and their work, not about YOU! I like to engage an artist by complimenting them on something I specifically enjoyed in their work. This is a great conversation starter. Being specific is important! Realize that good artists are used to general compliments on their overall exhibit. Its ok to do that, but try to point out something specific that particularly impressed you. That tells them you are really studying the work and engaged with their art. Want to know how they did it? Naturally. A few questions about their chosen medium and technique is ok, but avoid a long list of very detailed questions about their technique and process. Some artists are very protective of those details. Let them bring it up if they are willing. Other great conversations starters are usually questions about the subject of their work, why they chose it and what about it appeals to them or what inspired a particular piece. Finally, be considerate. In shows such as the one in this video, some of the artists can be quite busy selling, answering questions, explaining their work, etc. Wait your turn, talk to them briefly then get out of their way. If you want to talk more, come back later and engage them when they aren’t busy.

How to Find Art Shows

If your area has any arts organizations, thats a great place to start. Greenville, SC has at least 3. Our Metropolitan Arts Council for example lets anyone get on their email list for free. I get notice of any upcoming arts related events and call for entry notices as well. Google-ing “Arts” and your closest and largest metropolitan area is a good place to start (i.e. “arts Greenville, SC”).

If you really want to get into the show circuit and perhaps even travel to a few, check your local book store or magazine stand for Sunshine Artist Magazine and pick up a copy, or subscribe online. This is the premier publication for art and craft show listings across the US and Canada. You can also access listings on their website.

Also check out Although I found the site a bit confusing and difficult to use, they seemed to provide a ton of links and listings for arts and craft shows across the US and Canada.

Get out, enjoy some great weather, exercise and ART!


Sketchbook Peeks

Steve Mitchell here with just a bit of news. I’ve started an ongoing series of Patreon exclusive content videos and posts called Sketchbook Peeks. I thought it would be cool to give my patrons a peek at things going on in my sketchbook or on my drawing easel along with helpful tips and tricks. This may take the form of short time lapse video or pictures with brief descriptions and comments.

IMG_0697The first installment is this bird sketch using ink, pencil and Tombow marker as a brief time-lapse video and its available now in the Patreon exclusive feed.

If you’re not a Patreon supporter you can have access to this type of ongoing content for as little as $5 a month. In addition you would be supporting me and the time and effort involved in creating and sharing my main content on YouTube at The Mind of Watercolor

Thanks so much to all of you who’ve already partnered with The Mind of Watercolor. Hope you enjoy these, you’re the best!

Tombow Dual Brush Gray Marker set