We’ve all been there: sat in front of the task or project at hand, completely unable to progress because of a mammoth wall of mental block. Whether or not we’re practicing artists, a creative rut can be a killer for productivity and job satisfaction.

So, what do you do when this situation arises? We asked artists from around the world about their block-busting hacks, and here are seven of our favourite tricks for getting yourself out of that pesky creative drought.


Natalia Gonzalez Martin: Keep on Painting

Natalia Gonzalez Martin. Photo by Naomi Rea.

I paint, which is probably not what I should do. I should either be drawing or focusing on the research, or going out and looking. I just sit in the studio when instead I could have spent the day seeing galleries but I feel like if I’m here, this is what I need to be doing. I tell myself: “Don’t do this. Go and see some art!” which is the best thing to open up a bit. But I just paint. It means I have a million disgusting paintings that I hope never see the light of day.

The thing is, sometimes you get hit by divine inspiration and it becomes very straightforward. Sometimes you do actually know what you’re doing in the studio.


Li Hei Di: Cultured Day Off

Li Hei Di. Photo courtesy of the artist.

I normally take a day off and stay at home. The last time I got stuck and depressed from painting, I sought comfort from loved ones, read some poems by William Carlos Williams, and watched [Ang Lee’s 2008 film] Lust, Caution. I also looked at old master paintings and reminded myself art is good, and to be patient.


Dustin Yellin: Get Far Away

Dustin Yellin. Photo by Martyna Szczesna.

I try to go as far away as possible, throwing myself into the most unpredictable and remote environments. Last month, a week before the opening of my exhibition, I trekked into the world’s largest known cave in Vietnam, so vast it has its own ecosystem. I have a need to observe the chaotic, natural processes of our Earth.

Or I read a poem.

Glenn Brown: Fresh Eyed Friends

Glenn Brown. Photo by Tom Jamieson, courtesy of the artist.

I get a friend to come to the studio to help me look at the paintings as if I haven’t seen them before.


Angela Heisch: Step Back and Reflect

Angela Heisch. Photo by Matthew Herrmann, courtesy the artist and Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London.

When I get stuck it’s usually because I’m getting ahead of myself. Sometimes new ideas don’t feel so connected to the work I’m making, and when those ideas don’t pan out it’s easy to feel completely lost, especially in working with abstraction. When this happens I remind myself to take a step back and reflect more on where the current work can go next. There’s a natural evolution that happens, and trusting in that is an important practice of mine.

When the work starts to look a little too self referential and I feel like I’m recycling old ideas too often, I’ll try to go see some shows and take a break from my own work—luckily there’s lots of other art to see in New York to get me out of creative ruts.


Stephen Wong Chun Hei: Take a Hike

Stephen Wong Chun Hei. Photo courtesy Stephen Wong Chun Hei.

I like to go hiking or for a walk whenever I feel tired or stuck. My paintings are drawn from my experiences and observations of a place. When I feel stuck, it means I run out of materials for my work. By just going on a walk, I always get some inspiration.


Anna Park: Spiral for a While

Anna Park. Photo courtesy of Blum & Poe.

I don’t really have a solution to feel unstuck—sometimes I just spiral for a while. I’ve found that I just have to work through it and hope to resolve it. If that’s really not working, going to see art always helps me get out of a rut. It’s my form of therapy and inspiration.

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