The Trouble With Foxes

This weekend found Myla scribbling on her paper in agonizing frustration.  “I can’t draw foxes anymore!”  she cried.  She told me that she had been thinking of a new way to draw a fox face, and it just wasn’t coming out right, no matter what she did.  She even tried going back to her old way of drawing foxes, and even THAT didn’t work.  It brought her to absolute tears, and all I could do was hold her as she sobbed uncontrollably, pen clenched in her hand.  It was the first time in her life she WANTED to create something that just didn’t work out.  It was a new frustration that she had never experienced before.


Luckily, I’ve had this problem myself.  Most artists have.  I’ve written blog posts in the past about art block, but this is the first time it had ever happened to her.

“You’ve got a wonderful, creative mind,” I told her as she cried in my arms.  “But the down side is that sometimes you’ll have a block.  It’s usually when you’re trying something new.  And you try and you try and it just doesn’t look right.  So you try your old way, but your mind is already trying to figure out the new way, so you can’t go back.  But as hard as it is, it’s actually a GOOD thing, because it means you’re getting ready for something new.  And I promise you EVERY artist I know has had a block before.”

After talking to my friend Lori Nelson, who is a Brooklyn painter (who reassured Myla that it does, in fact, happen to every artist), I started thinking of what I do that works for me when I have an art block.  But this time, I sort of gathered up a list to fit a kid’s speed.  Maybe it’ll help someone you know.  Maybe it’ll even give you some ideas for when art blocks hit you…

1. TAKE A STEP AWAY.     Get out of the house for a bit.  Go outside, take a walk around the block.  Go to the zoo.  Pet an animal.  Get lost in the woods.  Take a hike.  Spend some time in nature to clear your head.  Sometimes reconnecting with the world around you can settle a restless mind.

spend time in nature

2. TRY A DIFFERENT MEDIUM.     Whatever you usually do, switch it up a bit.  Get some chalk out and chalk a sidewalk.  Bake some cookies.  Play an instrument.  Sew something.  This is a good time to try learning something new, like embroidery or sculpting.  Mixing up your medium might give you a fresh perspective.

different medium

3. DO SOMETHING PHYSICAL.  I cannot tell you how good physical activity is for a stressed-out mind.  Go for a jog, take a long fast walk.  Skate.  Sweat.  Take an aerobics class.  Focus on something other than your art for awhile.

something physical

4. LOOK AT YOUR OLDER WORK.  I keep a scrapbook full of my past work, and I take it out sometimes and look at what I’ve done in the past.  It’s a good reminder when you’re beating yourself up and doubting your skills, that you’re NOT horrible.  Remind yourself that you’re awesome.

look at old work 1

5. DO SOMETHING FOR SOMEONE ELSE.  Give someone a gift.  Make them something.  Draw them something.  Help someone with their yard, or offer to watch their kid or pet for an evening.  Focusing your energy outward is one way to avoid that internal downward spiral.

do something for someone

6. CREATE SOMETHING WITH SOMEONE ELSE.  Lori told me the way she gets out of a rut is to ask someone to “assign” her something.  Working with another person or with someone else’s ideas helps your mind go places you wouldn’t normally go on your own.  Nothing’s helped me more with that than the collaborations I’ve done with our daughter.

draw with someone

7. MAKE A MESS.  Gasp!  “WHAT?!?  But messes are so…MESSY!”   Messes are an awesome way to just let go of control for a bit.  Just get the fingerpaints out, and go outside.  Baking soda, vinegar, and food coloring are also good mess combos.  Splash in the water.  Splash in the mud.  Do you realize how often we DON’T do that, now that we’re adults?  Kids know that messes cleanse the soul.  If messes freak you out, you should REALLY consider doing it.  Get towels, get yukky clothes, and just prepare yourself to make a mess.  Like my mom always said, “You’re washable.”

make a mess

If ACTUAL messes are too much to bear, maybe try a little project Myla and I do, where we take turns messing up eachothers’ drawings.  You each start out by drawing something simple, like a mouse.  When it’s your turn, you draw something silly on the other person’s drawing.  When it’s their turn, they draw something silly on yours.  It’s a lot of fun, and good practice in letting go of control and expectations in your artwork.

draw messes

8. DRAW ON YOURSELF.  Grab those non-toxic, washable kid markers, and just doodle away.  Or use a pen.  Once in awhile isn’t going to kill you.  Draw on eachother.  Sometimes, the idea of drawing on something “forbidden” sparks something in your creative mind and makes it happy.

draw on yourself

9.  KEEP TRYING AND DON’T GIVE UP.  Every now and then, test it out and see if it’s passed yet.  If it hasn’t, keep going.  Keep trying over and over, keep pounding your head against that sketchbook.  If you have to make 100 bad drawings before the good one comes out, then you’d better get started now.  When I told Myla this, she asked me, “But isn’t that a waste?”  But nothing is a waste if you’re learning from it.

try try again

10. KEEP A SENSE OF HUMOR.  You have to trust that if you can push through this art block, it’ll come back to you.  It’s scary at first.  You start to question your skills and abilities.  But if it’s something that drives you, you can push through it.  Keep your chin up, and don’t take it too seriously.  Your art skill’ll come back when it’s good and ready, and it’ll probably bring you stories of the road, and some new souvenirs.  And that’s a good thing.

So here’s to hoping the foxes come back.

Have you or your kids ever had a big block?   What do you do when art blocks hit?

19 responses

  1. I think your advice is very sage. I too have experienced blocks, as I imagine we all do, and for me the most useful things are to take a break from trying that particular art project and going off and doing something differently creative, such as cooking, or doing something creative with my kids, whether art or craft. That way I keep the creative juices flowing but they are not just battering against that one frustrating brick wall. Then I can return with renewed energy and enthusiasm and with fresh eyes and hopefully batter that wall down.

  2. Paula Fulgium | Reply

    Wonderful advice! I used to say, go out of the room, do something different, then come in with “New eyes”- meaning look at your project like it isn’t yours. See it clearly. As if it’s the first time you see it, then…try again!
    But I agree with your advice! Great ways to break through, a block!

  3. I think this is good advice for life or anyone who feels stuck, whether it is with art or writing or something else. Thanks for sharing! I love reading about your adventures with Myla and love the artwork you creat!

  4. Excellent post. Great advice. I read somewhere that most kids stop drawing around 12, because that is whe they realise what they see in their minds is NOT the result on the paper. Before it was fun, now it is just proving them bad at drawing, result – stopping.

  5. Hm. What do I do when I have creative blocks? I go to bed (because let’s face it, the worst creative blocks come when I’m working late at night, and I’m exhausted and fed up), do something creative but completely different than what I’m frustrated with, go to the park/river/mountains (this usually does involve some mess too), or if it’s REALLY bad I’ll binge watch something fluffy until I’m capable of moving again.

  6. laura morgan | Reply

    Fascinating. I’d never considered that artists get art block, or that the ways of dealing with it would be so close to those for dealing with writer’s block. I loved Myla’s foxes, but I guess the artist knows best her limitations and her potential.

  7. You are such a wise woman! Thank you for sharing.

  8. Margaret Rhode | Reply

    Love this, Mica, well…I love them all. Thank you!

    Happy Mother’s Day.

  9. I LOVE THIS ❤ Love drawing as well and thanks for the motivational advice! Do check out my blog for more drawing arts and my latest blog post on MOTHER ❤ Inspirational posts will be up soon!

  10. This is such a beautiful post. I want to read it with our six year old granddaughter next time we see her. Your writing style stays so true to experience, not going far from the process of art at all, and simply describing the difficulty with faith in growth.
    Thank you for your inclus art exploratio

  11. This is really a great list of advice and it doesn’t limit to just drawing, it applies to any frustrating feeling. 🙂 Amazing pieces of work. Such a gift!

  12. Thank you for the art block reminders, especially in reference to children. I enjoyed seeing the flying monkey art. I just listened to The Wizard of Oz on a long trip from TN to VT, after being inspired your post about listening to it. I once went to a Wizard of Oz show at the Eric Carle Picture Book Museum. Many illustrators displayed their versions of the characters from the book, and it was fun to see and recognize their styles.

  13. I absolutely love this post! I bet you are a really fun and awesome mom. 🙂

  14. Awesome method. So systematic. Kudos to you. Did you get it from somewhere or is this approach your own invention?

    1. Thankyou. I’ve learned from my years and years as an artist, as well as a couple of things I’ve heard from other artists

  15. All good advice! I find stepping away and doing something for someone else most helpful!

  16. Love this list! will be implementing into my homeschool wall!

  17. lucky lucky lucky little artist girl…=^..^=

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