I hate to admit it, but I really haven’t drawn, or really designed, anything in about a year. That feels almost more like a lie than the half-truth it is, but on a whole, no, I really haven’t done either one, at least for myself.
In June of 2014, I was hit by a car on my skateboard, and then a month later I lost my job. Between being unemployed and injured, I thought all the free time would encourage me to really make a go of it as an artist, and it did. I did a ton of freelance work, got a part-time job doing design, and I started pushing myself to get more and more work. So fast-forward to June of 2015 and I’m tired and burned out. I’m running low on unemployment funds, I’m still taking freelance illustration and design jobs, and I’m now looking for a full-time job in my field. I lucked out and finally got one. I continued doing some freelance work here and there, but it was now just… work. In the fall of 2015 I did a piece for myself that I was really proud of, and that was it.
Right after Christmas I lost my job, and when that happened, I knew I had no choice but to get another job or do whatever it took to make it as an artist. But it also meant selling out. Big time. So I re-designed and re-coded my entire website in a week to be exactly what everyone needed it to be. I got rid of the massive illustration portfolio, all the design work I personally loved but agencies hated, and focused on getting hired. I did some freelance work for a while, but not much. And I wanted to draw, bad, but I couldn’t.
I’m telling you all of this because it may happen to you one day. Maybe not like that, maybe not that long, but the thing is this: You’re going to run into a self-confidence issue as an artist where you’re going to doubt yourself.
So what really happened? Why did I stop drawing?
Sometimes it stops being fun.
If you’re starting out by trying to be an illustrator or designer full-time, and its something you love, it may hit you one day that it’s work. I consider myself incredibly lucky that graphic design never felt like work until about 6 years into my career, and even then I made it a point to have as much fun as possible. The thing that changed that? The job and money. I started taking on roles I didn’t like to pay the bills, and it got to the point where it wasn’t that much fun. Sadly, the same was true of illustration, only a lot sooner.
When you try to make it as an illustrator, you may go in with one of two mindsets; you’re going to doing what you want how you want, or you’re just going to do whatever the client wants. The same is true of design, but with illustration I was, and still am, “You hired me to be an artist, so you’re getting ME.” The thing, though, is that it doesn’t work out that great and you really really need to compromise to get a good piece, but you need to compromise the right way. The right way to compromise is to make sure that you’re happy with the piece and that you’re working in a timeline that you’re okay with.
The worst thing? Taking work just because you need the cash. The best thing? Taking work just because you need the cash. I honestly can say that its been a mixed bag. Some of them were just paychecks, but some of them wound up being amazing because of it. Taking myself out of the piece actually opened me up to doing some amazing and creative stuff. But sometimes it really is just draining.
You just don’t feel inspired.
I think this tends to go hand-and-hand with getting old, and trust me, this is one of those things I never thought would happen. For example, I love Megadeth, but after the band was around for 20 years I heard Dave Mustaine re-use riffs and it was super obvious to me. It was annoying at first, but I actually saw how amazing it was! Imagine sitting around and playing the guitar, and the you dust off an old riff and start using it for something new.
The same is true of some of my work. It got to the point where it felt like I was just re-drawing the same poses over and over again, and unlike Mustaine I wasn’t using them in a way I was happy with. I started to doubt myself.
Or another example about getting old: Not finding things that you used to enjoy enjoyable anymore. You may have loved “Swat Kats” as a kid, but re-watching it doesn’t give you that buzz anymore. Neither does that old movie, that food, music, books… it feels like all the stuff you enjoyed and drew inspiration from doesn’t cut it anymore. And then it feels like you’re not getting anywhere with it.
You keep sketching, trying to get something going, and the next thing you know you just feel… eh.
You start to lose confidence.
One thing that happened to me was that I started to let everyone’s thoughts about what I was drawing get into my head. “Holy crap, if I draw THIS people are going to think I’m terrible! But if I draw THAT, I’m not going to like my work! But if I do THIS I may have X people like it and not Y people!” You can be your own worst critic, and letting what you think other people might say or think is going to make it worse. After doing a few art shows, I had a lot of people like my work, but I had people come up to me with their concerns about certain things, like subject matter. That got in my head more than anything else. You can be ready to deal with technique issues, but content? It made me really second guess everything.
Then you start to lose your confidence. You decide to sit down one day and you loudly declare, either to yourself, your friends, your family, online, whatever, that, “TODAY IS THE DAY I DRAW AGAIN!” So you sit down at your special place with your special tools and you decide to create! And you create… nothing. You sketch, you conceptualize, but nothing happens. You hate it. You hate everything. So you stop and decide to try again later. And then you sit down, maybe scale it back, and try again. Nothing. Eventually you decide to just do something, anything, and still… nothing. You feel like you’re not good anymore. You start losing something, but you’re not sure what the heck it is.
“I can’t come up with anything! I’m tired, I hate drawing because of everything I had to do! I can’t watch anything and get inspired! I KEEP READING ALL THESE F$#KING ARTICLES ABOUT CREATIVE BLOCK BUT I JUST FEEL EVEN SHITTIER THAN BEFORE!!! F@#K THIS!!!!!”
How to get your groove back.
This isn’t a magick wand, but it is a step: Just do something else.
Look, I’m not saying walk away from your desk, clean something, then draw. That shit only works when you’re tired for a day. We’re talking a BIG problem which needs a BIG solution. So literally do something else. Anything else.
I got to a point where I kinda just gave up and decided to stop trying to draw. I had a job, I didn’t have any commissions, and I didn’t have to do it. It wasn’t making me happy, so why do it? I also wanted to make things. So I sat around, watched a bunch of TV shows I had forgotten about, watched some new ones, read some books, and I started sketching ideas for things I wanted. “Hey, what if I redid my kitchen? What would I want that to look like?” So I started sketching it out. It was dull, I wasn’t happy, but it was something I needed to plan it out. Then I said, “Hey, I always wanted an arcade cabinet!” So I looked up plans and sketched out one. “Hey, what if I made my own guitar?!” I wound up drawing a dream guitar I could never build unless I had done woodcarving for, like, 20 years, but I enjoyed it! Then I started sketching out another guitar I liked that was easy, then designing that…
Then one day. I sat down and miraculously did the pencils for a brand new piece of art I was really proud of. I thought it was good, and one of the best things I had done! I couldn’t believe it! I didn’t finish it, I didn’t feel my inking skills were ready just yet, but I was okay with that. Plus it gave me more time to work on the concept to make sure I liked it.
I went back to watching TV again, and after a while I decided to go back and draw something else for fun. Yeah, the other piece still wasn’t done, but this would be fun. And it was!
And that’s all it takes. Do something else.
It doesn’t have to be something “epic” like, “I’M GOING TO GO FOR A WALK IN THE WOODS AS A SPIRIT QUEST!!!!!” No. Stop. Do that for fun. Stop putting your goddamn muse on a pedestal unless you have one. A girl I was interested in once put it best; “Don’t put what you desire on a pedestal.” The more you think what you want is our of reach, the more it is. Just relax and go after it when you can. Do things to help yourself try and get to that spot, but don’t make it your focus. Just have fun and enjoy yourself.