This is the second in a series of posts that addresses some of the most common reasons why we can't just sit down and draw. In each post I will discuss a real reason that I have avoided drawing and attempt to offer some actionable solutions. My hope is that these posts will be helpful to you if you are struggling with developing or maintaining a daily drawing habit.
Reason you can't draw: I don't know what to draw.
Why you should draw anyway: IF you draw is more important than WHAT you draw.
I just finished a new piece and it never fails that after coming off the "high" of finishing something, I go through a period of feeling pretty lost. I guess you could call it a creative block. I don't know what to work on. Days will pass where I don't draw anything and dark thoughts begin to creep in. I start to think I'm not really any good at this and I'll probably never make anything good ever again. Sound familiar?
These thoughts always come when I have stopped making things because I don't know what to draw. And as soon as I start again, they fade away. Are you feeling stuck? It doesn't matter what you draw. Just draw something. It doesn't need a purpose or an end goal. The important thing is just to do it, because it's the process that will eventually bring you back to your happy place.
Still Don't Know What to Draw? Try These:
- Gesture drawing: Try doing timed gesture drawing practice using a website like Quickposes or Posemaniacs Lots of these websites exist and there are even some that will show you different animals. *Bonus: Look back over the gesture drawings you did and see where you can push the poses to make them more interesting. *Bonus 2: See if you can turn any of the poses you drew into a narrative illustration by imagining that the figure is doing something else.
- Anatomy: Focus on particular parts of human anatomy. Right now I am working on hands and feet. Kiri Ostergaard Leonard has compiled a number of resources for drawing hands and feet on her website. But, you could also focus on eyes, noses, lips, ears, arms, legs, or torsos. I am also a big fan of Aaron Blaise's How to Draw: Human Anatomy course. It sometimes goes on sale and I have watched it a number of times. He has some free videos and downloads that are fun to draw along with.
- Trace Drawings of Illustrators You Like: This is a suggestion from illustrator Laura Zarrin that I read on Simply Messing About. She suggests, as an exercise only, tracing drawings by illustrators who inspire you. She uses a blue pencil to find line of action and draw through all the shapes before finish the drawing.
- Make a Style Bible: I just read about this concept in the SCBWI Bulletin. The idea was credited to illustrator Julia Patton. You buy a nice hardback sketchbook and using tabs, create a section for each letter of the alphabet. You fill the sketchbook with drawings of things that start with each letter, but you draw them on loose paper and then cut and paste into the book using removable tape. The idea is that you can add and remove things as your style evolves. It was referred to as an "anal version of a sketchbook", because you are able to completely control what goes into the book. Also, when you don't know what to draw, you can see where you need to fill gaps and say, "Ok! I will draw something that begins with R." If you want to read more about it, SCBWI members can download the latest Bulletin online.
- Make your own #100DayProject: This can be hard, because you have to come up with a topic you will enjoy drawing for 100 days. I'm going to say for the purposes of getting unstuck, just choose something and do it, and then change it if you want to. It's more important that you start and draw something than it is to stick to the same topic for the entire project.
- Go through this list of prompts by Dani Jones.
- Try some suggestions from this list from Pen and Oink.
- Draw Something In Your Comfort Zone: Sometimes when I sit down to draw, my brain and hand feel disconnected and I feel like I can't draw anything. This happened to me recently and I decided to make a new piece that featured a horse. I did this because when I was a kid, I used to draw horses obsessively. I have drawn them so many times, that I am almost always successful when I try to draw one. What is the one thing you could draw with your eyes closed? Draw that. If you draw something you know, you increase your odds that it will turn out well and when you are successful it will boost your confidence. Sometimes a little boost in confidence is all you need to get unstuck.
- Pick up a Book: A few of my more recent illustrations have been inspired by books. I started reading and then ended up having to stop 50 or 60 pages in to start sketching thumbnails. Give it a try.
- Take a Step Back: When all else fails you may need to take an intentional time away from creating to recharge. Sometimes when you feel like you are fresh out of ideas it means that you need to spend some time filling your creative bank account. Take a walk, leave your immediate surroundings or if you can, spend a whole day doing something else that you enjoy.
Do you have your own tips for getting unstuck? Please share them in the comments.
Share your work! Sometimes community helps us stay motivated. I would love to see what you are working on. Use the #dailydrawinghabit hashtag on Twitter and Instagram!