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A brief edition, 7 years later, as this article is still receiving attention.

AS a webcomic artist who has now produced over 1,000 pages of work with no hesitation, I should amend this article with the following summary:

Art-block is caused by a lack of creative purpose. Purpose is the best means by which a vacillating artist might finally become motivated again. Whether it's as simple as the need to capture a beautiful image, like a sunset with a loved one, or as dire as the need to communicate an imperative revelation before death, this purpose is the key to allowing the feeling of importance, which will allow artists to undertake as great a task as making art.

Avoid distractions.

Avoid irrelevant information.

Understand your own desires.

Achieve perspective.

Feel no shame.



We all get art-blocked at one point. "I don't want to draw" or "I don't feel like drawing this..."

By understanding what art-block is, we can take steps to avoid it in the future, and possibly even control its presence.

Let's start by removing the term "art-block" from our vocabularies for a moment. It is too vague and only describes its effect, not what it is. This doesn't help us except when we want to commiserate.

Now let's start to take apart the artistic process. If we can understand why we draw in the first place, it will help us to understand why we stop drawing.

The artistic process developed and culminated in homo sapiens sapiens, who had mutated large brains that were able to support complex social networks. Art serves as a tool not only for communication, but for solidarity. Art can be defined as the process of reaching outside ourselves, to make another self out of something that is not.

We probably have an audience or an effect on an audience in mind when we are spending hours creating a piece of work. Hour after hour of crafting detail and examining potential flaws will be put to the test when we present our work. When it is well-received, it is one of the better feelings in life. Conversely, a rejection of our work can leave us devastated. These two aspects of acceptance and rejection permeate the human social experience to its core. Will we form a group, or be denied one? Can we create something that other people can enjoy and use for themselves? Or will our work be too distant and inaccessible?


The term "art-block" hides psychological twists and turns. The subconscious is a very efficient place, working quickly and effortlessly to analyze what is worth spending energy on, and what is not. Take this news article for example. Perhaps you have already closed this window due to my excessive use of the collective pronouns "us", "we", or "our." This might have irked you but you are not quite sure why (it's my assumption of our collective state when this has not been firmly established beforehand--a "hostile takeover", if you will, of your social relationship to me). Or maybe you are suddenly paying attention because I have mentioned the word "psychology" and you are having a psychology exam later in the week (a subtle nod to upcoming threats and the strategies used to meet them).

In any case, your subconscious is an exact machine, deciding--based on past experience and animal intuition--precisely what will benefit you, and what won't, faster than you can think about it consciously. This was an important development in human psychology, because it freed up top-level consciousness to process increasingly complex social structures.

We may consider art-block to be a form of subconscious decision. We don't want to draw, because it is suddenly in some way not beneficial to us. Our job, as the top-level consciousness, is to figure out what triggered the subconscious to make this decision.


Because each case is unique, it will be up to you. But let's examine some sample cases.

1. "I can't draw because I don't feel like it. My art doesn't look good any longer." This is a common form of art-block: suddenly, work which we might have felt proud about is now giving us the doldrums. As a third party, I have witnessed some of my friends' art-blocks of this type, and I can say with conviction that I was not able to notice any change in their works from before or after the art-block. The change must then be in their own perception of their works. What has changed, exactly?

I could also call this the "beginner's luck" art-block, since it seems to work off of the same function. Perhaps you have played a video game and have been doing well, when suddenly you reach a point where your game ends. You try again and now, the game ends before you even reach the point you had previously gotten up to. This doesn't make sense! We have memory of this earlier, easier place already. Why did we make a mistake? Again and again you attempt to reach the part where you had first gotten up to with "beginner's luck". Occasionally you do reach it, but perhaps, the game ends a little beyond that point. Eventually, the game is conquered, but only after an intense memorization experience.

This process is analogous to the art-block mechanism. The "mistakes" we started to make were in actuality limits being tested. We got far the first time on our "beginner's luck" intuition--the ability to intuit a problem when meeting it for the first time; we got far the last time on our strategy and technique, a process borne of repetition and exploration.

As such, art-block in this instance will be a process of repetition and exploration for the artist. Just like in the video game, the "mistakes" that the artist is making are an exploration of the artist's limits in order to examine technique and procedure. It is a growth process: When faced with new, elaborate challenges, our intuition can only take us so far. When we can finally accept our technique as sufficient for beating that game, this art-block can be dissolved.

This process of internal critique may last quite a while. It can possibly be sped up or denied by acknowledging how it works. If we can't get a good feeling about our art because suddenly, it doesn't seem so good when compared to other artists, then step back. Take a breath. "It's okay. I think my skill is good, at least for now. Especially for now, when I have this big project to do... I can improve later. Right now, I have to be me: my skill, my technique." Saying this and believing it are two different things, but in synthesis it will help to eradicate this art-block.

2. "I don't feel like drawing any longer... [because the group of friends I was drawing with has gotten into a big fight] [because I'm moving away to college and I won't see my old drawing buddies again for quite a while] [etc.]" I've also experienced this art-block, quite more prominently than our first example.

As stated in the beginning, art is a communal process. We make art to share and to bring together. When that which we have brought together falls apart, it's natural that the vehicle for that community will also fall apart, creating this form of art-block. The cure is to find another group to draw for, or rather, another group to bring together. Finding a new audience receptive to your art will abolish this art-block in short order. However, this social scouting process alone may take some time. It might be sped up by using our art as a lure to attract those like us. That is, if we didn't have art-block in the first place. Some older art might be in order here: post the older art and let it do the scouting for you. Do you think it represents the current "you" well enough? Or perhaps there may be a way to bring your old group back together. Some art might be in order there.


We've analyzed art-block a bit and now have an inclination as to how it works. But sometimes, the technique that our art-block is using to keep us from expending energy on art can be elusive. It may be obscured by something we don't want to acknowledge, or simply too inextricable from the grasp of the subconscious. In such a case, we can employ some down-and-dirty psychology to use our bodies against themselves in order to take back control!

A. Pavlovian Inspiration

This is the sneakiest technique. It does require some setup. We will be using classical conditioning on ourselves.

1. Take some form of stimulus. Light, environment... Music is good, since it is accessible on command. Whenever you create art, play music, or activate whichever stimulus you have selected. This is especially important at the start of the artistic process.

2. Continue to play music throughout the art. Do this every time the art is attempted. If the music is the same every time, we will get a particularly strong effect from this pairing. (It will be a bit repetitive though. If it is the same type of music throughout, it should be OK.)

3. Continue to repeat this process every time the art is attempted.

4. Over several months, a pairing between art and this stimulus will be established.

During a period of art-block, exposure to this stimulus will bring out the pairing... and instantly suspend art-block! You have to be quick; this is a chemical reaction, and it will go away if you do not respond to the impulse to make art. (Or you may convince yourself that "I kind of want to draw now, but I bet it won't be worth it..." in such a case, ignore yourself, just sit down, and get to it. As you get into it, you will automatically feel better. Art-block works best as an incipient block; when we're already into the art, it will be more difficult to stop it!)

B. Time

It is said that time heals all wounds. We can use the passage of time to decrease the influence of art-block.

If our art-block is stemming from something resembling example 1 (self-critique), it may be best to take a break from others' art for a while, and to just soak up ourselves. To regain confidence in our own art, about what makes it unique, our time and technique, may be just what the doctor ordered. For this period, do not watch TV or use the internet for the fastest effect. Something in your daily life may re-inspire you during this duration, something you might not have noticed before (because you were too busy paying attention to others' art!).

C. Money

Money is the greatest motivator, because its potential is practically limitless. By exchanging art for money, we can realize some new possibilities, such as new art supplies or a subtle change in our life that can re-inspire us (like a new pet, or some new furniture). Not to mention cuisine. But business will support us and our art. It is important to indulge it sometimes.

There may be some Marxist concern, that using our art for money will lead to alienation. This is a valid concern, and to be honest, I don't have an answer to this, as I am currently wrestling with it myself. It may be best to engage in two different forms or venues of art at the same time, with one to contrast the other.


Art-block is a complicated process. It prevents us from feeling like making art, because to put passion into something that we are subconsciously analyzing as ineffective would be a tremendous waste of energy--energy that could be used in gathering food or siring young. It's our job to undertake a little post-analyzation and figure out why our art isn't working for us any longer. Then we can start the repairs in spite of ourselves!

And when all else fails, give it time. The efficient machine will eventually beat that game!
Add a Comment:
mri0903 Featured By Owner Jan 17, 2018   Digital Artist
Thank you very much for this article, zack-sr.
I hope it helped me.

I don't know what exactly my problem is. Since months I am sitting in some kind of art education school and I am experiencing a worse-growing art block. It's growing physical in my case even: when I think of art I grow so indescribably tired and just return to rather meet friends and playing video games; or doing class stuff of course. I find it frustrating and sad because I want to make a salery out of my talent and I fear if I let this art block go on for too long I will not make it as a Concept Artist for I need to learn constantly and so much more than my current skill has to offer. It's frustrating indeed. When I don't do art I feel downright free and it scares me.

If you have any advice to my current situation I'd be so super grateful because I've tried a lot by now. Nothing -seems- to work.
PaperQxeen Featured By Owner Dec 28, 2017  Hobbyist General Artist
Also, something interesting to do- if you have art block, draw your feelings about art block. 
RosesAreGraceful13 Featured By Owner Mar 9, 2017
What if someone else is critiquing your art,and making you feel like you can't possibly do anything to please them?
zack-sr Featured By Owner Mar 15, 2017
Hi Roses,

Is such a person the person who you aim to please? As an artist, you must decide what you want to draw, and in effect, who to reach out to.

The number one time to accept critique is when you are getting ready to accept peoples' money in exchange for art services. This is the time when you will be held accountable for your work, because you are offering it as a service to other people who admire your skill and want to borrow it for their own purposes. It is important to accept critique in this situation.

If you are not pursuing the above situation, you do not need to accept critique at all.
ZeFrogSharqThing Featured By Owner Apr 14, 2018  Hobbyist General Artist
unless, you are critiquing anatomy, then i feel that is also a need.
InkFey Featured By Owner Jun 15, 2015  Student Digital Artist
Hey, thanks for writing! I find it interesting that you said money can get you out of an art block, but what if it gets someone into one? I was doing fine as an artist, until a relative decided to overpay me drastically for a painting. She stated that she would have spent the money (around 500 dollars) on a professional artist, but instead decided to hire me. I know this sounds like a wonderful situation for a student artist, but unfortunately I now have an incredible amount of pressure to get the painting done in a week. I choose a medium that I thought would be appropriate for the type of painting (a man and his car), but I am finding myself a HUGE art block. I cannot sit down and work on the painting, I just stare at it and feel dead inside. I know I have the skill, but there is some sort of lock on it, keeping me from finishing the damn thing. I don't really know how to sate this art block, but I think it has to do with the pressure of the deadline and amount of money. I am by no means a professional. If you have any advice, I would love hear it! 
zack-sr Featured By Owner Jun 17, 2015
Hi FrayAldernari,

In this instance, I would say, go for it. Just start painting.

You may be feeling a lot of pressure to perform well... because, if you do, you will receive the money. But this assumes that you will receive less money if you do not perform well. Is this true? Will you truly receive less money if you do not do a very good job?

Because the woman has placed her trust in you, you should simply complete the work as you see fit, regardless of how you perceive your own quality of execution. Let's say that you somehow "mess up" the work, and she "fines" you $200. (I place "mess up" in quotes, because this is an abstract concept for an artist.) You will still receive $300.

Your relative knows that she has not commissioned a professional artist. She commissioned you, because she wanted you to paint it, whatever flaws there may be. Even if she said $500 and really meant $300, she chose you as the artist. It does not have to be picture-perfect; if she had wanted that, she would have taken a photograph.

The exchange of art is often not based on the physical endproduct. Your relative (and the subject of the painting) want to feel a connection to you. So I say, let her. Let your art come out and meet her, no matter how much money is involved.

InkFey Featured By Owner Jun 17, 2015  Student Digital Artist
Thank you very much Zack, this is very encouraging. I will go ahead and go for it, because I think you are completely right. I do not think she will "fine" me, so I suppose it's no use to get worked up about "messing up". Thanks again for replying! 
AceOfKeys72 Featured By Owner Apr 14, 2015  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
this is a very detailed and useful guide. i've learned quite a bit from reading this and hopefully i'll be able to incoprate it into my art process ;)
CherryRedRose Featured By Owner Nov 28, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
thank you for this. I've been having an artists-block for over a year now but thanks to this, i think I know what it is that I need to do to get back into drawing again :) again, thank you ever so much! <3
SauceyFellow Featured By Owner Sep 29, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Stop being so much smarter than me! CURSE YOU! 
Rayneofhearts Featured By Owner Aug 27, 2014  Student Artist
Thank you for this...I've had artblock for 4 yrs now. It's even embarrassing to say (ㅁ ㅗ ㅁ) but even more, it's frustrating. Reading this has motivated me to try once more. Thank you
FeatherWishMLP Featured By Owner Jul 18, 2014  Student General Artist
Thank you so much! I've had an art block for a few weeks now, and I finally looked up "why do i have an art block" and this came up. It's really helpful!
Didiher Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2014
Thanks for this.
rrrust Featured By Owner Apr 10, 2014
c: thank you.
Jazzy-sama Featured By Owner Aug 7, 2013  Hobbyist Artist
One time, I was like, "OOH! CIEL PHANTOMHIVE! I'LL DRAW HIM!!" But then... it was the cursed  ART BLOCK!! I couldn't get the chin right, the eyes, the mouth, etc. Heck, I couldn't even draw the nose! It was the same for all the rest of my drawings for a whole TWO WEEKS. Untill my inspiration was my favorite Vocaloid. (Len) I got my spark back after that. :)
FeatherWishMLP Featured By Owner Jul 18, 2014  Student General Artist
Ugh, I did that once. I be like "let's draw my lovely lil Ciel today!" *starts to draw, realizes I have an artblock* xD Ciel is so adorable, and I can't draw him! D:
Luckyluck244 Featured By Owner Jun 22, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Yes ciel phatomhive for the win XD 
OOQuant Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
I forget every time what to do first when you're going to start your drawing -.-
OOQuant Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
uhhh... how should i fave this? so that i keep reminding myself with this..
AizenAkumetsu Featured By Owner Oct 5, 2013
I came to ask the same thing, I remember I wanted to fav another journal some time and somebody told me how to do it but I don't remember, it was a few months ago
jessikitty00 Featured By Owner Oct 6, 2013  Hobbyist Artist
There's a button near the top of the page to the right that says "Add to Favorites". Click that and you're done! :)
AizenAkumetsu Featured By Owner Oct 7, 2013
ty for your time
jessikitty00 Featured By Owner Oct 7, 2013  Hobbyist Artist
You're welcome! :D
TheDJTC Featured By Owner Jun 11, 2013
I listen to music all the time when I work, so that's out.

I blew a few hundred on art supplies from winnings, so that's out.

I guess I'll try ignoring art!
XxBad-Luck-ChildxX Featured By Owner May 28, 2013  Student General Artist
Brilliant. Valid points and maybe even a technique i should try! Thank you for sharing
stonedInc Featured By Owner May 2, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
It's bloody frustrating!
FuujinCZ Featured By Owner Apr 2, 2013
Interesting, I've never ever thought of art in form of drawing, painting or writing as a medium to bring people together.
I've created to get (preferably) posittive reaction from people, then I got enough of it, validated myself and lost all motivation to do art :D
eKarasz Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
This should help me out. I have been getting a lot of artist's blocks lately, and it is hurting me a lot.
Miyu-dreamer Featured By Owner Mar 13, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
when i get art block i read 1/2 prince by Yu Wo
its a great story and give me inspiration

manga: [link]

online novel: [link]
green246810 Featured By Owner Mar 10, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
wait now i get it
green246810 Featured By Owner Mar 10, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
i dont even know what artg block is
xxVampireZeldaxx Featured By Owner Feb 22, 2013
I realized that me constantly looking at other artists' work was me wanting to be as good as them, and that wasn't helping me like I wanted to. I just became disappointed in myself and my drawings and began to not see the point in drawing anymore. Realizing this nearly brought me to tears.
Hiroto-Chan Featured By Owner Jan 3, 2013  Student General Artist
Thank you so much, I've got a big art block from previous events and I've been looking for an inspiration but failed in my many attempts. I hardly have music on though, so I shall try this!! ^^
Selviany Featured By Owner Dec 21, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
i'm always play the same music when i'm drawing.. x'3 :iconlazeplz:
Ivarrah Featured By Owner Dec 6, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I... I'll keep this in mind :iconrlytearplz:
SKMiles Featured By Owner Oct 23, 2012
this is amazing I have a HUGE art block that lasted since I graduated high school up until now, I dont see my friends much and I dont attend school again until next year! I really dont want my art-block to last any longer if it does but Im glad I found this, its helped me understand myself better and feel a lttle less blue about it
adorableBatterwitch Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2012  Hobbyist
Ive been having an art block for a while now,I just dont have inspiration at the time.So i shall use my favorite webcomic and music,Thank you for making this.
iamkzee Featured By Owner Jul 26, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Thanks for this!
GummiRainbow Featured By Owner Jul 5, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I think I got art block for over a month because I was looking at others art and I thought I would never draw as good as them. I finally stopped and tried my hardest to focus on a drawing for a collab I entered, to my surprise I did like the picture. But it still wasn't the best because even though I wasn't looking at others art I was still thinking about how it won't look as good as my other drawings or someone else's drawings. Today I started to draw another picture, and I think, I actually like this picture. And the people who gave me art block now inspire me to help with my style.
This really helped me so I can help with art block next time and not just make it worse! :)
beatricewalsing Featured By Owner Apr 27, 2012
Thank you!!
Javoki Featured By Owner Apr 11, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
alrite now i get what the meaning of art block now lols
Shiro-Marusu Featured By Owner Mar 6, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
I think I'm having a huge artblock right now, and what I just read makes sense! I look at other people's art everyday hoping to inspire myself and secretly also hoping I will be able to make something just as good, only to be dissappointed by the actual results.....I guess I should try these methods out then.....although I rlly hope that I won't have to take my lack of skills for granted forever....
Achar223 Featured By Owner Jul 15, 2012  Student
O_O That right there is the story of my life!!!
Shiro-Marusu Featured By Owner Jul 16, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Then maybe it will help you if I said that I think I found something to get myself to draw more and be pleased with it too =)
I was thinking of how I started to learn with drawing in the first place; When I was little I used to trace the lines of drawings I liked a lot. This may sound cheap but it was only to learn how things were drawn.
Having that in mind I have been searching for a lot of references and tutorials as well as things I would like to draw about.
Taking wolves for example, I just had the references opened while I was drawing and everytime I was hestitating I just looked back to see how it was done.
Then, when you found something of which you think you can repeat it and it looks good to your taste; dont hestitate, just do it xD and do it a lot!
I'm not a die-hard artist yet but I think I'm heading the right way, maybe we could talk about it some more sometime ;)
Achar223 Featured By Owner Jul 16, 2012  Student
o.o Really!?

Sooo, just take it one step at a time?

I'm okay with my faces... I could be WAY better with profiles and certain head positions and yah... I wish I was even BETTER at anatomy, but the human body scares me so I never really learned. o_O
T_T Back to the basics, is that what you're saying? :iconcry-plz: this means my conscience was right all along O_O SMH

Okaasi ^_^
Shiro-Marusu Featured By Owner Jul 16, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
I indeed think that when you're doubting you should allways look back at the basics, but along with that, try finding a few pictures you really like and trace them once. Not to make it your own but to 'feel' how the lines are going. Then you should try to do it yourself but with the same picture opened so you can peek everytime you're hestitating. If it doesn't go well the first, second or third time, try it a fourth...but ofcourse it it is starting to bore you, you should go on to the next picture =)
Then when you feel like you're getting a hand of it, try making your own character or drawing while still 'peeking' at the references.
Not sure if you think this makes sense but I hope it helps. Maybe if my skills are up to your expectations even I can help you with a thing or two ^-^
Achar223 Featured By Owner Jul 16, 2012  Student
o.o That sounds simple enough... so you're saying just do what I like doing when something is too hard...copy, copy, copy away! lol
That's just too easy. >.> I think I can do this!!! :iconintenseplz:
Shiro-Marusu Featured By Owner Jul 16, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Yes, because when you think about it. Isnt 'learning' actually based on 'copying' in the first place? You can't learn something if you haven't experienced it you know =)
I wish you good luck with everything! =3
Achar223 Featured By Owner Jul 16, 2012  Student
Yes, it is! :iconvictoryplz:

Awwww! Thankies! :meow: Umm, you too! ^.^
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December 15, 2007


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