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Three Top Tips To Beat Painters Block

I like to compare the #painter’s journey to climbing a long staircase and many #artists I talk to tend to say a similar thing. The first few steps when you begin #painting, are short, frequent and easy to climb. This is eager progress, but the further up the staircase you go, the steps become ever taller, deeper and ever harder to scale. #Painter’s #block usually strikes at the base of these steps but you won’t know you are there until it happens. When you find yourself lacking #inspiration, feeling frustration with your work, regressing with your ability or just lacking the drive to continue, you have reached the end of your current step. Whilst this can seem a very daunting and difficult place to be, you are assured that sometime soon you will climb up to the next level and your journey will be fulfilled once again. Progress is both painful and joyous and without one you cannot have the other. In this short blog I aim to share the highs and lows of painter’s block and highlight some ways of shaking off the #blues and getting back to painting with a renewed vigour.


Criticism can induce painter’s block and it can hurt, but as hard as it can be, never ignore it completely because whilst it may be someone’s opinion, there will be an element of truth in what they say.

Do I suffer painter’s block?

Absolutely! I’m an #artist – it’s normal. That doesn’t make it any easier though. I’ve #painted happily for many years and suffered many blocks but the worst was a good few years back, when my work was criticised unfairly after a somewhat disastrous #exhibition. I took it badly and personally and at the time I couldn’t see what my customers could see. That sent me into a low spiral that turned out to be both the worst and best block I’ve ever experienced. I shut myself away in my #studio with a stack of #materials for about twelve months and just let it all out. Standing in front of my easel holding a #brush dripping in paint, tears streaming down my face and not knowing how to begin after twenty years of painting was just about the lowest point. But the fact is I had nowhere else to go but through it, so I had to progress. I read books for hours, I visited exhibitions and I looked, studied and #painted. Out of those low moments came a gradual renewed energy with solid knowledge and an eagerness to express myself on #paper more than ever before. My painting was finally reborn. It doesn’t mean that its like that every time. You might experience a short lived block and by stepping back and taking the challenge head on, you may get over it pretty quickly.


Fading Light At Bell House Moor, Acrylic on paper 56 x 38cm

During one particular bout of block I saw a photo of a wall in a book. It was winding its way into the subject and the inspiration at seeing it was a game changer for me. Inspiration can come from anywhere at any time!

You must strive to paint the way you do because in the end this will allow you to paint with conviction and energy.

Dealing with criticism

Criticism can induce painter’s block and it can hurt, but as hard as it can be, never ignore it completely because whilst it may be someone’s opinion, there will be an element of truth in what they say. If it happens to you, ask them to clarify their thoughts. Whatever you do to overcome the pain of #criticism, never try to reinvent your style. Your #style is your style, like your face is your face. You will not be able to change it, so don’t bolt the door and attempt to turn yourself into your favourite #painter. It won’t happen. Usually criticism is not about your style anyway. Maybe someone may say your #colours are drab or your #trees look a bit wooden (yes I was once told that!). Try to see it from their view and only if you agree with what they say, make any necessary changes to those areas. Above all, be yourself when you paint.


A Pennine Winter, Watercolour 56 x 38cm

Without criticism I wouldn't have analysed my working methods, I wouldn't have let go with a brush, I wouldn't have stood up to paint and therefore I would be achieving the energy in my work that I am doing now.

Dealing with block

Block is really a form of self #criticism. It shouldn’t be destructive but it usually is. #Block is when you find yourself not painting or disliking what you are doing. Simply continuing isn’t always helpful, so the first thing you can do is tell yourself that it is ok to #not #paint. That’s very hard for a #professional painter to absorb, but sometimes the brain just needs to recharge. I once wrote two books in one year. I had tight deadlines to meet and I churned out 85 000 words and 350 #illustrations. After that I was burned out and didn’t touch a brush for months. In your down time you need to reseed the hunger to paint. Without imposing pressure on yourself, visit #galleries and #exhibitions or watch a live #painting #demonstration. Read books and just immerse yourself with #inspiration. When you feel ready to paint again it is important to have a plan of action. Think about how you’d like your work to look, for example more #colourful or #bolder. I recommend first reviewing your work, looking through at least the last twelve months of paintings or #drawings and picking out the bits you like and the bits you don’t. Make a list of areas in which you wish to make #improvements then begin #experimenting. In these moments I don’t ever strive to create exhibition paintings, I just look for answers. It may mean thrashing through numerous sheets of paper, trying different #techniques just to paint a more convincing rock for example. Do look at and learn from other artist’s work but don’t try to emulate them, as that is not going to do you any favours. You must strive to paint the way you do because in the end this will allow you to paint with conviction and energy.


Into The Light, Watercolour 56 x 38cm

I now paint freely and confidently, but I'm also wise enough to know that this doesn't make me immune to future blocks.

What if it’s not working?

If you find you really can’t get back into where you were before the block happened, you might try shifting your #methods. Take a #painting #class in a different #medium or try completely changing your #subject. One subject that pulled me out of a block was painting a whole series of mugs. I’d paint one a day in different #lighting and from different angles, even though I consider myself a #landscape #painter. I became really excited by coffee mugs and I learned a lot! Start a #sketchbook and try various #drawing media. Set yourself a study time and aim to do three or more drawings per week. You might also try working on a different scale, for example if you work small, try working large. Once the spark of #creativity is ignited again you’ll be eager to continue. If you really don’t feel like painting, then don’t. Try looking for new painting subjects and paint them in your head instead as just the thought of creating something can be extremely powerful. I usually find when I’m out on a walk I will feel the need to return home and #paint at some point. Experiment with your #composition and take #photographs or make sketches from new angles. Whatever you do to get over your block, step back, open your mind, have faith, have patience, and when you’ve finally climbed the step, enjoy the new ride!

Paul Talbot-Greaves RI, Artist, Author, Tutor

Paul Talbot-Greaves is a member of the Royal Institute Of Painters In Watercolours, and has been painting and writing for 30 years. He writes many articles for The Artist magazine (UK), has four practical art books published and has contributed to various others. He is represented by numerous galleries based around the North of England. He can be found on Instagram and Facebook where he regularly posts up to date pieces and inspirational stories.

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Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Loved this blog. The part in which you describe the staircase and the block you might get as you climb and realise the level of skill and impact you currently have against the degree of difficulty needed to climb up the next stage.

I now currently see only the amount I still have to learn and this can be so daunting.


Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

I suspect the impact of some form of obstacle to creativity is much more critical for those making a living from it. You've offered some great tips for working through these periods. I particularly liked the watercolour of the Pennine scene. Vibrant contrasting colours! Beautiful.


Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

So helpful. Thank you.


Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Such a wonderful blog......... thank you Paul

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