How to Break Out of a Creative Rut

Morning in Central Park Study

A comment from a reader on my last post inspired me to think about some of the strategies I use for breaking out of a painting rut. When fear and inertia start creeping in, I seek stillness and solitude, and in my journal I write down ideas and thoughts for where I might take my painting practice next. Here are some of those thoughts and strategies. I hope they help you out at those times when you’re in that yucky place of feeling creatively stuck, blocked, bored, or in a rut. 

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  • . Find a color scheme in a work of art that interests you, describe it in your own words and try that color scheme in a new painting.
  • . Paint with “wild color.” You get to decide what “wild color” means.
  • . Make a painting using a limited working palette; mix every color for the painting from just 4 to 6 tube colors.
  • . Put colors you’ve never tried before on your working palette and experiment with new color mixtures and new color schemes.

2. Experiment With Your Painting Surface

  • . Try Hot Press paper if you usually use Cold Press.
  • . Try Cold Press or Rough if you usually use Hot Press.
  • Try Yupo paper.
  • . Try 300 lb. paper if you usually use 140 lb.
  • . Use gessoed paper.
  • . Try one of the new multi-media boards.
  • . Try Aquaboard
  • . Start with a bright underpainting.
  • . Start with a neutral underpainting.
  • . Start with an abstract underpainting with lots of texture and mark making.

3. Forget About Product. Focus instead on Process, Exploration, and Play

  • . Play with personal mark marking, brushwork, and non-descriptive textures. 
    . Experiment with a decorative use of line. How many ways can the element of line be used in a painting?
  • . Use your subject as a jumping off place for exploring personal creativity and expression rather than description.
  • . Don’t paint things, paint abstract relationships of color, shape, and value. 
  • . Discover new painting possibilities in the work of another artist. Don’t copy. Describe what you love about his or her painting in one or two words and let those words be the intention for a new painting.
  • . Empower yourself to try something unexpected, out of the box, and really risky.
  • . Make a big mess. Make a lot of mistakes. Bask in the joy of not knowing what the heck you’re doing. Proceed anyway. Then smile and pat yourself on the back for being so courageous. That’s what the creative process is all about!  

Happy Painting!


5 thoughts on “How to Break Out of a Creative Rut

  1. Karen Ann Patton

    Thank you so much for your advice. I can identify with all your suggestions, and have tried most of them over the past few years. And now I just need the self confidence to continue to pursue them and exhibit my new work.Merry Christmas. Sincerely, Karen


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