I started 2020 on a high. I was convinced that this was the year I was going to have a regular art practice and that I was going to make art that was better than anything I had done before — and then COVID came along and I lost all my momentum. I’m sure that I’m not alone in this. For close to nine months I didn’t go into my studio. I felt like a miserable failure when I looked at others posting painting after painting on Instagram.
I hope that this post can help you next time you’re finding it hard to make art.
Accountability – Find an Art Friend or Art Community
Normally when I’m in a slump, I take an in-person workshop to get my creative juices flowing again. But in-person workshops are cancelled due to COVID.
My friend Jane and I started a weekly video call. We chat for an hour on Saturday or Sunday morning and then we check back in with each other by text or phone later in the day to see how the day has gone. At first, I went to the studio for an hour or two one day of the weekend, then it was both Saturday and Sunday. Now, I’m finding time mid-week to paint.
Nicholas Wilton would say that this is an example of “The more you do, the more you do.”
Three tips from Nicholas Wilton that really work to get your momentum back!
Nicholas Wilton is the founder of the Art2Life Creativity workshops and classes. In this video he shares three tips that really help when you’re out of the rhythm of making art.
#1 The more you do, the more you do
Starting is the hard part. I needed to get over the hurdle and just begin if I was going to get my momentum back.
“It is super important to keep the “habit” of at least going through the motions of art-making…even for 10 minutes. I suggest breaking the pattern by just doing anything in the studio. Even cleaning. This will break the pattern of doing nothing. It is better to restart that pattern, that habit, even if it is only minutes a day.”– Nicholas Wilton
#2 Little and Often
We’re good at finding excuses. So often we don’t go into the studio if we don’t have hours to be able to work—but a regular practice of short blocks is what Nick suggests.
“The science on how we learn teaches us that we actually learn faster and more efficiently if we do shorter but more frequent intervals of an activity. Surprisingly, it is more likely you will achieve more if you can work 30 minutes, 3x a week than waiting all week till you have 90 minutes on the weekend. I love knowing this because all I have these days are tiny chunks of time! It turns out this situation actually works in our favor! So grab 20 minutes and get going!”– Nicholas Wilton
#3 Don’t Start. Play instead.
When you are returning to your art, if it feels hard, make it easy. Talk to the kindergartener version of yourself. Invite them to play! Notice what colors do and how fun it is to actually just put paint on a surface. Begin with no agenda except to entertain yourself. Finding the wonder in our art process is what will seduce you back.– Nicholas Wilton
I love that line… “Talk to the kindergartener version of yourself. Invite them to play!”
What are you going to do today?
At the end of our first accountability call Jane asked me, “What are you going to do today?” I replied, “I’m going to turn everything I had been working on to the wall. I’ll get out three 12″ x 12″ panels and play with some paints for an hour.”
It worked! I had a fabulous fun play session. Checking in with Jane later in the day was the accountability I needed to push through. I recommend finding an artist friend to chat with on a regular basis.
I would love to hear from you. How do you restart your art practice when you’ve lost your art-making momentum? Leave a comment below.
In this post, I refer to Nicholas Wilton and his courses. The Art2Life Workshop with Nicholas Wilton is a free week-long online video series delivered to your inbox. Nick will teach you how to harness the principles of Design, Value, and Color to REALLY ramp up your art… and, have a lot more fun while you’re at it.
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13 thoughts on “When it’s Hard to Make Art | Finding Momentum”
What a helpful post! Thank you.
I found myself stuck, feeling reluctant to go into my art space and work. Then I discovered Junk Journals. I love books and sewing so I made one using different papers I had in the studio, cut up bits of work, old newpaper cuttings, tickets, all kinds of ephemera. The act of deciding which paper worked with which when compiling the stacks, things I wanted to keep in it, using colour, texture, shapes, telling stories through combining images was so exciting. And then I got to stitch them into a book, only A5 when finished, and have something small and personal to handle that I had made. It was so exciting and also comforting – I sort of knew it was a catalyst.
It got me back into working again, thinking about placement, mood, colour combos, using inks and wax, watercolour crayons and pastel dust, coloured pencils that melted into moveable pigment with matte medium all worked a treat on canvas and I was off with a new enthusiasm and verve, a new “eye”. I gave them to friends who wanted to learn how to make them too so now we are all in paper chaos, playing, but developing skills without realising it, working in ways I hadn’t tried before and pushing boundaries. Wonderful and works with your 30 minutes 3 times a week theory too. Thank you for sharing.
I was blessed to be given the opportunity to work for my BFA when I was in my 40s. Had begun to think it would never happen. I dived in even tho I was the only not that young person. Was so pleased at the art students who mostly were very supportive and made me feel welcome and it was ok I was there. Also very lucky it was a time when there were numerous visiting artists, many just beginning who later became quite famous. They exhibited their work, and dropped by classes to talk with students, encourage us, and suggest helpful things which were very useful. And the University art gallery was filled with work by students which was inspiring. When I go to my studio, I don’t have an idea what will occur. I play. Get rid of that big blank surface by putting something down, whatever seems good at the time. Then what does it tell me to do. Have at it, and finally when it seems to be time to stop, the fun part of titling it. Sometimes that is immediate and sometimes have to live with it a bit til it tells me what its title is.
I have painted for nearly two years now and the reason was that we were packing our house up to move to a flat until we found a house. We lived in the flat for 6 months and have now moved 3 months ago into our new home. So no excuse now, I hear you say! The only thing is the corner I will use is not ready yet. Ok, I’ll get going with it ASAP, but I find it really hard to find time for myself. There’s always something else that gets in the way, mainly housework etc…. So, I have decided that the best way is to save one day a week all to my little self and immerse myself into my Art!! What do you think?
Hi Karine. That sounds like a great idea. Try to make it sacred. Nothing else can take precedence. Maybe set up some accountability to prove you did it — either with a friend or posting to social media. I hope it works out.
In 2019 my husband & I moved into a new house. For the first time ever, I had a studio…all mine! We are older and retired. LOTS of things have changed. We sleep separately now so I sleep in my studio! No forcing myself to go there….I’m already IN IT!
This has made a huge difference in my creativity & work ethic.
I know lots of people can’t do this all the time but seriously, consider how you might occasionally “retreat” to your space and try waking up in it. I bet you’ll be surprised by what will come of it. It’s a good thing!
Your studio should be a place of refuge & peace, as is sleep. So why not try combining the two?
My studio is in The Art Sanctuary here in Indiana and at first when this hit it was a nonessential business so I was stuck at home! As our numbers have improved here and restrictions have been lifted I am trying to get back in the flow. It’s hard because my daughter is a teacher and I have been watching my 2yo grandson since school is back. No way is he going to daycare during a pandemic. I steal my minutes when I can outside the studio and try to go when I can.
Thanks for your comment, Dorene. These are unprecedented times that we are living through but we have to put our loved one’s first.
Hi Dorene, I have had fun working in my studio along side my grandkids. I get the paper, paint, crayons, stickers……….and make their art while I also work. Sometimes, they work for minutes on end, so I can too.
Hi, Ruth! (We were in Paula and Jeff’s workshop in Chicago together)
I started an art accountability group with two friends last March. We have had a video chat for one hour every Sunday since then with only a couple of missed days over the holidays. We are currently doing a 30-day version of the 100-day challenge and showing each other our daily projects on Instagram. I recommend this for anyone who can find an art buddy or two!
Hi Lorraine! So nice to hear from you. Yes, I remember—way back in the day when we did in-person workshops. 🙂 Thanks so much for commenting
Awesome post Ruth! We all need a Jane in our lives! Hopefully in-person workshops will start soon , fingers crossed.
We do need Janes and Amelias too! I’m blessed