How Artists Get Their Groove Back

I’ve stolen a phrase from fire fighters about how to put out the flames if you happen to be on fire. But what if you want to start a fire–like your creative fire for instance? Funny! It’s the same three little words! Soon you’ll be smokin’ hot–creatively, I mean!


Yes, You might just be boring…

BoredGirlMy sister Sarah is my go-to gal when I am in the need of conversation that can be at any given time (and often in the same sentence) stimulating, heart wrenching but always downright hilarious. We have spent untold hours on the phone and in person cracking each other up over the irritating minutiae of life. No tidbit is considered too trivial or too far in our past for us to discuss and ruminate over.

But every once in a while one of us is yammering on about a subject even we recognize as over-analyzed and picked apart so far that even we can’t stand it. I think Sarah was the first to say,


“Holy Moley, I am boring myself to tears. I cannot imagine what I am doing to you.”

This occasionally repeated phrase is code for, “Fer cryin’ out loud,let’s move on! We we cannot possibly be this dull!” And we do and we find something waaay more interesting to talk about. Like what we’re making for dinner.

Well, that was an amusing little story*, but let’s get back to the art business, shall we?

Artists strive to develop a “style” –some recognizable element that makes them stand out in the crowd and makes a distinctive mark on the world. Of course an artist’s range can vary but once they hit their “sweet spot” they tend to stay in that place, varying their work through different subjects and new images. But eventually the well starts to run dry and our little artist keeps finding herself serving up designs that are sort of okaaaay but lacking that original zing and shiny luster of the initial concepts. And our little artist has become bored.

And dare I say it? She has become…bor-ING!

So what happened here? She’s had her head down churning out idea after idea in her attempt to serve her style, just like she is supposed to do. The problem is she keeps going back to the same well for her inspirations. And she keeps coming up with the same basic look just changed up with a new color scheme or a different season but it’s really more of the same. This girl needs to get out more.


It’s called “filling your cup”, people.

When you find yourself restless and bored with what you are doing or wondering what you should do next, it’s time to take yourself out of the studio. Go to a museum—natural history, art, your local historical society–heck, maybe even the Mustard Museum**—can you imagine the cool vintage labels they might have there? Go to the dustier parts of the library. A botanical garden or arboretum. Go walk in the woods. Take a class in a medium you don’t normally use. Stop using Google images and Instagram as your only reference source. Find new inspirations and perspectives to bring back with you to the studio. Do this often, pretend like it’s your job.

Oh, wait—it is your job!

Because if you find your work boring, you can only imagine what it’s doing to us.

Sarah said so.


*Hey, I have seven sisters, there are sure to be more of them.

**It’s a place, really. Here’s the link.

Am I Working on the Right Thing?

Maybe not.

I know. Those are simply fabulous answers! Here’s the thing—we don’t always know if the activities we are engaged in will come back to us in dollars, satisfaction or a “learning experience”.* Every freelance artist or writer I know ponders this very question—and that does not necessarily change with experience. We just do a bit less flailing about worrying and accept that it is part of the dance of freelance.

So here are my thoughts on the yes, you are, maybe you are and you are definitely not working on the right thing right now.

Yes, for sure:

  • Artwork you are doing under contract like an editorial illustration or licensing deal. These are the activities that rise to the top of the priority list.
  • Projects that you don’t necessarily love but will result in someone giving you money for the actual purchase of actual food for your actual family.
  • Promoting yourself strategically in social media, but without being a slave to every little thing that comes along—or making everyone wish you’d just go home and draw a picture already.

Maybe/Maybe not:

  • Developing artwork in anticipation of a trade show or meeting with potential clients—you are pretty sure you are hitting the mark on what makes you, you and you think you have a pretty good idea that the market will respond positively but there’s always the chance that, well—you didn’t. But by not doing anything, you for sure will not get a positive result. This is called risk. It’s what we entrepreneur types do.
  • Adding new work to your Etsy, Society 6, etc shops—it might sell, it might not, but it certainly won’t if no one sees it.
  • Experimentation, throwing paint around, feverishly sketching in your sketchbook. These activities don’t necessarily translate into dollars and cents but without them, there is not a chance you will stumble across something that will.

Probably not:

  • Trolling Zappos** for comfortable tradeshow shoes while partially finished potentially fabulous designs languish in your Photoshop files. Ahem—get to it, sister!
  • Mimicking other successful artists or staying in a lane that is too crowded. Be you, already!
  • Whining about your lack of success. Yeah, that never works.

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

-Soren Kierkegaard

I know, that’s awfully deep for me and many, many people would find it hilarious that I am quoting Kierkegaard when I’m usually quoting people like Dolly Parton, Mr. and Mrs. Howell and Dr. Phil. But that’s the way it is, you know? And to answer that first question? It’s all in the looking back.

But I’d hedge my bets on doing your own thing with meaning, authenticity and really good technique.

So that would be a yes.


*Learning Experiences are great but they can’t make a car payment.
**This should only take place after 11 pm while drinking a glass of wine. It’s the rule.