Inspiration Dies a Slow Death

I was having a discussion with a dear friend of mine recently and she said something that really struck me.

“The less I read and sketch and talk to people, the less urge I have to draw.”

It struck me because I notice I’m having, and have had, this problem for while now. I’m quite certain I’ve even talked about it in this journal before so some of this might sound like a broken record.

There was a point in time where I had this incredible need to draw or I would just get antsy and feel completely worthless.  The ideas were bursting and they had to be let out, or ELSE!  Of course, this urge was strongest before I started attempting to do art professionally and I suspect most pro artists deal with this problem as they transition into the craft.  Nowadays, the Need to Draw is nearly gone, but the feeling of worthlessness when drawing doesn’t happen hasn’t gone anywhere, despite the fact I know bloody well that I’m not worthless.

Thinking on it, I was the most productive while I was in school.  I hung out with other artists and we sketched in mad hazes of creativity in the lunch room.  We had life drawing sessions, assignments, and access to a large library to encourage us to draw all the time and never stop.  Even all those seemingly pointless assignments led to more productivity after hours as I let it inform my personal work and bring it to new heights.

I think that’s one of the best lessons college taught me, despite my reservations about the need for college in a previous entryOnce you’re out on your own, it’s easy to let yourself slip out of the habit of keeping your mind (and body) active with inspiration.  There’s always work or time with family or just wanting to stare into space and watch the TV because you had a long day.

I used to read a book a day.  Now, I’m lucky if I read a book a month.  It’s tough and I have to force myself by holding that next art book hostage. No more books till I finish what I have! This is tough for an art book bibliophile like me.

I used to travel to gardens and paint by creeks. Nowadays, I make excuses that I can’t afford the gas or the parking or the food.  It’s partly true, but the fact remains I need to get away from the computer, the monotonous routine that deadens my inspiration, and the environment of distraction that is my current household.

Another particularly hairy problem when it comes to the decrease in that urge to draw is this sense of being rushed every moment of the day.  If the art isn’t going to be a successful piece I can make money off of, my motivation to do it goes way down.  This dying motivation to draw is at cross-purposes with the fact that I need to do studies, sketches, etc. to keep my skills sharp and to improve to the next level of technical skill I need to get the kinds of jobs I want to get.  There’s a sense of urgency I know I need to learn to shake because every piece I make can’t go in a portfolio and that is a hard fact of the industry!  We have to make more than the minimum if we even want to dream of being successful.

I’m learning to accept that drawing a lot of bad art is a natural part of having one or two great pieces to include in any good portfolio.  This fact has been harder to digest than I thought it would, especially after my most recent portfolio reviews where I was informed that only 5 out of my 20 or so pieces were really worthwhile.  That is one hard pill to swallow, for sure!

I’m working on a few solutions for myself, the big one being the creation of a blog called Artist Ambition.  I started it to house all of my own little assignments for myself, like Draw 100 Heads or Paint with a Complementary Scheme.  It’s open to other artists too, since I figure I’m not the only one who wrestles with this gradual dying of the Creative Urge or the lack of motivation to draw those boring things that need to be drawn to increase our skills between those masterpieces.

(Drop me a line if you want to join!  It’s completely open to everyone right now, no matter your skill level).

Next up, I am hoping to make a monthly trip I’m calling The Inspiration Vacation.  Once a month, I’m going to get myself out of the house to go to a museum, a park, or a garden and just sketch, paint, or otherwise focus solely on things that inspire.  I can afford a small outing once a month.  There will be NO guilt of ‘ohh I should be working instead!’ attached.  Being inspired  IS an integral part of my job and I can’t ignore it, even if spending money on something as intangible as inspiration may seem like a waste to everyone else around me.

Finally, I have to say what an incredible burst of motivation I’ve had with actually doing something else creative instead of drawing.  Recently, I’ve been taking part in my first ever NaNoWriMo using my own original characters as a spring board and I have got to say that I have not felt this motivated to actually draw in a long time!  I find myself wanting to do concept art for their tattoos, armor, etc.  I find myself wanting to do story boards of the dramatic scenes I’ve discovered in this flurry of writing. Something magical is occurring here and I’ve found there’s a fertile ground here in my own intellectual property that can certainly be milked for my own devious needs.  I think also pursuing a craft outside of your work can really help refresh that creative well.

So here’s to my continuing education and the end of this long ramble!  Do you struggle with this lack of motivation to create art? How do you deal with it?  If you take inspiration vacations, where do you go?  I’d love to know!


  1. Carla Morrow says:

    Great post! I live on a small small town, so everything worth going to is about 3 hrs away, but I tend to spend a lot of time on other artist blogs and google images. Watching YouTube vids are also good if I can’t get out of the house, or am just too darn tired to work 😀

    • YouTube vids are a great source of entertainment and education for me as well! I have a whole slew of favorites tutorials and things over at my YT’s account:

      I think the one advantage I have being a little drive out from anywhere is that there’s lots of nature around here. It’s refreshing to walk down a forest road and see all the birds and fields. I’ll take the inspiration where I can get it!

      There’s a certain advantage to moving closer to places, as well, but baby steps. If it’s where your life might lead you, then you never know where you might end up! Good luck, either way.

  2. Lynn says:

    I’m kind of in reveres, constantly being in art school makes me not want to draw or think of new art.most of my assignments I get from sketch book work over vacations. I find I’m a motivated self learner. I’m not under the pressure to preform for my class especially with my fantasy work. Can’t wait to finish with school, I’ll have moor time to lean more and actually apply what I learn.

    Yeah would love to be included in the blog

    • I sincerely believe that if more classes let people use personal projects as part of their assignment goals that they’d see a lot more productivity from a good deal of students!

      Especially for students who are farther along and are done with the ‘pushing comfort zones’ part of education and are ready to tackle advanced concepts.

      Learning to push yourself has its place, but I think working with a student’s passions (even if a teacher doesn’t like them) still has its place.

      I think that’s why I’m especially excited about Chris Oatley’s new Painting Drama course. It’s a new approach for teaching I haven’t seen before where students can bring in personal work, as long as they can tie it in with lessons, which storytelling is broad enough generally to allow for that. Pretty awesome stuff!

      (If you were curious: )

    • Hi Angela,
      I feel what you mean. Since I started making jewelry it has been a struggle, but I’m not giving up because I’m learning and learning as I’m doing. I never remotely thought that designing complex jewelry would be so difficult and yet playful. I keep taking apart and remaking. I think the same goes with drawing…you just have to do it! No matter what! I don’t know if you have ever read “The Artist’s Way”, but my friend Robyn Parrish suggested it and I am now paying forward to you. It’s a classic and as I am reading it, I’m realizing it is a MUST read for artists. In fact, the book even suggests to form a group to make sure you are on track. Let me know if you’d like to read it in a mini group, I’m in…I’m sort of doing it with Robyn! I think once you’re out of school, you have to find artistic connections elsewhere, we are humans after all and social animals and our artistic interests are our strongest allies.
      Sorry if I went on a tangent. Write back or call any time!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Hi Angela,

    I agree that all the daily grind of “should’ve, would’ve could’ve(s)” can really get in the way of creativity. I’m not a professional artist by any stretch, and mostly draw/paint for stress relief. I find, however, that the longer I take between creating “stuff”, the more pressure I feel to make the time set aside for art to really count, which just sucks up even more creativity. To help counter this, I have to give myself permission to just doodle as a way to kick start the creative juices. I’ve also started a creative inspiration wall above my desk (Your beautiful print of Archangel Azrael is the first piece) of anything I find inspiring to help motivate me. Good luck with your artistic endeavors and please let us know about your monthly excursions!

    • I’m so pleased to hear that, Allison. One of my great joys as an artist is to hear that I’ve inspired someone else.:)

      I’m familiar with this process of ‘granting yourself permission’ too. It’s the only way I can justify the fact the amount of drawing I wanted to get done didn’t get done for one reason or another. It also helps me to have a little more fun with what I do draw instead of being so serious about it all the time.

      Self-permission is such a funny concept, in retrospect, but hey, it works!

  4. Harpress says:

    Hi Angela!

    Your entry sounds a string (pun intended ;)) in my soul. I too had problems with inspiration, though it was in harp playing, not drawing…

    Things I found motivate me: people! When I was particularly low on inspiration I did a contest at my webpage, people sent me their lyrics that in turn inspired music – that was lots and lots of fun 🙂

    Now I have a unique pooprtunity to have a very inspiring person in my life, which helps a lot, but also: TEDtalks 🙂 They are loads of fun and inspiration. And there is one about a game, that can make you life 10 years longer 🙂

    I started playing, am drawing my friends into that, giving them small challenges (like “smile to three people today” ) and I give hug points for accomplishing tasks.

    Take a peek, this is fun 😀

Leave a Reply