How to Get Your Creative Itch Back

Woman in warehouse with colourful balloons
Anthony Harvie / Getty Images

"I'm having a difficult time getting back into my art. I think about it every day but I don't lift a finger to get something/anything going. It's really bothering me but I don't know where to start. I've been in limbo for awhile and it's as if I'm stuck in the same spot. Can you give me some advice on how to proceed or what techniques I could use?" -- Marilyn P

You need to get your creative itch back.

The irresistible, compulsive urge that makes your fingers twitch and itch to be creating art, that frustrates you when you can't be painting. Of course, saying "just get on with it" is as unhelpful as telling someone who's feeling down to "pull themselves together".

When you've got stuck, for whatever reason, it can be hard to get started again because what you visualize yourself producing (and the time it takes to do so) and what you actually create when you do get going again are often miles apart. You produce something dissatisfying, believe you've lost your ability, and spiral down deeper. We visualize creating art as we did when we were at the top of our game and forget all the practice went into getting it there.

So what can you do? Here's my suggestion for a Three-Step Program to Get a Creative Itch Back.

Step 1: Acknowledge the Desire to Be Creative

Start by acknowledging to yourself that as much as you wish to be really creative, you will need to dust off your artistic skills, spend a bit of time practicing the basics again and that you're probably going to be dissatisfied with what you do initially.

Make an agreement with yourself that you're going to do it anyway and that you will make a decent effort, not fool yourself with a feeble attempt. Because you know in your heart that it's by doing that you get back into your art. Acknowledge your desire to be creative, and let that desire motivate you.

Step 2: Buy a Pleasing Sketchbook

Treat yourself to a painting sketchbook you're going to love, that you'll enjoy holding in your hand, that is pleasing before you've even done anything with it. I'm partial to a Moleskine with watercolor paper in it, but there are all sorts. How about a brightly colored wire-bound sketchbook, a wire-bound sketchbook with a ribbon to tie it closed, something similar to a Moleskine but without the leather cover, or a simple, plain black one.

When you're ready to use it for the first time, don't open it on the first page. Open it towards the middle somewhere or at the back and start there. This immediately eliminates the pressure for the first thing in a new sketchbook to be something "good".

Step 3: Spend 15 Minutes for 7 Days

For the next week, spend 15 minutes a day making marks in your sketchbook. Use a pencil, art pen, ballpoint pen, marker, paint, anything. It doesn't matter what you use, just that you spend 15 minutes wielding it on the paper without stopping for too long.

Sit somewhere and put into your sketchbook what you see, whether it's the whole scene or an object in it or even your hand holding the sketchbook. Don't cheat yourself by spending most of the 15 minutes thinking about what you might do.

Put pencil to paper and move it around. The object isn't for you to produce a great result, it's for you to turn the sketchbook page from an empty page into a used page. Spend a week doing this.

Oh, don't tell me you can't find 15 minutes a day for your art, as I simply don't believe it. Stay up an extra quarter of an hour, or get up that little bit earlier. Take it from your lunchtime, take it from your TV/computer time. Hide in the bathroom if you need to but make the time.

Don't do more than 15 minutes a day for seven days, even if you have the time or inclination. Set a timer and stick to the limit. If you begin to feel frustrated that you can't spend longer, good. You're creating an itch.

If, after a week, you've got your creative itch back, then run with it. If you haven't, keep it up for another week and add another artistic element to it.

This could be visiting an art gallery or museum if there's one nearby (if they do free tours, do this), or browse the collection of a museum on the web. Or watch a how-to or biographical painting DVD (I've rewatched The Impressionists series and Simon Schama's Power of Art several times), read a biography of a famous artist, and you'll realize creating art wasn't always simple for them either. Copy a painting by someone else that you like, dig out your old paintings and copy one you like. Keep at it, a little bit every day, and the itch to be creative will reappear because it's part of you.

If You Enjoyed Reading This, You Might Like:
The 5 Stages in Making a Painting: From Start to Finish
Top 5 Ways to Ruin a Painting