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Why Your Art Has Become Stagnant And What To Do About It

Superman Art By Frank Miller

Where did it go? That spark, the twinkle in your eye you used to get at the mere idea of drawing something?

It used to be there, didn't it? At what point did all that excitement and energy evaporate?

It's not like you wanted it to happen. You loved drawing. And you still do! But for some reason you're just not feeling it lately; can't seem to get into it today.

Maybe tomorrow. Or the next day - and before you know it the whole week is gone and still you're yet to pick up the pencil.

Why is it so hard to pick up that darn pencil? It shouldn't be. Drawing is your passion!

Even when you do conjure up the will to put pencil to paper, the smallest mistakes, or a hint of frustration is enough to make you tap out. "Screw it", "I can't be stuffed", "I'll fix it tomorrow," - the sabotaging thoughts that weaken your grip and your conviction to power on.

Your drawings feel flat, empty and uninspired now. Somehow you’re going backwards instead of forwards, and you're no longer invested enough to care.

This isn’t you. What the heck happened?!

Why You're Feeling Stuck

Here's the truth. From time to time we creative types simply start losing interest in our craft. Not forever, just for a bit, and it's okay. You're still meant to be here, doing your thing, drawing your heart out.

So don't go giving up on drawing altogether just yet.

Right now you're feeling a little flat when it comes to your artwork, and that dark cloud of doubt-mixed-apathy casts a shadow over all artists at one point or another.

It could be for any number of reasons too. Maybe you're seeing all those other comic art superstars out there, kicking butt, whipping out artwork so supreme you wonder why you even bother.

Could be the ye olde procrastination coaxing you into doing anything else but drawing - playing video games, binging Youtube videos, diminishing your dopamine on social media and other websites we both know you shouldn't be on (all in the name of reference material though right)?

Maybe you simply don’t like where your art is at the moment. In fact you might hate the sight of it. It makes you feel sad, downright depressed even. No wonder you’re avoiding it like the plague.

Heck, you might’ve just been drawing for too long and need a break. Who could blame you. Drawing is hard man!

The list goes on, we're up against a storm of reasons and rationalizations as to why we simply can't pick up our pencil and draw the thing we promised ourselves we were going to draw today.

In this article I want to focus on one reason in particular. The singular issue that could be crippling your will to draw - and if we don't address it here, today, you may very well succumb to an indefinite drawing hiatus that stretches on for years to come.

If you're experiencing any of the drawing disabling symptoms I've mentioned thus far, listen up, and read carefully...

It’s called ‘Stagnation’. You might have heard of it.

But what exactly is stagnation as applied to artists - and how do we overcome it?

You’ll know you're in a state of stagnation when your art reaches a standstill - it’s not going anywhere, not progressing, and worst of all, you seem to be drawing less and less. You've found yourself idling in a prolonged period of very little growth.

This looping rut can be extremely frustrating, discouraging and a major downer for an artist.

Even worse, stagnation seems impossible to snap out of once you’re in it. Lack of motivation leads to more stagnation, which leads to an even greater lack of motivation - and the cycle repeats itself.

Question is, how do we break that cycle, and avoid falling into it in the first place?

Breaking The Stagnation Cycle

You and I both know it doesn't take much for us humans to get bored. Most 'new' things lose their novelty almost instantly, let alone long term endeavors such as becoming the next comic art master!

Unless there's something to keep us plugged in.

Our interest only lasts for as long as we're engaged. So we need engagement, that's the key. If we're engaged, it's near impossible to remain stagnant. We start moving again - we're in it, we're there; the game is on!

So what creates that engagement?

Primarily two things. A worthy goal, and the challenge of achieving it. That's it. When there's no goal to move toward with our drawing, well, we stop moving. We stagnate, ultimately lose interest, and procrastinate for an eternity until we create a new goal for ourselves.

If you're habitually finding everything else to do but drawing, and when you do draw, you want to get it over and done with as soon as possible so you can indulge in something different - stagnation might be the reason.

It causes that kind of lack of investment. Destabilizes your commitment to the mission.

Are you growing as an artist, or set on pause; cast in a state of stagnation that makes any form of progress unbearably sluggish?

A video game is only as good as it's gameplay. A difficult level littered with obstacles, puzzles to solve, formidable enemies to conquer, and a bad-ass boss that's nearly impossible to beat engages us to the point of obsession, but what really gets us invested is the main goal.

Getting to the next level. Racking up those experience points. Upgrading our character with new abilities. That's the measure of progress, and progress feels good!

I like to think of drawing in the same way. Without a target to aim at, and challenging obstacles to overcome, you won't feel like you're levelling up; moving forward, evolving - you'll put the pencil down as fast as you'd hurl the controller five minutes into an underwhelming video game.

A Cure For Stagnant Art

Try this if your feeling 'bleh' about drawing...

Set yourself a goal. Not a small goal either. Make it a big one. A goal that will serve as a worthy challenge. The kind of goal that gets you pumped up and ready to take action!

What is it that you want most for your art? If you close your eyes right now, and imagine what it would mean for your art if you could actually reach that goal - what do you see?

Make that vision grand. Saturate, sharpen and scale it up inside your mind. Dwell on that mental image for a moment, hold it there, and know it can happen.

This goal can be completed just like a video game. And no matter how many times you get hit by a fire ball and have to respawn at the start, you'll meet that goal, if you commit to it now.

Write it down, and make sure it's big enough to really excite you.

What is it? Make it ridiculous - maybe your goal is to pump out a comic book by the end of next month, a full comic book page by the end of the week, to earn x amount of money from your art by the end of the year, to complete a fully fledged illustration by the end of today, or to upgrade your skillset and conquer some new area of learning you've never dared venture into before.

Notice all those examples offer a worthy challenge, bound to a time restriction. That's right, the clock is ticking! Lets do this.

Why the time restriction though? Mostly to get our butts moving. I don't want you procrastinating on this. You've felt bad about your art for long enough - time to stop stagnating and make a move.

You might not be ready. You might not want to. Do it anyway - and watch how quickly you'll snap out of this rut and rediscover the passion you thought you'd lost.

Once you've figured out your goal, write out a list of steps you'll need to take to achieve it. Think of these steps as the levels of the video game. Each one will present an obstacle, puzzle, or enemy to beat (even if that enemy is ourselves).

Say we're setting out to create a full blown comic book by the end of next month - what would that take? Well, let's say for a 32 pager, we're looking at knocking out a page every two days. Okay cool. How many panels per day is that? Depends on the page, but on average, two to three.

So then you know, you've got to do at least two to three panels each day, one page every two days to achieve your goal of turning out a complete 32 page comic book by the end of next month.

It won't be a cakewalk, that's for sure...

But when you break it down, even a goal this big feels workable. And it still provides you with enough of a challenge to hold your interest.

What's really cool is if you stick it out until you actually meet your goal - you'll have something to show for it. That's what's really going to break this cycle of stagnation you've been stuck in.

It's the prime motivator of them all - progress!

Progress Promotes More Progress

Nothing feels better than progress - and that promotes more progress! We do what feels good right? If we're feeling guilty about our art, ashamed for not being better at it or doing more of it, of course we're going to avoid it.

But when we're hitting goal after goal instead, we feel a whole different way about it.

Isn't that amazing? That the reward for evolving as an artist, is an even deeper level of passion for the craft?

According to William S. Burroughs "When you stop growing you start dying,” and nothing is truer. When we stop growing as artists, we get rusty, apathetic, and lose our will to keep on going. We become a shell of the artist we used to be - and it tears us up inside.

That's why it's absolutely paramount that we're constantly looking for new ways to test our might, ascending our art to ever higher plateaus.

Here's a few other things you can try to stave off stagnation as an artist:

  • Scour Google Images or Pinterest for artwork that gets you excited - the kinda stuff that leaves you in utter awe. Styles of art you wouldn't normally work in but that still blow your mind. Then do some drawing studies of it, just for fun. Observe the different techniques that are used, the methods of rendering, composition, how the anatomy is interpreted, the proportions of the characters, the design language of the artist. Mimic it. See if you can come up with an original piece that incorporates the best aspects of each artwork. This will give you an opportunity to have fun, and try something new. To click over into a mode of learning and curiosity, to experiment with and explore new avenues you might not have considered before. What better way is there to put some pep back in your pencil?

  • Something else you could try is this - draw as badly as you can. Take every ounce of expectation out of making your artwork look good. Turn it into a dogs breakfast. Weird suggestion I know. But you'll be amazed at how much fun you'll have humoring me with this exercise. It completely changes the frame you've been stuck in while drawing, allows you to relax and makes the experience a whole lot more cathartic. Give it a go. Trust me. You'll be surprised at what falls out onto the page when you let go of the reigns a little.

And if all else fails...

  • Take a break. You're allowed to do that if you want. Take a week, even a month off. Go do something else, and forget about drawing for a while. Don't worry, your abilities won't fade into the abyss, you'll still have them when you get back, even if there's a little rust to shake off. Sometimes we just need space. Time to think, so we can get a zoomed out perspective of our art, where we're headed with it and what our purpose truly is as an artist. That's hard to do when you can't see the forest through the trees.

A Final Word On Art Stagnation

Before I wrap this up, I'll leave you with this final tidbit.

The stagnation you're mired in right now, might have less to do with your art, and more to do with where you're at in life.

Stagnation is contagious you see. It spreads, creeping into multiple facets of our life - from our career and relationships to our general health and wellbeing. We can't always pin point where it started or when it began, but chances are if you've hit a blockade with your art, there's other areas in your life that are also falling into stasis.

What you might discover is that, once you get your health, finances, relationships and career in check, the energy you once had for drawing seamlessly trickles back. When life is good, things just sorta fall into place.

Try my suggestions and give them your best shot - and if you still aren't able to find your drawing mojo, take some time to check in with yourself. Reflect. Because despite how you feel, drawing is your passion, it's core to who you are.

Be sure there's nothing else hindering that.

I hope you found this article helpful. Stagnation is something I've battled with multiple times throughout my journey as an artist, and it can condemn our creative soul to artistic purgatory indefinitely if left unchecked.

If stagnation is something you're dealing with right now - know that you're not alone, and you're going to be okay. You'll make it out of this, and emerge an even more formidable artist because of it.

Good luck, and until next time, keep drawing.


Cover Art By Frank Miller

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