Artistic Impotence.

Posted on May 9, 2014 in Custom illustrations, News | 5 Comments

Now, I don’t want to alarm anyone but I have just experienced a month-long bout of artist’s block. I know, I know! Don’t worry, I’m fine *mops brow*. Okay, so in the scheme of things this wasn’t horrendous but, unfortunately, in that four-week period I had five commissions to finish. #Fail

Commission in progress- Fashion line drawing

When I say artist’s block, what I really mean is lack of motivation and a temporarily heightened sense of artistic inferiority. The ideas were all there; I just couldn’t bring them to fruition- frustrating to say the least! In one afternoon I sketched the same image about 20 times (it was like a scene from The Shining), which, for me, is a tad unusual. Drawing and sketching is my forte, it’s the other stuff that challenges me and keeps me on my toes. Nevertheless, I found myself surrounded by mounds of crumpled up paper and it disturbed me.

So, like any other sound minded individual I turned to Google. What could possibly go wrong?!

My first major mistake was looking into how great artists of the past had dealt with artist’s block. It transpired that they resorted to alcohol abuse, drug abuse and/or suicide. I swiftly concluded that these methods were a bit drastic and went back to my web search, only to discover that there are currently 5, 10, 15, even 27 ways to overcome artist’s block. Who has the time to read through all that?

Amongst the tidbits of advice I managed to trawl through were several references to “taking a break”, coupled with pictures of scenic views and gloriously white sandy beaches. Alas, as a freelance illustrator with five imminent deadlines, I had no time for scampering off to such exotic climes. The closest I came to taking a break was eating a chunky peanut butter Kit Kat and, although is was delicious, it did nothing for my little ‘problem’

The next piece of advice I latched onto was “talk to your fellow artists”. So I did just that. The problem with this idea is that although we talked about deadlines, feeling pressured, procrastination and creative blockages, we did so over a period of hours (and then some) with no resolution. Of course we reassured each other that this was perfectly normal, that we were fabulous, and that somehow it would work out. What we should have been saying was “stop gabbing, turn off Made in Chelsea, and get back to work”.

Moving on, I employed another frequently suggested activity; that is, emerging oneself in one’s hobbies. Surely I was onto a winner with this one. In the past, when feeling creatively arid, I’d turned to watching Film Noir, reading detective fiction or watching Poirot. I enthusiastically engaged in all these pastimes without hesitation, but nothing changed. Nadda. Zilch. Niente! If anything it made things worse, as I discovered a programme called ‘Castle’. Being a sucker for crime/detective drama meant that this programme was like mainlining heroine… Not that I’ve ever tried. So, HOURS of my time and frequent visits to Amazon later I was back to square 1, only this time I was dried up AND broke.


So, where next? According to Wikihow, examining the work of your peers or favourite artists for inspiration can be incredibly beneficial. Uummmm… thanks for the duff info, Wikihow! What started out as a hopeful attempt to ignite artistic passion ended up in a bona fide pity party. I found myself rifling through the work of my heroes such as Quentin Blake, Arthur Ferrier and The Grahame-Johnstone Sisters  only to end up feeling inferior and slightly paranoid. Was I good enough? Was I talented enough? Was I prolific enough? Blah! Blah! Blah! Basically, I became deranged… It’s a good thing I can laugh about it now.

This blog post is starting to sound pretty bleak, and I bet you’re all biting your nails wondering if I ever finished those commissions. Well, let me put you of your undoubted suspense and tell you that I did indeed get them finished. What was the trick? Well, instead of tackling each project one at a time like a bulldozer, I started all five at once; dipping in and out of each one as soon as I lost interest. Actually, the term ‘lost interest’ is too crude. I think the best way to describe it is an inexplicable lack of energy. Anyway, piece by piece, sketch by sketch, brush stroke by brush stroke, I made it through the creative desert of my mind. I should probably mention that coffee, red wine and late nights had no small part to play in this journey.

Finished 30th birthday commission.

Finished 30th birthday commission.

From the get-go I knew that I was going to finish the commissions, it just took me a while to get there, and hopefully I’ve learned not to procrastinate so much in the future. I’m sure there are lots of people who have experienced something similar to this, and although I know my methods of dealing with it (caffeine, booze, sleep deprivation and avoidance) won’t be effective for everyone, I’d like to think some may take comfort in this account of my personal brush with artist’s block.

Now, get back to work!

Until next time,



  1. Jonathan
    May 9, 2014

    Amazing as always.!!

  2. Mariclare Carey-Jones
    May 9, 2014

    Fab blog Al! So good in fact that time I have writers block (it won’t be long!) I’m going to get you to do my work for me x

  3. Rachael
    May 9, 2014

    Great read and you’ve diminished my “back to work” lack of enthusiasm. x

  4. Sarah
    May 9, 2014

    Ah, I always had faith you would get there :-) Now where aee those kit kats….xx

  5. Astrid Mueller
    July 12, 2014

    Hey Alistair,

    Wow kudos to sharing such a candid post you’re brave haha :) Congrats that you made the deadlines and found out of your creative low! Indeed it can happen to all of us – I actually had such a phase about 2 weeks ago, for about 10 days or so. Thankfully no imminent deadlines, but I kept lingering opportunities dangling in the air instead of grabbing them and getting to work. It can be tricky to kick yourself out of such moments, I agree! And it’s so subjective and different for everyone, each situation is different! My secret remedies, which have worked for me before:

    1) stop beating myself up being mad at myself for having a lack of energy

    2) if tired, go to sleep. If creatively uninspired and drained, don’t be creative. Call it a day and say it’s okay. Or longer, if you can afford to and need to. Force yourself to creativity detox and don’t touch an inkling of a pen. Until it starts tickling you again :)

    3)exercise, that energizes. Body feels good, mind feels good.

    4) take vitamins and eat healthy, just in case that had something to do with it. Drink lots of water. I once read that dehydration can sometimes make us depressed? Non-energized for sure!

    5) get outside, get fresh air, WALK. For hours if needed. That clears the mind and makes you feel better.

    6) make a list of all the things you’re grateful for, write each on individual snippets of paper, then look at the stack you’ve got. then read each one again. It can be pretty eye-opening and suddenly make you feel kind of silly for feeling down in the first place.

    7) if you’re into that kind of thing, meditate. Do yoga or whatever works for you to turn off your mind, and let it rest. See if, after calming down and relaxing, you have a real concern that’s bothering you (then deal with that), or if you’re just in a low energy moment. Just to make sure there’s no underlying reason for your lack of power, which you should deal with. If you don’t find one, don’t fret over it. that’s good.

    8) most likely (hopefully), all your client projects on your desk will have been one of the things you’re grateful for in number 6. It’s time to stop thinking of yourself, and think from your client’s perspective. They are waiting for you to do your awesome work for them (and they’ll be happy to come back if you don’t let them wait too long!) So, this number is where just sit down and just do it! First thing on one morning, just go for it, and get things done! Deadlines really help. Being broke too haha :)

    9) a series of further inspiration tips I posted on my wall from one of my mentors, Brian Hill, of Phoenix Fashion Week:
    “Let go of your worries about what might be, and you’ll be able to focus on all you can do right now.”
    “Stop putting energy into making excuses and use that energy to take action. Quit fretting over getting it perfect and put your focus on being effective.”
    “There is abundance all around you, and with a little focused, determined effort that abundance is yours to enjoy. Choose to connect with the best within you, to make that effort, and to live with true richness. ”
    “Get up, get inspired, get moving and get involved in making a positive difference.”

    10) number 9, in combination with some of the other points, really helped me to snap out of my low from a few days ago. I saw more clearly than before that I have all these opportunities and good things in my life, and very cool things on my desk just waiting for me to make them come to life! And I realized I’d be mad at myself soon if I didn’t snap into gear and make the best of them, and give it all I’ve got!

    Maybe this list will help you in a next time where you have a low moment, to take a breather, a break, and then snap back into your best creative self so you can bring all your talent to life and share it with others. And you do have this talent!

    All the best! Keep up the cool work!


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