A Different Approach to Art Block

Art Block Illustration

There are various names for this phenomenon — writer’s block, creative block, or art block. I made a list a while back with some suggestions if you have this problem. Today I’ll show you a different approach with an exercise.

This exercise includes a) different steps you do in a relaxed body position, b) mental imagery exercises, and c) a visualization of your art block.

It can also help you solve daily creative problems in your work. For example, if you get stuck on a project and don’t know what to do. That’s why I will test and do this exercise myself too.

I have adapted this exercise so you can do it alone, as it is usually done with a therapist who guides you. This means that I will change this exercise over time with feedback.

What can help with an art block?

There is evidence that vivid daydreaming helps with a creative block. That’s why we do an exercise that enhances this.

We all know when we go for a walk with a problem in our mind, we find the solution before we even come back from the walk. In this sense, I believe that daydreaming can help us when we have this issue.

But how can we deliberately start this daydreaming? Of course, we can encourage it by doing nothing and letting our thoughts run free. By doing something other than our creative work and thus letting daydreaming take its course. Or just do something else, like Kness did, when she had art block. Or we can apply this solution with an exercise, which encourages daydreaming. As a result, it helps with our creative block.

One part of the exercise is a series of mental imagery exercises that form the basis of the Creative Imagination Scale. I’ll give you this part of the exercise in short, there is a link below for more details.

Mental imagery exercises

  1. Arm Heaviness
    • Think about how your arms are getting heavier.
  2. Hand Levitation
    • Think about how your arms are getting lighter.
  3. Finger Anesthesia
    • Imagine your fingers going numb.
  4. Water “Hallucination”
    • Imagine drinking cool refreshing water.
  5. Olfactory-Gustatory “Hallucination”
    • Think about how you perceive the taste and smell of an orange.
  6. Music “Hallucination”
    • Listen to music in your mind that you heard the other day.
  7. Temperature “Hallucination”
    • Imagine your arms getting warm.
  8. Time Distortion
    • Try to slow down time with your thoughts.
  9. Age Regression
    • Imagine going back in time, e.g. childhood.
  10. Mind-Body Relaxation
    • Try to relax your mind and body.

The problem with this exercise

And what’s the problem? A therapist should guide you through this whole exercise, while you are in a relaxed state. Quite difficult to do if no therapist is around. Hence, we’re going to change it up a bit and do it ourselves!

Go through the mental imagery exercise, preferably writing it down, and try to imagine how you do every point of this. Look for personal examples such as point 8 “Time Distortion”. When is the moment in time you will imagine? Then try to remember these points as best as you can.

When you have done that, go to the whole exercise below, which contains a few more points that are easy to remember. If you do the exercise and forget a few things, don’t worry! It’s not a problem at all. If you do the exercise over and over again, you will memorize everything and incorporate the forgotten things.

The exercise against art block

Are you ready? Then let’s do this!

  1. Sit in a dark room with your eyes closed and focused on making yourself relaxed.
  2. Now describe to yourself the contents of your ongoing thoughts and fantasies.
  3. Do the mental image exercises as mentioned. No more than 1.5 minutes for each exercise.
    1. Arm Heaviness
    2. Hand Levitation
    3. Finger Anesthesia
    4. Water “Hallucination”
    5. Olfactory-Gustatory “Hallucination”
    6. Music “Hallucination”
    7. Temperature “Hallucination”
    8. Time Distortion
    9. Age Regression
    10. Mind-Body Relaxation
  4. Now visualize or otherwise experience the elements of your current creative work. Imagine your creative block. What do you want to work on right now? What is the problem? How do you move on?
  5. Come back to reality. Stretch your limbs. Breathe deeply. Open your eyes.

Repeat this daily for two weeks or more. You can try doing this as a ritual before you do any creative work.

Because this is a work in progress and I’ll continue to adjust the exercise after feedback. So, if you do the exercise for a while, it would be cool if you can send me your feedback! I will adapt and improve the exercise so that it is even more applicable and can help you.

Sources

Mental imaginary exercises from the Creative Imagination Scale:
https://hypnosisandsuggestion.org/assets/files/Creative_Imagination_Scale.pdf

Singer, J. L., & Barrios, M. V. (2009). Writer’s block and blocked writers: Using natural imagery to enhance creativity. In S. B. Kaufman & J. C. Kaufman (Eds.), The psychology of creative writing  (pp. 225–246). Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511627101.016

Barber, T. X., & Wilson, S. C. (1978). The Barber Suggestibility Scale and the Creative Imagination Scale: Experimental and clinical applications. The American journal of clinical hypnosis21(2-3), 84–108. https://doi.org/10.1080/00029157.1978.10403966

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Ideas, Motivation, and the best thing you’ve ever done.


And here is the update on the creative work comics I’m making. I will approach it a little differently from now on. The problem I had was that I didn’t have enough space in the panels to convey certain concepts and ideas with the comics. So I changed it a bit: They remain fun and relatable (at least for some people), and the solution to the problems my characters have in the comic will be placed in the caption of my post on Instagram or under the comic in the blog posts.

I don’t want to make just any funny comics. I want to offer solutions to situations that creative people have to deal with every day. That’s why I couldn’t just leave out the help to all the problems. Therefore you have to remember to read the caption if you read one of my comics that you can relate to.

Good Ideas Take Time

good ideas comic

Often we have more bad ideas than good ones. This can sometimes make us feel like we don’t have any good ideas. So we often give up too soon. What helps is not to lose hope and work on the ideas again for a while. Make variations, brainstorm again or maybe try a completely new approach. If we keep at it, then at some point the good idea will be there, which we can then improve little by little. An idea doesn’t come to us in a perfect form, but it has the potential to become great. We just have to keep working on it.

Too Many To-Do’s

To Do List Comic

Too many planned tasks can be disastrous. 🥵 I hear these little empty boxes screaming at me when I can’t tick them off. Let’s stop this so we can sleep better. We always want to do more than we can do. But in the end, our day only lasts 24 hours. And we have to divide the hours cleverly without overwhelming ourselves.

Here are some tips that you can use to better deal with to-do lists.

  1. Plan enough (buffer) time. Most of the time, your tasks last longer than you think.
  2. Never write more on your to-do list than you can do in one day. If you really have to do so many things, then something is going wrong with your general planning.
  3. Do the most important task first.
  4. Have flexible things planned that don’t necessarily have to be done today. You’ll feel better if you still can’t finish them.
  5. Some people only put three tasks on their daily to-do list. Much less overwhelming than an endless list.
  6. Put your To-Do List where you can see it. I have a notebook just for my lists. It always stays open on my desk while I’m working.
  7. If you have problems doing anything at all, it is often helpful to have a To-Do list with just one task. It can be anything. For example, watering flowers. Gradually you can create more tasks when you feel like it.

If you follow some of these tips, it will be easier “to do” your to-do list! And your list won’t annihilate you with empty little boxes. 🔥

When Motivation Arrives

Motivation Comic

Motivation comes and goes. Sometimes it fades faster than you would like. Or in this case, faster out the window. 👉 💥

I can give you the following advice: Don’t wait until you are motivated to work on your creative project. Don’t wait for the muse that may never come. Start with the thing you don’t have the motivation for yet. It is tricky, but sometimes it helps to spend ten minutes working on the task you’re not motivated to work on. The magic is that you can get inspired by sitting down and working. And the inspiration will also quickly give you the motivation you are lacking. Ten minutes can then quickly turn into an hour or more. Try this when you’re waiting for your motivation to appear (or when you see it jumping out of the window).

Funnily enough, I had no motivation to finish this little comic. But I kept sitting down and working on it for a few minutes. And lo and behold, something came out in the end.

Some Good Work At Last …?

Good Work Comic

We sometimes have the feeling that we can’t produce anything good. But then the moment comes when we create something we like so much that we think it can’t get any better.

Yet things change after a while.

We look back on it years later and realize what we created back then is just crap. That’s a good sign. It means we have grown in our passion and we have made progress in our creative life. Those are the moments we need to remember! When we think we’re not moving forward. A thing in the past that we can grab onto when we are in creative despair.

But even if you don’t have those moments where you think you’ve made something great, you can still see how you’ve gotten better.

That’s why I advise you to look at your old work to see how much progress you have made. And use this as a weapon of creativity if you need it.


Those four comics are the first of the new series of my “Creative Work Problems” comic. You will find the new ones I do on Instagram. Stay tuned for more! If you have ideas for comic topics you can reach me here.

4 Mistakes That Cause a Creative Void in Your Mind

Creative Void Illustration

You take the time to create something. Something from your creative mind. But unfortunately, you sit there, in front of this yawning emptiness and your head is completely empty. You have no idea what to do. You still know how to do it. You want to, but you just can’t. Sometimes there are no ideas, other times there is an invisible resistance that you can’t overcome. Your mind is in a creative void. And you need to get out of there.

What many creative people don’t know is that we make mistakes that can create this situation. In this article, I’ll show you four mistakes you may be making and give solutions on how to prevent these errors.

1. You haven’t started yet

Nothing comes from nothing. Often we stand in front of our work and don’t know what to do because we don’t dare to start. But what stops us from just starting something? It doesn’t have to be the finished idea we are working on. A little warm-up exercise can help us get in the mood for creative work. Start with anything! It doesn’t matter what. When you draw, draw something you see in front of you. If you don’t know what to photograph, photograph the first thing you see. Get into the flow of things, get dirty, start! Only then can the creativity come and the ideas that you need for your project.

2. You put too much pressure on yourself

Let’s face it: you haven’t started yet and you’re already worried what you’re doing won’t turn out well. Push those thoughts aside and try to see the journey of your work as the goal, not the end result itself. You are doing it because you enjoy the process, not just to see the finished product. Think of what you are doing as a thing you can learn from and improve upon.

3. You don’t experiment

Sometimes it helps to just let go and experiment. Do something you’ve never done before. May it be a new technique or a different material. Use this to find something that can enhance your normal work. This way you can start with something without putting pressure on yourself and get into the flow of working on something creative.

I once tried to draw only with brushes. In the end, I worked for over a year with a brush and learned important things that I still use in my work today.

4. You have no plan

This creative void often has something to do with the fact that we don’t know what we are doing. What exactly do we want to do and why? Create a plan for it. Are you doing this just to have fun? Then write down what exactly you enjoy doing and apply it to your work. Is it the motivation to learn something new? Then think about what exactly you need to learn and how to do it. You can also plan a whole project that can last weeks or months. That way you always have an idea of what you can do.

I’m working on a comic book in my spare time where I have almost everything planned out. I just have to execute the whole thing, so to speak. That’s why I don’t have any problems with this creative void – most of the time at least – because I know exactly what my goal is and what I have to do for it.

Conclusion

Try to avoid one mistake after another so that the creative void doesn’t stand a chance! Never overextend yourself and don’t feel bad if it doesn’t work out. Changes and improvements need time. Therefore take it!

If you want to read more, I can recommend the short article by Alex Mathers. He writes about a similar void and how he deals with it.

Reflect, Get In The Flow and Endure

Instead of doing a blog post every time I do a” Creative Work Problems” comic, I want to do a batch of three to more comics each time. Today’s post will focus on the old series I did last year.

The new series is quite different and the advice is in the description of the post in each case. This makes them more “blog-able”. Nevertheless, I’m uploading the new series in a collection as well.

But this will come later. Here are the last three in my first series.

Reflect

 Creative Work Problems comic reflect

Even if you are able to work: Reflecting on the things you are doing in your creative process from time to time is always a good idea! You will see problems that you did not even anticipate.

Get In The Flow

 Creative Work Problems comic flow

Flow is my addiction and the reason I do all this stuff. It’s so nice when you get into the flow and I’m always very relaxed in the evening after my creative work when I’ve been in the flow all day. Ask the questions in panel three to get better in the flow!

Endure

 Creative Work Problems comic endure

Every now and then you just have to endure something in order to have it easier later on. That’s why it’s often helpful to move out of your comfort zone and do things that you need to overcome.


Those three comics are the last of the first series of my “Creative Work Problems” comic. You will find the new ones I do on Instagram. The second series is already three comics in! I will post them soon here too. Stay tuned!

How Perfectionism Can Be Good

Perfectionism can be good! But you need the right one because there are two different types: Adaptive and maladaptive perfectionism. As an adaptive perfectionist (the better type of perfectionism) you have high achievement expectations but allow yourself small mistakes for the greater good. You have high standards and you are more critical about your work so you can achieve good results. The best part about adaptive perfectionism ist, that creativity is maximized by persons with moderately high levels of this type of perfectionism.

Maladaptive perfectionists (the perfectionism to avoid) are more likely to procrastinate because they try to avoid mistakes. They are more concerned with making mistakes and with reaching high levels of standard. They think that they are not allowed to do mistakes or do bad work, because they want perfect results. Because of this, maladaptive perfectionism harms your performance!

You can have both types in different situations and different intensities. The goal here is to try to use the adaptive one to your advantage and avoid maladaptive perfectionism. I’ll show you four steps, how to get from maladaptive to adaptive perfectionism.

How to go from a maladaptive to an adaptive perfectionism in 4 steps.

Identify your type of perfectionist you are and when perfectionism occurs

Step 1: Identify your type of perfectionism and when it occurs

If you struggle with perfectionism you probably have already the maladaptive type in the area where you experience those negative perfectionism. You probably wouldn’t count it as bad, if it is the adaptive type. Try to find out why. Is there an area of your creative life, where you allow yourself mistakes? If yes, why? Find out where you struggle the most and where you want to be perfect but struggle less. The better you identify your own problems, when it occurs and how you dealt with them in the past, the better you can change yourself.

If you have determined that, then we try in the next steps to change your maladaptive perfectionism to an adaptive one.

Be aware of the challenging process and obstacles of perfectionism gif

Step 2: Be aware of the challenging process and obstacles.

Fixing perfectionism itself is difficult, even impossible. But we can change how we react to these stressful experiences to alleviate negative effects. Therefore we need to change the self-critic in ourselves. We need to start to allow us to do mistakes.

There will be obstacles and setbacks that will come in this process of change. If you already tried to change, you will know that. A bad day, something not working, not seeing progress, and much more can set you back to zero. Try to visualize those risks that could come in your way to free yourself from your bad perfectionism. Lay down, close your eyes, and envision how you can (and probably will) fail. Figure in your imagination already out, how you get over those failures. If you do that, you will be ready when the adverse environment in the future is trying to stop you!

To allow mistakes and get better over obstacles and setbacks we need to change our mindset as well. It is also not easy and takes time, but it works. Therefore be aware of the challenging process that awaits you.

Change your perfectionist mindset gif

Step 3: Change your mindset.

There is a fixed and a growth mindset. With a fixed mindset, you think you can’t change. A growth mindset on the other hand is a belief that abilities are qualities that can be developed. A person with a growth mindset allows him- or herself mistakes to get better.

Position yourself in this growth mindset. Just knowing that this exists will put you there. Then allow yourself to do mistakes. Try it actively. Do something where you have a bad case of maladaptive perfectionism and just do mistakes. Allow it and do a lot of mistakes! Learn it, train your mindset. Figure out what you will learn from the mistakes you make. How can you improve? Remember that you will get much better with every mistake you make than if you do none at all.

Know that you can change this mindset and always remember this when it comes to problems with your perfectionism.

Set a goal and see the benefits gif

Step 4: Set a goal and see the benefits.

You need clear goals with a detailed plan of how you want to change. Write it down, and put it where you can see it. Write down your “Why“! Why do you want to change? What will be better, when you change? Visualize how you succeed and what benefits you will have if you change! Envision this exactly like the bad stuff from step 2. How will you feel, when you succeed? How does it look like? Do this regularly and it will motivate you to change yourself for the better.

If you don’t write your goals down, you will either forget them or just not take them seriously. So don’t skip this step! It is one of the easiest things to do and won’t take that much time although it has a big impact.

Build a perfectionist Habit gif

Step 5: Build a habit!

This one right here is the boiler of the whole process. The most important step! If you don’t let this stuff cook every day, nothing will happen. Building habits is such a good way to change yourself. Yes, the process is long and it will take time. But you will get older anyway. So why not change while you are on the way? To build a habit we use the way Charles Duhigg writes in his book “The Power of Habit“. A habit consists of these three things: CueRoutineReward. We break them down in our case of perfectionism.

Cue

The cue is the moment your perfectionism strikes and hinders you to be productive. You don’t have to do anything if it is adaptive perfectionism. Remember, this is the good type! Just let it be. If you just can’t work, then it is the bad type of perfectionism and we use this as a cue for our new habit.

Routine

Normally your routine was different. You gave up or got emotional about your creative work. Now, we use the stuff we learned in the previous steps: Why did maladaptive perfectionism strike? Why isn’t it the adaptive kind? Can I change that? Did I do a mistake? Can I learn from that? Convince yourself, that it is ok how you feel right now. That what you are doing is good. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Small mistakes are ok to achieve good results! Here comes the growth mindset into play that we talked about at step 3!

Reward

The reward will be, that you feel better. That you can finish your work even if you had this feeling where you just couldn’t finish it. Maybe you reward yourself with the feeling that you conquered your maladaptive perfectionism and changed it to an adaptive one. You can even experiment with other rewards, like taking a break or getting a nice cup of coffee or tea. Try to figure out what works for you the best.

Something more: Craving

Oh before I forget, there is also the craving, what drives the habit. You will have a craving for the rewards and therefore you will do this habit automatically. So if you reward yourself with good stuff (feeling better for example), then you will use this habit without hesitation, when maladaptive perfectionism strikes!

Conclusion

If you use these steps, there will be a chance that you will figure out a way out of the deep hole of maladaptive perfectionism. But remember: It will take a long time to fix this. If you are afraid that it will take too long, here’s a tip: It will always take a long time. There is no way around it. No shortcut. That’s why it is important to start NOW!

Sources

Wigert, B., Reiter-Palmon, R., Kaufman, J. C., & Silvia, P. J. (2012). Perfectionism: The good, the bad, and the creative. Journal of Research in Personality, 46(6), 775–779. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2012.08.007

Yeager, D. S., & Dweck, C. S. (2012). Mindsets That Promote Resilience: When Students Believe That Personal Characteristics Can Be Developed. Educational Psychologist, 47(4), 302–314. https://doi.org/10.1080/00461520.2012.722805

Duhigg, C. (2012). The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business (1 edition). Random House.

This is an updated blog post (first published on April 16, 2021).