Commissions: closed forever

I have an art block, now what? And why I am not taking art commissions anymore.

I tend to drift between a series of interests at different intensities. I have periods in which I spend a lot of time singing. Sometimes I like to study languages, while other periods I wouldn’t even touch them with a very long stick. Currently I am reading books as though these are my last days on earth, even when the last few years have been quite… meager (2021? 6 books. 2020? 4. This week? 6!). Yet one interest used to always kind of stick with me and not be as subjective to the Cycle of Hobbies: drawing. Of course there are periods in which I fill half a sketchbook in a week and others in which I just doodle a bit, but it has always been there. Until recently.

Would you believe that receiving a commission would kick in some type of instinct that just blocked my full ability to make anything at all? Me neither. It sounds awesome to make art and even receive some payment for it – I studied music of all things – and I really thought it would be fun. But it didn’t work for me.

To quote the first article I found on this topic (yes, I went to university and this is how I still research things): “An art block (also known as a creative block) is a period of time when an artist cannot access their creativity and/or they cannot bring themselves to create a new piece of work. They feel like they have run out of things to draw.” And I can tell you, it sucks. I will take out my sketchbook or my tablet, sit down with the intention of just relaxing and doing some sketching, but instead it just stresses me out and I end up drawing absolutely nothing at all. I even deleted the instagram account I had specifically for art* (and added my personal account onto the pyre for good measure).

So I want to get out of this block! I want to find joy in drawing again, go back to sketching on the train rather than reading news or playing mobile games with too many ads. So, I started taking some of the suggestions I found online. Here’s what they did for me.

Tip 1: find inspiration

So many suggestions I found online boiled down to the advice to just get inspired by [insert variable here]. But it’s not like artwork ideas just naturally flow out of my head during normal periods, either. I already go on Pinterest, Dribbble, or just look around me. The problem is that none of it actually inspires me to do anything right now. This advice resulted in one highly mediocre abstract piece that I hate and that will forever stay inside of my tablet.

Tip 2: don’t find inspiration

A very uninspired drawing of an orange, born from the depths of art block.
My forced mediocre orange. I even helpfully labeled it should oranges ever go extinct and should their name forgotten.

“Inspiration is for amateurs – the rest of us just show up and get to work” – Chuck Close.

I suppose this has worked for me in the past in the field of music. It’s not like I show up every day to the study cells in the conservatory with my brain overflowing with inspiration to study the Eb minor scale, but you just have to do it. So how about with art? Instead of finding inspiration, I just forced myself to sit and draw whatever came to mind. The results? An orange, a candle, a little blue van and some circles. (This kind of makes me want to psychoanalyse myself. Why these things?)
I still took very little enjoyment out of this process, but hey! A drawing of an orange is more than what I had done so far.

Tip 3: fight art block with dogs

Aka drawing prompts. I guess this is an extension of #2, where I force myself to just make something. I chose the drawing prompt “dogs” because I like dogs. So I drew dogs. Drawing them still made me feel a bit stressed and unhappy, but I did finally start enjoying just a little bit simply because the little creatures actually turned out so cute, and I took great joy in making them look as stupidly happy as I could.

After I drew my dogs I didn’t make anything else for weeks. I basically quit art once again. Got sucked into reading. Played some Animal Crossing.

And this is where I am now. I have no idea where my art block journey is going (currently: a dead end, or a cliff. Or like me when seeing my bed after a long day: straight asleep). Drawing is still a big part of my identity which I feel is inseparable from my activities as a musician and teacher. But I’ve decided that I am not taking commissions anymore, and I am not forcing myself too much to make stuff. It’s a hobby! It needs to be fun! And I can’t force myself. So maybe I’ll just fill my sketchbooks with happy dogs, because it is relaxing and I enjoy looking back on them. Maybe I should only take dog-drawing commissions. There’s a thought…

*My portfolio on this website will stay live, since I do still feel visual art as a big part of my artistic identity that I want visitors to explore at least a little.