From time to time, every maker in every discipline gets to a point in a project where they are just plain stuck. Nothing seems to be working. The output isn’t what you thought it would be. It’s ugly. It doesn’t make sense. You screwed up.
But here’s the thing, which you have probably already experienced but might need to keep learning over and over again (I have!): that stuck feeling, that block, that hate and loathing of your work when you’ve been toiling over it? It’s part of the process.
That stuck feeling is normal and okay. It’s even awesome!
If you’re at the point of feeling stuck in your work, that means that you have been working on something. Congratulations! You should totally keep going. But first, we need to get you unstuck so you can be productive again.
The best way I’ve found to get unstuck is to get away from the project for a while. Really put it down and walk away. Stop thinking about your work, and trust that it will be there when you’re ready to return to it.
Below are some of my favorite methods of getting unstuck when I’m working on comics.
If you’re making comics, you should be reading comics on the regular, period. Looking at other people’s work when you’re feeling stuck on yours can help you see the techniques other artists have used to solve the same problems you’re having.
Make Something For Someone You Love
Some of the most fun art to make doesn’t feel like art at all. Painting a portrait of my grandma’s cat so she can hang it on her fridge, making my brother a birthday card, collaborating with my kids on a super quick and messy zine that stars farting butterflies, making garden labels for my yard out of popsicle sticks. Creating something that is intended as a gift is a great way to get your creative juices flowing from your heart space. And there are few things in life more satisfying than finishing a project, even a tiny one.
Note that this is not the same as volunteering to be resident artist on a larger project for someone you care about. There should be no revisions being made: I’m talking about a fun and breezy short project that you can finish in a day or less.
One of my favorite creative gurus, Andy J. Pizza, has done several podcasts on this idea of giving your creativity to someone specific as a way of opening your flow to create more.
I know… some of us are adverse to the idea of fresh air and vitamin D, but it’s really not so bad once you jump into the open frontier that is The World Outside Your House. You don’t even have to go that far: most days, the furthest I go from my front door is my garden. I put my Birkenstocks on and walk around my flower and veggie beds, occasionally pulling a weed or adjusting a stake to give a heavy vine more support in its growth. Mostly I look at the plants, smell the smells. Notice the bugs, going about their bug lives.
If you’re feeling really adventurous, I hear hiking is a great way to clear your head. Personally, I love going to the big dog park down the road from me and observing the weird behavior of dogs and their owners. Grab yourself a coffee and go somewhere, you’ll probably be glad you did!
Do Literally Nothing
Writer/Artist Austin Kleon advocates for procrastination, “intentional idleness” and welcoming boredom as part of his creative practice. As a recovering people pleaser that too long stacked many spinning plates high with commitments, leaving no room for doing nothing, I completely agree with him.
We all need to recharge. Some people are conditioned or addicted to working constantly. For years I would not watch TV or a movie without a sketchbook in hand because I felt guilty for being lazy. Due to age or new standards, that doesn’t work for me anymore. Doing one thing at a time is just fine. It can’t always be your art. Lay down and have a snack and zone out and take a nap. It’s okay, you have permission.
Do Something Nice For Your Body
Yes, we should all be exercising, but it doesn’t have to be exercise. If working out is your jam and helps you recenter, go for it! If it’s not, there are other ways to take care of your physical self that don’t involve cardio or heavy lifting.
Take a super long bath or shower. Get a massage. Give yourself a pedicure with the salt scrub your cousin gave you for xmas that you never intended to use but still have in your bathroom. Clean your ears out really slowly. Don’t think about it too much, just listen to your body, find something that sounds good and go for it.
Watch a Movie
Sitting in front of a screen for two hours can be a great way to relax. And film study is an excellent way to study sequential art, since film is so similar to comics. Many of the problems that need solving in comics (frame design, storytelling, dialogue, show vs tell) can be seen in film.
Got other ways you like to unwind and recharge when making comics? Share in the comments section below!