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How to Decide What to Draw: 17 Ways to Beat Artist’s Block

You sit down with your art supplies, ready for creativity to strike, and your mind goes blank. Suddenly, you can’t even think of one thing you’d like to draw. Something challenging; something fun; something new. How do you figure out what to draw next when you have a complete artist’s block? 

  1. Use Art Prompts
  2. Get Outside
  3. Count to 3
  4. Work on a Technical Skill or Drawing Goal
  5. Watch a Tutorial
  6. Take a Class
  7. Ask Someone
  8. Make a Gift
  9. Start Selling Your Art 
  10. Pull Out Your Portfolio
  11. Buy New Materials
  12. Use Old Materials
  13. Have an Art Party
  14. Go Back to Your Sweet Spot
  15. Decide “Why” You Want to Draw
  16. Take the 3 Minute Challenge
  17. Get Inspiration From Your Favorite Artists

If you have artist’s block. Don’t worry. It’s completely normal. And, there are A LOT of ways to tackle it. Here are 17 things for you to try the next time you sit down and need to decide what to draw.

1. Use Art Prompts

Sometimes you just need a little creative inspiration to get your wheels turning. Similar to creative writing prompts, art prompts simply give you some topics to follow as you work. This can be REALLY great for beating artist’s block because it takes all of the thinking out of choosing an idea. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • draw an elephant wearing roller skates
  • draw an abstract self-portrait
  • draw a picture of your dream vacation
  • draw your dog
  • go to the kitchen, grab the first thing you see, and draw a picture of it
  • open up a magazine and draw whatever is on page 16

2. Get Outside

An interesting study from Germany found that looking at the color green boosts creativity (source). Just looking at the color green! And, what’s the best way to look at the color green? By going outside, of course. 

Yes, you could definitely paint your wall green and still get the creativity boost, but then you would be missing all of the other great benefits of going outside. Fresh air, exercise, and taking a mental break can all be great ways to jumpstart your creativity. 

You know the cliche that a lot of people get their best ideas in the shower?

Well, it’s true. And going outside can have the same effect. Our brains get A LOT of benefit from taking breaks. In today’s society, we’re so preoccupied with being productive all of the time that we’d rather power through a problem than step away from it for a bit.

In reality, it’s the stepping away that helps us power through in the long run.

Our brains need breaks. When we step away from a problem, we let our subconscious brains take over and mull through the problem. This is why we seem to have “aha” moments at the most random times, like in the shower. 

So, get outside and give your brain a break. Take a look at a green tree for an extra boost of creativity and take a big breath of fresh air so that you can relax for a minute. Who knows, you may just get a great “aha” moment along the way.

Going outdoors is also a great way to immerse yourself in some great drawing subjects. Instead of staring around your house and drawing a picture of an apple for the 100th time, head to a new park or trail and discover some new trees, flowers, and animals that you could have fun drawing. 

What I love about this idea is that it’s a triple whammy of benefits. You get to explore a new place, get some exercise, and draw something great to boot!

Nature drawing can be really fun, especially when you’re actually out in nature and not just looking at a stock photo of it. Grab your tennis shoes, pack up your art supplies, and head out to a new nature spot. 

3. Count to 3

If you haven’t heard of Mel Robbins, she has a technique that has helped me. Her 5 second rule concept has literally changed my life in the past and is a strategy I constantly use to keep myself going in rough times. Given how much I love her 5 second rule concept, I’ve started using it in a lot of different contexts. This time we’re only counting to 3 though.

Now, this has been adapted for our art purposes, so make sure you read the book to learn how to use it throughout your life. But, for our sake, here’s what we’re going to do.

  1. Walk outside, go to a new room in your house, or grab a magazine
  2. Close your eyes. 
  3. If you’re outside or in a room, start spinning around. Slowly so you don’t get dizzy. If you have a magazine, start flipping the pages.
  4. Count 1, 2, 3.
  5. On the count of 3, open your eyes and focus on the first thing you see. 

Draw the first thing you saw when you opened your eyes after you counted to 3.

It seems silly, but it really works.

The idea behind this technique is to get your brain to stop thinking and over analyzing. Just start drawing! Sometimes artist’s block is a simple result of analysis paralysis. We get so caught up in picking the right thing to draw that nothing seems appealing. 

Even if you opened your eyes and saw something you’re not excited about, that’s ok. Use that as a baseline and build on it. Sometimes you just need a starting point for your drawing before your own ideas start flowing.

4. Work on a Technical Skill or Drawing Goal

If your artistic inspiration has dried up, working on one of your drawing goals is a great fallback. What are some technical skills that you could brush up on? Whenever we’re excited to draw and do art, we let our technique fall to the side. 

Pursuing our latest and greatest inspiration is SO much more fun than working on technique! If we’re constantly getting new ideas for art projects, we may never find the time to sit down and work on skills and techniques that would benefit our overall drawing abilities at the end of the day.

This is why a lack of creative inspiration is a PERFECT excuse to brush up on your technique. 

Instead of racking your brain for a new idea, sit down and work on some technical skills you might have been ignoring. Who knows, once you master that skill you’ve been struggling with, you might open up a treasure trove of opportunities. 

For example, maybe you’ve ignored all of your inklings to draw still lifes because you’re not confident in your shading skills. Well, spending some time learning how to master shading could open you up to a lot more opportunities to draw those still life ideas you’ve been pushing aside.

5. Watch a Tutorial

A lot of us can get lost on YouTube. One cat video leads to another cat video until we’re suddenly watching a video about a random magic trick and aren’t sure how we even got there. But, YouTube holes can be as helpful as they are dangerous if you can stay focused. 

I can’t even begin to say how helpful YouTube has been for my art skills. Whether I need to learn a new feature on Procreate, or how to draw a certain type of animal, YouTube has my back. 

I remember when I first started drawing as a kid and needed to try to find a book in the library that just might happen to mention a skill I was trying to work on. After traveling to the library and looking at all of the drawing books, the book I needed wouldn’t be available or wouldn’t cover the skills I was hoping to learn. Such a bummer.

It blows my mind that I can learn almost any art skill with just a simple YouTube search. 

In addition to one-off tips and skills, YouTube is an amazing place to find project tutorials that will lead you from the beginning to the end of a project, step-by-step. If you aren’t sure where to start, simply type in “art tutorials” and scroll through the pages until you see something interesting. 

If your drawing inspiration just isn’t flowing, let someone else take the reins and guide you through a fun project.

6. Take a Class

If I’m ever in a drawing funk and just can’t seem to get any ideas or inspiration, I love to take a class. This strategy is similar to finding a YouTube tutorial, but SO much more in depth. You might find a class that is multiple hours about one subject. This can really help you improve your skills, while also taking away the stress of coming up with your own artistic inspiration.

7. Ask Someone

If you don’t know what to draw, ask someone. Text a friend and ask them to to text you back with the first word that comes to mind. You can do this with family members that are in your house as well. Don’t tell them why you’re asking. Just ask for the first word they can think of and then draw whatever they respond with. 

You can also ask your friends and family if there’s an art project they’d like for you to do. Maybe there’s a drawing that your spouse would love to decorate the living room with, or a gift that one of your friends would really appreciate. See if there’s a way you can give back with your art, all while having someone else do the thinking for you.

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8. Make a Gift

Piggy backing off of #7, think about how you can use your art to brighten someone’s day…or cross some Christmas and birthday presents off the list. Talk about a cost effective way to check off your shopping list while also working on your art!

Think about any upcoming holidays or birthdays and how you could use your art skills to make some gifts. Pet portraits, family portraits, painting a fun decor item, there are SO many great options for turning your art into gifts.

Getting out of your own head about what YOU want to draw and into the mindset of what SOMEONE ELSE would like can suddenly give you ideas.

It can also be really fun to surprise someone with a gift on a random day. No need to wait for a birthday or official holiday. Just make something nice for someone to brighten their day.

9. Start Selling Your Art

I’ve been selling my digital art on Etsy for a couple of years now. It may seem like you would still struggle with artist’s block trying to design products. Heck, wouldn’t it be 10x worse given that you need to draw something that people will actually want to buy?

Yes and no.

hopscotch shop gifts store front
One of my shops!

When you start designing art purely for the sake of selling it, you get into a different mindset. Instead of thinking about what YOU want to draw, you think about the market. It suddenly becomes a lot more about trends and business than it does about your creative inspiration. Yes, creative inspiration helps, but you can also come up with some great ideas just by researching the marketplace.

Starting a store on Etsy, Shopify, or Redbubble can be a great opportunity to work on your art skills in a different way. You might even make some money and jumpstart a great side hustle!

10. Pull Out Your Portfolio

If you need some artistic inspiration, pull out your portfolio and rely upon your old inspiration! One option is to recreate some of your past art. This can be really fun because you can see how your skills have progressed. We can get a lot of tunnel vision with our art, always working towards a future goal without appreciating how far we’ve come. Try to redo some of your old pieces of artwork and see how far your skills have come.

Another option is to add on to your past work. If you’re like me, your portfolio has some unfinished pieces in it. Maybe I got tired of it back then, but now I’m ready to finish it. Go through your portfolio and see how you can spruce up the artwork you’ve already done.

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11. Buy New Materials

There’s nothing like cracking the seal on a brand new kneaded eraser or making your first stroke with that new drawing pencil. Sometimes you just need a fresh new set of supplies to get you excited about drawing again. If you haven’t treated yourself to any new art supplies, it can be fun to do a little shopping.

Now, I’m the type of person who will buy a bunch of art supplies that I don’t use. I’ll buy some new drawing pencils, but when it comes down to it, I’ll grab that old stub of a pencil that I love. So, don’t go crazy buying new art supplies if you won’t use them. If you’re overdue for a restock though, this can be a fun way to get inspired to draw again. 

I have an article about counterintuitive ways to beat artist’s block that talks about using different types of mediums! Check it out!

12. Use Old Materials

Ok, so if you’re like me and end up with a ton of art supplies you don’t use, go grab them! Instead of worrying about what to draw, just experiment and have fun with new mediums. Grab your paints, watercolors, colored pencils, craft paper, and anything else you can find and just get creative. 

When you’re experimenting with materials, there’s no pressure to draw something great or meaningful. Just play around and see what happens. Use this as an excuse to declutter your art supplies and not as a way to craft your next masterpiece. This will help relieve the pressure of making something amazing and just keep you focused on creating.

13. Have an Art Party

I used to have a TON of art parties growing up. Even now, our family perks up whenever we decide that we’re going to do a group art session after dinner. Doing art with others is not only a great way to relax and connect, but also to get ideas. What’s your friend working on and how does it inspire you? Is there anything you can work on together?

Being around a group of artistic people can be a big help for sparking your own creativity. When you’re in an art funk and don’t know what to draw next, sitting in a room by yourself and staring at the wall isn’t going to get you very far. But, by surrounding yourself with other artists, you’ll get a lot of great ideas and simply have more fun drawing than you would have on your own.

If you want to ramp up the fun factor, try choosing a theme for your art party. This will help break the ice and get everyone drawing faster. Try picking a theme around an upcoming holiday, a favorite movie, or a geographical region. You can also pre-plan an activity that everyone does together in the way that those wine and painting classes do. Hey, add wine to any of your art parties and you’re bound to have a good time.

14. Go Back to Your Sweet Spot

We all have a drawing skill that we LOVE to do and are really good at. Maybe you are really good at shading, or drawing faces, or drawing penguins. Who knows. Think about something you feel really confident about drawing and draw it. 

It doesn’t matter if you end up drawing the same penguin you’ve been drawing since you were 10 years old. The point is that you are drawing. 5 minutes ago you were staring blankly at your wall. It can be helpful to get your brain “unstuck” by simply putting your pencil to paper.

When I’ve tried this tactic, I’ve started out by drawing the same old thing I’m used to, but ended up making something far more creative with it than I was ever intending. That’s the cool thing about kicking yourself to just pick up your pencil and get started. Once you clear out the mental cobwebs, you’ll start having a lot of ideas you never thought you had.

drawing of hand holding pencil drawing a dripping faucet
I love drawing hands, but ended up adding the faucet at the end.

15. Decide “Why” You Want to Draw

There are times we draw to build our skills; times we draw for fun; times we draw to sell our work. Whenever we sit down to draw, we should know why we’re doing it. If we sit down to draw for fun, we’re going to do things a lot differently than if we sit down to draw a portrait for a family member. The mood, time, energy, and attention will change.

Sometimes when we don’t know WHAT to draw, we’re actually confused about WHY we’re drawing. 

Before you sit down and are left staring blankly at your page, know what your purpose for drawing is in the first place. Knowing the WHY can naturally lead you towards the WHAT.

16. Take the 3 Minute Challenge

Sit down with your pencil and paper and turn on your favorite song. As soon as you hear the music play, start drawing and don’t stop until the last note of the song plays. No exceptions. DON’T STOP DRAWING. Do whatever you need to do to keep yourself drawing. Doodle, scribble, draw something along the lines of the theme of the song, draw a self-portrait, draw your cat sleeping in the corner, anything that comes to mind.

The great thing about the 3 minute challenge is that you’re forced to abandon your writer’s block. Even if you end up with a page of scribbles afterwards, at least you’ve drawn something. This can be a great way to loosen up and get your creativity flowing. Once your song finishes playing, you might realize that some new ideas have popped up. 

Even if you already have an idea for drawing, the 3 minute challenge can be a great warm up to get you in the drawing mood.

17. Get Inspiration From Your Favorite Artists

We all have favorite artists that we love to follow. Maybe we love their style, their technique, or their subject matter. These artists can be really helpful as we move along on our own art journeys. Here are just a few of my personal favorites. Click on each one to follow them on Instagram.

If you don’t know what to draw, browse through the work of some of your favorite artists and see if you get any inspiration. Even though you never want to copy someone else’s work and call it your own, try challenging yourself to see if you can recreate the techniques that your favorite artists use. 

If you aren’t already, make sure to follow your favorite artists on the social media platforms you use. Constantly seeing their work will help you stay surrounded by art on a regular basis, which will naturally keep your creative juices flowing. And every once in a while, you might stop your scrolling to study a new piece of art that pops up on your feed. Staying connected to your favorite artists is a great way to stay inspired, while also having an excuse to be on social media.

All of us struggle with artist’s block every once in a while….or a lot of the while. It’s just a natural part of creating art. The next time you feel blocked, choose one of these tips to get your drawing inspiration flowing again.

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