10 things to do in the studio when “art” isn’t happening

Having an Anti-Art day? On Anti-Art days, the brushes don’t feel right in the hand; pencil leads break, papers tear, the pigments don’t mix the way we expect, and every layer of paint feels like a muddled mess. Great. You managed to schedule two hours of studio time, and the remaining hour and 45 minutes stretches ahead of you like an eternity. No worries! There are lots of ways to fill time in the studio:

  1. Inspect your art tools. Whether you paint, sculpt, draw or collage, you probably have a lot of tools laying around. Gather your brushes, and give them a once-over. Clean what you can, purge what you don’t use, and make notes on which need replacement. Pull your pens and pencils out for a tune-up: sharpen leads, check that pens are working, sort by type and color, and stow duplicates. Clean storage cases of broken leads, eraser “scraps,” bits of paper and other debris.
  2. Refresh your palette and paints. Pry out cracked, dried cakes of watercolors, and leave the newly-cleaned well empty for a while. Either wipe out dirty favorites or empty the well, filling with fresh pigment. Check tubes of paint to make sure lids are secure, and toss tubes that are empty or have dried out. Order up replacement paints, or snap a photo with your phone so you know what to pick up at the art supply store.
  3. Watch an art tutorial. From YouTube to artists’ websites to Facebook Live and DVDs, there are great resources for learning from other artists. This can be a great time to check out an artist or technique in a genre you’re unfamiliar with. Don’t expect to work along with the artist, just kick back with a notepad or tablet and take it in.
  4. Update your website. Does your site display your freshest work? Is your bio up-to-date? What about your gallery or online store – are sold works marked, or removed? Is your “latest accomplishment” more than six months old?
  5. Organize reference photos. This is a tough one! Those of us that work from reference photos have hundreds, if not thousands of digital files. Start small by creating folders for each type: landscape, sky, portrait, dogs, buildings, cars, etc. Then, just dump everything you come across into the appropriate folder. Later, you can go back and evaluate the images in each folder and decide which are the best/most useful.
  6. Create an inspiration wall. Do you have a box or basket full of pages pulled from magazines, scraps of fabric or wrapping paper, greeting cards, internet memes or paint swatches? Get them out where you can see them and be inspired!
  7. Revisit a favorite art book. It seems like art books reproduce on the shelf, quickly growing from three to ten to a full bookcase. Grab a book or two and flip through them. Make notes or mark useful information. If nothing strikes you as noteworthy, consider donating the book to your art association or local school.
  8. Start or update your inventory. Whether you give your paintings to friends, take on frequent commissions, have an Etsy shop or sell in galleries, it’s a great idea to have an inventory of finished paintings. There are online resources available, or you can start a spreadsheet in Excel.
  9. Grab a coloring book. I know, it’s trendy right now, but coloring books are a great way to practice shading, color blending and setting a light source. Often, when we color our own sketches, we start to take things too seriously, and become afraid of “ruining” it. Coloring books are inexpensive, and are meant to be temporary, so it’s easier to “let go” and just play.
  10. Clean the studio. Clear off the table and give it a good scrubbing; wash the window(s), empty the trash, replace light bulbs, re-shelve books, file papers…after 15 minutes of this, you just may be ready to create art again!









9 thoughts on “10 things to do in the studio when “art” isn’t happening”

  1. All necessary things to do. I could make that list last at least 2 weeks, maybe more! I enjoyed your post! B

    1. Hi Barbara,

      Glad you liked the post, thank you! That’s definitely not a list I could accomplish in one go, either…could easily spend two hours with a coloring book 🙂

  2. Good tips! No sense in struggling to work on some art, becoming frustrated, your list helps to take a different tack and do chores, organize, look or watch and be inspired, or do less stressful practicing or creating. Thanks Re!

    1. So true, Deborah, thank you for your comment! Have finally learned it’s much easier to go into the studio the next day if I leave feeling like I’ve accomplished *something.*

  3. Hi Re’! I saw you mention this blog posting over on Daniel Smith’s Facebook page so I had to take a look. Isn’t it interesting how we all (or at least most of us) seem to have this problem from time to time?

    Maybe blogging about it is a good idea. I wrote an article back last winter about the same issue! I will add a link to your article – anything to share information!

    PS. I’m sharing the link to my blog. I don’t usually do this; not sure if its appropriate. I’m OK with you deleting the link if need be. Thanks!

    1. Hi Peggy,

      Blocks are the worst! The short ones are manageable, but once they start stretching out over a couple of weeks, it gets a little scary. Bravo for you for being so introspective in your blog post, and for sharing the little bit about taking a month to write it 🙂

      “Just work” is great advice. Whether it’s color studies, or sketches, or even just doing value studies for paintings you may never do, those activities will help nudge your brain toward getting back into art mode. It also helps build experience in seeing and thinking about your process, which is a great thing to be familiar with!



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