Every one of us has gone through this. Artist burnout and artist block.
Many of my fellow artist types believe these to be one and the same.
I personally believe that they are two very different things all together. But both can have similar methods in how you deal with the both of them.
Now…everyone has their own opinions on the topic. Keep in mind that this is just my own opinion and my own experience with both of these terrible “‘B’s” (burnout and block)
“Art block” is the inability to create or be creative. A loss of inspiration. When the Well of idea’s run dry and everything you put down just feels and looks awful to you.
Even having a pencil/brush in hand can feel alien in some ways.
Things just aren’t clicking. Your mind feels clouded and foggy.
A total loss of focus. And the more you try…the more frustrating and angered you become, at your inability to do anything of quality. In idea as well as execution.
As stated before, we all hit this roadblock. And everyone has their own ways of dealing with it. These are some ways that I personally have found to be extremely effective for me to get over that frustrating obstacle call ‘artist block’.
Since this is largely a *mental* issue, think of your brain as needing a tune up of sorts.
When you do things for so long…often the same way, with the same way of thinking, It’s only a matter of time till you find yourself in a rut.
So stretch yourself. Push your boundaries. Work in another style.
If you’re a painter, work in another medium.
If you work primarily in pencil, switch to a paint medium.
Again..this is only for you. Not for anyone else’s eyes. (unless you want it to be of course).
Draw with the other hand.
Bike on over to a park and fill a sketch book with nothing but 30 second charcoal gestures.Work fast! Nothing finished. Don’t labor over it.
Take advantage of the freedom! Enjoy it and have FUN!
It’s an artistic reset of sorts.
In essence, force your mind to think… differently.
Your brain is a muscle and needs to be flexed and stretched just like any other muscle to grow. To get stronger.
And what better way to do that than to force yourself to work outside of your norms.
And when you do this (or at least when I do it), I always go back to my regular work refreshed, sharp and ready to go! And sometimes, even applying a new technique I discovered within that time of exploration.
Now, “artist burnout” in my way of thinking is an all together different sort of beast. And to me and for me…needs to be approached with an all together different way of thinking then that of the approach for “art block”.
“Artist burnout” is a more serious issue. And pending on the severity of it, it’s a dangerous issue at that.
Artist burnout can be brought on by stress, chronic fatigue, anxiety, and can lead to big time health issues including but not limited to deep depression.
If not treated correctly (or at all), it can also take it’s toll not only on you mentally as well as physically, but also on your relationships and friendships.
While “artist block” is at worst deeply frustrating…”artist burnout” can be paralyzing and toxic. It can eat you from the inside out.
Way back, in the early 90’s, when I was a young, brand new animator…I was fresh and full of energy! Ready to tackle anything and everything with a gusto and passion that was absolutely electric.
I was on a project that I was passionate about, and boy oh boy, I was ready and raring to go to work!
And work I did.
This wasn’t my first feature or animation project to work on, but it was definitely one that I felt was far more important than anything I’d worked on previously.
And the whole crew was excited and jazzed to be on it. And we , all of us, attacked it head on.
I have always had a ‘nose to the grindstone’ type of attitude. And it was in full force.
I rarely took breaks. I rarely went to lunch. It was 110% from the moment I stepped in the office.
And then it happened.
Anxiety of falling behind crept in. I kept dwelling on the irrational fear of getting Fired!
So I worked…and worked and worked…..and WORKED!
Getting in super early, working 10-12 hours a day, going home…and then working till the early morning hours.
Until finally I was pulling all nighters…one after the other!
And we weren’t even in the ‘crunch time’ period yet for petes sake!!
And when we did reach ‘crunch time’….I crashed. And I crashed hard.
I remember putting my head down on my animation desk in my apartment…and I felt like I just snapped.
I wouldn’t say that I had a ‘breakdown’ per se, But I do think that I had a collapse of sorts.
I got out of my chair and went and sat on the floor with my back against the wall, heart racing, I was exhausted and just couldn’t do anymore.
Eventually I got back up and sat back at my table. I flipped through my drawings and couldn’t see it.
I couldn’t see the movement.
The last bit of the scene was the easiest to do…But I couldn’t get it right.
A simple head shake and walk out of the room…and I couldn’t do it!
I threw my pencil across the room, and violently ripped up the ENTIRE scene.
I remember talking to my wife that night. She helped me settle down.
And forced me to get some sleep. Which didn’t come easy. As exhausted as I was…I was so so so wound up, that It actually took some time to fall asleep.
But I did. And called in the next day and tried to regroup over the weekend.
Yes, the scene did indeed get done. And yes, I got through ‘crunch’, and we completed the flick.
Which was a wonderful experience!
But I was still…exhausted. Then to top it off, got hit with a deep depression.
“Could I do this? Is this how it will always be? Is this even what I want to do for the rest of my life?”
I was spent. In every way, shape and form.
After the film wrapped, I made a decision to take some time off to rest, and I renegotiated my contract so that I could do just that.
And it was glorious. I did absolutely nothing. Didn’t go anywhere near my table.
I got outside.
I took walks. I biked.
Went to coffee shops and wrote in my journals.
Got some needed exercise and even more needed sleep.
Spent important time with my Wife.
I got back to being focused. Felt like I could breathe again.
I got back to living.
When the time came to get back into the studio, I felt much much better.
But was still not all that excited to get back into production.
And then angels stepped in. HA!
The film that I was scheduled to start on…wasn’t quite ready for animators yet.
SO! I was given the option to help out on animation duties on one flick (a terrible one) that was needing help on animation..OR…I could work in viz-dev (visual development) for projects far later down the pipeline.
Needless to say…I jumped at the viz-dev option.
Which was a Godsend for me.
This is how this remedy is partially similar to the remedy for ‘art block’.
Viz-dev helped me stretch beyond my comfort zone. Try something new!
And not with the constraints of being in production…but with the freedoms of being in PRE-production.
I did character designs, tons of exploratory storyboards, and yeah…a bit of experimental animation for the characters. On absolutely crazy and different projects!
It was tons of fun!
And helped me ease back into animation for production and remember how awesome being an animator is.
Now, mind you..some people say that if you are going through a burnout..you should just continue to work. I actually heard one artist say, that “even if it’s bad art..you’re still creating art”.
Now that is one school of thought. And I’ve heard that from more than a couple of people.
But I couldn’t disagree more with that.
If you’re facing a severe burnout…I say STOP.
Do nothing. Absolutely nothing art related. At least for a little while.
Your entire system needs a reboot. While an “artist block” is your spirit willing but your mind is weak. A “burnout” is your mind, spirit, body and soul…all of those being weak.
And you need a shutdown.
You need to get back to the other things that make you…YOU.
Art is not the whole sum of who you are. It’s just one part of what I call that ‘soul circle’.
And everything in that circle feeds into everything else in that circle.
Explore your other interests. Spend maximum time with your family and friends.
Hike, sports, parks, bicycling in the park, camping etc etc ETC!
All of those other things feed directly (and indirectly) into your artistic side.
Once you’ve taken that necessary time to detach…then you can gradually get back into it.
You need that clean slate. That refreshed feeling.
That’s what worked for me and still works for me to this day.
“Burnout” is just one of the few major health issues that can come from overworking and pushing yourself beyond your limits.
Please feel free to see my other post “Never trade health for passion“, for yet another example related to this topic . (Yes!! Learn from all of my near death experiences! HA!)
Bottom line is while this problem plagues us all, there are options out there to help you get through them. Hopefully this post can give you encouragement and some examples to help you when you yourself hit that brick wall.
Comments, or ways that you have that help you with both of the “terrible ‘B’s”? Let me know! Love to hear them.
NEXT POST: “The Animation Union”. (gonna be a doozy)