Wet paint, work in progress.

Wet paint, work in progress.

I had one of those great days in the studio this week, a day when everything seemed to work and I was in a wonderful creative flow. Paintings seemed to unfurl and burst into life with ease. Everything just seemed to work. It was like magic. 


And that got me thinking about the days when the magic is missing. That these wonderful easy days, the days that feel full of artistic alchemy are not all that common. There are so many days when the creative process is harder, days when I feel stuck or uninspired.

So incase you feel the same, I wanted to share with you some of the tools and techniques I have found that work for me. Things I find so valuable on the 'unflowy' kind of days.

Tricks to magic up the 'flow' when it doesn't seem to be appearing on its own.  Ways of getting unstuck whilst creating and ways to start yourself creating when inspiration seems elusive. 

Getting perspective

When  you are  stuck whilst in the process of creating, getting some perspective can work wonders. 

Sometimes you are just too close to the piece of artwork that you are creating. A little distance can be so useful to get some perspective so you can see 'the wood for the trees'. There's the classic, 'leave it and come back to it the next day' technique. This time away from an artwork allows you to see it with fresh eyes. It gives you the objectivity that might be missing whilst you are actually working on it.

But sometimes you need to magic up some in-the-moment perspective when you don't have the luxury of lots of time. My go-to technique is taking a photograph of the work on my phone. Somehow I see the work with more objectivity by using this one-step-removed method. I invariably see things in the photo that I didn't see whilst working on the painting. I might even take a black and white photograph so I can see the tonal differences.

Helen Wells art

Another way to get perspective is to move yourself physically away from what you are working on. Look at the work from a more removed vantage point, I might put it on the wall and move away or just put it on the floor.



Another technique is to turn the painting upside down. Basically all these methods help me to see my work with new eyes, give me a new perspective and often this is all I need to release me from being stuck in that moment.

More than one on the go

I find that working on more than one painting or piece at a time helps to get me unstuck. By working on several different pieces at once, I'm creating my own flow and momentum.

helen wells

In some ways this is also practical for me, as I  use lots of layers of paint and it stops the 'waiting around for the paint to dry'. It also creates an energy and if I'm feeling stuck on one, I can just move on to the next, it creates a break in routine and means that I'm not just looking or obsessing about one piece, it’s just another way of gaining valuable perspective and a little bit of distance.

Don't wait for inspiration

I read somewhere that 'inspiration is for amateurs' and whilst I think this is overly brash, I do agree with the sentiment that you can't just wait around for inspiration to find you, you have to go and find it. If you're waiting for a time when you feel truly inspired, you could be waiting around for ever.

I find that sometimes I have to actively kickstart my inspiration. On days when I'm feeling decidedly under inspired, I have to manufacture my inspiration. I find that taking some action, doing something, turning up at the blank page and just starting is often enough to get the ball rolling. When inspiration is elusive I set myself a small task or project to manufacture my missing inspiration. (See setting boundaries for some ideas.)


Setting boundaries

Sometimes infinite possibilities are paralysing rather than liberating. Sometimes it can feel daunting to know that you could do, or create absolutely anything. Limitless options can lead to lack of action.

So on the days when my mindset is decidedly 'unflow' like I set myself small tasks just to get myself going and create the momentum that comes with action. I set myself parameters and boundaries that help me overcome the issue of infinite choices.

I might go to the greengrocer and decide to pick one piece of fruit or one vegetable that I find interesting and use that to inspire some drawings.. (I particularly like pineapples and broccoli). I might set myself a limited colour palette, ie I can only use blue or red, or I can only create a piece that is pink or grey.

I might use one small bit of stimuli to create 10 images, i.e. one leaf drawn over and over again.

I might open a magazine at a random page and use whatever text or image I see as a springboard.

I might take myself and my camera on a 10 minute walk, actively searching for inspiration and something I find interesting.

I might pick an artist I'm interested in and use one of their paintings as an inspiration.

I might re-purpose an old painting, cut it up and use it to create something new. I find that setting my own boundaries makes it easier to start and once you've started, it is easier to carry on.


Letting go

Because I'm always happy to start over with a painting if it's not working, to paint over it, cut it up or repurpose it, it means I am now less attached to every piece being perfect.

Some of the things I create are wonderful and some of them are rubbish. Over the years I've learnt to let go of my perfectionist tendencies, the unrealistic expectations which put too much pressure on the act of creating, the expectations which can even stop you creating completely.  I've discovered the hard way that the less I am attached to perfection the better the piece seems to turn out, the more I embrace playfulness rather than perfection the better my work ends up.