7 Ways to Avoid Routine & Monotony in Your Art

If you’re to keep yourself interested in and stimulated by your painting, how do you combat routine and monotony? How do you get from blank canvas to “the interesting and challenging bit” without being bored?

1. Work Faster
Get through the initial blocking in of colour in as little time as possible. Use a bigger brush, paint faster. Focus on what you’re doing but also think about what you’ll be doing next.

Ink drawing of a tree by artist Marion Boddy-Evans
Working with a measure of uncertainty — use a brush and water to ‘paint’ the subject on a sheet of watercolour paper, then drop colour into it when it’s still wet. In this instance I was using acrylic ink, dripping in a little directly from the bottle dropper.
2. Vary Your Approach
Don’t always paint the same size, on the same surface, or with the same medium. Add texture, use a brush that leaves strong marks.

3. Paint in Series
Investigate a subject in depth, don’t only do the one impression of a scene, but look to vary the lighting, the viewpoint, the style and the focus.

4. Add a Colour
If you fear monotony, then introduce a small segment of unusual colour to the painting. This will give the art work a bit of omph, and may well highlight where, in the rest of the painting, you are loosing interest.

5. Change Your Hand
Hold your brush in your other hand (the “wrong” hand). It will get you thinking more about the physical process of painting (because it doesn’t come so automatically), and free up that part of the mind which is worrying about aesthetics. Step back after a while and consider the painting from a distance, some of it will feel new and fresh for the simple reason that you mind has been concentrating on other things.

6. Swap Subjects
Whatever your ‘usual’ subject is — still life, landscape, wildlife — there’s no reason you have to paint only this. It is feasible to be successful painting more than one subject, whether you’re swapping between them or evolving from one to another. (As an example, take a look at the paintings of South African artist Peter Pharoah, who paints wildlife, abstracts, and figures.) If what you’re doing is feeling stale to you, the artist, what do you think the audience is going to feel?

7. Consider the Alternatives
Remember, you could have become a [insert: whatever you regard as the most dull of careers]. Now, doesn’t painting seem so much more exciting and fulfilling?

Permit Yourself the Time

This is part of a comment in response to Never Moving Beyond Liking the Idea of Being Creative:

“My goodness this hit a really raw nerve?! I so so soo want to paint. …But I never ever start. Why? I can?t draw/paint. Of course I?ve always desperately longed to. Can?t afford classes. And if I just ?go for it?? Well, just what was said… I will be so upset if it?s a heap of rubbish.” — Jax

We need to permit ourselves the time to learn (and onlookers need to give us time too). Remember how many years it took you to learn to read and write fluently? Art is not instinctive like breathing, or inherited species memory like running from fire. It’s a learnt skill. It takes time to acquire. Time that’s hard to give ourselves.

Set aside the time as if you were going to a class and never skip a week. With a pencil and sketchbook work your way systematically and thoroughly through a good how-to book. Every week, as if you were paying to spend this time.

I recommend wildlife and botanical artist’s Katie Lee‘s book Fundamental Graphite Techniques — it’s practical, thorough, lacks arty-farty gobbledygook, and full of exercises to do. Katie’s a friend, and it’s her voice I hear in my head when I’m being too heavy-handed with a pencil (“layers of tone, Marion, not pressure”).

Don’t tear pages out of the sketchbook, keep every attempt, the good, bad and ugly. Week after week. Permit yourself the time. It’s the only way.

Never Moving Beyond Liking the Idea of Being Creative

Liking the Idea of a Creative LifeWhy is it some people are in love with the idea of painting and drawing, of being creative, but only ever talk (with great enthusiasm, and often at great length) about doing so, never taking the first step towards doing so? It’s too easily more comfortable never to try than face the possibility of failure (and success).

Fear your expectations won’t be met, that your paintings or drawings won’t be “good enough” (“What is it?“). Fear others will laugh at the results, or be patronizing (“That’s delightful dearest”). Fear of being perceived as wasting time and money. Fear you’re not as creative you think you could be. Fear you create something wonderful by accident and can’t repeat it.

There will always be a gap between what you’d hoped to create and what you do, something else you could’ve done to a piece. That’s not the same as never achieving paintings you’re really pleased about. It’s an idea/goal for next time.

There will always be people who don’t get it (neither the desire to do it nor the results) as well as the “my cousin thrice removed also paints pretty little pictures without any effort at all” brigade. Smile (in the British stiff-upper-lip tradition, not a manic grin) and move on. Their judgement of what you’re doing is inconsequential. It’s your time and money, you can decide how to use it. Someone criticising is wasting their own time.

Creativity, like most things, needs regular exercise and stimulation. Skills and techniques take time to learn, they’re not going to fall on your head like rain and soak into your brain without effort. Professional artists don’t display unresolved and failed paintings, that’s why it seems everything they produce is of a certain standard. The elephant in the studio is that these fears never go away completely, and new ones come along, you just squash them under a growing pile of artwork.