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Beat Your Artistic Rut: Look to Other Artists

Stephanie Gibadlo

All artists have experienced the feeling of being stuck in a rut. When faced with these negative feelings so many questions build up in your head.

“What am I doing wrong?”

Why doesn’t anyone seem to react to my artwork?

“Am I that bad at art?

It’s so easy to feel discouraged and want to give up. I want to tell you as someone who has experienced this before that you shouldn’t give up. In my own experience,  when I’ve hit that low point with my art,  that doesn’t mean that all is lost. To experience a creative rut doesn’t mean that your skills are lacking or that you’re losing touch.  Perhaps it means that something incredible is coming up that you just can’t recognize. You might think this sounds totally ridiculous and contradictory, how could a creative rut possibly lead to something bigger and better?

A few months ago during my second semester of college, I was in a creative rut. I had become discouraged after a series of critiques in which some professors told me that my style was “almost there” and that it was “still emerging.” I became frustrated after a while, because the feedback I received from my professors was so varied and conflicted at times, so I didn’t know how to begin improving my artwork.

In this situations like this, one action that has helped me is to reflect upon the earliest artwork I can remember that really captivated me. It doesn’t matter what that first artwork was, whether it was a movie poster, the logo on a billboard you saw, a Degas painting, or a graphic novel. What is important is that that artwork was meaningful to you and made you happy for a reason. When I think about creative works that have made me happy throughout my life, I first think back to the artistic things I was exposed to when I was younger.

Character Design, Stephanie Gibadlo

Growing up, I used to watch Avatar: The Last Airbender, which I still consider to be one of my favorite shows today. I would wait with anticipation all week for new episodes, and even bonded with one of my dearest friends by watching marathons of the show and sharing theories of what was to happen next in the story. I feel that not only did this show help connect me to others, but it also initially sparked my interest in storytelling and character creation.

Avatar featured a style I had never seen before as a child, who had only seen western-styled cartoons, and I was absolutely enamored by the emotion and beauty of the show’s aesthetic. I started to draw in the style of the show in my free time, and my style continued to evolve from that experience.

After the series ended,  I was so upset because I had fallen in love with the characters and the universe they lived in. However, I was determined to stay with them for as long as I could! I designed adult versions of the characters of the show, and then designed children of these characters. Along with my drawings, I wrote pages upon pages on the characters’ personalities, which was really my first experience with character design. I illustrated the fan stories I wrote, and accumulated a giant folder that I still have to this day.  

Looking back on those years, my drawing skills were in no way impressive, but I remember feeling so excited, happy, and fulfilled while creating those drawings. That experience really shaped my love and drive for storytelling and character design.  Today, I credit a lot of my artistic development to a huge range of artists, including art from the Renaissance,  French Impressionist paintings, cartoons, Anime, Manga, and more. Looking at these different types of art continues to drive me to create more artwork every day.  

Gaining new inspiration from another artist can be an exciting and uplifting experience. If you take the initiative to find artists whose work you love, you can continually experience this positive inspiration. Observing the way other artists create their art and emulating what you love about their art is such an important part of your artistic development. This doesn’t not mean that you should plagiarize an artist’s artwork.  Instead, extract what you love about an artwork, and incorporate the qualities that you admire in your own artwork.

An exercise I recommend is creating a copy of an old master painting that you admire. Doing master copies helps you understand the artist’s process. Analyze how the artist handles each part of the artwork you are copying. What kind of color scheme is the artist using? What kind of emotions does that color scheme create? Is the artwork working in a really stylized manner, or is the drawing more realistic?

Blonde Bather, by Renoir

When I was working on my very first master copy a year ago, I asked myself these exact same questions. I chose to replicate a Renoir painting titled Blonde Bather. I wanted to figure out why this painting inspired me.

I felt that the color scheme was very calming and tranquil. The combination of the realism of the figure with the stylized, loose brushstrokes of the background and sheet created a very interesting contrast. I made a note to myself that in the future, I would try to incorporate those elements into my art pieces moving forward.

If you are inspired by a TV show or a comic, creating fan art is a fun way to practice drawing and understanding another artist’s work. I really enjoy drawing fan art, and often times I use fan art as a drawing warm-up before I start working on my own original pieces.

Whether you are in an artistic rut or are just looking for some new inspiration, looking to the art of others has so many benefits! No matter what stage you are at in your artistic development, you can always benefit from looking at other artists’ work.

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