Creative Problem Solving for Artists: Burnout

burnoutHas the thought of starting your next illustration or art project made you want to bury your head in the sand? Even artists who love their work suffer from burnout occasionally. In this second part of our Creative Problem Solving for Artists series, we’ll take a look at Holly deWolf’s tips for working through creative burnout. From taking a mini-vacation to finding a little time to be silent, there are a variety of ways to rediscover your artist mojo. Find our burnout-fighting tips below. Read more of deWolf’s creative problem-solving tips here.

Keep creating and good luck!

Burnout by Holly deWolf

Burnout can strike at the worst possible time when we aren’t feeling our best; it’s a progression that can leave you uninspired, bored and completely drained of any useful energy. Burnout is a red alert. It is your mind and body telling you to stop. When you’re too stressed, too tired and done with the same old, all bets are off.

“It’s like, ‘Whoa, what the hell happened there? I am retreating within myself.’” —Mitch Hedberg

Bad signs are a lack of interest to create and a lack of care whether you create or not. This could have disastrous effects if you forge ahead even though you know better. Missed deadlines and upset clients, mixed with much frustration, cannot be good for any illustration career. This will add to that awful feeling that something is wrong and that you do not feel like your normal self.

“My candle burns at both ends; it will not last the night.”—Edna St. Vincent Millay

If every little thing is stressing you out, you have to know something is off. Being easily angered and feeling lost are signs of a larger problem that needs to be addressed stat! What should you do? Do something different. Do something out of character. Do something for yourself. Burnout often is a signal that a holiday is badly needed.

Vacations should be the ultimate getaway, but oftentimes we take work along for the ride. We book vacations that may be too labor-intensive. The result can be coming home even more tired than you were before you left. Do your research. Make sure your vacation interests you. Better yet, if your brain is completely drained of any useful function, book a vacation to do nothing.

If you can’t take that much time off, for whatever reason, try a mini vacation. Good sources for this are a visit to an art gallery, concert or day course; attending a get-together; going on a day trip; reading a good book or spending a lazy couple hours at your favorite coffee shop. Do what works. Do something that’s going to distract you for an hour, a day or even a whole weekend. Imagine the possibilities! Having only a limited amount of time has a funny way of making us get creative with the clock.

Need a nudge? Throw on your iPod. Or go outside, close your eyes and just listen. Try to reinvent what you’re hearing. Here’s a goofy thought: If you catch part of a conversation, try to imagine the parts you missed. Fill in the blanks and create a new scenario. It’s sort of like creative commentary to everyday normal things—like watching an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Want a true escape? Try a mental holiday at home and do nothing. Sounds kind of Zen-like, but it works and can be a new spin on a short bout of boredom. Daydreaming and drifting off are art forms unto themselves. There’s a real importance to just shutting off. Think of it as a type of mental refocusing—it allows you to imagine anything and everything. You’re giving your constantly busy brain permission to stop. Empty time works well without any sensory stimulation and can become a great creative asset with practice.

From time to time, our brains need to go into a pattern of thought called “the default network.” Unconscious thought falls into this category when we’re reading, doing the dishes or driving. These tasks become automatic even when we tune out. This internal brain soup helps you discover new ideas. Connections are made to things you might have overlooked. Unrelated thoughts can mingle nicely to create new relationships. It’s a win-win creative tune-out.

A big philosophy I live by is this: The good stuff happens during silence. Believe it or not, but silence is good for you. There’s silence. and then there’s effective silence. This basically means you’re actively being quiet to gain something or open yourself up to new ideas, solutions and creative tinkering. I believe this quote from C. Krosky sums it up well: “Most of us know how to say nothing; few of us know when to let our silence speak louder.”

Holly DeWolf is an illustrator, mentor, DYI’er, blogger and author of the book Breaking Into Freelance Illustration: The Guide for Artists, Designers and Illustrators. She currently lives in New Brunswick, Canada, living the creative freelancer’s dream.
Excerpted from Breaking Into Freelance Illustration © 2009 by Holly DeWolf. Used with the kind permission HOW Books, an imprint of F+W, a Content + eCommerce Company. Visit or call (800)258-0929 to obtain a copy.


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