Being stuck and afraid versus being a super prolific successful happy illustrator!


I foolishly used to think being good at drawing was the most important part about being a successful illustrator. As time went on I got to realize there’s so much more involved, you need to believe in yourself, be able to get work done, put yourself out there and never give up! Those last bits all come from getting in the right mindset and mustering up enough self-love and self-belief to overcome the doubts and fears.


If you want to work full time as an illustrator you already logically know that you need to work even when you don’t feel like it and draw all the time, even before you get ideas. You’ve made the first move and have set working hours every week and you stick to them. Keep turning up everyday, be productive and you’ll be fine right? In theory, that all works great, except for the times when you can’t get anything done and that little panic begins to set in…


Here are a few tricks I picked up a long the way that helped me from quitting before I hit the big time (I’m going to hit the big time any day now!).


What to do when you are feeling stuck?

Stuck just means you’ve lost touch with yourself and your talents and need to get plugged back in again and get things moving. It’s a heavy, dense energy so you need to dissolve it with something light, with fun. I don’t have a puppy but I think one would help in this situation. Finding a way to have fun and play helps get you moving, and once you are moving it is way easier to keep moving and start tackling the more important things.

From time to time it’s easy to get stuck and loose faith a little. This might happen if you aren’t getting results as quickly as you’d like or if you are dying a little inside, with niggling feelings of low self-worth, worries about finances or even considering that big no-no, maybe I need to just give up and get a “real job” (yes it’s a big no-no!).

When you get in this frame of mind you won’t be getting much work done. You are effectively shutting down your creativity and digging a hole for yourself to hide in.

The serious, worldly, side of your brain is taking over and being really bossy, boring, and frankly a bit of a killjoy. Your creative subconscious has way better ideas than your conscious mind, and is also way funnier and cuter, so you need to louden her up and get tuned in to get the good stuff. You’ve been there with her already, the days when everything just flows and time is meaningless. You get your best ideas and it’s a happy place.


Have you played today?

I’ve found that main thing is to try and find a way to incorporate play into your everyday experience. Feeling playful is the opposite of feeling stuck. When you get into the habit of having fun everything starts opening up and ideas start to flow again.

If you don’t have a puppy to hand, one thing to try is to draw something just as an exercise, not judging if it’s good or not, and draw it over and over again. Something you are good at drawing, like eyeballs, or cats, trees, or your favourite letters. Pick something easy that you like drawing. Now see if you feel a little better.


 To do list…

Another trick I use on myself is to make a list of all the things I need to do, including the small things like emailing someone or sending a tweet. I know I am making a baby of myself with this one but it works so I am willing to fall for it again and again.

Start with the easiest and quickest then mark them off your list. This is all about getting moving and convincing yourself that’s it’s possible to get things done without too much pain. Once the easy ones are ticked off, prioritise the remainder and figure out how much time you are going to spend on each item today. Baby steps get you places!


Generative questions

Next, something I’ve found helped me when I got stuck was to as myself some questions.

  1. What do I want?
  2. What small step can I do today to move towards it?
  3. Then do it.


Or, ring your friend and tell them this is what I’m going to get done today and make them promise to ask you later or hold you accountable in some way so you have to own up if you don’t get it done. You know which friend to ask, not someone who will let you away with it!


Rest and reset

If you have tried all of the above and are still stuck, then maybe you simply need a nap. It’s allowed. But when you get up, try again.

Ask yourself, what haven’t I tried yet, or, who can I ask to help me? When you move beyond feeling stuck and get through it, you often get rewarded with some of your best work.


 Kicking out worries

In similar vein, another potential pitfall is how to kick out fear and doubt when they come to visit?

Don’t let them get their own way; you can always outwit them when you focus on your successes. You will need to be sure of yourself to win jobs and convince people to hire you. If you start feeling vulnerable you need to address it before it starts to fester and spiral. I used to ignore the doubts thinking they’d disappear but I found that when I didn’t address them, they’d sneak up and whack me when I was least expecting. Instead, now I acknowledge them and hear them out before thanking them and asking them to kindly leave.


 Face up to the issues then slam them…

Here’s something you can try.

Write down a list of all the things you are worried about. For example, I can’t draw, I’ve no work, and I can’t do it. Then draw a line and ask yourself- is this true?

Write down the argument against, that is, the opposite: I can draw, I’ve got work/ or, I’m getting jobs. And, I can do it.

Next, imagine that you are speaking from your heart and not your head. And see how your feelings change. Are you feeling more confident?

Then go back and draw a line over first part so you can’t see it, or better yet, rip it out and burn it. Sometimes this exercise brings up hidden doubts I didn’t even know I had, but once you bring them out in the sunlight they lose any power they might have. It’s just a little housework to keep your beautiful idea generator fresh and shiny.


The more you tackle these problems and overcome them the easier they are to deal with and the less likely they are to make an impact on your day. I get stuck all the time, I just don’t stay stuck for too long. Just remember that you are the boss of your thoughts and what you think about becomes your experience, your life, as a wonderful, world famous illustrator!


“Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking.”– William B. Sprague


This is a version of a piece I wrote for an upcoming book Starting Your Career As An Illustrator, by Michael Fleischman who also edited Starting Your Career as a Graphic Designer.


Related Reading:

Win a place on my Digital Illustration Workshop

Graphic Design for Film, TV and Animation: workshop with Annie Atkins

Hand Lettering and Design – Workshop with Steve Simpson

Etching Workshop with Debora Ando

Pattern Observer webinar: The Importance of Developing Collections

Letterpress course NCAD (Weeks 6-10)