How to Motivate Yourself to Draw When You’re Not in the Mood

How to motivate yourself to draw header. Two cats sleeping in the dappled shade pencil drawing

How do you motivate yourself to draw when you feel like crap, have no energy and you’ve run out of coffee? We’ve all been there but there are strategies that can help.

Motivation requires self-discipline and that requires a routine. Give your day a work structure. Get up at the same time, start work at the same time, give yourself a small goal, and follow it through. Take mini-breaks, finish at the same, and give yourself a treat. Repeat and make it a habit.

Finding time is the curse of modern life. Too much to do and too many distractions, yet I’ve been self-employed most of my adult life and these are the ways I’ve managed to motivate myself.

Motivate Yourself to Draw by Building a Work Routine and Getting into the Habit

There is only one way to force yourself to get up in the morning and that’s having a purpose. For most people, that’s as easy as getting to work on time and the purpose is clear, you don’t want to get sacked.

Without that immediate threat, and the obvious consequences, you have to take a different approach.

Self-discipline requires a self-imposed routine and it must become so ingrained that you feel guilty breaking the ‘rules’. But what rules? after all, you’ve made them up, you’re your own boss.

Exactly, that’s the point, you still have a boss, it just happens to be you, and your not free to do as you please. Any self-employed person will tell you that.

There has to be a nagging voice on your shoulder and it speaks when you build a routine. In my case, the alarm goes off at 8 am in the morning and I get up. I start the day properly at 9 am. If I don’t, the voice tells me that I’m late for work!

This is my typical routine during the summer when I trade on my market stall:

  • 8 am – Alarm, breakfast,
  • 9 am – Leave for town,
  • 9.30 am – Favorite cafe,
  • 10 am – Set up my display,
  • 11 am – Start trading. Draw/Sell/Coffee all day,
  • 5 pm – Pack up
  • 6 pm – Home and restock for the next day.
  • 7 pm – Eat, Rest.

That’s my framework, of course, life often gets in the way, repairs, chores, posting prints…blah, blah, blah, but that’s my HABIT, and if I veer away from it too far the nagging voice returns.

Motivated Yourself to Draw by Setting Mini-Goals

Drawing is central to my day and I get things done by drawing between sales. It sounds more difficult than it is. The trick is to only set yourself a modest goal and draw little and often.

I might be content to draw just the eyes in an entire day. Not exactly enthralling for the observer, but each day I add more to the picture. Gradually, over the course of the week, a drawing emerges.

Further Reading: How to Make Your Drawings Interesting: 14 Hacks to Add More OOMPH

The key to drawing this way is to concentrate in short bursts. I will focus for 5 to 10 mins at a time. I’m in a public place so passers by will stop to see what I’m doing and ask questions. I’m having a slow days trading when I get a lot of the drawing done!

It sounds frustrating but when you accept that it’s fine to get only a few centimeters drawn that day, reaching that goal is satisfying.

Motivate Yourself to Draw with a Big Reward at the End

If I do get world weary and become introspective I think of the end game.

I can push myself because each year I have one objective, and that’s to go abroad in the winter. It’s one hell of an incentive to knuckle down and get on with things.

If I get the blues, I start dreaming about far off places, how I’d get there, what I’d see, and what I’d do.

Further Reading: Creative Burnout – What It Is and How to Deal With It

I realize that my lifestyle (which requires a lot of sacrifices) is not for everyone but the principle remains the same. Have an end game and reward yourself for all your efforts.

I do it in a different way when I write. It’s much the same as drawing, writing involves sitting down alone and creating something out of nothing.

I started to write when I was abroad. At first, I thought I could do it anywhere but I was wrong. I had to stop in one place and go back to a work routine.

I’ve been hanging out in Indonesia a great deal in the last few years so I made myself comfy in a hut overlooking the sea in Northern Sumatra. I got up at 8 am as usual and by 9 am I’d be in my local restaurant ordering breakfast. I’d write for 3 hours, have a snack for lunch and in the afternoon I’d go snorkeling or diving. That was my treat.

A separate working space for drawing and writing. A great motivator example
My winter ‘hang out’ in Sumatra.

Now I am trapped on my boat (home in the UK) and in a less glamorous situation. Now instead of swimming in a tropical sea, I’ll go off for a bracing walk in the afternoon and stretch my legs. A small pleasure but an important one if I am to keep sane.

All you need is a pleasure to work towards. Treat yourself.

Motivate Yourself to Draw by Working Away From Your Living Space.

An important aspect of motivating yourself, often overlooked, is separating yourself from your day to day living space. I feel this acutely as I write this post, stuck at home as I am, during the lockdown.

Beforehand, I could sit in a cafe and write, now I must sit on my boat deck and that’s much harder. I’m getting cabin fever.

Further Reading: Selling Tips For Art Fairs (5 Things You Can’t Ignore)

It’s so much easier to work away from where you live. I need to go ‘out’ to work, preferably with people to chat with around me, if not, then some activity at least. Solitude kills motivation like nothing else.

Even an out-house or shed converted into a studio is better than the spare room or dining table. You may not have company but at least you can get away from home. It’s easier to organize yourself if you can separate your workspace from your home life.

Connect With People to Motivate Yourself to Draw (Not Just Other Artists)

It’s almost impossible to stay motivated if you isolate yourself. We need others and not just for our emotional well being. We need feedback, interaction, and inspiration.

The easiest way to get motivated to draw is to bounce off others with renewed enthusiasm. Friends and colleagues can be your springboard to new and exciting projects. Without them, your ideas can quickly whither on the vine.

We all need fresh input and constructive criticism. It’s just as important to know where you’re going wrong, as it is to know what you’re doing right.

I love interacting with my customers. That’s why I’ve been market trading for so many years. I soon pick up what resonates with my buyers and their enthusiasm makes me want to please them more.

A customer at Kevin's market stall. Staying motivated by selling my drawings in person
Another happy customer

Art can be a selfish pursuit and many artists are self-absorbed, which is very unattractive. A degree of uniqueness is admirable but playing to the gallery is fun too. Why not give people what they want? It’s great – within limits

I get a kick out of pleasing people. It makes me feel valued. I know there are some who think I’m just interested in the sales but that’s not true.

Earning money is both a relief and a means for me to do other things, like travel, but nothing more. Sales are also a validation that I’m doing something worthwhile and meaningful. Some people actually want to spend their hard-earned money on my artwork. That’s pretty special – and motivating.

Share Your Drawing Ideas and Stay Motivated

Talk about your exciting new ideas. Spread your enthusiasm and let everyone know about your next project. Talk about it so much that you can’t afford to back-track and look like an idiot. The fear of humiliating yourself is a great way to motivate yourself to draw.

Follow through and report on your progress. Show everyone what you’re doing and encourage their input. Team up with other artists for mutual support, if you can, and urge others to keep you on track. That’s how you get things done.

Real people and real relationships, in the real world, will help you far more than a Facebook group. Be careful about online forums, they have their place but they’re also an excuse to procrastinate. It’s easy to waste hours and get nothing accomplished.

Further Reading: Does Selling Art Online Work? Reality Check – What No One Tells You

Daydream, Take Notes, and Save Your Ideas to Stay Motivated to Draw

If a fantasist who talks endlessly about the projects they’ll never do is an irritating bore, it’s still vital to take time to dream. Daydreams are part and parcel of the creative process.

My mind frees up in the shower, cycling to work, or sitting on a train. Anywhere I happen to be where there’s nothing else to d. I know life is good when my mind wanders away from the everyday concerns and worries of life and drifts into a dream-world of possibilities.

I’m sometimes caught in limbo at my market stall when a thread of dreams takes over and I don’t want to lose them. I know others around me think I’m doing nothing but that’s not true. Dreaming is creating and I’m a creative. There has to be those moments.

Keep a notebook and jot down your best ideas because if you let them go, you’ll lose them. Dreams are ephemeral, vivid, and real only in the moment, and when they pass, they’re irretrievable. Take notes and go back to them later. Most ideas will not pass the test of time, but some will, and they are treasure.

I get so excited when I dream up new ideas and I’ll scribble down notes with urgency. My jottings are indecipherable to anyone else but to me, they contain the seeds of an idea that might lead to a completely new project.

Those intense dopamine hits are like a drug and they keep you going.

Finish Your Drawing and Gain Momentum to Kickstart Your Next Work of Art

Talking of getting high, there’s nothing quite like finishing a piece of artwork to keep you motivated. There’s a momentum in signing off one piece and starting the next.

People assume that I take great pleasure in what I do, they think the whole process must be calming and meditative but that’s not the case.

It goes something like this,

  • The beginning can be great, I have an idea and there is an urgency to get something on the page. It’s a mixture of excitement and fear of failure.
  • Then there’s the realization that things are not going quite to plan. Most of the middle section is an attempt to rescue what remains of my initial idea. This is when I struggle.
  • After that, there’s the run to the finishing line where I salvage the picture and it comes together as a whole, if not necessarily, as I originally intended.
  • And finally, the triumph of signing the work and declaring it done. That’s my high.

So what’s the best part of a drawing? – THE END.

Unless you totally ****-up of course and you fall into a pit of despair, but we don’t talk about that.

Red stag portrait with full antlers. A framed pencil drawing by Kevin Hayler
‘Imperial Stag’ A framed pencil drawing by Kevin Hayler

Motivate Yourself by Seeking Out Inspiration and New Drawing Ideas

Amateurs and drama queens wait for inspiration, the rest just get on with it. If you wait for the magic moment, you’ll wait a lifetime.

You must find inspiration and that comes about by doing things. If you have a ‘block’, and we all do, you work anyway. It may well be crap but you are doing something at least and in the flow. It’s only by applying yourself that an idea or direction will occur to you.

Further Reading: Where to Find Wildlife Subjects to Draw, Paint, and Photograph

It doesn’t matter how you feel, emotions don’t come into it. I don’t feel like doing most things until I start them and then they have a life of their own. It’s the only way you can progress and more importantly, it’s the only way to gain a sense of achievement.

I have a backlog of images that I can use if I run out of enthusiasm. They are my insurance projects in case I hit a brick wall. I may not feel like doing them but so what? I have something to get on with until I snap out of the gloom.

If all else fails, grab a camera and go for a walk, you never know what you’ll come across. Sometimes I will flip through some of my favorite art books and remind myself why I love certain artists. Why not get on your bike and get the endorphins going and go looking for ideas?

Be proactive and seek out inspiration.

Stop Comparing Yourself to Other Artists on Social Media

Now I just suggested that you should seek inspiration from your favorite artists. That doesn’t always work and it’s all because of Social media.

You see some fantastic work out there and it’s all too easy to convince yourself that there are thousands upon thousands of artists out there whose work is on another level. How can you possibly compete with it, let alone aspire to match it?

Further Reading: Do You Suffer From Artist Imposter Syndrome? You’re Not Alone

In truth, social media allows us free and easy access to the best of the best. Only a few years ago, we seldom came across such jaw-dropping work and that’s because great art is rare.

We have developed a false perspective and the comparisons are pointless.

We have no idea what has gone into their work. How many hours have they had to practice to get that good? What tricks do they use? And how and where did they learn it all? And don’t forget, we only see their best stuff, we don’t see the rubbish they ditched.

If you have a healthy outlook, you will admire great talent for what it is and be uplifted. I envy better artists but it doesn’t put me off. I’m good at what I do and there are enough people who like my stuff to keep me in business. That’s OK with me.

Change Your Arty Mindset and Think Business to Stay Motivated

If you are in business you cannot afford the luxury of putting things off. You have commitments, appointments, calls to return, emails to answer, prints to post, and so it goes on, AND you have to make your art as well.

You’re self-employed and you have to think that way. You can’t assume that there’ll be work tomorrow. That’s not confined to the arts, it’s a fact of life for half the planet.

Further Reading: Sell More Art – 9 Selling Skills For Artists (Are You Missing Sales?)

You are a tradesman, or woman, who happens to make art, not the other way round. You get out what you put in, that involves hard work and long hours. The only people I’ve ever met who could afford to play at being an artist didn’t rely on the income.

It’s very easy to express yourself through your art if it doesn’t matter if you sell it or not. It must be nice to splash some paint around, give it a pretentious title, and sit on a fat price…

…but for the rest of us, sales are important and MOTIVATING.

Conclusion

There’s no mystery about staying motivated. You take action first and motivation follows as a consequence.

It’s all about making a start, having a routine, and taking small steps.

If you try to do too much in a short time the burden is overwhelming. You’ll get more done at a steady pace.

Share your ideas wisely, avoid doom-mongers and naysayers, and stay positive.

Build on your successes and reward yourself well.


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How to motivate yourself to draw for Pinterest. Pencil drawing of a cat in dappled shade