Breaking Out of a Creative Rut

It’s human nature for artist to look for answers—the so-called right way of doing things. When we see another artist’s successful paintings, we think that artist has a secret, and that if we had the same products and applied them in the same fashion, we too would produce masterful outcomes. While there’s a degree of truth in this—and emulation can be a great way of learning craft—it can also lead to predicable outcomes that never lead to growth and personality.

When I see another artist’s work that demonstrates technique that is different than my own, I want to give it a try. The theories that relate to representational drawing and painting still pertain, but the technique of product application is often very different. The artist might employ a surface that has a very different tooth or tone; use a brand and method of pastel application that is unfamiliar to me, or  utilize fixatives or other fluids to produce exotic effects that are very different from what I usually do.

Another human characteristic is to repeat what has worked well in the past. Without thinking, we approach painting with the same supplies and techniques with which we have grown comfortable. This can pertain to subject matter as well. While it’s true that the best way to gain strength and confidence is to repeat something over and over, it’s also true that left unchecked we can get into a creative rut, ultimately producing stale, predictable works.

Driving Outside Your Comfort Zone: By understanding that technique is just the vehicle we all drive on the racetrack of painting, it’s easier to embrace a new method, see how it feels, and then adapt it to our own hand. There’s always more to learn about the theories of painting, but when it comes to technique, there’s always a new ride waiting to be tried on the painting racetrack.


I painted 4 A.M., Jake’s Grill (pastel, 16×20) in a workshop taught by Christine Ivers. Painting unfamiliar subject matter on a black surface definitely pushed me outside my comfort zone. It was a different painting ride for sure!



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richard mckinley landscapes book spring 201510.04.36 AMGet Your Copy of Richard McKinley’s latest book, The Landscape Paintings of Richard McKinley, a 208-page, hardcover collection of inspiring works in pastel and oil! Includes more than 100 full-color reproductions with Richard’s commentary.








Get Your Copy of Richard McKinley’s latest book, a 208-page, hardcover collection of his landscape paintings in pastel and oil!

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