How to Start Drawing When You’re Stuck

Snowy Oak
The North Side

Sometimes this happens to me, artist’s block, where my brain freezes and my hand simply can’t do the job. It’s frustrating, but I’ve come up with my own way of punching through it. I do warmup exercises.

A warmup exercise is meant to get the hand moving and the blood flowing. It’s meant to work out the artistic brain cramp, to renew confidence and do something simple when one doesn’t know what else to do. In case of emergencies, I do directed doodling, specifically, my own patented “bananadoodle”. It warms me up and gets me ready to draw. Try it. With a little practice (do a page of them until you don’t have to think about it) your hand will be managing quite well, and once that happens, your eye can hop in and run the show. You’ll be drawing before you know it.

This is a “bananadoodle”. It’s a fast movement in one direction, a switching of gears and movement in the opposite direction. You simply go back and forth without pausing.

Bananadoodle Warmup Drawing Exercise
Bananadoodles: goofy name, harder than they look

Today I needed something extra to get me started. I stood by the window watching it snow. The landscape turned all black and white and gray and was perfectly beautiful, but I just couldn’t make sense of what I was seeing, and couldn’t get anything on paper. My hand felt gummy. So did my brain. Then I remembered bananadoodles. Half a page later I was ready to roll.

Eastern Bluebirds on a snowy branch

Eastern Bluebirds on snow-covered oak branch. Love those warm-up exercises.

11 thoughts on “How to Start Drawing When You’re Stuck

  1. Janet Wilkins says:

    Your bananadoodles remind me of freewriting. This is something that I learned in college where you put pen to paper and just write anything and everything that comes to mind without stopping for about ten or fifteen minutes. It works wonders for getting the brain in motion!

    I LOVE the bluebirds! Did you do them in pastels or colored pencils?

  2. zeladoniac says:

    I would say they’re equivalant. Both should put you solidly in your right brain, if not in your right mind.

    The bluebirds are pastel over pencil line. Is it plein air if you’re drawing while looking through a window?

  3. Selma says:

    Your bluebirds are wonderful. I read your blog regularly but do not comment. I wanted to take this opportunity to wish you all the best for the Christmas season(if somewhat belatedly) and to say how much I enjoy your work. Thank you.

  4. Caroline Crayon says:

    Thanks for the good tip. I sometimes get paralyzed, as you say, by the sight, smell and feel of a perfectly expensive piece of moleskin paper. I’ll try the b.doodles technique.

    I really love what you did with the branches and the birds. I can sense the weight and the weightlessness. Great observation work.

  5. zeladoniac says:

    Here’s a Moleskine tip: turn to the last page of the book and do your bananadoodles back there. My friend Becky taught me that for when Moleskines intimidate you.

  6. Rick says:

    It looks to me that your picture from N. California was at
    Abbot’s Lagoon??? That is one of my favorite places soo sad when we had to sell the house in Inverness.

  7. zeladoniac says:

    Good eye. Yes, that’s Abbott’s Lagoon (see blog post from New Year’s), one of my favorite places on earth. A lovely brisk walk out along a flowing stream emptying into to a lagoon and ocean beach, with lots of nice shorebirds and gulls to watch, herds of tule elk on the hills behind you. My recipe for a perfect lunch: pick up provisions along the way from the Pt Reyes Grocery (a good wine), Bovine Bakery(sourdough bread, scones and coffee) Cowgirl Creamery (Redhawk cheese) and Johnson’s Oyster Farm (a jar or two of fresh-shucked mediums and some cocktail sauce), then park and hike out to a good dune with a view. Take binoculars, you never know what rarity is going to show up when you’re in Point Reyes.

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