Creatively Stuck? Try Shapeshifting

You’re a dedicated painter. It’s your chosen medium, and you’ve got your studio all set up. Your paints are orderly, your palette is prepared, your canvas propped on the easel. You’re all set to be the creative genius painter you know you are inside.

But despite all this preparation, you avoid the studio. Your setup has become a museum display, a dusty ode to creativity that’s never used. You pass the studio door full of shame and self-recrimination.

You read self-help books. You set deadlines, you berate yourself and try to browbeat yourself to get in there and paint, dammit.

You spend hours wondering what happened. Why? Why? Why  aren’t you painting?

What happened to your creative passion? It could be any number of things, and while understanding our the source of our pain can help, often you’ll get further by indulging your creativity instead of trying to discipline it.

How I got unstuck

Years ago, I was rejected for teaching an online course for writers. The honcho nixed me because I’d used incorrect grammar – horror! – and she couldn’t count on me to have proper communication with the students.

I was ashamed enough to want to do something about it. I decided then and there to master the art of writing, or die trying. I knew this was a lifelong endeavor, but by golly, I was committed to perfecting, revising, honing, MASTERING! the art of writing.

Soon afterward, I became restless. I wanted to ditch the revisions for my novel, abandon writing e-books and articles about creativity, and splash playfully into the vibrant world of color.

Color excites me, color engages me, color moves me. I have a powerful and healing connection to color, and after years of the black and white of the writing life, the kaleidoscope of color was calling me more than mastery was.

One art feeds the other

I became enamored of text and image together, in an illustrated journal. Sarah Midda’s South of France inspired me to crack open my own blank journal and fill it with messy scribbles, inarticulate drawings, and color.

My journals exploded with life. I tapped into the joy of creating again. With the journal, there was no master, no need for excellence or proficiency. No dictates to be good, dammit, or die trying. I became more joyful and relaxed.

And guess what? My writing life got better. I kept working on my novel and writing articles and e-books. By shifting the form I demanded my creativity to take, my writing life flourished.

Permission to shapeshift

Shift the shape your creativity takes. It’s worked for my clients. A blocked painter became an ardent video producer and jewelry maker. A filmmaker became a sculptor and photographer.

There’s nothing wrong with committing to excellence in your chosen field. It’s honorable and good, until it squeezes the creative impulse from you and has you avoid the studio instead of rushing in. Creativity demands discipline but it’s also about play, exploration, discovery and fun.

The creative urge is natural and undeniable. It’s our own self-labels and expectations that can dampen this original impulse.

Shame and guilt will not work long-term to generate a creative practice that you thrive in.

I give you permission to try new media without being labeled a dilettante. You have permission to switch media entirely even if you’ve spent years and thousands of dollars investing in one medium. You have permission to be talented in many media, and to give yourself to all and any of them.

What about you? Share your shapeshifting stories here.

  • When have you switched art forms and seen a positive result?
  • What permission do you need to try something new in order to refresh your creativity?

My Curious Excursions renew your sense of play and creative joy using a visual journal to capture your juju. In Boulder in June, Paris in September, these forays into the world, guided by your journal, are guaranteed to rejuvenate and inspire.

Find out more and save your spot.


  1. kerstin dahlen says

    I work in different media: icon painting, acting, writing. But it has created problems for me. I can only do one thing at a time, and I sometimes have a hard time to choose. It may sound like a luxury problem, but it is not to me. Because I feel guilty and discouraged and confused of course.When I am writing, I feel: I really must start painting my icons, I have people waiting. And when I am painting icons, I feel guilty because I don’t write.
    Does this make any sense at all? I wonder.

    • says

      That sounds painful! That kind of pressure to be always doing something different than what you are doing can be a real drag. I’ve felt that, and have in recent years started trusting my process and knowing that at any given moment I’m doing the right thing.

      I wonder if it’s the creative monkey mind plaguing. When you sit down to create, there’s often that energy of ‘got to move and do something different’ whether that different is another medium or the housekeeping.

      That is common to a lot of us, and I think it’s nervous energy. I wonder if that’s true for you? Perhaps you can play with assuring yourself that what you are doing at the moment is the right thing and there’s no need to change or jump to do anything else. What do you say?

  2. says

    It is wonderful to create in a field that is not yours! No obligations what so ever! It’s a great feeling of freedom. The only thing is, you probably don’t perform as good as you would like to – never mind! Go on!

    • says

      Yes! That’s what I love – the freedom to just play, no expectations. Then you don’t care if you don’t perform well! I don’t care that my drawings have a lack of perspective. I am not trying to be good, so no need to judge one way or the other. Phew!

  3. says

    I LOVE Sarah Midda’s work. Her In & Out the Garden was very inspiring as well as South of France–a jewel of a book with so much detail & attention. There was a line of English pottery in the early 90’s that featured beautifully painted country scenes (I seem to remember bunnies & carrots) but they were really nice. Thanks, Cynthia!

  4. says

    First let me say that I’m mortified that you didn’t get a job because of a grammar problem. Language is a fluid medium and you can’t keep it within the confines of grammar.

    I find it absolutely essential to have more than one outlet for creative impulses. It’s amazing to me how doing several kinds of art causes cross pollination and allow you the space you need in the process of creating art and stories. I write, I sketch. I experiment with mixed media. I make cloth art dolls and work in a variety of needle and fabric arts. It does seem sometimes like I’m unfocused, but over the years small collections of my work surround me and I know that all of these things feed one another.

    My stories were all dark and depressive before I started working in visual art. Now there’s light and color in all my work.

    I think all art is a means of communicating the undefinable, so when you are painting or writing or doing some other creative work, you are working on the same project — one doesn’t detract from the other (unless you’re on deadline :)) You’re communicating something, translating your inner world so that we in the outer world can have a multi-faceted look at you and ourselves.

    Thanks for your thoughtful and inspiring post.

    • says

      Mortified is a good way to describe how I felt! My error was one of agreement: Each student will have their…. instead of Each student will have his or her….. It’s very common usage but grammatically incorrect. Sigh.

      Your creative life sounds like a rich tapestry. I appreciate your perspective on art being a way to communicate the ineffable, and how all expression is a way to express something connected. That’s great. Something I’ll think about for awhile. Thanks for sharing that.

  5. says

    love your message cynthia…. for years i have worked with clay and struggled with the “merchandising” aspect of sales. something happened the last few years and the richness of life and the creative process has transformed into the dream of my new business( you know the one-our coaching class has helped bring it into reality). the incredible objects i am seeking in far off places, and stories they hold- have become the creative juice for me at this time.
    i am realizing it doesn’t have to be” one or the other”- it simply is a cycle, and i like the flow.

    • says

      Yes! A cycle. That’s so much more true than a dualistic one or other way of thinking. It’s great how you see your process as an interconnected evolution!
      Glad this article resonated with you! Thanks for reading and sharing your experience!

  6. says

    This was all the permission I needed, Cynthia – thank you!
    That first paragraph described ME! I keep buying supplies, get excited about trying something new…then halt. Frozen in fear that I might mess it up or – gasp! – do it “wrong”.
    I’m getting better, but I still need heavy doses of reminding to keep me moving forward.
    It took many many years to get here – so I have to be kind to myself and cut myself some slack to break free.
    Blessings for you your words of hope!!! :oD

    • says

      Yes, permission is usually the main thing we need! Keep playing with those art supplies! Don’t let them gather dust. Give yourself the playful mission to use them all up this year! WOo!

  7. says

    Wonderful post, Cynthia! I am a writer but also an artist (oil painting and sketching), and I find that these two art forms complement each other. The oil painting in particular helps me get unstuck with writing.

    Unfortunately, my natural inclination is toward perfectionism, which turns out to stifle my inner creator. Still working on keeping the perfectionist’s voice at bay.

    • says

      Thanks! You seem to shift easily between the two media – it’s interesting to me that you can have a finger in both painting and writing. It makes sense to me that the writing – more serious, professional and goal-oriented – is tempered by the painting process.

      Please tell the gremlin to go to Aruba for new colors for your palette! You must remember that the gremlin is just afraid of how talented you are and is using his sneaky ways to make you forget that!

      (And thanks for another article idea – I’ve been wanting to tackle this perfectionist monster for a long time. Stay tuned!

      Keep writing and painting!

  8. says

    Such a good article-thank you! Several years ago I began struggling with feelings of boredom in my chosen media-more it seems with subject matter, I guess. Unless I had an exhibit with a theme to motivate me, I was wasting hours in my studio-not a good thing since I pay rent for the privilege! Perhaps fate intervened because in February of 2008, I fell on the ice and broke my wrist, though not my painting one, thankfully. Still, the distractions and limitations of having a cast and then PT 3 times a week for months was very distracting when it came to making art. With fond memories of a vacation just a week before, I decided to I return to a surface I had once struggled with (yupo) and play with lots of water and lots of watercolor paint, using turquoise and every blue on my palette-tipping, turning, splattering etc. This “play” transported me to another world-more abstract and surprising images began to form. I occasionally still sometimes paint in a more representational way on watercolor paper but most days I am just exploring and experimenting-and I am not bored yet! This change really did the trick for me.

    • says


      I’m glad this article resonated with you.

      Wow, I’m sorry to hear it took a broken wrist to make a shift, but I’m glad to hear about the result! I’m glad that you let this experience lead you to play more. Your description of it is mesmerizing!

      Glad the shift helped you feel more fun in the studio.

  9. says

    Last year we started feeding swans…So, of course, I spent the year doing a painting with swans in it… This year I noticed in a photo that my eyes were telescoping- something that painter’s get when they work too hard…So I decided to take a sabbatical from painting…I had noticed that these Trumpeter Swans weren’t building nests…So, I have been designing Trumpeter Swan Nests & making them…I am now trying to get approval for one of the prototypes to actually put out in the wild, with permissions from our government… I’ve been making them by knotting Sisal by hand… Not sure where this is going, but who knew I could do this?

    • says

      That’s a wonderful story. So beautiful and evocative, with the image of the swans you paint for us. I’m reminded of those children’s books featuring Louis the Swan, do you know them? Do you know the titles?

      Isn’t the whole theme of the swan about shifting from one thing (Ugly Duckling) to another (Graceful Swan)?

      Such a cool and unexpected shift you made, led by nature. I love how completely different the media are.

      So glad you shared this story with us. SO cool!

      • says

        Though my mum owned a toystore when I was growing up, & I read all the books, I don’t remember Louis the Swan…But I will get on it…Next on my reading list…(& my middle name is Louise after my grandpa Lou!)…
        I am definitely the ugly duckling…
        & also now maybe the swan…
        Nice metaphor thank you…
        As I was watching a big Trumpeter walk towards me with his big feet turned inwards like how I walk, I was thinking how much we were alike…
        Making the nests, is a whole different part of my brain too…I was talking to some fashion designers yesterday & they confirmed – it hurts in the front right side of your head when you weave or sew…It’s like I never exercised that lobe before…
        I linked this comment to the blog post on how to make a nest if anyone wants to try…Birds love them, & you all are welcome to use the idea…

  10. says

    I wish to write articles based on the information collected through some copyright books. I won’t copy – paste the material but edit or modify it in such a way that the meaning remains the same. I would also give credit to the books and their authors. Am I breaking any copyright laws?.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *