Exercises to deal with creative block, whatever your medium

It’s a new year with self-imposed pressures for many to be a better person/artist. If you’re feeling, um, blocked have a look at these great suggestions from Artsy. Note in particular this one (emphasis added!):

Copy and create

If creating original work feels impossible, copying existing artworks can help ease you in the right direction. Look to the artists who you admire, whether contemporary or historical, and try to recreate their works. Copying can require the same technical skills as making new work, but it carries less of the anxiety. While another artist did all of the heavy lifting, you’re tasked with figuring out how they achieved their results.
298 Doodad Matriarchy.  6" X 8" Mixed media on board by Yvonne Callaway Smith
If your interest in making copies wanes, try to repurpose these pieces. Use them as source material and look for ways to transform them. Add, remove, or distort elements of the copies, and use these changes to create a unique work. It will be informed by the copy, but it will also transcend it to become a unique piece.


  1. I don’t understand the recent barrage of info regarding the word ” copying” aside from the obvious straight copy. As I have stated everyone needs visual reference and there are thousands of images, photos, drawings, paintings, sketches available of anything you might want to paint. This is not copying but referencing source material for something you might want to draw or paint.
    I am working on a wolf painting and at the moment and can count 45 images that are helping me in so many different ways, from all media. This is not copying, they all help me get it done to my satisfaction. As you just stated ” it will also transcend it to become a unique piece”

    Once again…The final work will be mine, with all that goes into it…and it will be signed.
    Thanks for all the input.


    • Referencing is NOT copying. Seeing how a wolf stands is NOT the same thing as taking the image then replicating composition, position, et al. We have a responsibility to help folks realize that presenting plagiarized works as their own doesn’t help them, nor the creators who they’ve pilfered from.

      Copying is stealing. Learning about your subject while researching shouldn’t be the same issue, unless you are “borrowing” images in an identifiable way. The artist is created the original image should be cited. Better is to make the image your own, as suggested in the Artsy article, or in the take on Whistler’s Mother!


    • I have the utmost admiration for artists, authors, musicians, philosophers and anyone else who works in the realm of ideas where creativity is the principal contribution. I also have the greatest respect for the ones that not only build on the ideas of those that came before them, but that added their own personal contributions. In all these cases, I am also thankful to the individuals that recognize the ethics and importance of properly identifying the shoulders they stand on. I constantly learn from them. I also admire the choices they make and the courage they exhibit when adding something of themselves to some of these great works. Art in all its forms, like all human knowledge, grows and moves forward thanks to the steps each individual takes, and each one should be acknowledged otherwise it is deeply disrespected.


    • Matriarchy is part of my Doodad series, based on Whistler’s Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1 (aka Whistler’s Mother.) It is in Los Angeles now and I miss it greatly! I studied images of the original to replicate the master, with a quirky twist.


  2. Well I guess if you can replicate Whistlers Mother and make it your own I will not worry too much about crediting anyone about the walking position of my current wolf … a great article on Creative Block from Artsy by the way. I am in that frame of mind right now.


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