When Inspiration Is Lost

Every artist faces it. That elusive idea disappears, even for the most disciplined, practiced creative. Then what?

It’s impossible to think that a human being can sit everyday and create, pushing beyond the day before, every single day.

I have seasons – we all do. Seasons of writing, seasons of exploring and experimenting, seasons of making and refining, and seasons of letting ideas fester and pester.

If you were too look through conversations with my critique partner, you’d see surges of messages with process photos and questions and “Can you focus on XYZ while critiquing? I am really thinking that my (fill in the skill) is improving/needs work/help because I don’t know what the heck is going on and I think I might be the worst artist ever!” Followed by, “AM I EVEN AN ARTIST?” (You’ve thought it too – I know you have!) And then, you’d see stretches of time where nothing seems to be happening. Maybe we share some photos of art we like from other people, or that we are feeling a bit jealous of. Maybe we are just talking about our day or our kids, or work, or whatever – but it’s guaranteed that these conversations flip into something to do with art, and then we’re back on the hamster wheel again, chasing our dreams of working full time as artists. Of course, we work our butts off, but there are always going to be seasons of rest, reflection, and idea gathering.

I don’t like to get very comfortable in that. 

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Isn’t this true, for Creatives especially?

In fact, if it’s been a week and I haven’t drawn, painted or written, I start to panic. Lately, if I don’t do one of those things every day (sometimes twice a day), I start to panic. This is the addiction of creativity. Can you relate?

So when I feel I’m out of ideas, lately I’ve been heading to Pinterest. 

I do a search for something simple. It’s usually: “Faces.” Or, “Kid’s Faces.” If there’s something I want to be working on, but I can’t seem to figure out, I’ll search for something about that. For example, “Gypsy Kids.”

And then I am blasted with gorgeous photographs, so filled up with character that I set right to work sketching. I aim to fill a page with faces, not spending too long on any of them. I do my best to work directly from the screen into my sketchbook, filtering it into my preferred illustration style.

There are times I look through photos from my Facebook friends, too. Some of their kids are too hilarious and the perfect jumping off point for my sketch practice.

My end game here is to just be drawing. To be in the art. To not sit and stare and feel like an unproductive failure. Of course, there are times when sitting and staring is perfectly acceptable. But lately, I need a product to push me forward.

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This is the digital sketch, after the sketchbook playing based on some Pinterest searches. After this, I painted it. I love this character. But this is just the start for her. This process – this work – has led me to a place of inspiration, and I will be able to work away on who she is and what her story is, now that I have a fully realized portrait of her. Inspiration doesn’t have to come at the start.

In progress …

The final render of Library Girl (as I am currently calling her).

The best part of this quick sketching is that there are the odd sketches which make their way into my subconscious, and I find myself thinking about them throughout the day. This turns into wonders, which turns into more sketching, and often times writing.

Really, this turns into inspiration.

I can’t remember when or where I heard it, but the essence of what somebody said stuck with me. Not so much in these words, although these words may be close: Inspiration is fleeting. You have to work even when the muse isn’t showing up.

Library Girl

You can find me in the studio most mornings, from 5-6am, with a coffee and a candle and a hand toiling away on something that is just for me – my passion projects. And then, you can usually find me here at night, working on something for a client or for a big project or for my passion projects, when they just won’t let one hour a day be enough. (Side note: If you don’t know me, or anything about me, then you should know that I am a full time elementary school teacher and dad of 2! Read about my work habits here.)

This is discipline. This is practice, habit and routine.

What do you do when inspiration is lost? You keep going. (But … what do YOU do?)


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How To Get Organized (For Creatives)

I’m a highly organized and structured person. I’m also (even more) highly creative, abstract in thinking, and inspired every few minutes. I have millions – no, billions – of ideas, and I see things in pictures when I imagine them. My two year old walks around declaring, “I HAVE AN IDEA!” – I am much like him. I do the same thing. My wife even promised to listen to all of my ideas in her wedding vows.

My latest acrylic piece, Educating The Heart.

These two sides of my brain (or maybe it’s my personality?) don’t always get along, but when they work together, future versions of myself are thankful.

As Creatives, having organization systems in place are really the only way to stay on track. Realistically, I can only complete so many projects in any given amount of time. I’m a full time teacher, a fuller time parent and husband, and I no longer have the ability to forget about sleeping. When ideas and inspiration hit, I need some way of tracking all of this so that I can actually follow through on the better ideas.

I’m not going to pretend I’ve got it figured out. I don’t. But Past Patrick has definitely found some ways of helping out Present and Future Patricks.

Here are my top ten tips for getting, and staying organized, creatively:

  1. Use email. Don’t delete emails to yourself! I often begin looking in my email for something that I am vaguely aware of making. I often find an image or word file that I sent to myself, and when I fall out of control on keeping up with my submission tracking for books, I check my emails (because I never delete any) for dates and notes.
  2. Start using a cloud-based storage system for creative work. I love Google Drive. It’s easy, I can drag and drop and I can access it anywhere. This means, if I find 10 minutes that I steal on my lunch at work, I can open it up and work. It means I can organize everything into files that work for me and not only do that when I’m at my personal computer.

    “I Can & I Will” – available in my shop now!
  3. Organize as you go. It’s a pain sometimes, yes, but future you will be grateful. You might say, “Okay, this manuscript is for a picture book … it will be the first thing I put in a Picture Book Manuscripts In Progress folder.” Then, begin placing all of those types of manuscripts in that file. Put a sticky note on your computer/desk/wall/wherever you work most, so that you can recall where on earth did I save that stuff? The more you use it, the more likely it is to become a habit.I’m not an expert – my files are generally pretty wild. But I’ve been slowly working at this.

    I decided to start with my 2016 Writing Files. I organized my Google Drive by making a folder called “Writing” (I know, I know, we all have 18 of those). Then, inside I had been just popping in every new version of every manuscript, it was loaded with picture book dummies and submission tracking pages and idea lists. I organized it by creating subfolders: Works in Progress, and within that, “Middle Grade,” “Young Adult,” and “Picture Books”; I also created subfolders called “Finished Manuscripts” and within that subfolder, another folder for each completed manuscript, with everything required for submitting.

    The main idea was to clean up the main folder so that when I click into, I’m not overwhelmed and/or more importantly distracted by all of the files I’m working on!

  4. Make a gosh darned list. PRINT IT OUT. And keep an electronic copy updated. I don’t do this every day. In fact, it was August when I printed out my “master list” of current picture book ideas that are writeable/publishable (by my standards). I’ve been scribbling notes and ideas on and around it since then. I recently opened the electronic file and updated it. I’ve reprinted and now I will work from there. Because I saved it in a logical spot – on my Google Drive, in the Writing folder, in the subfolder “Works in Progress”, I will be able to find it more easily. If I can’t find it later, I can use the search option – because Google Drive syncs with my desktop app, and it is easy to search just about anywhere.(Note: Google is not paying me to amp up their Drive app. I just love it. Google has way better reach than I do!)
  5. Keep one “to do” notebook near your workspace. I tend to jot ideas and notes anywhere and everywhere. I try to jot those down in my To Do notebook, so that when I’m stuck or uninspired, I can just flip through the book.
  6. how-to-get-organized-for-creatives-patrick-guindon-art-2Be intentional. Name your files something you’ll remember; something that is explicit and maybe even long, using descriptive words that you know you will probably think of to describe the project. “MGWIP” is not a great file name for your untitled middle grade work in progress. “Middle Grade WIP – MG WIP – Boy Gets Lost In Woods” might be better (uh, if it’s about that).Also be intentional with your time. See tip #8.
  7. Sync everything to the same email account. If you’re going to use gmail, then when emailing yourself, email to that account. Sync your notes in your phone to that email. Sync your calendars so that you can schedule for yourself, and the reminder will show up everywhere. It simply takes a lot of work out of your searches.
  8. Take the time. It means that sometimes, you have to set aside 30 minutes to go through files. It also means that you need to make a decision about what you’re going to do and when. Sometimes, we can leave it to inspiration and that “pull” to a certain project – but when you’ve got lots of projects on the go, you need to have a plan. Maybe you wake up early to get more time in, or maybe you schedule out a few nights a week. You have to do what works for you, but you also have to do the work.
  9. Have a partner. This is someone who will hold you accountable. For me, it’s my art critique partner. In November, we were both feeling overwhelmed with all the things we WANTED to do, but were never getting to. We agreed to email rather than message a weekly to-do list. We send this on Sundays, usually, and then at the end of the week, we also send a little reflection. This is where we talk about how we did and how we’re feeling about it. Did we take on too much? Too little? We also make a conscious effort to keep the stories out of it. No excuses – we either did the work, or we didn’t.We decided to email because we regularly are in contact through messaging. It would be impossible to find the list at the end of the week, and there is something about the not-immediate pace of email that pushes us to pause, think, and reflect more carefully.
  10. Change. When your system isn’t working – when you can’t find something, or anything; when you are constantly overwhelmed; when you have nothing to show for a month of work – then it is time to change your system.



Being a Growing Person: On Creative Gremlins & Staying In The Art

It can be hard to be a Growing Person in this world.

We think of people in terms of what they present; in terms of their products and actions in snapshots of time. We look at a piece of art and think, “This is what the artist makes.” We read a type of writing and think, “This is what the writer writes.”

These are but minute pieces of an ever-growing, ever-changing puzzle.

It becomes overwhelming sometimes: “I must find my style, my voice – and stick to it!”

I’m trying to remind myself that I don’t need to stick to anything. I need to create.

A Growing Person respects the storm of creativity – for all of its beauty and all of the mess. On the other side of the storm lies something amazing.

This is why I bother, isn’t it? To explore expression, to explore my mind, to wonder and experiment.

A Growing Person says: “I’m here! I’m THIS. But I can change, and I will grow. Watch my journey!”

Yet, this pressure appears, and I don’t know where it comes from. Pretend timelines, a race against myself: complete this manuscript by March, or you’ll never be published! If you don’t get it submitted in TWO WEEKS, you can kiss a career as an author-illustrator goodbye. Meanwhile, I know the work isn’t ready, and I never make the deadline because it was based on nothing but a whim; it was based on a panicked part of my brain that had a nasty little gremlin whispering to it.

Oh, those gremlins are the worst. This is okay … but have you seen THAT writers work? You think this is decent? Come on, don’t be ridiculous. You suck. You are the worst. No one ever says anything because they don’t want to make you sad, but me? I don’t care! You. Suck. Stop making art! Stop writing! The world doesn’t need your ideas. 

A Growing Person’s art can shift and flux. This art isn’t what I’m making right NOW – but it’s a piece of my story.

But as a Growing Person, I’ve dedicated my life to pursuing my passions. I’ve committed to making things, for no bigger purpose than creation itself. Do I want a career in it? Absolutely! But, as a Growing Person, I know that growth takes time, effort and practice. I know that I need to keep working.

For me, staying in the art works. This means that I am actively making stuff (up) on an almost daily basis. When I turn that tap on, and the work begins flowing more quickly over time, it becomes easier to say to my gremlins: “Shut the heck up and leave me alone – I’m MAKING stuff over here! Some of it sucks and some of it doesn’t, so go bug someone else!” Of course, they are MY gremlins and they live in my brain with Fear. Don’t get me started on that fickle monster.

The process is messy. The results? Beautiful.

When I stay in the art, I am okay. I can approach my work from a Growing Artist/Writer perspective. I can say, “Hey, this isn’t the best, but this part is good and I could adjust that part by doing this.” When I’m out of the art? “This blows.”

I try to stay in the art by writing, sketching, and reflecting DAILY. I’ve recently started getting up earlier than everyone else in the house in order to give myself a dedicated 30-60 minutes of time to make. The stakes are low – this time is for me. I don’t have a deadline, I don’t have to tell anyone what I made, and I don’t have to do anything but show up and work.

This seems to keep the Gremlins, and Fear, a little bit quieter. It makes it easier to be a Growing Person who lives in a world of products, when I know that the most important part of the Art is the process.

A Growing Person reflects & honours their history.

(Note: I talked about staying In The Art in my November Newsletter. Didn’t get your copy? You can subscribe to my newsletter by visiting my website: www.patrickg.ca)

Did you know that I’m on Instagram? I’m also on Facebook and have a website! You can email at patrick@patrickg.ca. Please like, follow and share my posts if you’re feeling them, and have a creative day!

5 Ways To Create With Less Stress

Being a creative person is often a challenge. We face the world with the ownership of this label that we’ve self-inflicted: I AM CREATIVE! And we go out with an expectation on ourselves (usually by us, and no one else) that we be creative, and we create awesome things, and those things are innovative, and we keep making amazing things. The self-doubt and worry can really bring us down.

Some ways to break out of the normal ways of working, explore and enjoy our own creativity all involve removing expectations and simply creating:


  1. Chalk. Work in chalk. Doodle and draw and write and wonder. It’s not permanent, it will get wiped away, so take the chance now.img_0044
  2. Bath Crayons. Warning: these are sometimes hard to wash off. BUT, you can explore similarly to with chalk – it is less intimidating to doodle in the shower or tub, especially if you’re doodling for your kid (if you have one).
    In my rush to make “anotha’ Kingsy!” I stumbled on some new techniques to make these energetic lines that I’ve been after in my illustrations.
  3. Buy a cheap sketchbook. I used to think buying an expensive sketchbook with high quality paper was crucial. I still kind of do, but I have a hard to EXPLORING in that book. Instead, I use the book I got for a few dollars at the dollar store.
    Exploration is so much easier in a cheap sketch book. It doesn’t matter if your self doubt monsters are mocking you, because you can toss them if they suck.
  4. Play “Yes, and …”. I learned this while taking part in a high school drama class last year and it has pushed my writing into new directions. Basically, in the drama activity, you and the other actor improvise and HAVE to yes (a basic rule of improv):
    1. “I wonder if it will rain tomorrow?” might be responded to with
    2. “Yes, and I wonder if it will rain cats and dogs?” to which the first person might say,
    3. “Yes, and those cats and dogs will wearing Scottish battle gear as they take on the Irish in a game of pool golf.”
    4. The exploding will continue and by the end, hilarity will ensue. The same can happen with your writing (or even your art).I make lists of “Yes, and” but I call it “AND THEN” and I listen to my voice  saying it dramatically and with a ton of expression. I am then called to improve the dramatics of my writing!
  5. Sketch in the wrong colour. Yes, draw that apple in blue. Why? It removes what you know about the apple and forces you to focus on its form and essence. A red circle is either an apple or a tomato, and so by drawing it as blue, we have to find creative solutions. Sometimes, you need to back yourself into a corner rather than run from it.

Do you have other suggestions? If you try some of mine, let me know how they go! Have a happy, creative day!


“Be Happy” by Patrick Guindon – now on Instagram! Follow patrickguindonart