How I Overcame My Creative Block and Rediscovered My Magic in Art


Artist Elli Milan in her art studio

Hitting the creative wall, struggling to make a “good” painting, feeling like I'm losing my magic: I know these are all normal experiences when going through the creative cycle. I have been here many times, feeling frustrated and like it will never end — remembering the moments when art was flowing freely and I loved everything I painted. Now I sit staring at my work, thinking, Who would buy this crap?!

My soul is dying for something new.

The new vision is still murky in my mind, but I know it is there and within grasp. I get on my computer and start making new sources, trying to push myself to new levels… trying to find anything different that will excite me. After several attempts, feeling completely defeated, I surrender to the intent: I'm just going to throw something on there that is completely not myself and see what happens.

I choose a moody looking meek goose and a profile of my daughter, Dafni, underwater with her hair floating all around her. I make it nighttime, with stars and dramatic lighting. I add some glowing fireflies and see a whole new vision. There is something about it I like, but also I doubt myself and think it looks too much like a Grimm fairytale. I feel compelled to paint it, although it is radically different than anything I have done before.

The Emotional Rollercoaster of My Creative Block

Oil painting of girl facing a goose

This is where the creative trauma begins. The moment I start the painting, it is a struggle. I feel like I am painting with two left feet. Every mark is off and every color is ugly. I make Dafni's face green every time and can't stop myself. I see my beautiful daughter turn into the Wicked Witch of the West right before my very eyes. I take a ton of breaks trying to shake it off.

I try painting on something else to find myself again. I face this one bad painting day after day, another after another, and I dread going into the studio. I am miserable and everyone knows it. It is like I had Creative PMS. I am cranky, emotional, moody, and unreasonable. This one painting affects everything about me. It feels like a week from hell.

No matter how many pep talks I give myself, no matter how many times I push through, I keep hitting the same wall. With everything in me, I want to quit. As I apply more ugly paint, I see the painting turn from bad to worse. I cry and throw things and have tantrums.

Sharing My Struggles and Finding Solace in the Support of Loved Ones

I realize my behavior is irrational and immature. I am being prideful and am making way too big of a deal of this painting. I can't move forward, I can't return backward. I am completely stuck with myself. Finally with nowhere to go, I beg God to kill whatever is inside of me that is keeping me from breakthrough. I tell God, “Just kill it, whatever it is. I don't care anymore, I don't want to hang on to anything.”

At dinner that night, I'm feeling really down and depressed. I tell my family what is going on. I am crying as I tell them how much I hate my painting and I know I am being a total baby and it's ridiculous but I can't help it. Somehow exposing it and sharing what I am going through, putting English words to it, all helps. That BIG, awful thing I am dealing with really has shrunk and seems so stupid. Even more stupid than I thought. I start to feel whatever it is loosing its grip over me and I feel myself moving forward.

Rising Above The Challenge: How Quiet Determination Fuels Resilience 

Blue, Orange and Yellow Abstract Underpainting of acrylic inks, spray paint and various mixed media art

The next day in the studio, I have a quiet determination to finish the painting no matter what — I don't care if I hate it. My single solitary goal is to just finish. I tell myself I am only hours away from the misery ending. I make myself add one final layer and I will be done.

As the last layer is added I see that the painting begins to beautify. The ugly witch turns into a princess. I still am not in love with the painting, but I finished, and it is acceptable. I can finally move on.

Small Wins Lead to Greater Momentum

I know I have to get to the next painting quickly or I will lose ground. I decide the next painting will not have a source; I will just paint intuitively and see what comes out. I begin layering color, spray paint, and inks without thinking. I concentrate on just thinking of nothing and living in the moment. I stay inside each mark, color, and swoosh of paint. I refuse to move into the future or go back to the past. I feel really free and full of energy. Painting is easy again. After a while, I stand back and look at the painting to see what it wants to be.

No matter how hard I try not to, all I can see is a pegasus. I see the wings and the form of the horse. I don't want to see a pegasus. I have judgments against fantasy art and a pegasus is the last thing I want to paint. But I can't shake the idea. So I commit to the mode of easy painting, being intuitive, and allowing the painting to become who she wants to be.

I let go.

Nurturing Inspiration and Unearthing My Creative Magic Within

Mixed Media Oil Painting of a Pegasus by Elli Milan

I embrace my pegasus and start forming her. The painting comes out of me effortlessly and I enjoy every minute. I begin to envision stars in the sky as I work into the background. I begin to remember sitting in my dad's lap as a child and listening to his stories about pegasi. My father tells me every Greek mythology story he knows, multiple times, and I am lost in Poseidon's sea and Zeus's thunderclouds. I ride on the back of Pegasus and we soar over the shining sea and fly through the night sky as I run my fingers through the stars. My pegasus is faithful and knows me. Whenever I want to climb her back, she is there waiting for me.

Now I'm crying as I remember who I am and find that little girl who can be anything. I am great. I am a goddess. I am an Amazon. I am fierce and bold and can face any cyclops or sea monster. I have a destiny and purpose and all of heaven's creatures are on my side.

I know that the thing God had to kill in me was a fear of success. A fear of being too much or reaching too high. My painting unearthed my false identity. That lowly, unworthy soul — that poisoned me and made me look sick and green — had to die. The princess in me could now live out her fairytale. There will be conquests, redeeming the land, setting captives free, and overcoming giants. There will be trials and difficulties, but also great victories.

Most importantly, I am my best.

I am unafraid and I smile at the future.

Share your experience in the comments below!


  • Melanie

    I been unable to paint for a few weeks now. I just moved to a new house and I had planned on taking two weeks off. It has been three. I feel like I should not make a painting when there are renovations to do, dishes to wash, general organizing of stuff to do. However, I am full of ideas. I am going to paint even if my house is a disaster! I have to. It is not so much a creative black as a guilt for spending time painting block. But I have to!

  • Thank you for this ...

    I started painting last year and my painting has always been exactly the way you describe Elli – something peeked out at me and I then tried to paint it. And so women, animals, flowers were created in my paintings. Some were so beautiful that I cried with them, as my soul resounded with joy. And some made me despair that I couldn’t paint anything meaningful. And then I found the Mastery program and now I’m looking forward to taking my work to such a wonderful level as this painting of yours with Pegasus. This is the creation of my dreams. Thank you for this article which is a confirmation for me to keep going no matter what.

  • Carmen

    Great post

  • Dawn

    Dude. Yesterday. I started a watercolor with amazing colors and as I picked out what I saw, the painting became less and less to me. At one point I hated it and thought-there’s no way I’m sharing this. But, I tweaked a bit more and now it’s something I can live with. Not my best work by far, but it feels like the good is getting harder to find. Blessings to you.💕

  • Shaelah Perales

    😭 Thank you

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