Artists' Block - Nathan Ford, "Mum 1o.12"
Nathan Ford, "Mum 1o.12"

The problem with the term “artists’ block” is that it gives loved ones the means to diagnose and therefore marginalize this peculiar state of being. The following article was published in 2013, but brings attention to the timeless issues many artists and creatives face.


I am currently four months into a period that can best be described as lost. I have been lost before, but have never been here before, and there’s where the problem lies. This state of numbness in its various forms has in some way played itself out in nearly every worthwhile painting I’ve made. I hate this feeling but I have come to realize there is always a period of turmoil, doubt, and hopelessness—it is consistently part of the process. I am not permitted to enjoy this sensation; dare I try to find joy in turmoil, then a fake “tortured artist” period ensues. This lasts only until my concealed and slightly conceited optimism is used up, and then the real block kicks in anyway.

Painting can be a bit like drowning—even very good swimmers can drown when they are out of their depth. If I do travel out of my depth, I can’t help swallowing water and feeling helpless. I guess the formula I work by is this: if I paint out my own baggage, maybe there will be someone who sees his or her own struggles embedded in mine. . . . Maybe . . .

Anyway, those ramblings were yesterday’s and these are today’s. It is 3:10 p.m. 7th August 2013, and I have just pulled together the painting that has been so problematic. Maybe my woeful lamentations of yesterday helped me along . . . it is impossible to know.

Because I have a bad memory, if I am going to talk about painting it’s best I talk about this one right in front of me. I have a flutter in my tummy at this very moment. It may sound a bit woolly but that is a very good indication that this painting is right. Qualifying what defines right is not an easy task. A number of formal elements are in place, the tones are balanced, the entry point is clean and exacting, the colors are understated and help lock the eye and carry it through the main compositional thrust of the painting. All this stuff you can read in books, and yet it is so easy to apply all the right principles and end up with a yucky clonky mess. So what makes this painting so right, for now at least? Tomorrow I may enter my shed and despair at my delusions.

Artists' Block - Nathan Ford, "Waterloo Regeneration"
Nathan Ford, “Waterloo Regeneration,” 304 x 100 cm, Oil on canvas
My children went on to work on Waterloo Station. I think they did quite a good job. I did the structural stuff and they did most of the fun bits.
Nathan Ford, "Joachim 1.12" portrait painting
Nathan Ford, “Joachim 1.12,” 20 x 28 cm, Oil on canvas
Nathan Ford, "Anna 11.12," 20 x 28 cm, Oil on canvas
Nathan Ford, “Anna 11.12,” 20 x 28 cm, Oil on canvas
Nathan Ford, "Stanhope," 20 x 28 cm, Oil on canvas 
Nathan Ford, “Stanhope,” 20 x 28 cm, Oil on canvas

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  1. I deal with Artists Block by having a minimum of two paintings on the go at one time. When I get frustrated with one I’ll change and paint on the other canvas. I try to work on one impressionist and one realistic painting during the same period which I can switch back and forth.

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