Confusing A Monster: Overcoming A Creative Block

Hey guys, this is Steve Knerem an illustrator from Cleveland, America (Ohio) that specializes in t-shirt illustration. You can see my work at as well as my on-line t-shirt store . In this blog I’m going to talk to you about “artistic confusion” and my experience with burnout, creative block and recovery solutions. I titled the blog Confusing a Monster because I find myself saying “I’ve created a monster!” once I finish a shirt illustration. My shirts generally take between 20-30 hours to complete, literally! I put so much time, attention and love into each piece that it always becomes more than I could ever anticipate. So the question I have for you is what happens when the well of creativity runs dry?
Let’s begin. I’ll break this down into 4 parts: Your Strength, Your Opposite/Your Confusion, Your Rebirth and Stronger than before.

To give a little background, 2010 was an awesome year for me. T-shirt business was solid. I gained new clients, and launched my own t-shirt line. I saw work flow go into 2011 and I was very excited for the future. I figured I should strap in and get ready for the ride, right? Unfortunately I got terribly sick in October, I was tired of thinking, tired of creating and on top of that the holidays were coming. Clients were of course still expecting from me but I had a complete creative block. I remember sitting at my drawing table looking at a blank piece of paper confused, lost and exhausted. “Where do I start?” I asked myself.

Your Strength
Whatever your strength is that is where you begin. Your strengths are your foundation. This is what you fall back on when the well runs dry. As for myself I am really good at drawing people, creatures and ornate objects. That was all I could give. On top of feeling run down I was paranoid I wasn’t going to produce for my clients. I really had to trust myself and my abilities. Once I got through concepts and presented them, they were happy and projects got done!

TIP: Don’t think you are good, know you are the best at what you do and that no one can touch you. You are the only person that can produce the greatness that’s inside of you. There will always be storms to weather so be confident is your abilities.

This experience really showed me that I do know what I am doing. When you are in the thick of working on projects you go into auto pilot and forget to look back on all the good you produced. I didn’t have to look far I just had to look at my body of work from throughout the year and recognize my strengths. DO THIS BEFORE YOU GET BURNED OUT.

TIP: Having a “go to” is important. Know what you can fall back on as a foundation in case you can’t come up with new ideas. Own your craft and make it the best so when you are at your lowest of creative flow you always produce a solid piece.


Q: What else do you do when the well runs dry?

A: Have an opposite from your everyday craft.

Doing opposite activities/crafts are vital to your creativity. If you are in high gear all the time you’re going to blow a fuse. Opposites get your mind refreshed. You go back to work revitalized with excitement. In the midst of a busy work flow I still need to do something different and shut my brain off.

There are two types of opposites: the creative and non-creative opposite.

My creative opposites are oil painting and life drawing. These are not for clients or for a dead line. Just shut off the brain and go. My non-creative opposites are landscaping, cooking, camping and weightlifting. If it wasn’t for the exercise I would certainly self-destruct. Know what gives your creativity a rest and apply it to your monthly activities. There’s nothing better than going on a camping trip but make sure you are fully prepared with all the camping equipment that you need.

TIP: Opposites do attract and they refresh.

TIP: Confusion is good!

In weight lifting there is a term called muscle confusion. Muscle confusion keeps you from hitting a plateau and the inability to grow muscle. YOU NEED ARTISTIC CONFUSION.

Apply this to your craft. This goes hand in hand with “The Steve Knerem Opposite Theory.” A good example of confusion is doing something out of your comfort zone. It sucks and you know what that is for you. Paint with the opposite hand. Color a monochromatic piece. If you say “I can’t draw” go to a life drawing class and frustrate the hell out yourself. There is something about the confusion that will enhance your creativity.

HOMEWORK: Take 15 minutes every day for 1 week and do something you usually don’t do in order to break up the monotony. It doesn’t have to be pretty or ever seen by anyone. You might discover something new!

So I went through this period of feeling tapped out. I relied on my strengths and did some opposite exercises. One day I noticed that I got through it! I really felt renewed especially after being sick for two months. Here are a few things I learned along the way:

1. Rest, rely and know what my strengths are.
2. Always take time to stop and look at the work I’ve done.
3. I actually did discover something new for my own shirt line. I am more focused on what I want to produce and how to do it. I can hardly wait to start drawing and get the shirts printed up.
4. The last thing I understood but fight like crazy to do is sleep. I really hate that I have to sleep. If had a super power it would be that I would never require sleep. Rest is good.


Overall I came out stronger and wiser than before. I would never want to go through this again but the weird part is that in order to grow, certain things need to happen in life. Embrace the change, pressure, frustration and challenge.

During the time I was sick I picked up a book by Robert Kiyosaki called “Before You Quit Your Job.” This book talks about everything you need to think of in order to go on your own and become a successful entrepreneur. An eye opening section talks about using the negative as a positive and being a person of solution and not complaining. My point is there will be adversity but think about the solutions and turning the negative into a positive. Know that you have strengths to rely on, you now know strategies to keep you going and the best part is that you come out shining like gold stronger than before!

Good luck with your artistic confusion!

Conact me anytime with any questions. Follow me at any of my links below. Thanks for reading and stay glued to what I AM THE TREND is doing in 2011.

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  • Melizondo85

    I really needed to read that! I’m having “writer’s block” with producing music and even though he was talking about art his tips will still help me!

  • Excellent post Steve, well written and filled with great content. Cheers!

  • agreed! very good post steve!

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  • Glad to hear this was helpful guys. Remember to keep things simple and own your strength.

  • Lknerem

    Hey, Steve, Well if this isn’t a fantastic writing and I am so proud of you. It sure gives you something
    to think about. With all this said, it sounds as though you really learned something about your self
    and I have learned something about you. What I see that in all your learning, abilities and creative
    ness, with your ups and downs and all your experiences, you can put it down and write a great
    piece for all to read. I welcome more of this from you. You bet that you will stay on top and
    soar on eagles wings. God Bless you and please remember, get that sleep, it is good and refreshes
    you in ways you can’t imagine. Most of all it will give you those new, fresh creative ideas.
    Love, Your Mom