I decided to place motivation in the beginner’s section, not because more experienced artists do not go through similar problems, but motivation, or lack thereof, is more common amongst the individual who has so much to learn and perhaps cannot see the wood for the trees.
I always smile when I think back to the old television sketches from the UK comedy “The Fast Show”. There’s a character called Jonny who sits at his easel painting away contentedly with his wife until he picks up some black on his brush. When the black touches the canvas Johnny becomes possessed in a schizoid transformation scrubbing over his entire painting with black and insanely crying things like “Black! Black! Like the clouds of death that follow me into the forest of doom!!…”
White is really the colour of despair; an empty white page reflecting back self-doubts. The doubt is self-defeating and circular making it hard to progress beyond. So how do you get past it? My thinking at the time was that to expend any real effort would result in a pitiful drawing that might push me to the edge of abandoning art altogether, and sadness at having not used my time for something that would not leave me feeling forlorn. The only real means to get through this is perseverance, and for want of a better word, faith that with much more practice, drawings would get easier and look better. Sketching may be better than drawing in these circumstances as there is no need to obsess over details or getting everything relatively spot on; time is less a factor and with this being the case you can make numerous sketches all the while improving your ability to observe and interpret so that if you come to make a drawing, diving straight in is almost instinctive.
Isolating a cause for a lacklustre attitude may point to a number of things. The culture of working long hours, returning home in a vegetative state, with the potential of attending to family commitments can make regular practice an impossibility. Under these circumstances you will simply have to seize what moments you can, preferably at the weekend with some peace and quiet.
I have known people to spend hundreds of pounds on art supplies only to gaze despairingly over their collection, unable to bring themselves to use it. In part I can relate to this psychological obstacle, I recall buying my first set of cheap and cheerful pastels; they sat in their box tucked away in their little foam pockets so neat and tidy, each colour pristine, untainted, in a near state of perfection. The thought of taking them out and destroying that, as absurd as it may sound, was not easy to overcome. Ultimately you have to say to hell with it. Pastels are easily used when snapped in half, and so I snapped them all in two – broken, fixed the problem. The subsequent drawing was atrocious, but that wasn’t important.
‘What to draw?’ is a quandary for some, though I never quite understood it. You must draw what your emotion dictates to you at the time – if you seek to practice a particular skill such as perspective, than a cityscape may satisfy; if you have taken a holiday or gone out on a walk, inspiration can be found in those fleeing moments that rapture us aesthetically and emotionally, that in itself can be inspiration and even if we cannot recreate the scene; the emotion can often be depicted. Art can be a powerful social tool to make people take notice of an injustice or to connect with others on a social plight, perhaps feelings of powerlessness in the face of current world politics. I find it hard to conceive of the question, what to draw, but understand the problems in obtaining a useful reference. If you have a person or landscape in mind and have the opportunity to work from life, seize it. If you are dependent on some form of photographic source, ideally you will want to work from your own sources to avoid any legal repercussions, but if you are merely drawing for yourself, books provide a good source, and the Internet is invaluable in finding just about anything. There are advantages and disadvantages to working from photographic sources of course.
Hopefully you are able to take inspiration rather than intimidation from superior artists - take a trip to a local gallery or museum, preferably one that displays the sort of work that is emotionally stimulating to your tastes or demonstrates a technical proficiency to show that the seemingly impossible can be done! It would be untruthful to say competition does not propel people forward, but a healthy ego acknowledges and is inspired by extreme talent, and by the same token does not beat up on itself to condemn your own efforts. We are our own worst critics, and if you can proceed with the mentality that you are working almost to the best of your abilities (there always has to be room for improvement of course!), then give yourself a break and take consolation in knowing everybody has their share of monstrosities and 'failed' attempts.