Photo by Tim Arterbury
Ever sit down to create and all you can conjure up is a big ball of "blah"?
Yeah, me too.
In fact, it happens all the time! It can happen to all of us at least once and a while. Art block is not fun, and it can be demoralizing and frustrating and make you want to pull your hair out. Or even worse - just quit.
There are a lot of different reasons why we find ourselves in a creative rut, but below are 25 ways that I personally combat it and stay on track. Whether it's to help in my client work or for my own personal art journey, these tips & ticks are both useful and doable.
1. SET GOALS - WRITE A LIST!
I write everything down. Everything. Sometimes we lose our focus artistically because we just keep forgetting what we are doing. You have a great idea for a new project or pattern or product or print - that little light bulb in your head goes off! - but just as quickly as it came to be you get distracted and it fades away.
Nowadays many people keep a digital schedule or to-do list, but I personally recommend keeping a handwritten list. Collecting cute little notebooks is not just highly addictive, but the act of writing things down by hand can help boost your long-term memory.
Start writing down all those great ideas. Set goals for when you'd like to complete them. Keep a schedule. All these things can help you keep track of where you'd like to be focused in general and makes chasing down your creativity easier.
2. KEEP A DAILY SKETCHBOOK (BE DISCIPLINED)
Sometimes the best way to fight an art block is to force yourself to create every day. Okay, maybe not force, but try starting a new sketchbook and make it a point to sketch or draw or paint or ink something every single day (or as often as possible). Creating the habit of making art continuously will help you retain the discipline to keep it up.
Still staring at a blank page? Don't know where to start? You can try to begin your own Sketch-a-Day Challenge, take a shot at The 100 Day Project, or participate in an annual event like #Inktober or #MerMay.
Don't feel like sketching? Make a mixed media collage, or paint, doodle with marker, or create a mood board right in your sketchbook (see below!).
Even if you are a graphic designer, web designer, or illustrator and work primarily digitally, a sketchbook is a very powerful tool. Taking that idea in your head and putting it down on paper will help you conceptualize your thoughts in a way that you might not be able to otherwise if you jump straight to the computer screen.
Also, nothing quite beats the fresh scent of a brand new sketchbook.
3. CREATE A MOOD BOARD
I mentioned this in my last blog post about how useful a digitial mood board is when planning out projects, but it can also just be used to help drum up inspiration or keep you motivated. A mood board in and of itself is a fun and creative art project that you can hang up in your home or keep in your office to update regularly. Sometimes I'll even create mood boards right in my sketchbook in lieu of drawing (as just mentioned). Or maybe if a traditional mood board just isn't your thing, there's always Pinterest!
4. CHANGE YOUR SCENERY
Take your materials (or your laptop) with you and sit in the park, the library, your favorite coffee shop, heck - even just a different room of the house! A little change of scenery sometimes can be like a breath of fresh air. It helps break up the monotony of sitting at the same desk every day and following the same routine.
Photo by Gabriel Beaudry
5. ORGANIZE & UPDATE YOUR WORK SPACE
Your work space should reflect your head space. Or, at least where you want your head space to be. Recently I spent a few weeks completely taking apart my bedroom, thoroughly cleaning, throwing away or donating my old junk, and repainting a new brighter color before putting everything back to completely change the layout of the room. The result? I feel better sitting down to work every day. I don't feel uneasy or claustrophobic trying to concentrate in a dusty room. It also lets me spend more time creating than cleaning since the same chore takes less than half the time now!
Need some ideas? Pinterest comes to the rescue again.
6. TRY A NEW MEDIUM
They say variety is the spice of life. This is true with art as well. Sometimes if I'm planning out a new project I'll start my sketches out in a different medium. Even crayons and magic markers! Play with some expired film, use oil instead of acrylic, draw on colored construction paper instead of white, use chalk, use pastels, watercolors, whatever. Loosen up a little and have fun. Let the ideas flow.
If you work with Adobe you could try new Photoshop brush styles like charcoal or guoache or Illustrator vector brushes like pencilcraft or ink.
7. EXPERIMENT WITH A NEW ART STYLE
Other than different mediums, you could also focus on different styles. Look at the work of famous cartoonists, book illustrators, photographers, cartoonists, etc. How do your favorite artists work? What's their niche? What makes their work stand out and be different from everyone else? You could play with styles of other known artists, or try to invent your own! Combine different colors and mediums and techniques to do something that's just totally you.
8. REVISIT THE CLASSICS (KNOW YOUR ART HISTORY)
It's good to regularly get back to basics. How well do you know your art history? Check out blogs that document the history of art and different art through time showcased in museums like The Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Smithsonian American Art Museum. One of my favorite reads from college was Art That Changed the World.
My personal favorite artist to revisit when I'm looking for inspiration is Gustav Klimt.
Photo by Brenda Godinez
9. TRY A NEW FOOD (OR DRINK)
It might seem silly, but new foods and drinks, smells and flavors, can do a lot to help stir the creativity in you! It's a bit of a ritual for me to try at least one new food or drink a month when I go out. It's yet another way to break up the monotony of your day and maybe discover something new you love. Some artists even create with food!
10. READ MORE (AND VARY)
I am guilty of having a pretty hefty stack of books on my nightstand - but I try to keep a variety of different types of books, like hardcover novels, scrappy romance paperbacks, poetry, politics, etc. The exposure to different genres and content keeps me thinking. Besides inspiration, they mostly help me relieve stress. Reading a little bit every day helps me wind down and relax and if I'm relaxed, I'm less likely to feel overly frustrated and get that stress ball in my stomach when I sit down to create.
It's also good to regularly touch on some art books! I recently re-read The Anatomy of Type while I was working on a new font project. I am a graphic designer, so I like to expand my knowledge of skills and techniques related to design and history of design. I can recommend books like Women in Graphic Design, 50 Contemporary Artists You Should Know, and Color Inspiration.
11. MAKE YOUR OWN SOUNDTRACK
I must go through several pairs of headphones a year for how much I listen to music. I currently have an Amazon Music subscription and make playlists on the app for everything using all different kinds of artists and genres of music. For work, classical and TV and film scores set a good pace and work well for background music. It really doesn't matter what kind of music you use though - as long as it helps keep you motivated and inspire you that's all that matters.
Not into music? Check out some podcasts or audio books!
12. WATCH CREATIVE FILMS
While I'm painting or drawing, or even while I'm working (so guilty), sometimes I like to play a new movie in the background. Broaden your horizons a little and check out a creative art film or a foreign film! There can be a big difference creatively in different genres of films. Whether its the framing of a scene, the color schemes, the music, etc. - watching a new film might inspire you! Some of my favorite films to rewatch periodically are Amélie and Howl's Moving Castle.
Netflix currently has some nice options too! I just started watching Iris, a movie that focuses on the legend Iris Apfel when she was 93 and her role in fashion.
Photo by Dino Reichmuth
13. LEAVE. THE. HOUSE. (AND VISIT A NEW SPACE)
I'm serious. Get off your computer. Turn off your phone. GET OUT OF THE HOUSE. One of the worst causes of creative block is being stuck in the same spot day after day.
Strapped for cash? Just try a different grocery store or coffee shop or bookstore when you're doing things that are part of your normal routine. Or check the paper or local online message boards for notices about free events for holidays or festivals or community meetups.
Being able to travel and visit new locations can help inspire you by giving you a new experience to draw from. And you might see something amazing along the way!
14. GO EXPLORING OUTDOORS
Get back to nature. Feel the sun on your face! Go for a hike, a bike ride, walk a trail, visit the ocean. Explore whatever is is your local landscape has to offer. Inspiration can be found in the shapes and colors found in nature and could be integrated into your work. Nature also is a place for introspection and reflection. You can gain a sense of peace and relaxation not found anywhere else. Leave behind your day-to-day distractions and find a new focus.
15. TAKE A MINI VACATION
Sometimes it's impossible to take the time off for a a real vacation. Take a mini vacation! Spend a whole day or a whole weekend away from home. Take your art supplies with you (or at least just a small sketchbook and some pencils). Plan out an art themed vacation! Florence may not be somewhere you can visit on the weekend, but most major cities have a vibrant art community waiting to be discovered. Museums, street fairs, and galleries are a good place to start.
Or just completely take a break from your art for a while and tune out. Sometimes the best thing for your creativity can be to walk away from it and recharge if you're feeling simply overwhelmed.
16. TAKE MORE PICTURES
This works a few different ways. Inspiration can hit you anywhere. But you can also find inspiration anywhere. So keep that camera ready to click! It doesn't have to be a fancy DSLR - just keep your phone's camera on hand. See a cool typeface on a snack package? A fascinating print on a dress in a store window? A beautiful flower blooming on the sidewalk? Click. You can go back and reference those images later. This also ties into the mood board concept - create a mood board out of these images!
Or use a Polaroid or other instant camera and create a kind of catalog out of the images. I cut out individual images or articles or ads from magazines and keep them with my photos in a binder in my office that I can flip through periodically when I have down time, inspiring me to plan out new projects.
Photo by Autumn Goodman
17. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF (DO MORE FOR YOU)
Even a little extra time set aside every week (or every day if possible) to do something nice for yourself can make a big difference. Artists and other types of creatives tend to over work and run themselves into the ground. Get up in the morning and put on something nice, even if you're working from home. Wear some perfume, braid your hair, paint your nails, try a mud mask, have a cocktail (preferably after work hours). If I feel down I work slower, and accomplish less - but when I feel good about myself, I feel better about what I'm doing, and it can motivate me to work better and more efficiently.
I'm usually so busy with clients or maintaining my shop that I really appreciate the convenience of a monthly box subscription like Ipsy to treat myself to something nice.
18. START AN EXERCISE ROUTINE
Working out and exercising is good for so many health issues, especially those that creatives and freelancers face when they work from home or work in an office space where they are sitting all day. This includes things like increasing blood flow and circulation and stretching muscles in your hands, neck, and back that get stiff or sore. But regular exercise has been found to have other benefits - like upping convergent and divergent thinking, leading to an increase in creativity.
19. SPEND MORE TIME SOCIALIZING
Whether you're a freelancer or solopreneur, or you work mostly independently, it can get pretty lonely. Try spending more time with friends or family, or talking to someone new. Ideas or inspiration can be found in every day conversation. Or try bouncing some ideas off of them! If you're really shy talking to strangers about your art, make your friend your guinea pigs and take them out for tea to introduce them to a new project you're working on. Ask for some feedback. They might be more help than you'd expect.
20. GET MORE SLEEP (SERIOUSLY)
Lack of sleep can cause some really wicked art block. Lack of sleep (or lack of good sleep) can cause a decrease in brain function and neural strength. There's an interesting article that sums up well why over exhaustion and insomnia can negatively effect both creativity and your every day activities.
Photo by Timon Klauser
21. EXPOSE YOURSELF TO MORE (NEW) ART
In the age of the world wide web and social media, it's easy to miss so many new artists that pop up every day. The internet has opened up the world to such a vast array of artists in hundreds of different mediums across the world. Take some time to discover them! I regularly frequent not just portfolio pages on sites like Dribbble and Behance, but also profiles of indie creators and artists on sites like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. I've followed literally hundreds of artists across social media, who have all inspired me in someway or another to improve my work or given me the courage to share it.
22. TAKE AN ART CLASS
Local community colleges or trade schools frequently offer affordable short term classes in different art disciplines, like watercolor painting or figure drawing or sculpture. The discipline of a classroom setting can help with pushing you to work creatively or find something different you really mesh with. Also, having a teacher right there in person is a great resource to take advantage of!
Can't make it to a campus? Try a site like Skillshare for two months free. Or if you don't want to commit or are on a tighter budget, YouTube has an amazing amount of free tutorials provided by fellow artists who teach all sorts of techniques and skills. you can also view samples of progress shots or timelapse videos of their own work.
23. WORK WITH OTHERS
Grab a friend or fellow creator and start a project as a team! Maybe just for an afternoon of doodling together in your sketchbooks, or something longterm you can commit yourself to.
Or just meet up to talk shop. Share resources. Take notes. You can always learn something new!
24. MAKE MORE TERRIBLE ART
Some days are good. Some days are...not so good. Everyone has terrible, no good, crappy art days. It's okay.
You've got to make a hundred terrible pieces of art before you can make your first really great piece of art. The act of finishing a piece of art can be much more important than making a good piece of art.
Photo by Patrick Hendry
25. JUST BE PATIENT WITH YOURSELF
It takes years and years of art practice to learn how to work faster, and even then, sometimes you feel yourself working a bit slower than others. It's totally okay to need more time. Don't compare yourself too much to other people who maybe have different skills and experience than you.
At the end of the day, you need to be patient with yourself. Great ideas (or any ideas at all) sometimes take time. Some days are for art and some days are for other things. Don't give up - you can do this!