Experiencing a creative block can be frustrating—and frightening when our livelihood depends on our ability to create new work or make progress on a current one. The first thing to remember is that you’re not alone. Creative blocks happen to all of us! The second thing to remember is that they are temporary, even when they seem to arrive with a neon sign that says, “You Will Be Forever Blocked, So Give Up Now.” Don’t believe it. Instead, see a block as an opportunity to slow down and refill the wellsprings of your creativity.
While sharing my own ways of overcoming creative blocks, I’ll also sprinkle in ideas from others including professional artists and photographers featured in our Artie’s Eight Q&A series.
1. Shake up your scenery. If you live in the city, traipse through a park, zoo, or botanical garden. Go for a walk alongside a body of water or in a forest. Climb a mountain or a hill. If you’re a rural homesteader, take a trip to the city, visit a museum or show, or peruse local shops. Whether it be an antique shop, luxury car dealership or trendy boutique, design and inspiration is all around us. Fine artist and printmaker Mindy Lighthipe is with me on this: “I get out of the house and get into nature,” she says. “It can be planting in my garden, going out in my kayak, or traveling to a favorite destination.” Photographer-decorator Cheryl Williver concurs: “A change of scenery is what works for me. I get out of my office or ‘comfort zone’ and get out and explore!”
2. Tour your town with fresh eyes. No matter how large or small your city is, pretending to be a tourist will let you see it with a new perspective. Research what your town is known for. Make a day out of exploring its relevant sites. You might even wind up creating art with a local flavor, which can endear you to your fellow citizens. When University of North Texas photography student Hudson Ingram is feeling blocked, he looks around and starts shooting. “I just take photographs of whatever I see in my daily life,” Hudson says. “[That] gives me insight to what I might be subconsciously thinking, and I create a project based on those thoughts.”
3. Watch a movie or read a book that’s outside your normal genre. If rom-coms are your M.O., try a futuristic action movie instead. I like to read non-fiction. Yes, I learn a lot of practical stuff, but large doses can dull my senses. I mix it up with the classics, poetry, supernatural fiction, and dreamy travel essays
4. Take a class or workshop in a different art form. If you’re a photographer, try a drawing workshop. This will force you to slow down and engage with your subject in a completely different manner. Artist David Hoque agrees: “I’ve taught myself through YouTube and other sources how to improve my photography skills,” says David. “I have found that having good skills in this field is critical as a realist painter.”
5. Peruse a dictionary or thesaurus. This is an old writer’s trick that can work for artists, too. Pick a single letter, like K. What images come to your mind when you see the words “kite,” kaleidoscope,” or “karma”?
6. Out of sight, out of mind. Sometimes it feels like a project we’re working on is staring us down, ruthlessly reminding us of our block. When Rachel Kosbab, a North Carolina fine artist, isn’t sure how to finish a painting, she hides it “for a week or so and work on other projects,” Rachel says. “When I come back to it, I usually have new great ideas.” Texas photographer Jason Whitehead takes a similar approach: “I put the cameras away and try to find another outlet for creativity,” like listening to music or driving around. Michigan photographer Joshua McCann says taking a nap is one of the things that clears up his creative blocks. This technique is No. 1 on Creative Bloq’s list of block breakers.
7. Eat your way to inspiration. Colorful ingredients and beautifully plated dishes are a feast for the eyes. Plus, eating engages all our senses! I like to try new ethnic restaurants—you get to experience a little dose of culture along with the food. And if you appreciate that culture’s cuisine, check out their art as well. You may find a whole new source of artistic stimulation.
BONUS TIP: Do some reflective journaling. Verbal reflection can stir up mental visuals. The internet is full of writing prompts, but here are a few of my favorites: “____________ makes me feel wild and free.” “My best childhood memory is _____________________.” “I’ve always been fascinated by ________________.” Botanical artist Lotus McElfish told us that her blocks are most often due to her own insecurities. “[I’ve] got to get that out of the way and know my own value and artistic voice,” she says. Journaling positive affirmations can help with that. Affirmations are especially effective when we write in the second or third person: “You, Joely, are a talented artist” and “That Joely really knows how to capture beauty in a unique way.” Whatever you do, don’t feel guilty for feeling blocked. “When you beat yourself up you’re too busy beating yourself up to notice all the inspiration that surrounds you.” Sage words from Artists Magazine.
I’m always looking for new ways to overcome creative blocks. So if you have one to share, please do!