How to Beat the Creative Block?
3 top tips on how to overcome the dreaded designer’s block.
I’m a firm (yet biased) believer that creative jobs are the best jobs on the planet. Why? Because whilst most professions involve doing the same thing day in day out, creative jobs are versatile, the roles can change on a daily basis meaning you’re always learning something new. You have the freedom to let your creativity take the lead and express your ideas in fun, innovative new ways.
The only downside to being a visual artist is that it requires a certain degree of creativity to constantly churn out content. It’s easy to fall into the blank pit where ideas and inspiration are non-existent and you begin to rack your brain for absolutely anything to try and pull yourself out. Whilst it can seem frustrating and overwhelming, there are a number of things you can do for yourself to help get back on track.
I’ve pulled together my 3 top tips to help you battle the creative block!
1. Get Inspired
Inspiration is the key to creativity. If you’re not inspired, it’s not gonna happen! Anything can help; from people to places to colours, the list goes on. So, let’s take it back to basics and think about your personal style…what inspires YOU?
Look at other artwork
Social media is free. The internet is free. Google search your favourite piece of art. Follow like-minded artists on Instagram and look at their work. Use platforms like pinterest, dribbble, behance, and awwwards to see other creative pieces.
Revisit past projects
As designers, it’s easy to lose track of the really good work you’ve created in the past. Spend some time digging out some of your old work, whether it’s your favourite piece you’ve created, similar projects to the one you’re struggling with now, or a task you found challenging but found an innovative way to get around the issue…revisiting past projects is worth its weight in gold.
Give your right side of the brain a break!
Let your creative right-side rest whilst you gather inspiration through books, websites, podcasts and magazines. Inspiration is everywhere you look, and sometimes it’s the smaller things. Let your left-side dominate for now, and the rest will follow.
Speak to another creative
It’s easy to get stuck on an idea and not allowing yourself to see past it, even if it’s not working. Speak to someone else with a creative background, a colleague, friend, or family member. Having a fresh perspective works wonders and you might be surprised at how quickly the block disappears when you try another angle.
2. Rest and recoup
Creative blocks are a huge sign that your brain needs a time out. It’s easy to get overworked, overwhelmed, and sooooo over it! You simply can’t force creativity. As artist/author Adam J. Kurtz’s points out:
“Forcing ourselves to ‘be creative’ is pointless. It’s not a manual skill that you either do or don’t, but a series of emotional and mental tasks that sometimes just don’t come together.”
Take a digital break
Staring at any kind of screen can become tiring at the best of times, especially when it’s for hours on end. Close your laptop, turn off your monitor or tablet, and take a step back. Switch off your phone and don’t even think about turning on that TV! Make yourself a cuppa and just allow yourself to switch off for a while. Believe me, it’s way more productive than being glued to the screen, becoming increasingly frustrated because you can’t think straight. You’re allowed to take time to yourself.
Change your location
Sometimes being stuck in the same four walls can start to feel very ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’-ish. I’m sure we’ve all learned from lockdown that it’s not healthy or ideal to be in the same surroundings for a long period of time. Go for a walk, go to an art gallery or a coffee shop; literally anywhere that’s a change of scenery!
3. Don’t be afraid of failure
I often find that when I have ‘the block’, a lot of the time it’s because I’m stuck on making one idea work, which just isn’t working in general. It’s easier, more time efficient, and safer to stick to what we know as designers, but it’s called a comfort zone for a reason.
Let it go
Sometimes just trying new compositions, adding in shapes, and just generally going wild can lead to something surprisingly good. There’s a lot of rules for digital designers, but sometimes you have to just break the rules and mess around for a bit. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t – at least you’ve tried!
Try something new
Again, we all get very comfortable with what we know best. I’m a sucker for sticking to Photoshop when I know I should be using Illustrator for particular projects. Take an hour out of your schedule to teach yourself a new technique that you know will benefit you in the long run too. YouTube tutorials are my holy grail. 🙏🏻
To be blunt, just start. Sometimes the task at hand seems much more overwhelming than it actually is, and you waste time beating around the bush on how to make a start. Throw the plans out of the window and literally. just. start. Who knows, you might find yourself getting into the flow and creating one of your favourite pieces!
Ways to avoid it?
There really isn’t much you can do to avoid the creative block; it’s a completely normal and natural occurrence. But here’s what I would suggest in avoiding a complete creative breakdown:
Keep yourself inspired.
The more you keep a bank of ideas in your brain, the less you’ll struggle to find them. I like to carry a notebook around everywhere to jot down random thoughts, ideas, fonts, films, literally anything and everything I think I may find useful in the future. Similarly, take photos and screenshots of everything you see that you like, it could be a poster, a building, even just a shadow on the floor that you find compositionally interesting.
Follow other creative people on social media platforms. I like to keep an album on my “Instagram saved posts” of things I’ve seen that I like, using it as a bank of inspiration for when I get a bit stuck.
Again, go to galleries, exhibitions, and art spaces. I think it’s so easy to fall out of the habit of visiting these places, but it really is so important to keep up with it, and at the same time you’ll be supporting local and bigger artists, and independent businesses. It’s a win-win!
Subscribe to magazines. It’s so refreshing to pick up a magazine and physically touch it. Everything is online nowadays, and as mentioned earlier, it’s good to have a digital detox. Personally, I’d recommend Little White Lies.
Listen to podcasts. A few of my personal favourites are Design Matters with Debbie Millman, Huberman Lab, and The Diary of a CEO by Steven Bartlett.