How I come up with ideas and break through mental blocks

I have made it a point in my own art world to do something creative every single day - even on the ones I'm not "inspired" to do anything.  Some days it’s working on a painting for an hour, and some days it’s drawing all night.  And you know what; sometimes it’s just doodling for a few minutes while I wait for dinner to cook.  I work with the energy I have and the time I’m given.  But let’s be real – every artist goes through times where either they “don’t feel like” creating, or they really want to create, but can’t come up with any good ideas.  It’s the artist’s version of “burnout” or “writer’s block.”  So what do I do when I have those moments?  What do I do when I sit down with a pencil and paper or park myself in front of canvas and…nothing happens?  Whether it’s straight burnout from working so much the week before (like right now), or just one of those days where the blank paper is intimidating, I have a few never-fail tricks to get me back into the process.

  1. Switch it up:  my first move, and the one that usually works the best, is just to simply switch what I’m working on.  If I sat down to paint and I’m just not “feeling it,” I have no problem putting the brushes away and moving over to my sketch spot.  Trade your paintbrushes for pencils.  Trade your black & white sketches for a color piece.  Trade that portrait for a nature scene…just switch it up!  Force the brain to tap into creativity you may have pushed away for a while.
  2. Try something brand new:  Having a case of “artists’ block?”  Right now, hop on YouTube and search for an art concept you have always wanted to learn.  Watch a few videos.  If you’re like me, you’ll end up getting sucked down that rabbit hole and suddenly you’ve watched 14 different people try out 85 different techniques.  Finally, when you peel your eyes away from the screen, your brain should be shouting at you, “Oh my god, I can totally do this!  I should do this!  I need to do this right now!  I could do SO MUCH with that technique!”  Bam – you’ve been inspired to try a new thing.  And you know what’s cool?  Even if you try it, and you suck at it – guess what – you still used that creativity.  If you enjoyed it, it’s a skill worth developing.  If you didn’t, well, you tried something new and now you know.
  3. Browsing Facebook:  Now I don’t mean checking up on friends and family – because you know what, we do that all day.  Don’t lie.  I’m talking about searching Facebook (or Tumblr, or Instagram, whatever) for photos.  There are some great accounts and really awesome users who post gorgeous photos dedicated to scenery, animals, human nature, etc.  I have an entire album of beautiful photos saved to my phone and saved to my desktop on my computer.  A lot of them are ones I’d like to draw/paint at some point – but many of them are just really gorgeous in how they use things like color, shading, movement, etc.  When I’m feeling extra “stuck,” just flipping through some pictures helps my brain get moving.
  4. Turn on the music: I use this most often with painting, but sometimes when I’m drawing and just need an energy boost, music helps.  Turning on music is obviously something I do a lot, but when I need to spark some creativity, I’ll change up what I’m listening to.  The art I would organically create while listening to something like Sigur Ros is very different from the art I would create while listening to The Rolling Stones.  It’s a mood thing – and for me, the types of strokes, the pressure, the colors and the tone of a piece will be different when I change up the music.   And sometimes, if I’m listening to a song that really triggers some kind of emotion, I start to see things like colors, shapes, visions – and I can’t let those ideas go to waste!  That’s art creating itself even before my hands can get to it!
  5. Get involved with a social cause or charity:  One of the biggest sparks that got my creative juices going after a huge lull was the opportunity to create pieces for a few charity events.  They were very different from the “sports heavy” work I had been doing for so long.  I was at burnout with that, and being able to create art that represented a totally different realm was refreshing, and it was just what I needed!  Use your art to help raise awareness for something you passionately support – whether it’s a charity for animals, a foundation for children, schools, shelters, whatever it may be, find a way to use your art to do some good for that cause.
  6. Fresh air:  Seriously.  Open up the window.  If the weather is nice, sometimes all it takes is me opening my balcony door and that WOOSH of fresh air – the sounds, the smells, the feeling – that’s enough to wake up my brain.  For me, there’s absolutely  nothing like a sunny, 70 degree Saturday from about 11-3 to open up that balcony door and let the fresh air in while I draw.  It’s THE BEST.
  7. Craft Shows & Galleries:  If you’ve ever walked around a city festival or some kind of craft/art show, you know that there are SO MANY different people bringing talent to the table.  I have always loved walking around festivals to see what other people are showcasing.  Obviously for me, the ones that are very “art heavy” as opposed to “crafty” will get my brain working the most, but even the little crafty things can be interesting to me!  For a while, one of my favorite creative hobbies was actually making jewelry.  I wasn’t any good at it and never sold a thing, but it was something fun to do and it allowed me to use my artistic brain in new ways.  And I was inspired to do that by seeing handmade jewelry at a craft fair.  It’s one thing to see other people’s work online, but it’s a whole different feeling to see it in person.  So if you’re stuck, get up and go to some kind of fair or festival.  Browse, touch, smell, get inspired.   You will meet so many unique people and get so many interesting visuals.  I have no problem (when I get the ok from the vendor!) snapping a picture with my phone that I really like and using it as inspiration.  Never a straight up copy – but inspiration.
  8. Take a poll:  Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, emails, or even on this blog – sometimes I will flat out ASK my readers and followers what they want to see.  Not only does that help me get ideas, but it helps me understand what it is my followers like most.  It helps me connect better with them and build my following.  Even if you don’t have “a following,” ask your friends and family what they’d like to see.  Everyone has ideas – listen to them!
  9. Get in a workout: Now, I’m a fitness person, so this is a daily thing for me, but sometimes…yeah, I will drop my art project and go get my sweat on.  Sometimes it’s the second one in a day.  That second workout though – even though it does have an effect on my waistline, that’s not what it has as a primary purpose.  Some of my workouts are simply “blood movers.”  I use them to move my body, wake up my muscles, engage my mind and recharge my breathing.  You’d be surprised how effective this is.  Sometimes all we needed was a little wake up call.  If we’re tired, a moderate, fun workout will energize us (don’t exhaust yourself though – that will have the opposite effect! Ha.) If we’re carrying around stress or emotional baggage, a good sweat session will help us unload some of that and let the mind refocus.  From a casual walk around the block to a 60 minute TurboKick class – whatever it is you want to do, get up and move!
  10. Get some rest:  No seriously.  You know how you always get those LIFE CHANGING GENIUS THOUGHTS just as you’re about to go to sleep (or when you’re in the shower…or really when you’re anywhere you “can’t” write them down…)? Sometimes I force myself to take a nap, go to bed earlier, or sleep a little longer than normal just to let my brain get a rest.  Then I’ll have those inspiration sparks again, and it’s like I’m shot out of a cannon to get to work.  Sometimes you really are just plain BURNT OUT!

I can almost 100% guarantee that if you make it through this list of 10 things, you will be inspired to create SOMETHING.  It may not be what you initially set out to create, but that's the cool thing about art and creativity in general - there are NO RULES!  So whatever it is these tips have inspired you to create - get to it right now.  Right now, before the moment has passed.  Get started!  And if you are the 1/100 person who gets through all ten of these items and still has a blank space in their brain - guess what, that means you probably REALLY DO NEED a rest!  Take that tenth tip and just call it a day.  Get your rest.  Take the day off from art and come back refreshed the next day.  Creative block happens.  And there are countless ways to get inspired and push beyond these blocks.  You can google "artist inspiration" or "how to be inspired" all day.  The tips are out there!  These are my ten favorites.  These inspire me more than any others, and they have broken more roadblocks than anything else.

Do you have a tip on how to break through creative block that I didn't include?  I'd love to hear yours!


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