Un-blockers: 7 Solutions to Creative Blocks

Here on the New York end dreary weather has put a damper on any hope of creative thinking. Which raises the point… everyone has their own slow period where not only is it difficult to think creatively if you’re an artist, but if you’re a writer it could mean that you have nothing that really inspires you to write or share. So what do you do? Writers block is an age-old problem, as is “artists” block. Here are a few approaches, both basic and somewhat unorthodox, that may help those creative blocks:

1.    Browse publications

Most people who create things keep a collection of publications that hold work they found to be impressive or inspiring. If you have these hanging around you should put these to use. Flip through them and see if there’s something you didn’t notice before, look everything over again and figure out why you like them or why you don’t anymore. Do a quick silent critique and take in what you see like a vacuum and it could help encourage a new direction in how you were thinking.


2.    People watch

While not an exciting activity, it’s something everyone does at some point whether they notice or not. With a sketch book or notebook and pen in hand, pick a cozy spot in a coffee shop, mall, or a park, a place with a good flow of human beings and simply observe: what do they look like when they talk? When they eat? When they walk? Picking up dog doo (or not picking it up)? Each location yields different personalities to capture in images and words. Notice trends, color combinations, naturally occurring textures or designs. Look at the way people behave in spaces or with spaces, and how they use objects in these spaces. What works? What doesn’t?

While it doesn’t have to be a pen that you take with you, the beauty of a pen instead of pencil and eraser is of course that you CAN’T erase. Your first impressions are important and erasing only makes you rethink your observations. If you have something better write it, sketch it, design it. It’ll build more content for your mind to work with and it’ll get the ideas flowing.


3.    Be a tourist

They have a bad rep but the most tourist-y of tourists know how to look at everything as if it’s new (unlike the depressing few who have that old philosophy “if you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all). And sometimes that’s exactly what you need to do. So maybe you can’t travel and be an actual tourist exploring some new exciting culture. What you can do though is be a tourist in your own town. Pick up a camera and explore your neighborhood or city like you’ve never seen anything like it before. If you really want you could dress the part: fanny pack, visor, drugstore sunglasses, polo shirts with khakis… if you just want the basic equipment you could always go with a disposable camera but small point and shoots or video cameras work just fine. Capture everything: the corner bistro, your lunch, the fly drowning in your soda. While tourist-y tourists aren’t necessarily the most creative bunch of people, you will be, because it’s what you do. So by the end you’ll have moved beyond the picture of the town statue, and even beyond the plastic bag footage that is “American Beauty”–esque (because we’re better than that), into something useful or at the very least mentally freeing.

Another thing you should consider is visiting museums in your area as well in this mind set as well. Collect brochures and just have fun and take things in on a primarily visual level.


4.    Downtime with a box of crayons

Remember those good old days when you sat around as a kid with a giant box of crayons and a drawing pad and meticulously illustrated the greatest inventions the world has ever seen? Ahhh… I can smell the Crayola now. Whether it’s just the basic crayons or scented markers that you prefer, you should be thinking Alan Outten’s project with school children from the Design and the Elastic Mind exhibition. Leave your desk or your usual workspace, especially if it’s mentally and emotionally limiting like a cubicle. Sit on the floor in the middle of the room or huddled in a corner (wherever seems more comfortable) and challenge yourself to come up with 10 great inventions to extract ideas from your own head. They don’t have to make sense, they don’t have to look beautiful. They just need to be on paper. Start with just illustrating, don’t forget all the wonderful colors and focus on the experience of creating in this way. The way the wax colors run across the paper, the smell of the lemon scented jumbo marker… (also an added benefit to using scented markers is you can draw by smell and not just color…I mean why have a black licorice smelling machine when you can have bubble gum?) and if you need notes add them later. Its great for out of the box thinking exercises and is a fun idea to get ideas flowing on a daily basis if you decide to create at least one every day.



5.    Cleaning

Similar to de-cluttering your mind, de-cluttering and organizing your workspace is a nice productive break that helps sort through mental blocks. Reorganize your desk space, your desk drawers, and if that isn’t enough branch out to other areas (depends on where you are I suppose, you can’t really reorganize your neighbors stuff if you’re in an office space, it might be inappropriate).



6.    Jogging

Some people find this to be self-centering. It is similar to the cleaning effect and should be considered as a next step if you’ve found that you’ve reorganized everything you could possibly think of and it hasn’t gotten anywhere. Just you and your shoes hitting the asphalt can be a very zen-like experience if running is an activity you enjoy. If not, it can be torturous, in which case you could just take a walk, remembering to take in that fresh supply of oxygen, or even combine it with light creative activity: think running photography from “Yes Man”.



7.    Play with your food

Sometimes you just need a break that offers nourishment or a sugar rush. Playing with you food is something your parents probably told you not to do (mine didn’t) but desperate times call for desperate measures. Hey, you’re old enough to make decisions like this for yourself, right? So sculpt that ice cream or pile of mashed potatoes to your heart’s content. Create faces in your food, or space scenes, peel apart and dissect every single pea or kernel of corn. And, while this is probably a stretch, if you’re desperate enough to try this you probably need this kind of break anyway.



While these are just a few ideas, what really works will always be a subjective topic. Hopefully some of these help you, and sometimes the more ridiculous it is the better.

Have any other suggestions? Leave us a comment with what it is.

[Images via stock.xchng]

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a senior at Parsons the New School for Design, majoring in graphic design and photography, with an interest in fashion, illustration, web design, film and animation. Portfolio: http://www.katherine.pixelcandy.net/portfolio/

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