What is creative block?

Creative block is described as an inability to access our creativity. It can feel like being stuck, having no ideas or not being motivated to create at all and it can be uncomfortable.

Creativity is essential to our lives from our soul-filling hobbies to how we solve problems and for some of us, it’s a source of income too.

What’s true though is that many creative people struggle with artist’s block at some point. It’s common among painters, crafters, writers and creators of all types.

These are things I’ve tried that have helped at different times.

Blank sketchbook on a wooden table with paintbrushes and watercolour set

Give Yourself Mental Space

Creative thinking needs mental space in order to make new connections so we can come up with ideas. Just like when we have a new idea while washing up or walking the dog. We allow our minds to wander and meander through things we have experienced, seen, read or heard.

Finding time for relaxation exercises can be a way to make this a habit. Try an app or YouTube channel to help.

If this doesn’t sound like your thing, find a time in your day, even just a few minutes when you can let your mind wander freely. Maybe take a walk or do a familiar task that requires little concentration. Just try to avoid reaching for things to fill the time and just be with your own thoughts. Make space for ideas to flourish.

Change Your Environment

I’m a creature of habit when it comes to creating. I like to be comfortable in a familiar spot which is a fast road to feeling stale and uninspired. If I see and do the same things all the time, it’s expected that no new ideas or thoughts will come. Changing our environment can help to trigger new thoughts and connections which are essential to our creativity.

I’m not suggesting building an art studio or moving house unless that’s already happening for you, but there are some environmental changes that many artists use when they get stuck. Start small.

  • Tidy your supplies/desk/table/studio and rediscover inspiring supplies or remove old work.
  • Redo your vision or inspiration board, add new images or words that hold your attention.
  • Take your sketchbook or journal outside or if possible work from somewhere different temporarily.
  • Visit a museum, gallery or art supply shop and get up close to new things.
  • Pay attention to small details in your surroundings, get up close, see things in a new way.

These can all inspire a new colour palette, subject matter or process for your art.

Creative Exercises and Prompts

Social media loves a creative challenge and it isn’t just because they bring engagement. People love a challenge with a manageable structure and a community vibe.

Having some boundaries and guidance can be a great way to get back to creating if it’s been a while. Sometimes we just need a gentle, compassionate nudge and to do something fun rather than something that feels like work.

Try a themed drawing project like Inktober or a 100 day project where you set your own challenge. Journal prompts and sketchbook theme ideas can be found easily online.

Set yourself a goal that feels manageable and commit to creating, even if everything you do is (in your opinion) awful. Exercises like these can be great for procrastinators who need a schedule, a habit or accountability.

Connect with Others

Whatever your creative outlet, most of us are working alone, a lot of the time. Writers, painters and crafters can find themselves isolated and disconnected. I suspect that I enjoy it a bit too much but we all need connection with others for our mental health.

Having others to chat with is an important part of the practice and creative block can be broken by joining creative groups or classes or finding collaborators.

Check for local art classes, community meet ups and online groups to expose yourself to new people, ideas and projects.

If you struggle with in-person connections or groups, simple online connections can be valuable too. This is a strength of social media and while I understand this might not be comfortable either, it’s really worth just leaving a few friendly comments on posts that you appreciate. You never know which of those might lead to a great connection.

Rest and Self-Compassion

It was many years before I understood the role of rest in the creative process. Insisting that we must be constantly producing new work without taking time for rest or recharging is a myth. It’s not possible, healthy or supportive of a good creative practice.

Rest can mean physical, mental, emotional or creative rest but all are essential to our wellbeing. If the idea of rest, rather than forcing productivity, sounds appealing, you might find this article about creative Wintering helpful.

Sometimes creative block goes deeper than finding the right inspiration or changing up our practice. It can also be a part of burn out, low mood, anxiety or overwhelm so it’s worth taking a look at the bigger picture too.

If this resonates but rest sounds frustrating or even impossible I encourage you to find some self compassion. If you can’t give yourself the space or permission to slow down or rest, then perhaps someone else can offer you the support you need.

Picasso said that inspiration must find us working and while that may be true, he still took time off to socialise, travel and meet with other artists (amongst other more shady activities). Try taking the pressure off and give yourself a break.

Finding the Right Way for You

There are lots of approaches to creative block from working through it to taking a break. Only you can decide which of these is most likely to get you and your creativity out from a stuck place. Sometimes you already know what you need you do but something is holding you back from taking the first step.

I encourage you to choose a path, give yourself a timeframe and commit to it, even if it’s to walk away for a while. Experiment with different ways if you need to, but pick one now and know that creative block is temporary and not a permanent barrier to your art.


Photo by Tim Arterbury on Unsplash