[ create / fail / learn / continue ]
Working as a creative is the most fun and fulfilling job out there (but we’re a little biased). Most of the time we’re firing on all cylinders. But every once in a while we find ourselves at the bottom of a dried up creative-well desperately trying to pull ourselves out. That got a little bleak (sorry).
So what are we supposed to do in those moments of creative drought? Drink more coffee? Take a nap? Light some incense and listen for Mufasa’s voice reminding us to “Remember”? Everyone is different, as is their approach to reigniting their own creative flame. Here’s what our creative team does to get the Mindbru flowing again:
The challenge of maintaining the creative tank is a chemical balance crucial to the success of ensuring unique position and pinpoint visual communication that is exclusive to the brands we partner. On any given day, it is not uncommon to be prepping multiple full-course brand entrées only to realize there is a single plastic spoon in the drawer to peel the creative potatoes. This is where most creatives face the heat, and if not careful, can result in gouged and undercooked results. Channeling the proper posture by conditioning and endurance in the face of internal creative gridlock is a crucial trait that exposes the hole-punch designer from the creative genius. All true creatives anticipate this condition with the confidence of unlocking new stylistic and aesthetic dimensions that will elevate and propel ideas into realms otherwise unfathomable. “The Drought” is real, people, and surviving the messy middle is a merit badge.
We all approach creative adversity differently and there is no foolproof way out, but I do have some personal (not limited to) go-to methods of creative balance.
1. “YOU MUST UNLEARN WHAT YOU HAVE LEARNED” – YODA
Trying to overcome a creative drought the same way as in previous occurrences can be more of a shot in the dark than a cure. Realizing that all drought circumstances are unique is important. The act of cleansing the mind and clearing the noise can be accomplished in countless ways. I tend to gravitate to mediums I enjoy to reset my inner-inspiration. They do not have to specifically pertain to the cause or source of the drought, but rather free the mind to explore and dream. Listening to music is one great outlet for me. Stripping a song arrangement into pieces gives light to creativity. Honing in on just the melodic bass line, percussion garnishments, or the third of a four-piece harmony all allows my mind to explore beyond theory and appreciate the recipe and chemistry.
2. THIRD EYE
Marketing campaigns, design and visual brands are typically not as effective without a unique but intentional grab of attention to evoke emotion or action. There are many instances where it would be safe to take an overly obvious approach which can be disappointing in the creative process. I like to gather the obvious, place it on a shelf and foster inspiration from what is left. The results are typically derived from the core belief, mission or vision of the brand and not what is expected. This tends to stir culture that taps into the emotion that builds brand champions – not just followers. It takes confidence in personal time management, bandwidth, and devotion to visual psychology to venture into the unknown while keeping a realistic eye on a varying outcome. In a drought, I will depart from my comfort zone and craft visuals that will never see the light of day and may not directly relate to the result but serve as an active compound in the mortar of the overall final product.
3. IT’S NOT ALL ON ME
Droughts are like a Southern thunderstorm in the Summer. There’s always a 20% chance. Personally for me, knowing that holistic creativity does not solely come from my human brain is a comfort. I rely on God’s provision to deliver me through the creative adversity, and it’s that comfort that grounds my confidence, checks the ego and need for attention, and dampers the rigid expectation I put on myself. Our mission is to always be contagious in spirit and courageous in nature while being a magnet to the soul. To get there in short, I pray a lot, and it works for me.
There is no short of resources I use when in a drought. Other than the typical MO of killer design books, Dribbble accounts, and industry blogs, I like to venture into market imagery (primary to tertiary) to glean from a first-person point of view. Envelop myself into various culture vibes that create passion and vision for the target. It can be as simple as a Google search or as deep as field research. Whatever it takes to jump-start an ounce of inspiration.
Droughts are simply a catalyst to expanding genius. Finding a method to the madness and using it as fuel is clutch.
I’ve been very lucky so far – I’ve never really experienced a creative block. *knock on wood*
I think it’s due mainly to the fact that I always keep myself busy. Whether it’s client work or personal projects, if I’m not actively working on something, you can find me researching new techniques. That could mean watching YouTube tutorials, browsing portfolios, scrolling Instagram, reading trend blogs, anything really. Browsing through stuff like that usually leads to something inspiring me and ultimately developing my own idea/project/direction. I’m also pretty competitive (with others and myself). I see some people kind of coast by or just give up altogether, with the outlook that they can’t possibly compete with other artists out there. But I have the opposite reaction. Seeing all the great things people are doing encourages me to do my best.
But with this kind of go-go-go mentality, eventually, I get burnt out (this is usually about the time I start rewatching The Office for the 23rd time). But then I’ll watch a cool movie or see something that inspires me and the cycle starts right back up. Here’s some of my favorite artists right now that keep me moving:
ILLUSTRATORS + PAINTERS
Kiersten Essenpreis – She’s the first artist I got interested in. I fell in love with the creepy vibe of her work and her cult classic references.
Robin Eisenberg – Her illustrations are pretty much summed up by this statement: “like sneaking into prom at Lisa Frank High School only to discover that the punch has been spiked and a local girl gang of neon pizza-loving space broads has taken over the dance floor.”
Heather Day – If I need a break from the same old stuff, I browse Heather Day’s work. Her paintings are very bold and refreshing. Plus I love reading about her process and travels. “The goal isn’t to paint what I see, but how it feels. They seldom look the same.”
Caroline Alkire – She got her start with a pile of Nat Geo mags she got off Craigslist! Her work feels like you’re flipping through a family’s weird old scrapbook.
Sarah Eisenlohr – Her collages are a little more refined. The way she blends palettes make the pieces feel less surreal and more like an actual photograph.
Beth Hoeckel – Love her use of vibrant colors and symmetry (you should also check out her food collages).
Jimmy Marble – Each one of his photos could literally be a painting – it’s ridiculous.
Ashley Armitage – Her film photography is soft and feminine but in a very powerful way.
Jesse Herzog – He has a very unique perspective – his photos always look like a scene straight out of an old movie.
My creative blocks are usually a result of being too hard on myself. I’ll convince myself that I’m not doing something quickly enough or I’ll get frustrated when I can’t accurately express my vision and I’ll get discouraged. So when the block comes, I know it’s time to reset or I’ll end up wasting time trying to make something work that clearly isn’t. To get the creative flame burning again, I have a few approaches:
If the deadline is coming in hot, I start looking for inspiration from other artists. I’ll hit up dribbble, Pinterest, or Instagram or flip through books or anything else with a good layout and interesting design. The resources I choose sometimes relate directly to the project I’m working on — logo designers for branding projects, type artists for posters, etc. But sometimes, I intentionally look for inspiration from artists in another field.
If it’s a bigger project, or I’ve got a little more time before the deadline, I make a point to get away from the computer. I’ll get outside, find a hands-on project, or work in another creative medium like painting or printmaking until I’ve gotten my mind off of the project completely.
Both approaches allow my brain to reset and restart with a fresh perspective, making me more creative and productive in the process.
If those methods don’t work, it’s usually because of something else going on in life so I have a literal come-to-Jesus moment to reset my priorities and put my life and work back in perspective. I’ll pray and rest in the fact that my work is not who I am — my worth is found outside of my abilities. That takes A TON of pressure off and allows me to create more freely.
*Lil side-note: One of the most important things to remember as a designer is that everyone (except Christy, apparently) will have moments of creative drought, so don’t let it get you down.*
Here are some of my favorite people to look to for inspo:
TYPOGRAPHERS + DESIGNERS
@davihero – A really, really great type artist. He’s got a huge range of styles and always seems to be creating something totally fresh.
Matt Dawson / @staygrayponyboy – His work leans super old-school but with a modern flair. He also puts out a #TypeTuesday set every once in a while that’s right on.
Scott Erickson – Probably my favorite artist at the moment. He packs so much clever symbolism in his illustrations without it ever looking forced. Everything he produces is steeped in spiritual under/overtones and often challenges traditionally held Christian ideas forcing a reality check of actions vs. heart.
Lili Arnold – She’s an artist/printmaker/designer making intricately beautiful prints. I’m constantly amazed at her patience and attention to detail.
Julia Badow – I love how she uses color to create depth and movement and to portray emotion.
While it can be nerve-racking to get a creative block, I always stay positive and think about the outcome being successful even if I don’t have it envisioned in my head yet. That’s a good starting point to get rid of any anxiety. I get inspiration from many different places. Sometimes it’s from experience or environment so just being out and about to clear my head can spark something. Other resources come from blogs and websites online. Some of my favorites are Behance, GoodType, Medium, Pinterest, Abduzeedo, 99U, and CreativeBloq.
After looking through some resources for inspiration, I try to go back to the basics. If it’s for branding, I will start with a mind map to generate ideas and just write down words, imagery, or whatever pops into my head relating to that topic and make connections. It gets chaotic but once everything is on the table it makes it a lot easier to narrow down ideas. Overall, I think its really important to remember it happens to all designers and to always keep moving in a positive mindset.
When I need some time away from the screen for a while, I like to play around with different hand-drawn typography techniques. Gemma O’Brien is an interesting source of inspiration for her intricate typography murals as well as Ade Hogue. Both of these artists take typography and hand lettering to a different level from not only a visual standpoint but also with the materials they use.
@Gootype is also a good source of inspiration because they often do design challenges for their followers on Instagram. It’s a great way to stay active in the design world after hours especially if you’re having a creative block.
For someone going to SCAD, I admit I face a little too much creative drought. A lot of the time, starting is a coin toss between the hardest thing to do or hitting the ground running then slamming into a wall. Whenever this happens the first place to go is Pinterest. I dig through my board ‘Cool Finds’ or ‘Design’. However, when I feel like I’m overthinking and stressing about making an art piece look like what college alumni with 3+ years of experience produce I take a step back and think, “They’ve had so much more time to learn and make mistakes.” You’ve got to just create, fail, learn, and continue creating.” I explore Behance & Dribbble for artworks/artist I admire and then look to Youtube for tutorials. There are many resourceful tutorials and those artist providing them love seeing the inspiration their tutorials give to viewers of all levels of experience. Here are some cool finds that definitely inspire/challenge me to practice design even in a drought:
PHOTOGRAPHERS + SCREEN PRINTERS
Milk Bottles by Muhammet Uzuntas, Wild Burrow Gin by U/A