How to get out of a creative block

Man sat with paintbrush and multicoloured paint splattered hands

Being an artist, or starting out as an artist brings such joy, and creativity runs through your bones. But there comes a point where you stare at the canvas or sketchbook in front of you, and your mind just goes completely blank.

As much as this is perfectly normal, you’ll want to have some tricks and tips up your sleeve for when creative block comes into play. We’ve got some great techniques and pointers on how to take a healthy break and return to your work with a fresh mind.

So, let your creativity shine again and read on, you’ll be producing masterpieces again in no time!

What is creative block?

Scrunched up lined notebook paper and notebook on grey desk

Creative block is when you feel unable to access your inner creativity to produce brilliant ideas and work. It affects all sorts of people, from artists, writers, songwriters and musicians to performers.

Experiencing a creative block can last one hour, an afternoon, a day or even several weeks/years – it all just depends on what’s causing it to occur, and what situation you’re in.

What causes creative block?

Since creative block is so common, what’s actually causing it amongst creatives like you? You might have a few internal stresses about other things, but different factors affect your ability to get down to the task at hand. Sometimes, you’ll try and force yourself out of your creative slump because you have a deadline (personal or work-related) that needs to be met. This won’t work if you’re not taking the right steps, as your imagination shuts off and just leaves you feeling frustrated, rather than inspired.

These are just some of the things that cause creative block:

  • Feeling burnt out
  • Lack of sleep
  • Focusing on one thing for too long
  • Perfectionism – and the fear of imperfection
  • Not setting boundaries (of when to stop)
  • Disorganisation
  • Feeling uninspired
  • Having too many ideas to whittle down.

Overcoming creative block: Our top tips

Teal coloured wall with black, yellow and orange paint splatters and artist's shadow

Wondering what to do when you have a creative block? Setting boundaries and organising what artistic goals you have set up is so important; it prevents you from feeling burnt out and consequently, blocked of all creativity. There are other easy ways to combat creative block, here are just a few you can try out. Simply find which ones work best for you!

1.    Take a break

Scrunched up yellow lined notepad paper and blue post-it-note saying "TAKE A BREAK"

You’ll have heard of this tip over and over again, to take a break, and it’s no coincidence that you’ve seen it crop up more than once. This is because your brain just needs to be put on pause for a little while, instead of pushing through and overloading it with information.

Taking a break is going to reset your brain and open it up to new ideas; you’ll end up with more than ever before. If you keep stressing over what brushwork patterns to use for your latest painting (for example), you’ll get overwhelmed by the stress, and lose focus entirely. So, take a step back – you won’t regret it, that’s for sure.

These are some easy ways to take a break, to help you get out of a creative block:

  • Exercise in a way you enjoy (meditate, go for a jog, attend a fitness class).
  • Pursue one of your favourite hobbies (like sports, playing music or bouldering)
  • Venture outdoors: nature helps our minds relax and refresh.
  • Flick through old sketchbooks with a hot beverage.
  • Read art coffee table books for escapism.

2.    Carry a sketchbook at all times

Black and white dotted mountain art sketch on white canvas

Whether you’re popping to the shops or going out for a coffee with friends, make sure you pop your sketchbook (or notebook – any kind of paper, really) in your bag or coat pocket. You can then jot down random ideas as and when they come to you.

Our brains usually come up with some of the best ideas when they’ve taken a break from thinking about one specific topic, like what coloured flower to paint, so this will help you overcome creative block.

3.    Take a digital detox

Samsung phone with Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp and YouTube apps open

As much as the digital world inspires us, it also distracts us. You might be sketching a wonderfully detailed landscape art print, and then your phone vibrates with a message on WhatsApp. Then the next thing you know, you’re deep into a social media hole, searching other artists’ work, or even just videos of your friends soaking up the sun on holiday.

You might also be overloaded with information from different social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and even news sites, which is blocking new, creative ideas. It’s a great idea to take a digital detox by temporarily deleting your most-used social media apps, or pausing or muting notifications. This will really help you overcome creative block because you’re not distracted, overwhelmed with information, or comparing yourself to others.

4.   Do something you wouldn’t normally do

Man in blue paintball suit getting out of creative block and kneeling on green grass

Whether it’s something as simple as going swimming, heading to the cinema, planning an activity like paintballing, placing yourself in an unexpected setting will help your brain switch off. Then, the creative ideas will pour in. Why? Because you’re not getting in your head about feeling uncreative, and you’ve taken yourself out of the setting where the creative block initially occurred.

5.    Change your surroundings

Overcoming creative block can only be achieved if you step away from the space where it began. Leaving your office/work space (whether that’s a shared public office or in your loft upstairs), is key. Because changing up your surroundings will influence your creative mindset, and help ease your frustrations when you feel uninspired.

To switch scenery and feel inspired, either:

  • Go for a brisk walk.
  • Pop to a coffee shop.
  • Venture to a friend’s house.
  • Head to a co-working space.
  • Stroll over to a park and sit on a bench for a while.

6.   Sleep on it

Picture of white bedside table in bedroom, with bright, round table light and alarm clock

Lack of sleep is one factor that massively contributes to creative block. You know when your brain needs to rest, reset and rewind. So, sometimes it’s as simple as getting a good night’s sleep that helps your brain shut off for a little while and brings new ideas the following day.

Send yourself to bed early, turn your phone onto ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode and read a book (or magazine) before bed, so you doze off. Reducing screen time (whether that’s using your phone or watching TV) past 9 pm will help as well.

Explore more creative ideas

Now you know how to get out of a creative block, it’s time to put these tips into practice! Head over to our blog, too, to read through inspirational articles on how to frame artwork and more.