It happens to all of us at some point – you are driving along the creative highway unaware of some oncoming cerebral roadwork slowing the road down to one lane. You lose your focus for one second and BAM!!! You slam headlong into a creative wall. I asked seventeen of the most creative photographers, designers, bloggers, and creative industry professionals I know (and threw myself into the mix for good measure) to weigh in on how creative difficulties affect them and what they do to beat back the tide of artistic fatigue.
At my workshops, the first piece of advice I tell my attendees is that you must always shoot for yourself. For one, it keeps your portfolio fresh. Two, art directors love to hire photographers that have work that shows passion. Three, I believe the best work in my portfolio comes from my personal work. I was free to create without boundaries (see the associated images attached to this). Four, shoot the jobs you want to get hired for. Not doing the jobs you want to be doing? Well, create a body of work that represents the type of work you WANT to do. Creative Directors will typically hire you for the kind of work they see in you portfolio, not the work you TELL them you want to do. Actions speak louder than words, even in photography.
Douglas Sonders is a photographer and filmmaker from Washington D.C.
Amanda Sosa Stone
What can a creative do when they are stuck in a creative rut?
Go and do something else. Go for a hike, go for a walk, paint – do something that is NOT your source of your creative rut.
What activities do I do to help myself get past a block?
Look at what other people are doing. I research. I also walk away from the project and let it flow when it’s ready!
What creative exercises or techniques do I use that help me generate ideas?
I meditate, draw and even go as far as to create imaginative conversations with my mentor.
What places or forms of media do I go to for inspiration and influence?
aphotoeditor.com – of course….
On the importance of doing and not just thinking to make an idea tangible:
It helps you see the final product – whether it’s good or bad – it allows you to see what you did right and/or could have done better and helps you grow and make better work in the future.
How can one integrate creativity and creative thought into their everyday life?
Surround yourself with music that inspires you. I edit with music that inspires each project I am working on. Even silence is sometimes important.
What is my own personal process for working through a rut or period of creative boredom?
Sleeping! Eating! And definitely having cookies and tea. Just finding peace opens space up for me to think again!
Is time away from the problem more beneficial than tackling it head on?
Depends on the project. Sometimes it’s fear that is driving the problem so I say TACKLE it head on. If it’s just a block – again, time away is good.
What tools help me in my everyday creative life?
My Mac, my colorful neighborhood, good healthy food, and amazing blogs that I enjoy – like the Selby or 500Photographers. I also stay involved with speaking and connecting with REAL people and getting involved in my local community: Snap!
Amanda Sosa Stone is a consultant to photographers worldwide, in all genres. Amanda works in-house at http://www.agencyaccess.com. To learn more about her services visit:www.sosastone.com – twitter: sosastone
I met a woman at a party recently who’s led a fascinating life. She’s traveled around the world, experienced a number of different careers and maintains an enthusiasm and zest for seeking new experiences that most people lose when they leave their 20’s.
“Friends tell me, ‘Oh, you’re so lucky’. But I make my own luck, you know?” she said, going on to describe how the choices she’s made – talking to strangers on trains, taking a different route each time she runs errands, taking road trips without a fixed destination in mind – have opened doors and lent richness to her life.
Her experiences illustrate on of the key tenets of creativity and problem solving: creativity doesn’t like to be bored.
If you find yourself in a creative rut, try breaking some of the physical ruts you’ve built. Drive down a road you don’t normally take. Run your errands in a different part of town. Talk to people you’d normally ignore. Do something you’re likely to fail at. Do something that requires you to learn a new skill. Do something you think you’re really, really bad at. Do something – anything – that’s creatively scary.
Shake up your routine, keep your eyes, ears, and mind open, and allow the joy of discovering something you never knew or saw or imagined before feed your creativity.
When I am stuck in a creative rut it is typically because I have become too self-centered. I find at that point I need to shut up my inner monologue and allow the world to rush over me, consume me, and make me feel small again, small enough to see the simple details.
As far as coping mechanisms are concerned I typically; do yoga, take a drive out to the country, paint or create a concept on canvas. If I need to be assertive to a project I will scour the internet researching something that has been on my mind as far as a concept is concerned or for new fashion to create that inspiration.
Molly Hoeltke is a fashion Stylist and Art Director based out of Buffalo, NY working in New York, NY, Toronto, ON, and Atlanta, GA.
Personally, I believe creative ruts are mainly caused by the fear of creating something unfamiliar to one’s comfort zone. Pushing yourself creatively takes some courage and belief in your own ability, and oftentimes, we as artists doubt ourselves and what we are capable of doing. I think this occurs more often for those who have a specific focus or direction in their work; for example, my main focus is shooting fashion and beauty, which in comparison to the rather broad spectrum photography encompasses, is quite a limited field. I definitely struggle with the challenge of keeping my work fresh and relevant, especially given the very short lifespan of trends within the fashion and beauty industry.
The fear of failing at creating something different is an obstacle I have to constantly overcome, in addition to realizing that there are thousands of other photographers out there who are producing work that I aspire towards. At the end of the day however, you have to realize that success cannot come without failure, for there is no greater teacher than practical experience. Failing creatively is the only way for us to grow as artists. You must open yourself up to experimentation within your discipline and take risks. I think we are at such a fantastic time right now with what technology has afforded us. The immediate feedback of digital photography in addition to no longer needing to spend for film and processing should, in and of itself, be enough of a motivator for us to experiment bravely and freely.
Don’t use fear or failure as a hindrance to creating work – use it as a means to take your work to new heights, and to strengthen your belief in your abilities and yourself as an artist.
Sean Armenta is a beauty, fashion, and lifestyle photographer
I’m sitting in front of my computer with nothing to show for the last few hours except a web browser history full of nothing but Facebook pages. It’s common, it’s frustrating, and with a project deadline looming, it’s no fun. Sometimes it’s just the simple things that get us there. In other words, everyone has their trusted routines and those routines can become a major reason why we fall into the creative ruts that we find ourselves in from time to time. And there always are the staples to turn to in order to dig yourself out: your library of design websites, magazines and books, or talking to friends and colleagues to get fresh perspectives and feedback or advice. But sometimes that gets routine, too.
So? “Bust That Cycle” A phrase that often runs through my head put there by a wise man and internet celebrity named Zefrank.
Greg Neundorfer is Partner and Creative Director at 15 Fingers, a creative digital agency in Buffalo New York.
Most creatives talk about how they sometimes find themselves in a creative rut, and search for ways to spur their creativity to produce new and captivating imagery. I am the opposite. I don’t think in terms of creative ruts, but rather creative peaks. I usually float along in a creative steady-state so to speak. Then every once in a while a creative peak will occur, and that is when the good ideas and inspiration flow freely. I’ll use the analogy of an author. Most authors can’t just sit down and write an award-winning novel on command. Similarly, a photographer cannot expect to produce a great shot on the spur of the moment. Of course one can and this does happen occasionally, but it is not the norm.
As many photographers know, often too much of our daily time is spent running the business, shooting bread and butter jobs, promoting, blogging, social media, etc., and not being creative. These activities usually won’t foster the arrival of a creative peak so when I want to try and bring on a creative peak there’s three things I’ll usually try:
• I’ll get on my mountain bike and ride a good, long, hard ride. I’ll push my limits and ride at least twice as long as usual which for me means three or more hours. It’s not that I can think creatively while I’m riding, because if I did that I’d end up with dirt in my teeth at the very least. I like to mountain bike because I cannot think of anything while I ride – or I’ll crash. So, I am basically doing a clean sweep and optimization of my brain (like a hard drive). When the aprés-ride endorphins kick in and I am in a state of bliss, is usually when I tend to be able to think more creatively. I’ll put on some mellow music and just start brainstorming.
• Or I’ll change my location to somewhere unfamiliar. I might go into a part of town I don’t usually visit and shoot some street scenes or architecture. The point is to experience something different than what I am used to. I find that just putting myself in a new “world” so to speak, get’s my creative juices flowing. Most often this is personal work for me since I am primarily an automotive photographer. But I firmly believe photographers and artists must also create for themselves to keep up their creativity, even if they never show that work. The old saying is true: Use it or lose it. This applies to creativity as well.
• Lastly, I’ll exhaustively scour the internet and magazines for what photographers/cinematographers are currently shooting. I’ll regularly do this 3-4 times a year and sometimes more often. While I would never advocate stealing someone else’s ideas, I find that my creativity is often sparked by viewing great work done by others. It’s just another component in the R&D of furthering my creativity.
John Early is an award-winning automotive and product photographer based in Los Angeles.
Alas! We all have creative blocks from time-to-time—wondering if we’ve completely lost our edge. When I get to this place, I now know that the only thing that helps me climb out, is climbing out of my little box. I walk away from the computer, unplug, and head outside for a hike or ride. I can almost always be assured this will help the ideas start flowing again. We are bombarded daily with ideas, and sometimes it just takes unplugging to begin letting all the information inspire us again.
Lenlee is a photographer’s representative based in the Bay Area.
Rather than talking about getting out of a creative rut, I am going to try to help you avoid getting into a rut all together.
I probably don’t need to tell you the life of a professional photographer is filled with many highs and lows. Victories and rejections are a weekly occurrence. The highs are obviously fun, but the lows are not so great.
My first piece of advice is to avoid the highs and lows. Don’t get caught up in the tidal wave of ups and downs. It takes a lot of adjustments to do this, but it is possible and well worth it. You don’t need to live in each high and each low. Learn to enjoy and appreciate accomplishments and victories in your career, but understand that it is temporary and tomorrow is a new day. Typically the phrase “tomorrow is a new day” is reserved for people who are living in a low and need something to look forward to. However, in photography, “tomorrow is a new day” also means someone else is going to do something noteworthy tomorrow and the spotlight will shift to them.
Second, learning how to not live in the highs and lows of your career keeps you from freaking out when you have a slow week or two. Create a consistent marketing plan and stick to it. Aside from shooting, there are plenty of important tasks and projects you need to put time into if you want to be successful. Making sure you are taking time for these activities and tasks will help you keep your mind off of shooting all the time, and personally I find this to help keep me balanced and creative.
Third, write down your ideas. Keep a journal, digital document, whatever works best for you, but write down all of your ideas and concepts. Learn to give yourself permission to sit on some of those ideas for a while. I’m not advocating procrastination or laziness, but you don’t need to do every idea as it comes to you. Sometimes an idea may require time to mature, or the right people to come along to really make your idea shine. This practice not only helps you become more balanced, but now you have a list of ideas you know you are inspired by to go back to when nothing new is popping into your head.
Finally, and most importantly, make sure you mark out enough time to plan and shoot for yourself. Shooting for yourself is the best thing a photographer can do, and it also keeps you from falling into a creative rut. If you are always doing the same thing over and over again for clients, you will create a nice rut for yourself. Personal work reminds you why you love photography so much, and gives you balance and variety.
If you have mastered all of these things, and you still find yourself in a rut, then I think it’s time for a vacation. Maybe a tropical island would help.
When I get stuck in a creative rut, I tend to get out of the house. I go for a walk, go skating, a picnic, I lounge on the beach, anything and everything to get my mind off of it for at least a day. While I am doing such activities, I’ll definitely take my camera (better known as an iPhone 4) along with me so I can capture something I find inspiring. I take it home, look it over while listening to music, and I usually go from there.
I find the best way to get over a rut is to just put it out of your mind for a while, and do something else. It will come to you if you don’t think about it. Most of the time I look on sites like Trendhunter or flip through my favorite magazines, like Noi.se & Zink.
I find that vending a few shows a year helps me stay motivated and excited about designing new bags. It is also a great chance to talk to my girls to see what they are looking for and what they like about what I do. It really fuels my ambition and gives me a feeling of success, but more importantly, gratitude.
Beth Dauria is the owner & designer of Dungaree Dolly’s
Creative ruts are a totally natural occurrence and even the most successful creatives get hit with one occasionally.
I’ve found that stepping away from your standard tools for awhile, whether that’s a computer or a camera can really help to expedite the recharging process. Often, when you’re walking or doing an activity not related to your profession in any way, your mind works differently, opens up, and the juices will begin to flow again.
Another helpful solution is to collect visual inspiration from across the internet and catalog it in a way that makes sense to you. For instance, I store thousands of images in a private Flickr folder and reference it any time I’m feeling stuck.
Creativity can’t be bottled — reward yourself with regular breaks so that creative burnout is less likely to hit.
Nubby Twiglet is a graphic designer and blogger residing in Portland, Oregon.
Being in a creative rut is such a drag!! But it happens to most of us and I am certainly no exception. There are times that I experience the most amazing flow of creativity and ideas pour out freely, but then are times when I get wound up in the business of running a studio or managing my family and I find it quite difficult to get the creativity in motion again.
Over the years I’ve developed a little kit of tools that I resort to when I’m in that creative no-man’s land:
1. Read fiction. This always fills my head with creative imagery, but it also gives me freedom from the day-to-day grind; an escape or a mini-vacation for my brain.
2. Watch movies. In the same way that reading fiction creates sparks of imagery, a scene from a gorgeous film can do wonders to inspire me.
3. Visit a gallery. Need I say more? Art inspires art.
4. Sketch. This one is a little tougher since my drawing skills are seriously neglected, but once I’ve got an idea and some inspiration, it really helps me to put a pencil to paper. I recently wrote a blog which shows some simple sketches.
New York based conceptual lifestyle photographer Rhea Anna specializes in making images of kids, babies, pets, and people on location or in the studio
The most productive thing I can do to get out of a creative rut is to not get in one in the first place! Though that may sound overly simplistic, I’ve come to learn my own personal triggers for brain-blahs and try to avoid them at all costs. I do creative work for myself full time, so I absolutely cannot ever afford to have ruts — not only are they no fun, they’re expensive when there is no one to fall back on creatively.
The 13-year-old rebellious brat that occupies most of my brain-box feels immediately stifled when “told” to do anything at any certain time, so I try to keep my schedule as open as possible. This can be as specific as working through midnight ’til 7am if the drive and need is there or as obtuse as refusing to adopt a seasonal model in the fashion world. (I wear black all the time, so Spring and Fall clothing changes never made any sense to me anyway…plus I’ve never met a spring collection I’ve liked!) I introduce more styles when the time feels right, either when demand for a few falls off and the fire needs to be stoked, or some design urgently needs to be released. (Designs do that, they’re demanding and needy). This of course leads to me working around the clock and not having a life, so I’m not sure I’d follow my advice if you value any sort of personal relationships!
That doesn’t mean creative erectile dysfunction doesn’t happen, no matter how proactive you are.
Focused design time is quite a luxury, and it seems as your business grows, it becomes more rare than the proverbial flying pig. The urgent inspiration to make new work always comes at the worst times – for example during the holiday rush when I’m printing existing work for 20 hours a day. That’s the last time I have to be noodling with Photoshop and a pencil – yet I’m flooded with new ideas. So I keep lists. Lots and lots of lists of potential designs and bad puns (words that end in -TIES are a favorite!) to revisit when it inevitably slows back down again (when I’m supposed to be designing) and I’m there looking at a blank page with a huge, flat-lined blank stare of duuuuuuuuuuuuuh. This also gives them time to marinate – I’ve found that sometimes immediately acting on a flash of design inspiration isn’t the best idea — I’ve definitely had some moments of, “wow…that was kind of stupid, glad I sat on that for a bit!”
When all else fails, I take a long hot shower. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a sea-loving Pisces, but getting in water somehow seems to not only make me smell more agreeable to friends, but also helps lift the brain fog.
Change something. In an effort to not make this an abstract post, I’m going to speak to the current changes in my workflow and style. Despite this tangent, the main focus should be to finding something you’re passionate about by challenging an entrenched concept or style.
One way to find a new muse is to grab a different tool. I recently sold off all of my “professional” gear and switched to a compact manual control camera system to freshen up my style. I was tired of lugging around gear and I had stopped shooting because of it. I’ve spent at least one month a year on the road during my adult life. Last October, after lugging my Pelican 1510 up yet another flight of stairs; I finally snapped and screamed “I’m never going to lug 40lbs of gear with me again!”. When I looked in Lightroom and realized that I had taken more photos with my phone than with my 5DmkII a decision had been made – It was time to get kinetic.
Every change is a huge opportunity. The dust and debris from the paradigm shift to digital has yet to settle in the photographic world. This is the time to explore new markets and ideas. The level of gear-whoring that occurs in the professional and amateur world astounds me. Hand any photographer 50 years ago an iPhone 4 and the hipstamatic app, they would have geeked and spent the rest of their career mastering it. Today however, our professional ranks and gear manufacturers’ marketing departments coerce students in to shelling out for Full Frame Sensors instead of APS-Cs and $1,500 lenses that provide marginal improvement in quality for exponential price increases. To top it all off, 95% of what you release will never see 300 dpi. We all shoot for the web, so learning how to use the unsharp mask filter will save you more money in gear than almost anything else. With these realizations fresh in my mind, I am in the planning stages of a new blog and a new style focusing on this new form factor. It’s a little bit of a heretical move, but I’m trying to prove the point “Buying expensive paintbrushes wont make you Picasso”.
After I’ve decided on a new format to play with, I source ideas. I go on an imagery binge in the area that I’d like to explore. This could be spending a day trudging through the best and worst of Model Mayhem, some time looking at the portfolios of industry leaders, maybe even a trip to Getty combing through all the images in a stock category (It’s amazing how many different photographic styles you can find around a simple concept like “apple”). I immerse myself completely in the subject matter for a few hours, then I go do something else for the rest of my day and let the ideas marinate.
Once it’s soaked in and I’ve moved away from the original source (don’t want to infringe) I start to plan. I create mind maps of ideas in brainstorming sessions. Nothing is out-of-bounds in these brainstorming sessions. If the idea pops in to my head, I write it down and expand on it. I then take the original messy document and refine it in software called Freemind. I trim away the bad ideas and put more development in to the good concepts. Still freely exploring tangents that relate to the “winning” ideas. Eventually, something will speak to me and I’ll get the itch to produce it. Once that happens, I engage my creative team (friends, family, industry peers). I will create a Google document that outlines the shoot idea and may contain source imagery to help them share my vision of the concept. I use Google documents because they have revision tracking and are available everywhere. This allows me to work with my team to refine the vision and plan production.
Lastly, we get together and shoot. I love to craft images as a group. I try to incorporate the best ideas from all the participants while still striving to achieve a version of my original vision. I love collaboration and strengthening the bonds of friendship with team members through a successful production. I find that working with a group is often a great way to source inspiration, a dynamic and kinetic energy often develops that will plant the seeds for your next production.
Clark Dever is a rogue technologist on a mission to develop collaborative communities.
How can I live my art? This is a question that consistently vibrates in my heart and my mind. It’s from this question that my intention and inspiration are drawn. Rather than thinking of inspiration for one piece, one collection, or one adornment, I first try to think about how I can live in an inspired way; how I can craft the whole of my time on this earth into an experience of art. This helps me to stay more inspired, more of the time.
My creative self is like this cosmic tapeworm that always needs to be fed – so I dance, practice yoga, immerse myself in music, commune with the natural world, experiment with movement and performance art-forms, and leave my house as often as possible wearing my war paint and swashbuckling boots. I could continue this list infinitely, but I can sum up by saying that I attempt to live in a way that gives me a tactile experience of day to day life; that gives a creative richness to as many moments as possible.
If this full-on immersion-style of inspiration doesn’t quite tickle your fancy, here are a few experiential suggestions from my arsenal of ideas to combat stagnation:
• Keep a sketchbook by your bed. Riding those Theta brain waves can offer up some of your weirdest and most creative ideas.
• Expand your consciousness. Meditate, practice yoga, pray, chant, drink the mushroom tea – whatever it is that opens your mind to its most expansive state. Remember kids, intention is very important when you take the plunge into this particular area!
• TRAVEL! EXPLORE! Whenever possible. Even if it’s just a day-trip. Even if it’s just to another part of the state. Removing myself from my everyday surroundings always recharges my batteries, especially if I’m traveling with the intention of seeking inspiration.
Morgen Love is a Buffalo, NY-based designer of clothing and adornments for urban nomads, spirit warriors, and other illuminated beings.
My mantra… creativity is community. One of my favorite creative thinkers is Richard Florida; he says “creativity must be motivated and nurtured in a multitude of ways, by employers, by people themselves and by the communities where they locate”.
When I’m in a creative rut I tend to do just that, pull from my network. It’s a consistent collaboration with all of my friends and loved ones. This opens all outlets for creative thought to arise, motivate, inspire and be validated.
Erin Habes is an educator – influencer – event planner – stylist – writer – hustler
It seems that I drift in and out of creative ruts all the time, but in an interesting way, I don’t get into a rut and stop creating work. In fact, I work and shoot prolifically when I am in a rut, it’s just that I think that a lot of the work I create during these periods is utter crap. It’s times like these that I have to take a good long look at myself in the mirror and remind myself that sometimes I suck, and that sometimes it’s okay to suck.
It is not that this work is necessarily bad per se, but it does not meet the standards that I have set for myself, I can see mistakes and errors everywhere that others may not, flaws in concept and execution abound and it makes me mad and frustrated – and then something amazing happens….
I get mad and frustrated to a point that I break the cycle, I shoot something new, just for myself, or push myself in a new direction and pull myself out of the pattern. Oftentimes I find that after one of these brief periods I am working a higher level of output and quality than I was before the creative dissatisfaction set in. You plateau and push yourself and reach new highs, eventually you plateau again and push yourself higher yet again, learning from your mistakes and developing your sense of yourself and your art. Thinking something you did sucks is fine if it helps push you to create something that doesn’t suck – I think we all go through creative cycles like this, but all deal with them in different ways. Here are a few small ways I try to prevent myself slipping into these moods at inopportune times:
• Try to involve creativity into your everyday life, not just when your working.
• I cannot stress this enough – Record your ideas, get a durable notebook and a nice pen or use Evernote, and keep everything for review later.
• Watch foreign films and silent films, involve yourself in mediums that are outside your visual syntax to expand your visual language.
• Don’t be afraid to act like a kid – remember how much fun it was to dance around in your bedroom alone late at night or rock out in front of a mirror playing air guitar? When you do that, for those brief moments you are the biggest star in your world. Do things that you would be embarrassed to do in public and get it all out, act like a fool, and have fun with it! Sometimes nonsensical catharsis is just what we need to hit that reset switch and keep our brain juices flowing.
Buffalo Photographer Luke Copping is the writer of this blog, a commercial and editorial shooter, and an all around swell guy.