Creative block has been defined as the mind’s inability to access its own creativity. So while creative block is a phenomenon of the mind, it is nevertheless real and plagues many of us pursuing creative endeavors (visual arts, writing, music, etc. ). A fellow photographer is going through a phase of creative block right now, Hamish has posted about his struggles in the past, and I personally have certainly struggled through many similar barriers of inspiration. I think nobody is “immune” from it.
Creative block can last days, weeks, months or even years.
It can be caused by the environment, other people and, ultimately, ourselves.
The connection between mind and creativity fascinates me. I wanted to share a few strategies that might be helpful in case we feel a lack of inspiration or a block in our creativity.
Because creative block is such an individual (personal) phenomenon, I want to make the following disclaimer. There is no easy way “out” and there is no generic “process” to overcome it. There is no one size fits all blockbuster. Anyone who claims that to be true is not entirely realistic in my opinion.
So what might have worked for me or somebody else, might not work for you.
Nevertheless, I hope some of these ideas are helpful. Also, if you have additional strategies / ideas that helped you or others you know overcome creative block, please share them in the comments!
Take a break
As mentioned, creative block is in your mind. Yes, external factors including other people or external events can contribute to it or cause it. But ultimately it is how we respond to these external factors such as an extended lockdown / social isolation for example.
To break out of creative block might necessitate a break from the creative endeavor itself. This can distance us from the perceived problem and help us overcome it with time. A break is not always feasible such in the case of professional photographers, but it is often said to be an effective strategy. Some things we could do to “fill the time” we would usually spent on our creative endeavor is to watch movies, read books, exercise, go for walks, go to art museums, declutter our desk/office, and write down ideas/inspirations (if/once they come) from those activities in a note book.
It might even help to completely unplug (e.g. quit social media, blogs, online surfing etc.).
An extreme example of creative block and subsequent complete hiatus from artistic output was Impressionist Claude Monet. His experience also shows how external factors can cause creative block. The death of his wife Alice halted Monet’s output for two years (1911-1913). He eventually overcame this block by painting the rose-covered trellises at the entrance to his water garden at his home in northern France.
Start a new photography project
I am a big fan of photography projects. I think they can be a source of great inspiration and satisfaction. Clearly projects serve many different purposes, and overcoming creative block may not be on the top of the list.
There are endless options here. Including writing a piece for another blog like 35mmc… Or starting a new podcast… (see below)!
If the project is to help with creative block, it might be prudent / easier to pursue a shorter project, and not a long-term project. I completed a project 365 (a picture a day for 365 days) last year. And while this project forced me to “create” for one year straight every single day, I would not have pursued such a long-term project to overcome creative block.
Ideas for such shorter / simpler projects could be: a 5-10 picture black and white series using abstract patterns (maybe even narrow down which patterns); a 5-10 series of reflections; a 5-10 series of color red; etc. Google ideas for small projects or use pinterest or other sites for inspiration for a small project. A small project could even entail emulating another photograph and putting your own style and twist on it.
Learn a New Technique or Genre
Learning a new technique / genre and applying it creatively to our work can be very inspiring.
Some of the techniques / genres to consider are macro photography, long exposure photography, film photography, astro / night photography, droplet photography, street photography, architecture photography, flash photography.
We could experiment with (for us new) compositional / stylistic techniques. Maybe deliberate use of framing. Or of negative space. Of minimalism. You could also learn a new processing techniques in Lightroom or Photoshop or whatever processing you use (darkroom anyone?). For example, I have enjoyed many Photoshop episodes of British photographer Gavin Hoey on youtube. Here is a link to an example I created based on one of Gavin’s tutorials on wrapping textures around objects.
This is a small list of endless possibilities.
Go to a New Place
New places are often inspiring and reveal wonderful new subjects. You do not have to physically travel to a new place of course, just bike, hike, or drive to a new place in your neighborhood, city or area you live in. And maybe this new place does inspire us and we find ourselves with a small series of new images.
These are just some ideas on how to bust creative block… I discuss these and more on my new podcast – which as a regular writer and reader here – Hamish has allowed my to promote as an addendum to this article – not least because the first episode (available to listen to today) is on the topic of creative block.
CREATE. PHOTOGRAPHY. – Podcast Launches today.
Create. Photography. is a podcast about the creative side of photography. We will discuss a broad range of topics that are meant to inspire and hope to provide new perspectives. This is a podcast for anyone interested in photography. Each show will focus on one topic that relates to the creative side of photography; the show is a mix of solo shows and interviews.
Here is a list of the production schedule for my first 12 episodes. The first 3 episodes including the show notes are now available here.
- introduction and creative block (listen)
- mindfulness in photography (listen)
- limitation (with Hashem McAdam) (listen)
- travel photography (with Gary Arndt)
- about projects
- am american mile (with Kyle McDougall)
- the beauty of simple things – an introduction to Saul Leiter
- story telling (with Ted Vieira)
- light(ing) (with Don Giannatti)
- black and white photography
- color: from theory to compositional element
- the intersection of creative artforms
The companion website will include show notes, images and links to other resources, you can also sign up to my newsletter here to get notified on new episodes and subscribe to show notes.
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14 thoughts on “Overcoming Creative Block – A Few Tips – By Daniel Sigg”
Thanks for sharing your insight. I’ve always wanted to work on anything at a level that would justify use of Brian Eno’s “Oblique Strategies”- https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oblique_Strategies
I’m an architect as my day job, which is such a corrupted art-form, certainly at my level, that the problem-solving never quite gives way to the unalloyed creative process. Perhaps I should allow it to!
Michael, thanks for sharing about Brian Eno’s creativity method. I am quite familiar with Brian Eno’s music and him as a producer, but I did not know his “oblique strategies”. Very interesting!
Interesting and super-useful. Thanks for a very promising new podcast. Will it eventually become available through Pocketcast too? Again, many thaks, I really enjoyed listening to the first episode.
Hi Peter, thanks so much! Also thanks for pointing out the pocketcast issue. It should work as the podcast is in Apple podcasts, but I also got an error. I was able to load it into pocketcast now, and am no longer getting an error when loading pocketcast from my website. If you search for create. photography. in pocketcast, I hope you can find the show now. If not, enter https://feeds.buzzsprout.com/1333939.rss into the search bar of pocketcast, and this should work. Please let me know if it does. You can also email me at [email protected] if the error persists or you are having issues. Cheers, Daniel
Hi Daniel, thanks for the tips on overcoming creative block. Like Michael above, my day job as a security architect is all problem solving so my photography tends to be technical. I’m still waiting for creativity to hit me in the head. ????
Hi Khürt! Thanks, and ????!
That first photo is everything. I look forward to exploring your podcast.
Thanks so much, Gordon!
A professional photographer once said to me…”don’t just go out and look for THINGS to photograph (clutter) – instead, focus on ONE thing and discover ways of photographing that”… (theme and variations). Worked for me!
Great article. Thanks for the added inspiration.
Nick, thanks for your comment! That’s a very good point, thanks for sharing!
A brilliant article and I’m hoping to find some time to sit and listen to your podcast!Hopefully while I cook dinner tonight…
Holly, thanks so much for the kind comments! Let me know what you think about the podcast. 🙂 Cheers, Daniel
Love these tips Daniel! I’ll certainly be reminding myself of these as I am learning photography.
Thanks for your kind comments! Glad you like the tips 🙂