For generations, artists have devised all sorts of techniques for how to get out of a creative rut. Breaking out of a rut isn’t always easy, and all artists have to innovate ways to feel inspired when they’re feeling blocked. For some, it’s as simple as Googling “quotes about being in a rut” and allowing words to inspire new ideas, while others take a more out-of-the-seat approach by going on walks or engaging in physical activities that render creativity.
We asked 12 artists to share how they find inspiration when they’re stuck staring at a blank page, when they’re figuring out how to break out of a rut or to better realize their potential. They suggested 10 techniques that are convenient and easy to implement and—spoiler alert—one of them is taking a nap!
- Keep an Inspirational Library
Collect things that inspire you, whether they’re art books, posters, quotes, or souvenirs from your travels. That way, if you ever need help breaking out of a rut, you’ll have a vast repository of ideas waiting for you.
It doesn’t have to be a physical library, of course. It can be a corner of your studio or a drawer filled with mementos. It can even be a Pinterest board or a folder on your computer.
Sydney-based artist Loribelle Spirovski, for example, keeps both a digital archive and a physical notebook for journaling. “In tandem with this, I also carefully curate who I follow on Instagram, so this is always a wellspring of creative potential,” she says.
2. Tick Off Your Chores
Believe it or not, a number of the artists we interviewed recommend doing housework to help with a creative rut. This serves two purposes. First, familiar and routine tasks don’t require much concentration, so your mind is free to daydream and stumble onto fresh ideas.
And secondly, completing daily chores can give you a sense of accomplishment. When you’re frustrated by work, doing something productive can provide that jolt of motivation. “It’s okay not to feel like creating a masterpiece every day,” painter Jenn Ashton says. “Some days, if I clean my table or brushes, I can feel accomplished.”
Pushing yourself physically can prompt your mind to work in new ways. Photographer Matthias Heiderich has a regular routine. “I take endless walks, listening to music and podcasts,” he explains. “I can walk really far and for a long time. I walk until I am exhausted. It does something to my brain. My focus shifts from thinking to moving. I go into a meditative state, a trance. My brain is clear, so new ideas form in my subconsciousness, and later, they find their way to the surface.”
4. Have a Nap
Poet, editor, and 3D artist David Stenbeck relies on the power of sleep when breaking out of a rut. “Take a nap,” he suggests. “It’s like an inner spring rain that’ll leave you energized enough to pick up where you left off. Napping isn’t lazy. Napping is cool.” Even if you don’t dream up your next big idea, you’ll have given yourself space and time to rest and recharge.
5. Get Away
“When I find myself in a creative rut, I change my environment,” oil painter Kristin Texeira explains. “If it’s possible, I take a drastic change. I go somewhere new for a month and interact with new people. I’m always applying to art residencies so that I know I have a new place to look forward to.”
Still, you don’t have to fly halfway around the world in order to benefit from a change of scene. Spend time exploring places you haven’t been before, even if they’re nearby. Research suggests that venturing into a vibrant new neighborhood can be enough to spark creativity.
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6. Act First, Think Later
“I’d say the best approach is to force it,” painter Laura Wood explains. “Push paint around. Do something—anything–in your creative environment, and the inspiration will —come. I almost never start with inspiration. I just start, and then it comes.”
Cast off any preconceptions or judgment, and enjoy the process of creating. If you let those inhibitions slip to the wayside, you might surprise yourself with your ability to release yourself from your creative rut.
7. Remember Why You Do What You Do
Why did you get into art in the first place? By taking the pressure off yourself and focusing clearly on your values and your passions, you can get back to the basics and generate new ideas to inform how to break out of a rut.
Adam J. Kurtz is an illustrator, author, and speaker based in Brooklyn. “It can be helpful to get a renewed sense of self,” he tells us. “My Skillshare course, Personal Brand Manifesto: Who Do You Think You Are?, is basically about this. It’s 30 minutes of art therapy that might seem pretty unusual but can have a really profound impact. There have been some things manifested from that exercise that have really shocked me. It’s helped me stay on track with my emotional and personal goals for my art and creative work.”
8. Eliminate Stress
“When I find myself in a creative rut, it is important for me to step back and assess why I feel like I’m in that rut,” Nashville-based painter Shane Miller says. “Most times, it is because I’ve lost focus. I try to eliminate unnecessary stresses and things in my life that are zapping my energy. I’m a firm believer that we only have so much headspace, and if we allow it to fill up with unimportant things, it will take away from our creative focus. At those times, I declutter my mind and create a void to allow the creativity to flow once more.”
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9. Get Off the Internet
The internet is a great place to find inspiration, especially when you’re trying to build that “inspiration library” we mentioned earlier. But at a certain point, it can also be counterproductive; especially when you’re working on how to get out of a creative rut. “The internet is full of beautiful things, but it can also be very distracting,” 3D artist Martin Vokatý confesses. “Spending hours browsing online is not healthy for your creativity. Try to keep your phone at a distance while you’re working.”
10. Accept the “Rut”
Sometimes, feeling stuck is just another part of the creative process. If all else fails, embrace it. What seems like a “creative rut” on the surface might just be another stop on your artistic journey. Be patient, learn from it, and trust that you’ll come out the other side.