As a professional artist, I have to face deadlines on the daily. Preparing artwork for clients is stressful, intimidating, and sometimes overwhelming.
But creative blocks aren’t a luxury I can have. Like journalists fighting writer’s block, I don’t have time to get stuck. There’s a deadline.
I’m not going to be the guy to say that creative blocks don’t exist – because they do. I’ve had several occasions where I wanted to put the stylus down and procrastinate.
When you feel like the project in front of you is impossible, you’re about to have a discovery. Sometimes you simply don’t know how to get there.
It happens. But, the difference between an amateur and a professional is how you deal with challenges and blocks. Here’s how…
1. Take a break to breathe!
This is always my first go-to solution to creative blocks. I’m a hard-core believer in meditation. I find that when I disconnect from the noise in my head, things tend to work themselves out more than half of the time.
Letting your mind relax while you focus on your breath lets you approach your work in a new way when you get back to it. Meditation helps you be mindful of your mental state and physical state. You can actually see the thoughts you’re having from a different perspective.
Finally, it’s flat-out relaxing. I can’t work very well when I’m tense, so a breather is always nice.
2. Get physical.
Like meditation, exercise can alter your mental state. Exercise releases endorphins and makes you feel good, too! It isn’t relaxing all the time, but a good workout helps me work with energy, enthusiasm, and a clear head.
This holds especially true for artists or desk jockeys. Sitting all day is hell on my back, puts me in a kindly crappy mood, and isn’t fulfilling for my body.
Intense exercise isn’t always the best option, either. Consider yoga to stretch out tight muscles, improve circulation, and get sexy. For my fellow tattoo artists – yoga is dope. Do it. It’ll save your shoulders, neck, and upper back so you don’t end up a hunched over tattooer in constant pain who hates every client that walks into your booth.
3. Look for inspiration.
As a tattoo artist – Pinterest is a blessing and a curse.
When a client walks in with a Pinterest tattoo idea, I want to face-palm as I’m talking them off the ledge. That’s a different conversation, though.
Let’s talk about how places like Pinterest, Instagram, deviantART, and other image networks are a blessing! If you’re wanting to organize your favorite sources of inspiration in one place, I can’t recommend Pinterest enough.
A warning, though – don’t look for designs or art that are ready-to-go solutions to the design or creative block you’re facing. Find inspiration to come up with your own solutions. It is a sure-fire way to create something awesome.
Examine line weights, composition, color, style, etc.
See if anything jogs a creative bolt loose in your head and give it a shot.
4. Change your environment.
I always like drawing in nature. I rarely get to, but when I need a super-shot of creativity I go for a hike with my sketchbook. I live in Eastern Kentucky, with some amazing trails and tons of nature all around.
Climbing a big rock and looking out over a mountainous landscape with a lake in the distance lets me disconnect.
And when I’m disconnected, I can connect diverse ideas.
If a hike isn’t a good option, try to a café or your favorite restaurant. Ask for a booth in the corner and start relaxing into your food and drink. Pull out your sketchbook or computer and get to work.
Finally, you can put on some headphones with some music (I prefer music without lyrics). If you can change your surroundings or shut them out, you’ll be able to focus more on the work in front of you. Give it a shot.
5. Ask for help.
Artists may love solitude, but community is important, too. Humans are social creatures, and every artist I’ve ever met is human. Fucking weird, but still human.
But even the most introverted of us can enjoy some social interaction. I work with two other artists at the studio I tattoo from. Borrowing inspiration from other artists has been a game-changer in my career.
I’ve been a member of several online communities of artists. It’s not the same as walking up to another working artist and saying “Hey bro, I can’t figure this one out, do you have any ideas?”
It took time to find people who were willing to help me out on the fly.
Also, many tattoo artists have a “guarded secret” mentality when it comes to helping out others. If you’re a tattooer looking for that kind of environment, be patient, be persistent, and it will happen. You might have to be the driving force, offering and asking for help, but it’s worth the effort.
Sometimes you can also reach out to your idols. People are willing to offer tips, tricks, and advice if you ask. Don’t be afraid! Shoot a DM on Instagram, find an email address somewhere, connect on Facebook. Be brave, it pays.
What about you?
Next time you’re facing a creative challenge that you can’t conquer, realize that frustration is the feeling you get before a breakthrough.
Without frustration, you won’t grow. Try these tips to push through those challenges and come out on top. Maybe you have your own methods.
What do you do when you need to crush a creative block? Have you tried any of the tips above? Let me know in the comments, and if you have any tips that you think I should try, myself, I’d be happy to give it a shot.