Since I was really young, I’ve always been a creative person. No matter the medium, I threw myself into whatever I was working on. Sometimes though when you’ve spent your entire life doing creative work, it feels like the steam can run out. Whether it’s tearing up the paper or deleting everything in an Illustrator file, I’ve had my fair share of creative blocks. Even just this past semester I went through a rut of feeling like I couldn’t create anything of value. So if I want to be a graphic designer for my career, how am I supposed to get past these points?
I’ve compiled a list of steps that I take to get past my creative blocks and hopefully these can help you get through them as well!
Take a Break
Taking a break can mean a variety of things and it all comes down to personal preference. Now that spring has arrived, going outside is one of my favorite solutions when I’m struggling. Too often I find myself cooped up and hunched over a computer for hours on end. Not only is that bad for your posture (or so I’ve heard), but it can feel like you’re going crazy.
My university just returned from spring break and I had the opportunity to spend the week at Folly Beach in South Carolina. Though I had to do some web design projects over break, I never felt myself get overwhelmed because I knew that I could walk right from the house and be on the beach. There were some days I spent two hours just wandering the beach by myself, taking the time to think about things but to also not think about things. I’m a part of the population that overthinks everything and being able to clear my head like that was exactly what I needed. Sadly, that was only a temporary solution now that I’m back at school. But the idea remains the same.
Getting outside helps stretch your body and there’s just something about inhaling fresh air. Maybe it’s just getting up and walking outside for a minute, or maybe it’s going to a coffee shop nearby just to break up routine. Or it’s actually putting down the pen or mouse for the day and taking the rest of the day off. Overworking your brain will never lead to quality results, and it can also help you give ideas if you forget about the project and return to it with a fresh mind later.
Sketch and Doodle Ideas
This one oddly sometimes is the hardest for me, but it does work. Typically after taking a break like I talked about in my first step, I take to sketching. Returning to the roots of my art background always helps me come up with my strongest ideas. Even if all I grab is a bunch of printer paper instead of a sketchbook, it still helps.
Personal tip: use a pen. Not being able to erase anything helps me just get my ideas out because I know I won’t be able to sit and stress over going over one section over and over again.
Even with a tablet, it’s much more freeing to sketch on paper. And the beauty of doodling is that it doesn’t matter what level of skill you’re at, it’s all about just putting lines on a paper. Whatever works best for channeling ideas, whether it’s scribbles and a bunch of notes or detailed drawings, it makes coming up with ideas much easier and allows then for the transfer to the computer to be easier.
The other day I had to turn in 100 thumbnail sketches for one of my classes. Though it was extremely difficult, since I have never made myself sketch that many thumbnails, it did help me just like doodling in high school did. It helped me let go of ideas that I was holding on to and really try to think outside of the box. No, not everything is going to be good quality. But that’s not what’s important in the drafting or doodling phase, it’s all about channeling creativity and generating ideas.
Research Other Work
As a competitive person, sometimes I just need that spark to get me going. I’m a former athlete so I like to challenge myself. For me, my background is in golf. In golf, my success was dependent on the work that I put in; I was in no control of how my competitors would do. That taught me from an early age to look at what others were doing and to see what I had to do to get to their level. Graphic design isn’t a sport, but sometimes I use the same principles to help get me inspired.
Since I began to work in art, photography, and design, I’ve had one main mantra: “If someone made it, that means it’s possible for me to make it too.”
For me, this means that when I see extremely well made work, I try to study and see how I could create something similar. This isn’t about copying or stealing ideas, but learning techniques and design elements. For example, maybe I see a really intricate logo design. I’ll try to break it down, try to figure out where the inspiration came from and what it took to create it. Or maybe it’s a beautiful piece of digital art. I’ll try to understand the techniques used and test them out for myself. By doing all of this, it pushes me to learn about the software that I use and makes me think more about my own designs. Seeing other people’s work can lead to those “ah ha!” moments and unlock a creative brain freeze.