7 Tips To Overcome Creative Block

Sometimes it feels like your brain just runs out of steam.

As a designer and maker, I’m constantly looking for what’s new and next. My brain craves novelty, and after spending a decade working in fashion, this seeking behavior is practically hardwired into my brain. 

Every so often, like all humans, I hit a creative rut. These are my top tips for shaking out the cobwebs and getting back to baseline.

The tactics I use can be broken down into two main categories: passive and active. You could also call them consumptive and generative. Which one I use will depend on how I’m feeling and what I’m trying to achieve.

Active Inspiration Methods

These methods require you and your brain to be fully engaged. It might seem counter intuitive, you probably feel lethargic and tired. Surely more action isn’t the answer?

In my own creative practice I’ve found the exact opposite is often true. I think I need to disengage, slow down; but what I actually need is to better direct my focus and actions.

These techniques are generative. They engage your brain and try to give you a new perspective so you can start generating ideas on your own. Think of them like active note taking.

  1. Oblique Strategies: this was originally a card game developed by musician Brian Eno to help him in the studio, but the broad directives make them great for any creative pursuit. You can buy your own deck or you can use the free website that recreates the deck digitally.
  1. Buy cheap clothing from the thrift store and cut it up: This is a common tactic designers use when starting a new collection. Maybe you found something you like, but you want to change the sleeve. Or add more fullness. Or maybe you want to totally hack the garment apart and mash it together with something else, Frankenstein style!
    No matter your chosen craft, this is a great way to create new, exciting silhouettes, or test out new ideas you’re unsure of.
  1. Dice: Let go of control and give your making over to chance. If you’re into yarn crafts, try this DIY method. If quilting is your jam, you might like this version. Or take some inspiration from those and come up with your own riff. Maybe you’ll stumble across a happy accident.

Passive Inspiration Methods

I use these most often. They require the least amount of space and equipment, most only require you to have a book, smartphone, or computer. 

These methods put you in more of an editorial mindset as opposed to a generative one. Which is to say, you’re looking at existing ideas and evaluating their merits.

I find these techniques work best for me if I have a directive to start with. That could include designing for a specific customer, recreating a feeling or mood, or looking for examples of a certain design detail like a stitch or a silhouette.

Starting with a directive lets me evaluate each image I see more deeply than just saying “I like it” or “I don’t like it.” I have a goal in mind, and I’m comparing it to that purpose.

  1. Looking at other people’s work: This might include browsing a library book or magazine, looking at runway photos, Instagram, or an online shopping website.

Here are a few of my favorite places to look for inspiration:

  • Photo Libraby: In addition to books and periodicals, my local library has its own image collection. Maybe yours does too! It’s great for finding photos beyond what shows up on the first few pages of Google or Pinterest.
  • Vogue runway: This is where I go when I want to see something over the top. When I want my sensibilities challenged. It’s not always the most wearable, but it’s always the most interesting.
  • Follow aggregate accounts on Instagram and follow hashtags: Instagram is a great way to see what is popular and what people are interested in looking at right now. It’s not as much of a predictive tool the way that runways can be. What I like specifically about aggregate accounts is that sometimes I stumble across someone new to follow. I also get to see the-best-of-the-best from accounts I like but for whatever reason don’t want to give space to in my feed.
  • Shop stores: Seeing what is in stores and what is selling well is really important if you are interested in selling your creative work to others. For the most complete view of any retailer, walk the floor of a brick and mortar store and then browse their online shop, if they have one, to compare. I like to look at a mix of high end designers and mall brands.
  • WGSN Blog: It’s not nearly as in-depth as their paid trend service, but it’s free! WGSN is used by lots top brands in the fashion industry, and provides very detailed analysis, but a subscription starts somewhere in the 5 figure range depending on the size of your company.
  1. Create a mood board: I’m including this on the passive list because tools like Pinterest makes it easier than ever to save images. Don’t be too selective at the beginning. Do you kind of like the look of that cuff, but hate everything else? Save the image! Eventually I will have to take a more active role and curate what I saved, but when I’m feeling stuck, I save with abandon. 
  1. Revisit my old work, journals, and sketch books: Maybe you had an idea that just wasn’t right at the time, but is perfect for right now. Or you had something that was almost there, and just needs a little polishing up for public consumption. Revisiting old work is a great way to remember all the best ideas you didn’t have time to execute before now.
  1. Take a break! Take a nap! Rest! Sometimes the best thing you can do is to do nothing at all. You’re not a robot, you are human. And humans need rest. Studies have shown that some of our best ideas come to us when we’re falling asleep.

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