My Advice: Finding Inspiration (when you're in a rut)

By Lizzie Stafford finding-inspiration-main

{Photo by Emily Nelson}

It seems fitting that it took me a while to get started on this introduction, and that in the meantime I had to get up and make a cup of tea. A creative rut can strike at any time, whether you're writing a blog post, starting a painting, composing a song or mere hours away from a client deadline. I asked an illustrator, painter, musician and creator how they find inspiration when they're having 'one of those days'.

Allow it.

Helen Franzmann, musician, McKisko

"I am stuck in a creative rut. I have been for some time. I've never been the kind of person who can turn songwriting on. I respond negatively to external pressures and I'm stubborn. I know what I need to do but sometimes the desert that is the rut becomes so consuming I avoid even picking up an instrument. So, to give advice on how to shift this is confronting for me because I'm in it and my biggest obstacle is myself.

Generally I... Allow it. Read. Look at art books and go to exhibitions. Draw. Play. Hang out with people that inspire me. Write in the mornings when I'm still a bit dream struck. Don't expect everything to become something. Actively listen. Take good notes. Avoid social media and internet wormholes.

Wish me luck."

Move, do and observe details.

Jade Suine, creator, Forget Cake

"Creative inspiration is a sum of everything I have taken in and the connections I make between it all; it sets me abuzz when it catches me off-guard but kick-starting creativity on cue can be oh-so daunting. There are 3 things that prove almost fool-proof for me however: moving, doing, and observing details.

Whether it’s walking to my day job in the morning and thinking of script ideas or scrawling notes while I’m on the train or in an aeroplane, I find the act of moving, or more so, going somewhere, to be very conducive to creating. During my creative thinking studies I’ve even had to admit that exercise helps. Perhaps while the primal part of our brain is ticking over in rhythmic motion other parts of our brain are free to produce the esteemed juice!

I also find that good ideas can become spectacular through doing; decent work can only grow into something sensational through actually making it. As hard as it can be to get started, iteration and experimentation are at the heart of creating, they are the framework, fuel and the fun part!

While doing all this moving, testing and doing, I try to make sure I observe. Exploring through my camera, sketching an amazing shape I see, noting down the something that can potentially be a starting point for the next project or a better version of what I’m already making."

Jade work2

Make a mess cleaning, tidy it, then go for a short walk.

Carolyn O’Neill, artist

"The act of starting on a painting can sometimes be daunting.  I generally start one by cleaning out my paint bowls and making quite a mess, but it’s my starting point. When stuck for inspiration I might tidy up the studio, go for a short walk to clear my head, taking in the scenery around me. Coffee breaks are good too, as sometimes you just need to get out of the studio.

Quick sketches on paper also help as does swapping your dominant hand to paint or draw. Holding the end of the brush so you have less control and writing down thoughts and ideas can be useful. Background music can set the mood for inspiration."



Break the problem down into smaller steps.

Emily Nelson, illustrator

"Working from home and freelancing full time means that I have to stay motivated and switch my creative brain on even if I’m not in the mood. When I’m having trouble creating new work, I set up a nice clean space, a cup of tea, and maybe some music and write down all of the things that I like at the moment in a notebook. I write down objects, colours, descriptive words, themes, anything that I’m interested in. Then I find that ideas start to emerge from my lists and I can start to draw little sketches and form ideas for new art works. Sometimes if I’m really stuck, I look through old notebooks and pick up forgotten ideas. I also make cheesy, motivational art works and display them around my studio as a reminder to stick at it.

When I’m working on a commissioned project and I hit a creative brain freeze, it’s usually because something is challenging me. I often freeze up when my work becomes hard and I don’t know how to solve a problem. When this happens I always break the problem down into smaller steps and it becomes much easier to manage. For dealing with stress related brain freeze, I take a long walk in the morning before I start work and take tea breaks when my work gets tired, which helps me to regroup and find clarity. My brain gets cluttered and needs some space to think sometimes! It may sound like procrastination, but de-cluttering my studio really helps me to get into a creative mind set. My studio gets really messy during a project and when I’m finished I clean up and start fresh for the next project. And in the case of an emergency creative brain freeze, I jump in the shower. I usually come up with lots of ideas in there."


Lizzie Stafford is a freelance writer and editor and owns and runs Künstler, an independent magazine and bookstore based in Winn Lane, Brisbane. She is the Brisbane events coordinator for CWC.