Sparking Creativity: An Art Director’s Take on How to Overcome Creative Block

Creative Block

Creativity can take many forms. Writers, artists, graphic designers, stylists, decorators, filmmakers, directors, composers, photographers, and so many others all fall into the category of “creatives.” We are the doers, the designers, and the makers. It is in our DNA to create, and many of us can hardly remember a time when we weren’t being creative.

As an art director, I know full well that being creative on demand can be extremely difficult. Creatives often don’t have the luxury of weeks or months to mull over the perfect idea or solution to a creative problem. We are often tasked with changing our creations or going in a new direction that we ourselves didn’t choose but is being directed by a client or collaborator. This can all cause creative block and fatigue, both of which are real and frustrating. But don’t fret – inspiration could be just around the bend.

Everyone finds inspiration by different means, but here are a few methods that I (and others) have used to spark creativity and break through even the most stubborn creative block:


Reading always helps fire up my imagination and gets my brain working differently. According to Reader’s Digest, “Reading a book forces your brain to think critically… When you make connections, so does your brain, literally forging new pathways between regions in all four lobes and both hemispheres. Over time, these neural networks can promote quicker thinking…” For me, narrative fiction helps me to visualize action in the described scenes, and books by other creatives get me thinking in new ways when I read about their ideas or processes. Recent favorites include:

On Broadway: From Rent to Revolution by Drew Hodges

Make It Bigger by Paula Scher

Getting There: A Book of Mentors by Gillian Zoe Segal


For whatever reason, we creative folks tend to be nocturnal – and that’s totally fine! I am a big believer in finding the time when you do your best work and embracing it. For some, that means being ready to dive in at 9 am. For others, it’s after the sun goes down. But it’s very difficult to create when you are simply exhausted. Listen to your brain and body and know when it’s time to call it a night. Good ideas arrive when you’re fresh. And never underestimate the power of a 20-minute nap!


Sometimes, you just have to put down whatever you’re working on and stop thinking about it for a little while. This doesn’t mean I’m advocating procrastination but shifting gears for a few hours can help shed new light on your task. They say that sometimes “you can’t see the forest for the trees,” and I think this can happen in the creative process. There is a line from AMC’s Mad Men in a scene where copywriter Peggy is stumped by a difficult assignment. Don says, “Just think about it deeply… then forget about it. And then an idea will jump up in your face.” I experienced this recently while working on a huge project. The client had asked to go in a different direction and I was struggling to find a solution. I decided to stop thinking about it for the evening and go to the grocery store. As I stood in the bread aisle, trying to make a choice between plain and raisin English muffins, the new idea leapt into my mind – and the client loved it!


It has been long-proven that music stimulates the brain and sparks more parts of it than any other stimuli. Studies have found that different types of music actually stimulate different parts of the brain and balance the hemispheres of the brain. As I begin a project, I often create a themed playlist to help me get into the mood of the task. Setting this tone helps me wrap my mind around it differently. I nearly always work better to music than in silence. I also have a playlist for when I have a creative block (a collection of rock music) to re-energize and keep me working.


Hear me out – there is a Netflix docuseries called “Abstract: The Art of Design” that I cannot recommend enough. No matter what your creative field, these people will inspire you and get you thinking differently about your work. Whether it’s scrolling through Netflix or seeing a movie in the theatre, there are many things to watch that may spark creativity. I am personally not a fan of the action movie genre, but I often watch them because they inspire me with the CGI and visual effects. I’ve also been known to arrive early to see movies in the theater just to take a few minutes to walk around the lobby and study the posters. I’m often inspired by movies and TV that are visually interesting (either production design or cinematography) or writing that makes me think (i.e., Aaron Sorkin).


This may seem like it flies in the face of my last point, but it is important to find a balance between staying in and getting out. Travel almost always inspires (obviously), but there is a wealth of inspiration right in your backyard. Museums, parks, and local entertainment may all stoke the fires of inspiration. Living in Central Florida, some of my favorite places to go to be visually stimulated include the Orlando Museum of Art, Downtown Winter Garden or Historic Mount Dora, the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom (where the immersive attention to detail is second to none).


I find that the more I “practice” being creative, the easier it becomes. Similar to exercise, it is easier when you do it every day, rather than letting it go for weeks and months, then trying to jump in again when you’re rusty. Even if you’re not actively working on a particular project, find ways to stay creative and engage in activities that spark your imagination.

The creative process never ends, and art, in all its forms, is everywhere we look. So go to a museum, read a book, explore a new part of town, see a play, or follow a designer on Instagram. The more we expose ourselves to creativity, the better artists and creators we become.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –


Here’s Why Your Brain Needs to Read Every Single Day

How Long is an Ideal Nap?

3 Ways Music Improves Your Brain Function