Oh, the mental block. The frustrating, inglorious, inevitable enemy of all creative minds. Whether you utilize your creativity in your career or in your leisure time, we all share that unnerving dread that comes the moment you realize your creativity is nowhere to be found.
In search of some advice on tackling a creative rut, I turned to four of my favorite professional creatives. Kate LeSueur is a sought-after food and lifestyle photographer, with an eye for light and detail that brings beauty to even the simplest settings. Paul Qui, the Top Chef in the throes of his latest culinary project Otoko, has a bit of experience when it comes to reimagining the modern dining experience. Design darling and artist Alyson Fox is a maven of many mediums, particularly watercolor and woven textiles. The talented Kelley Zeleskey has made a name for herself in interior design, blending luxury and imagination with small-town charm. Let’s see what they had to say about overcoming creative roadblocks …
You are all trailblazing creatives in your own industry. Tell us, where do you turn for inspiration?
Kate – This is tricky! Because it always looks a little different. I honestly feel that when I seek out inspiration, I wind up confused and frustrated by trying to ‘find’ it. I think the best inspiration usually happens for me spontaneously. I try to stay open, and be aware of things, people and places in my everyday life that surprise and excite me.
Kelley – Vintage shops or flea markets. Even when I’m on a project with a more traditionally styled client, I love to search for pieces in non-traditional places. It helps me find the vision for a space that makes it truly unique, and proves there are much cooler things out there than the pieces you can find at your local department store.
Paul – I like to travel for inspiration.
Alyson – I pick up my Agnes Martin book and go lay somewhere outside. She has some of the most thoughtful words on living a creative life and her work is one of my favorites. It’s always a nice pick- me -up and ponder moment.
Do you have a favorite method or exercise you practice to escape from a mental block?
Paul – I look for inspiration from everything else that has a creative force behind it, like fashion, art and design.
Kelley – When I hit a creative block, it’s hard for me to do much of anything at first. But then I challenge myself to change venues, change my environment, mix up some part of my daily routine that gives me a fresh perspective. It often reminds me what I’ve been searching for.
Alyson – I surrender and go for a walk outside. Something about fresh air and the rhythm of my steps helps me process and accept. I also talk it out with my husband, which always makes me feel comforted.
Kate – Being outside is key for me. Sun, air and listening. Long walks. Swimming, too. We are so lucky in Austin to have all of this cold spring water; it always gives me new life.
Okay, help us out. What is the best advice you’ve been given on battling a creative rut?
Alyson – In a condensed form: It happens to everyone and just be grateful that you get to try over and over. It’s all part of the process. If you focus on being grateful for your ideas, passion and support in times of a block, it helps move things along. Advice I have given to fellow creatives and friends is this: eat good chocolate, write letters to significant people (not e-mails or texts), organize, purge and cook something new.
Paul – Don’t think too hard. Step back and look at the big picture.
Kate – I read and re-read The Artist’s Way. It’s chock-full of great exercises and perspective. One of the exercises the author recommends is starting every day with writing 3 pages worth of stuff. It’s total stream of conscious. Even if you write “I have nothing to say” 100 times, it’s still so helpful. I’ve been doing it for over a year now. It keeps your mind open and is a great way to release things you weren’t even aware were on your mind.
Kelley – Go outside of your comfort zone. And don’t come back in until you’ve found something different.
Wow. After all this talk of inspiration and creativity, I might make a few adjustments to my own creative arsenal. When faced with a mental block of my own, I typically find solace in the inspiring candor of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird – and occasionally in a few swear words or a tall glass of wine. It’s an ever-changing solution, but having more tricks in my toolbox is never a bad thing!
Bring it on, creative blocks! Next time we’ll be prepared. Tell me, what are some solutions you’ve used to conquer your own creative blocks?
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