Image courtesy of Gina Rivara

14 Ways to Overcome Creative Block

Ten Kickstarter creators share their routines, rituals, and insights on the creative process.

It happens to us all: The words don’t come. The ink doesn’t flow. Half-formed ideas are stuck in the back of your mind. Creative block is as inevitable as it is tear-your-hair-out frustrating — but the community of independent artists, designers, and makers on Kickstarter have picked up some tricks along the way to get back on track when a project seems to have lost steam.

We spoke to ten creators working in a variety of disciplines — all of whom took part in Make 100, a creative initiative focused on editions of 100 we ran this January—to find out what inspires them, what environments foster their creativity, and what they do when they’re feeling blocked. From loading up on tea and Netflix to poring over rare art books, we hope these routines, rituals, and creative insights can serve as the (gentle) kick in the pants you need to start that project you’ve been dreaming about.

Shing Yin Khor’s drawing, painting, and sculpting tools

To get in the zone while working

Shing Yin Khor, sculptor, cartoonist, installation artist, and four-time creator: “A thermos full of hot tea — that way I don’t have to put the kettle back on — and crime procedurals on Netflix. I am a woman of simple needs.”

Seb Burnett, director and illustrator at Rumpus Animation and two-time creator: “When I’m working on my drawings, I like the sound of silence. I sit quietly in a room with only the scratching of my pen for company.”

Sean Bonner, photographer, researcher at the MIT Media Lab, co-founder of Safecast, and two-time creator: “I like ambient chaos around me, and my own privacy bubble. Working from a coffee shop with headphones on is my sweet spot.”

Derrick Schultz, designer, artist, programmer, and first-time creator: “One of the keys to my work is finding very small chunks of time to accomplish something. Since I have a full-time job outside of my art practice, I am always trying to find five or ten minutes to write one little function or sketch an idea.”

One of Gina Rivara’s (many) art journals

When you’re feeling stuck

Dave Laituri, product designer and nine-time creator with his son, Calvin: “Since launching Onehundred, there have always been five or six ideas ‘cooking’ in the background. If one slows down, there is always another one asking for attention. Ideas seem to evolve in interesting ways when you’re not staring directly at them all the time.”

Gail Potocki, artist and first-time creator: “I get outside when I feel stuck. I also have a library of art books, and sometimes looking at my favorite artists from earlier centuries gives me a clue as to how I can unlock a challenging problem.”

Shing Yin Khor: There are many tasks that require no inspiration whatsoever to do, such as answering mail, doing my quarterly taxes, and writing grant proposals. Usually after a few days of catching up on all of my administrative needs, I’ll manage to develop enough of a drive to do anything but those things.”

Seb Burnett: “The best thing to do is just relax for a bit. Then start doodling. Once you actually start making things it sparks off other ideas. Sometimes your picture will suck. That’s bound to happen. Just do another one.”

Sketches from Seb Burnett’s 100 Days of Mystery project

Gina Rivara, artist and first-time creator: “I love indulging in a meal out and submitting to my senses. What smells are wafting from the kitchen? What punchy on-trend colors are on the walls? What typeface did they use on the menu? How does the silverware feel in my hands?”

Jenny Odell, digital artist and first-time creator: “I go to the Stanford art library. I usually end up either finding something I’d never heard of and wouldn’t find online, or learning that something contemporary — a concept, an aesthetic, or a way of working — was already happening ages ago.”

To get inspiration for a new project

Miles Greb, comics creator, writer, producer, and five-time Kickstarter creator: “Music is very important to me. I have borrowed inspiration from the sounds of Built to Spill, Bob Dylan, Fiona Apple, Bright Eyes, Nobuo Uematsu, and Regina Spektor.”

Seb Burnett: “I’m old enough to remember before the internet, so I used to pore over any books I could find with illustrations. Arthur Rackham was a favourite, and George Grosz. I love picture books and animation. My current favorites are Over the Garden Wall and Flapjack.”

Thomas Negovan, founder of the gallery and publisher Century Guild and nineteen-time creator: “Douglas Rushkoff, Grant Morrison, and Jason Louv are the three writers who have given me the most inspiration recently.”

Jenny Odell: “My friends Liat Berdugo and Morehshin Allahyari amaze me with their poetic projects in art and technology. And Joe Veix and Helen Tseng keep me abreast of weird internet stuff all day.”


Feeling inspired by the work of these Kickstarter creators? Start your own project here.

One of Gina Rivara’s alcohol ink paintings