Ever get stuck in a rut or find yourself in funk that lasts too long in work or at home or in a relationship? Twenty-nine artists all too familiar with overcoming a creative block share their secrets for breaking free. While they are talking about overcoming an artistic drought, many of these tricks of the trade can be applied to life's general trappings, which we all face.
1. "Get out of the studio... far away from the computer and look for the fabulous in the mundane. Mini road trips to antique malls and thrift shops provide some of the most amazing juxtapositions of function, color, shape and materials, as well as time to ponder them. Not to mention, the drive itself forces an unplugged brain cleanse that makes space for the new ideas to get in." -- Bob Faust, Principal/Designer, Faust Ltd.
2. "I like to have several things going at once. That way, if one's not coming I can work on something else. If none of them have any life to 'em, the best thing to do is to just take a break. There's nothing worse than trying to force it and the world doesn't need any more bad art; there's already plenty of that." -- Dmitry Samarov, Painter and Writer
3. "I make a cup of coffee instead of miming one. I stop ripping out my hair in large tufts and watch it grow in. I take a walk and get a life. The rut will pass. Not creating with a gun to your head works, too." -- Susan Messing, Improvisor, Messing With A Friend
4. "I always reach out to my mom to get inspiration if I'm in a rut. Childhood memories are big part of our restaurants. At Urbanbelly, menu item number #15 "Rice Cake" is from a street vendor when I was growing up in Seoul, Korea. So my mom reminds me about certain dishes or even tells me a recipe that she has used." -- Bill Kim bellyQ , Urbanbelly, and bellyshack.
5. "After attending a great play, or great musical concert, I tend to become creatively inspired. After listening to someone like Stevie Wonder in concert for 2 hours, it's kind of hard not to." -- Billy Branch, Three-time Grammy Award Nominee
6. "The most difficult thing for me is to get started on a big creative project. I have many ideas, but putting them into clear form is a true challenge! In those cases, I need to clear my mind of all other life concerns, and I give myself the time to take a nice walk or do some meditation so that my mind is clear of all the little stresses that get in the way. Then, I reserve a good chunk of uninterrupted time to work, as the big creative projects require intense focus to be formulated." -- George Lepauw, President and Artistic Director of the International Beethoven Project
7. "To dig my way out of a creative rut, I close the door to my hayloft studio...and hit the closets to play "Keep & Toss." Once everything is bagged & tagged for donation, I pour a red beverage and turn off my brain in front of an old movie; Mommy Dearest paved the way for Spring '13!" -- Peach Carr, Project Runway Season 8 & All Star
8. "In order to come up with new dishes, I fast and go for long runs. Being very hungry brings clarity to exactly what I crave and want to eat. Refinements of these ideas often end up on my menus." -- Gray McNally, Tortoise Club
9. "I lock myself in a dance studio, put on good music and improvise. Without setting any rules, I simply dance, allowing myself the space to move free of judgment. Removing the pressure of creating on a deadline or for a specific reason, frees me up, resulting in more spontaneous and rich movement." -- Stephanie Paul, Be the Groove, Co-Founder/Artistic Director
10. "Sometimes when I find myself in a creative rut, I look to my cookbook collection. I more often than not go to the books that I bought when I started cooking, like Alfred Portale's 12 Seasons, Alain Ducasse's Grand Livre de Cuisine or even recent publications like anything from Stephane Raynaud. Sometimes just a glimpse at a picture can start the creative juices flowing, and get me back on track." -- Sean Pharr, Chef de Cuisine NoMI Kitchen
11. "When I'm in a creative rut, it is frustrating and tortuous because it can lead to self-doubt and the thought, 'has my artistic well run dry?' When it happens, I step away from my work, clear my mind through meditation and have a good laugh watching Modern Family." -- Stacy Bowie, Painter
12. "I believe creative ruts are often related to overtiredness and being overloaded. Rest, breath, laughter and nature for rejuvenation are my go-to solutions, and I often spend time with kids playing because it cleanses my mind and starts me at a free, playful, creative place. Taking quiet time with my animals also puts me in a place to start any creative process, and then I trust." -- Melissa Veal, Wig and Make-up Designer, Chicago Shakespeare Theater
13. "It's easy to get into a rut when you are conceiving and designing shows a lot, back to back. The nature of commercial theatre dictates that you think really far ahead and sometimes that is very limiting. For me, the final creative answers can't come until you are in the room, so it's a matter of balancing the practical with the creative." -- Rachel Rockwell, Director/Choreographer
15. "Navigating out of a creative 'rut' means taking an afternoon away from my studio to sit in a hotel lobby and sketch people. I can immerse myself in seeing a variety of fascinating subjects, interesting fashion looks, all while madly capturing them with pencil on paper. Afterwards, I feel creatively refreshed-ready to tackle new fashionable opportunities." -- Rosemary Fanti, Fashion Illustrator
16. "I take a shower. There is something about the rote activity of washing your hair that frees up your mind." -- Jared Van Camp, Executive Chef Nellcote
17. "When I feel stuck creatively, it's generally because I've been at it for too long. When that happens, I delve into another art form for awhile (i.e., if I'm stuck on a painting or drawing, I might go and write a poem or short story, immerse myself in cooking a wonderful meal, or meditate for a bit.) Switching it up really helps. A fresh look is invaluable when you return, and you come back with renewed perspective." -- Lyn Pusztai Co-owner / Co-designer of Roulette 18 jewelry and Freelance Painter/Illustrator
18. "Distraction works best. When I'm out on the road I crave the quiet of the painting studio and vice versa. Making art is my job and mostly I don't have time to get to all the nonsense bubbling in my skull." -- Jon Langford, Artist and Musician
19. "When I am in a creative rut, I go to art museums and art shows, and look at other people's art. I also look at books with pictures in them to get the visual part of my mind working and activated. Going out in nature always stimulates my senses and my mind, so I do that to find inspiration, as well, and I usually come back with some new ideas. Also, going to lectures, movies, taking a walk in the city, and listening to some music seems to help free my mind a bit, so that some inspiration can float in when I am diverted and not trying so hard. I am the most creative when I am relaxed and not trying." -- Victoria Fuller, Artist/Musician
20. "One way that I get out of a creative rut is to sit down with super forward-thinking books, as well as ones from cooking school (the fundamentals). It helps me find my center. Usually hyper-focusing on an upcoming season like Spring and Google-searching images helps create a positive flow of thoughts." -- Pat Sheerin, Executive Chef/Partner, Trenchermen
21. "After dinner, I head to the studio for 'concepting time.' When I feel the creative rut creeping in, I put on Chicago Tonight and break out a sketch book. That show always provides a variety of intellectual stimulation to get my mind and imagination warmed up. If after an hour my sketches are lame, at least I saw/heard an excellent show!" -- Jeff Zimmermann, Artist
22. "I read poetry... Rumi, Neruda, Rilke, and my own poetry, to remind myself of my own art. The words help me to see shapes, colors, form, which then inspire me to write, paint and create." -- Arica Hilton, Poet/Artist
23. "Usually, when I need inspiration, I get more collaborative, working with all members of the team can help spark some initial burst of creativity. Or, I'll cook something with my wife and children to help drown out all of the noise (budgets, P&L statements, deadlines, etc) that fills my head and I can focus on what I enjoy the most. My kids have amazing palates, too - they let me know if anything is off balance in a dish, so I really focus on clean, simple, well prepared items." -- James O'Donnell, Michael Jordan's Steak House
24. "If I get into a creative rut, I take a long bath, light a candle, and listen to soft music followed by a nice long slumber. After a restful night's sleep, I often wake to a morning of refreshing ideas!" -- Dee Alexander, vocalist
25. "I choose to spend my time with brilliant people, who excel in many different areas, and this helps me get out of my creative rut. From restauranteurs to investment bankers and from musicians to engineers, the people with whom I surround myself inspire me to create new pieces and come up with ideas that meld different types of art." -- Josephine Lee, President and Artistic Director of Chicago Children's Choir
26. "To get inspired I love going to some of my favorite Italian restaurants like Balena or Piccolo Sogno and when I can, I also love going to New York to visit my Italian favorites like Lupa, Keste or Il Buco. Going back to my favorite cookbooks, like Babbo and A16, also helps me get new thoughts and inspiration." -- Chris Macchia, The Florentine
27. "I destress. I take the pressure off of creating just for creation purposes. At times, we can focus on the business aspect or the productivity of our craft so much that it sucks the passion out of us. I go have fun and stop thinking so hard. I let life take it's course and fill me with experiences that shape my art. Also, our competitive nature can block creativity. I remind myself that I'm not competing to win a contest. I remind myself that this is what I love and how and why I fell in love with it." -- Marco The Poet, Poet, co-founder of Speak Life Movement
28. "On the rare occasion that I'm uninspired about a piece I'm practicing, I play something else, and return to the original piece feeling more refreshed. I love talking about music, but can find it challenging to write essays or articles on the subject. My solution is to just write something, anything, and once I get going, I find it usually isn't so bad after all!" -- Rachel Barton Pine, international violin soloist
29. "I go to the movies, go see live theater or music. I find that experiencing the creativity of others is most inspiring." -- Lynne Jordan, vocalist
And one more for fun...
30. "When I am in a creative rut, I chop vegetables. I like to hold the various shapes, experience the colors and take in the smells. Doing the routine and keeping my hands busy, frees up my mind. If I am really, really stuck, I get as far away as I can (Europe, Asia, Africa) and go for long walks, hikes or set out for new discoveries, experiences and the previously unknown to me. Fresh air and reminding myself that the world is a big, big place helps to open me up to new possibilities." -- Elysabeth Alfano, Executive Producer of Fear No ART and Fear No ART presents The Dinner Party