For creative people there is nothing more exciting than embarking on the next project. Whether it be a design, film, novel or application, the chance to create is one that plucks at our neck hairs. However, often the creative process can be a bumpy one. Unexpected hurdles form in your mind and very quickly you can find yourself clutching at straws for a solution or escape.

The question that often comes to mind is “How do I overcome a creative block?” and “Why the hell do I keep getting them?”

7 tips from Protein’s Creative Director, Galvin Scott Davis and Lead Designer, Anthony Ishinjerro on how to overcome these hurdles and unlock your creative mind.

1. Employ some form of exercise that allows you to focus

Galvin explains, “I find exercise to be imperative to creative thinking. Sometimes this is the only chance to think without any distractions. Find a form of exercise that helps you focus on your thoughts.” He stresses the importance of breathing. “There is a great book called ‘The Way of the Fight’ by Georges St Pierre which explains how we have forgotten the simple art of breathing properly. Focus on taking 5 deep breaths, as deep as you can once a day and see how it alters your perspective.”

Anthony states that, “leaving your desk and getting outside for a walk in busy times helps to reduce stress and generate fresh ideas.” Being glued to your monitor can sometimes have the opposite effect to being productive. That awkward feeling of staring at a blank page on-screen can be diminished by simply getting the blood moving by taking a brisk walk.

2. Discover music that inspires your work or alters your current mood

Like exercise, both agreed that music is an essential ingredient to improve productivity. “For me, music helps to create a mood before I even start a project. If I’m feeling flat and choose the right playlist, it can immediately break the block that’s in front of me.” said Galvin. One strategy that he employs when writing is to create a playlist of music that is in the emotion and style of the story that he is working on. “Often I will design a playlist from other soundtracks that influence the work”.

For Anthony, he actively uses music to set the pace and beat of the designs he is working on. “I find that the rhythm of the music provides a subconscious tempo to work with. I can even switch the music to increase the pace to reach a deadline.” He also advises listening to music you are familiar with, so as not to cause too much distraction. Music should form a part of the tapestry of the creative work you are developing, not detract from the focus.


3. Don’t be afraid to find inspiration in others

Creative blocks can seem like salt plains. Desolate blank canvases with no destination in sight. There is nothing more daunting than an empty void. It can sometimes take other people’s work to be the catalyst to begin your own.

Watching a film is the first step in helping Galvin find inspiration and unlocking that dreaded blank_space. “I always revert to film. For others I know a good book, art show or even simply a good article is enough to create that kernel of an idea that was eluding you.”, he says. “I choose film as it is such an emotive medium.” However, it is important to know when you are being inspired and when you are being too derivative. “If you are mimicking, then you are not being a creative, you are being a chameleon. Inspiration should be used to form sketches, not Xerox’s.”

Anthony on the other hand finds inspiration from looking at architecture, photography, paintings and even history. “Being a designer and illustrator I find that it helps to fuel innovation and reduce creative slumps.” Though the internet makes it so easy to find any of these things at the click of a button, often it is the interaction with the physical architecture, gallery exhibitions or history books at a library that is required. Get out and discover new inspiration if you are really stuck.

4. Adopt the perfect environment and time for creative inspiration

The work environment is a big factor in influencing your productivity. Anthony explains, “Finding the right balance between corporate and fun is important. Too many distractions like ping pong tables and video games will certainly reduce productivity, but an environment that is too corporate will strangle creativity.” The Protein Studio is a good example of a space that relies on differentiation. Open, relaxed, not too many boxes or distractions. A steady stream of interesting, creative people that ebb and flow through the workspace.

When it comes to deciding which hours are the most productive for creativity, Anthony and Galvin both agreed that for them, it is night time. Ranging from 10pm – 2am. There is very little to distract you, no phone calls or emails, and everyone else is in bed. When working late, there is a metaphorical stopwatch running and the added pressure of getting the work completed before bedtime. It is about finding which environment and which times work for you as an individual.

Galvin received some great advice from a former colleague which he found changed his working regime for the better. “…a good friend of mine asked me why I was working so hard. I explained that it was the only way that I could try to stop working at night or the weekends. He wisely pointed out to me, that as ‘creatives’ we are forever trying to work out how to work less. How to work ‘a normal life’ without late nights and weekends. When in fact we are often most productive at night. He told me to reconsider the notion. Try to work at night when you are most productive. When everyone is asleep. Then reclaim this time the next day… pay it back. He told me I would end up completing more work and work less hours. It proved to be true.’

5. Be true to your vision

Not every creative block is caused by your internal monologue. Sometimes external influences can pop up at exactly the wrong moment and plant a seed of doubt inside you. Maintain your vision from the beginning of your project to the very end. (See our other article ‘How to be creative: The Gervais Way‘ for a more detailed analysis.).

Try to block out the voices that speak the loudest and listen to the ones that speak with quiet intelligence and perspective. All projects that include creativity, such as writing, designing, painting are subject to change. They meander and weave, it’s part of the creative process, but the core vision should remain intact.

Galvin explains further by reflecting on his supernatural thriller, ‘Stricken’, a screenplay fit for Hollywood without a Hollywood ending (See ‘How Steve Jobs saved our story’). “Focus on what it was that made you want to make this thing in the first place. What drove you? What made you so passionate that you would spend your precious time on it.” Staying true to this vision can sometimes mean being ruthless with your work and your edits. “Don’t be afraid to chuck the baby out with the bathwater. If you introduced something that was not true – cut it out. Throw it away. Do not go quietly into the night. If you aren’t ruthless with your edits, you will never complete anything.”

Writer Neil Gaiman has some wise words on the matter. “Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.”

 6. Travel and explore

The creative mind benefits hugely from travel. Travelling can mean exploring places you have never been before, but it doesn’t have to take you halfway around the globe. “… it can be as small as a weekend trip down the coast, or going to a place or suburb that you have never been to before. Discovering graffiti in the back pathways of Newtown can be just as successful in removing creative blocks as walking the back alleys of Venice.” 

Exploring does not need to be expensive. Providing a new environment brings new perspective and stimulates the senses. It can help to generate ideas for personal projects. Travel is as much about changing the walls around you as it is experiencing various cultures of influence. Find your happy place. It could be just around the corner or in another country altogether.

For Galvin he recommends artisan hotels. His favourite is The Petit Ermitage when working in Los Angeles. A boutique hotel that caters for finding creativity in everyone. The environment of art Deco rooms, Parisian music, live acts and private art collection throughout the hotel is the epitome of a retreat for the creative mind.

7. Be smart with your rest and manage your down time

Sleep. The enemy of the creative mind. Your thoughts churn. Your paranoia feeds. Yet it is the elixir we all need in order to perform and break through the creative blocks ahead of us. Knowing when to call it a night is incredibly important. As basic as it sounds, a good night’s sleep helps to fuel the creative day. ‘By resting your mind you can prevent tunnel vision on a project’, says Anthony. “Tunnel vision is a creative block that is particularly irksome. It is a trap that we all fall into. The world around us pulls in until our project is far in the distance waiting for us. But we can never quite reach the end of the tunnel. Having focus is different. And focus requires a well slept mind.”

For Galvin there is nothing worse than wasted time. ‘If you find yourself mindlessly scrolling through social media, you need to snap out of it and get up and be active. It’s the biggest distraction of the current creative mind. Maximising your spare time will help you get the most of your working time.’ His last thought on managing your downtime. “If you have kids and are struggling to overcome creative blocks… simply spend time with them. There is nothing more creative than a child’s mind.”

Interview by Cameron Taylor, Protein.