How to Overcome a Total Creative Void

Written by Amy Fontes

In my dreams, I am a designer with never-ending creativity and one who has the artistic chops to whip out amazing designs one after another. In reality, I am a mom to two active elementary-age kids, a wife to a busy surgeon who works long hours and weekends, and a daughter to a terminally ill mother.

And while I mark down “graphic designer” as my occupation, in any given day I could be handling the management of my husband’s practice, running soccer practice for my son, discussing medical options with my mom, or just plain doing the things to keep our lives going. Nothing that is really unique or different from others, but things that have me wearing many hats with limited time for design.

So as much as I love design, truth be told, the creative process is often a struggle, and inspiration doesn’t always come easily for me. Sure, ideas would pop into my head here and there and was enough to keep me designing, but for all of 2015, I found myself in a complete and total creative void. The stress of life became so great that, in short, all creativity and inspiration just stopped.

While I was happy to focus on my helping my family, I was quietly growing more and more frustrated during this creative void because, in a way, design had been my therapy. This was the one thing that was mine and mine alone. I needed it. It was my place where I could escape for a while, forget about everything, and hopefully create something that brought me (and others) happiness. It was my balance. But the more I forced creativity, the larger the void seemed. I had to figure this out.

How To Move Forward

The first thing I did was walk away from design. It might seem counterintuitive, but I was putting so much pressure on myself to “be creative and produce” that it only made things worse. I turned off my computer, stopped participating in challenges, tucked away my pens and sketch pads. I stopped “pinning,” swiping, scrolling, and following blogs and just left design behind. I needed to wipe my mind clean from what I thought I should be designing or what I thought would be the next big design trend.

Above the Las Vegas desert on one of my hikes

Next, I got outside and started hiking. I found that fresh air, good tunes, and the beautiful open spaces of nature can really do wonders for your psyche. Sometimes I’d go with friends, sometimes alone, and every time I’d come back a little more refreshed and inspired. I think seeing where I lived, just from a different vantage point, helped to get me to start seeing design differently too.

Inspiration from my son’s artwork

I also found myself taking notes about how my kids approach art. They aren’t encumbered by any rules of design (negative space, font pairings, color palettes, trends) and just enjoy the process of creating. Not creating anything specific, but just creating. Sure, sometimes it was a hot mess of marker, paint and crayon, but once in awhile something pleasing came from their efforts.

Finally, I had to be honest with myself and stop being envious of other designers…their skills, their body of work, their workspace, their earnings, what have you. With the Internet and social media, it can seem that “everyone” is designing and doing it better. I had to realize that I am me, and that my style (whatever it is) is my own.

After I had done these things, I gave myself the challenge to try new mediums without expectations of getting it “right” the first time (or at all). I went old school and tried to remember what it was like to be creative before computers came along. I embraced my kids’ approach and let things just flow…and was pleasantly surprised with my results (for example, I dabbled in watercolor for the first time with the 2016 Holiday Challenge and got a couple of picks!). I also picked up my camera again and rekindled my love of photography.

The first design I did after being in this void were for the 2016 Holiday Challenge. My “Leaf + Berries” holiday business card design (above) was one in which I tried watercolor for the first time and was pleased with the results.

The above “Merry + Happy” design was one where I tried florals and hand lettering.

I am now using the concept of a different vantage point (from my hikes) as I research and learn design again — this time, taking making it my own instead of trying to fit into a specific creative box. I find myself now asking, “What if I did it this way?” rather than telling myself how I think something “should” be done.

So while life has still not relented in what it seems to throw my way, I have found these steps helpful in climbing out of my creative void. Do I still have those dreams of being some uber-inspired design rock star with nothing but time to design? Sure. But now I have better perspective and ways to manage those creative lulls and am finding design to be fun, and dare I say even inspiring again.

Amy Fontes of Three Kisses Studio is a Minted Artist who lives in Nevada. Visit her Minted Artist Store.

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Published September 27, 2016

  1. Ling

    Thank you for sharing 🙂 It’s always great to see how other creatives get out of a creative rut. Your designs post-creative-void are beautiful! Congratulations on those 🙂

    Last year during the holidays I found myself in a creative void but one day I was playing around with my midday snack of cheese+crackers & ended up devising a mini challenge for myself: I made a little holiday scene with cheese+crackers as my canvas for every day leading up to Christmas, in lieu of an advent calendar. It was so much fun & it helped push me to think of *something* to make for the day, even if my creative side didn’t feel like coming out. I also learned how to make animated gifs as a result, too 🙂

  2. Loved reading this. Thanks for sharing Amy!