5 WAYS TO UNLOCK CREATIVE BLOCK
By Andy J. Miller


My design buddy Jason Sturgill recently suggested I do a post on creative block. Little did he know, it was something I was already thinking about, having had a little bit of trouble with it myself recently.







1. CHANGE YOUR MEDIUM
I recently moved to Columbus, OH and I realized that the way you discover new things in a city is by getting lost.
Eventually though, you quit getting lost, you sink into habit, you getefficient and you stop discovering new things (whether the city has more new things to offer or not).
When you develop a craft, say drawing for instance, it becomes that efficient, go to habit for creativity. The problem is, in creativity,efficiency is not your only goal. Usually, you’re trying to find something new.
I draw for a living, but when I get stuck with drawing it helps me to turn to words and writing. When I finally get somewhere I go back to my comfort zone, my craft.







2. DROP PRECONCEIVED NOTIONS
I am unashamed to say I have been devouring the back catalog of Sam Weber’s illustration podcast “Your Dreams My Nightmares”. Honestly? In my opinion? It’s one of the best podcasts out there, and if you’re an illustrator, you’ve got no excuse, you need to be listening to it.
I recently listened to his conversation with Lisa Hanawalt and something she said struck a chord with me: sometimes she stresses out when someone hires her for an editorial job. The reason is that she has all these preconceived notions on what editorial work looks like…then she remembers that they are probably hiring her to do something funny, like she always does.
Often it’s pressure of some kind that is hampering our creativity, and for me it often comes from preconceived notions.
When you unlock and open the door wide open, and you quit thinking of what should be, you can start focusing on what something could be.







3. ESTABLISH CLEAR DEFINITION OF THE PROBLEM.
My wife and I are TERRIBLE at choosing where we want to eat. I used to want to just jump in the car and decide on the way. She hated that process…and for good reason.
It is much more efficient if we sat, took the time and determined where we wanted to go, before we set off.
It’s my temptation to jump in the car and get going because it feels more productive.
But what happens is I’m now trying to do two things, drive and brainstorm all at the same time, and neither am I doing very well.
When you have a creative task it’s easy to want to jump in the car and getting moving.
It feels productive.
However, more often than not, if you don’t know what you’re tying to achieve or where you want to go, it’s nearly impossible to get there!
I find when I’m feeling really stifled and confused about a project it’s because I didn’t take the time to understand the problem before hand.
Sitting down at the beginning and clearly defining the parameters is key to feeling confident and successful in creative endeavors.
Without understanding the problem, you can’t recognize the solution.







4. DISMANTLE YOUR FEAR.
Why are you more likely to win games when you have the home court advantage
I think part of it is confidence.
When I think I’m good at something, my head is clear.
When I try to do something that I’m not sure I’m good at, or I suspect I might even be bad at it, in the back of my mind there is this distracting chatter. It’s the other team’s fans yelling “you suck!”
There’s actually science that proves that this negative back chatter hurts your performance.
One thing that always helps me as a general rule: talent is sort of a myth, really there’s just hard work.







5. MAKE SURE YOU’RE IN THE OPEN MODE
Recently I listened to a talk about creativity by John Cleese on YouTube.
His main point was that at any given time, you are either in the openor closed mode and that creativity happens when you’re are in the open mode.
He says it better than I can, but I took away this: often, when I’m hitting a creative wall, it’s because I’m working and not playing.
It is in play, or the open mode, where we find creativity. Like in point 2 of this article, dismantling pressure of any kind is essential to getting into this play zone.

5 WAYS TO UNLOCK CREATIVE BLOCK

By Andy J. Miller

My design buddy Jason Sturgill recently suggested I do a post on creative block. Little did he know, it was something I was already thinking about, having had a little bit of trouble with it myself recently.


1. CHANGE YOUR MEDIUM

I recently moved to Columbus, OH and I realized that the way you discover new things in a city is by getting lost.

Eventually though, you quit getting lost, you sink into habit, you getefficient and you stop discovering new things (whether the city has more new things to offer or not).

When you develop a craft, say drawing for instance, it becomes that efficient, go to habit for creativity. The problem is, in creativity,efficiency is not your only goal. Usually, you’re trying to find something new.

I draw for a living, but when I get stuck with drawing it helps me to turn to words and writing. When I finally get somewhere I go back to my comfort zone, my craft.


2. DROP PRECONCEIVED NOTIONS

I am unashamed to say I have been devouring the back catalog of Sam Weber’s illustration podcast “Your Dreams My Nightmares”. Honestly? In my opinion? It’s one of the best podcasts out there, and if you’re an illustrator, you’ve got no excuse, you need to be listening to it.

I recently listened to his conversation with Lisa Hanawalt and something she said struck a chord with me: sometimes she stresses out when someone hires her for an editorial job. The reason is that she has all these preconceived notions on what editorial work looks like…then she remembers that they are probably hiring her to do something funny, like she always does.

Often it’s pressure of some kind that is hampering our creativity, and for me it often comes from preconceived notions.

When you unlock and open the door wide open, and you quit thinking of what should be, you can start focusing on what something could be.


3. ESTABLISH CLEAR DEFINITION OF THE PROBLEM.

My wife and I are TERRIBLE at choosing where we want to eat. I used to want to just jump in the car and decide on the way. She hated that process…and for good reason.

It is much more efficient if we sat, took the time and determined where we wanted to go, before we set off.

It’s my temptation to jump in the car and get going because it feels more productive.

But what happens is I’m now trying to do two things, drive and brainstorm all at the same time, and neither am I doing very well.

When you have a creative task it’s easy to want to jump in the car and getting moving.

It feels productive.

However, more often than not, if you don’t know what you’re tying to achieve or where you want to go, it’s nearly impossible to get there!

I find when I’m feeling really stifled and confused about a project it’s because I didn’t take the time to understand the problem before hand.

Sitting down at the beginning and clearly defining the parameters is key to feeling confident and successful in creative endeavors.

Without understanding the problem, you can’t recognize the solution.


4. DISMANTLE YOUR FEAR.

Why are you more likely to win games when you have the home court advantage

I think part of it is confidence.

When I think I’m good at something, my head is clear.

When I try to do something that I’m not sure I’m good at, or I suspect I might even be bad at it, in the back of my mind there is this distracting chatter. It’s the other team’s fans yelling “you suck!”

There’s actually science that proves that this negative back chatter hurts your performance.

One thing that always helps me as a general rule: talent is sort of a myth, really there’s just hard work.


5. MAKE SURE YOU’RE IN THE OPEN MODE

Recently I listened to a talk about creativity by John Cleese on YouTube.

His main point was that at any given time, you are either in the openor closed mode and that creativity happens when you’re are in the open mode.

He says it better than I can, but I took away this: often, when I’m hitting a creative wall, it’s because I’m working and not playing.

It is in play, or the open mode, where we find creativity. Like in point 2 of this article, dismantling pressure of any kind is essential to getting into this play zone.

17 Secret Herbs & Spices of Illustration
Earlier this month I had the honor of doing a short talk at ICON8, an illustration conference (which was amazing).
I love doing talks. My creative struggling feels less in vain when I can share it with others, and if it helps other’s in their struggles, then all the better!
Since my talk was so short, I’ve decided to write longer versions of my points, to elaborate the points further, for your reading pleasure.
Read the rest on my blog.

17 Secret Herbs & Spices of Illustration

Earlier this month I had the honor of doing a short talk at ICON8, an illustration conference (which was amazing).

I love doing talks. My creative struggling feels less in vain when I can share it with others, and if it helps other’s in their struggles, then all the better!

Since my talk was so short, I’ve decided to write longer versions of my points, to elaborate the points further, for your reading pleasure.

Read the rest on my blog.

5 Ways to Improve Your Relationships with Clients

In the creative world we sometimes perpetuate this false story that it’s us (creatives) v.s. them (clients).

If you are a creative professional, clients aren’t going anywhere.

Here are five things that have helped me through client struggles:

 
1. Teach your clients how to treat you.I recently read a blog post over at Donald Miller’s blog about this, and it really opened my eyes.

It totally makes sense. If you act like you’re pestering someone, they will feel like you are. If you act like you are doing someone a favor, they will often feel as though you did.

When it comes to clients it’s important that you understand what the relationship is.

It’s no secret that I’m a Geoff Mcfetridge fan.
I’ve listened to several talks of his over the years and I’ll never forget what he said about this. The gist of it was this: the clients weren’t doing him a favor, they were hiring him to help them. They needed what he had, not vice versa.
If you feel like your clients treat you in a condescending way, maybe it’s how you’re presenting yourself.


 
2. Categorize your clients.When I work with someone who hires an illustrator all the time, it usually goes quite smoothly. There are standards and history there that we both understand. This is my first category.

I’ve learned that I have to interact very differently with the second category, a client who rarely or maybe even never has hired an illustrator. In the past these situations have not always been the best for me, but I feel like I’m getting the hand of it.

When I work with someone in the second category I play my role a little stricter. The truth is if I don’t set the expectations really clearly, I can’t expect them to know how this works.

Hiring an artist is very different to hiring an accountant, but if I’m not clear with expectations I can get treated like one.

Category three for me are clients I won’t work for at all. There are certain major red flags that I sometimes see, and I now know not to even go there.

 
3. Find your balance between Mr. Smee and Miles FinchI recently had a few phone conversations with my dad about some troubling client relations.

He kept joking about how I need to be more like Miles Finch, you know the kids book author they bring in on the movie Elf?

Miles Finch appears to be the classic self-obsessed narcissistic artist. He tells them the exact way they need to treat him, the temperature the car needs to be and even makes them pay up front before he even speaks at the meeting.

Finally on the last call with my dad, he explained that he was only half joking. He said that you don’t have to be this crazy demanding diva, but you do need to demand respect and set the expectations clearly.

This got me thinking. 
I’ve decided that when it comes to client relations I want to fall right in between Mr. Smee from peter pan and Miles Finch. I don’t want to be the bumbling, fall over-himself-to-help servant with no self respect, and I don’t want to be the rude big headed egomaniac either.

I’m shooting for the sweet spot in between these extremes.
 
4. Do not AssumeI can’t tell you how many times I’ve got all puffed up from a voicemail or email from a client, assuming they meant something that they didn’t.

I’d say 9 out of 10 times what I thought they were saying, they actually weren’t. So many times it’s nothing more than a misunderstanding.

I’m trying to unlearn this us v.s. them mentality. I’m trying to understand that on the other side there is another person doing the best job they can, and as often as possible, give them the benefit of the doubt until I can speak with them myself.

There is that 1 out of 10 when I was right, and they were being offensive or in my eyes in the wrong, that brings me to 5.
 

5. Do not be afraid.This is the most important. Not everyone struggles with this.
Some people find it extremely easy to open and honest and clear. Some people need to learn to be a little more afraid.

For me though, I have had to learn to fight my own corner.

If you’re thinking “What if they won’t want to work with me anymore if I say this?”

The answer is, if they don’t, do you really want to work for them?

When you stand up for yourself professionally, you get the respect you deserve. If you don’t go elsewhere.Need more client assistance? Watch this amazing Creative Mornings talk with the great Michael Bierut.

5 Ways to Improve Your Relationships with Clients

In the creative world we sometimes perpetuate this false story that it’s us (creatives) v.s. them (clients).

If you are a creative professional, clients aren’t going anywhere.

Here are five things that have helped me through client struggles:

 

1. Teach your clients how to treat you.
I recently read a blog post over at Donald Miller’s blog about this, and it really opened my eyes.

It totally makes sense. If you act like you’re pestering someone, they will feel like you are. If you act like you are doing someone a favor, they will often feel as though you did.

When it comes to clients it’s important that you understand what the relationship is.

It’s no secret that I’m a Geoff Mcfetridge fan.

I’ve listened to several talks of his over the years and I’ll never forget what he said about this. The gist of it was this: the clients weren’t doing him a favor, they were hiring him to help them. They needed what he had, not vice versa.

If you feel like your clients treat you in a condescending way, maybe it’s how you’re presenting yourself.

 

2. Categorize your clients.
When I work with someone who hires an illustrator all the time, it usually goes quite smoothly. There are standards and history there that we both understand. This is my first category.

I’ve learned that I have to interact very differently with the second category, a client who rarely or maybe even never has hired an illustrator. In the past these situations have not always been the best for me, but I feel like I’m getting the hand of it.

When I work with someone in the second category I play my role a little stricter. The truth is if I don’t set the expectations really clearly, I can’t expect them to know how this works.

Hiring an artist is very different to hiring an accountant, but if I’m not clear with expectations I can get treated like one.

Category three for me are clients I won’t work for at all. There are certain major red flags that I sometimes see, and I now know not to even go there.

 

3. Find your balance between Mr. Smee and Miles Finch
I recently had a few phone conversations with my dad about some troubling client relations.

He kept joking about how I need to be more like Miles Finch, you know the kids book author they bring in on the movie Elf?

Miles Finch appears to be the classic self-obsessed narcissistic artist. He tells them the exact way they need to treat him, the temperature the car needs to be and even makes them pay up front before he even speaks at the meeting.

Finally on the last call with my dad, he explained that he was only half joking. He said that you don’t have to be this crazy demanding diva, but you do need to demand respect and set the expectations clearly.

This got me thinking.

I’ve decided that when it comes to client relations I want to fall right in between Mr. Smee from peter pan and Miles Finch. I don’t want to be the bumbling, fall over-himself-to-help servant with no self respect, and I don’t want to be the rude big headed egomaniac either.

I’m shooting for the sweet spot in between these extremes.

 

4. Do not Assume
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve got all puffed up from a voicemail or email from a client, assuming they meant something that they didn’t.

I’d say 9 out of 10 times what I thought they were saying, they actually weren’t. So many times it’s nothing more than a misunderstanding.

I’m trying to unlearn this us v.s. them mentality. I’m trying to understand that on the other side there is another person doing the best job they can, and as often as possible, give them the benefit of the doubt until I can speak with them myself.

There is that 1 out of 10 when I was right, and they were being offensive or in my eyes in the wrong, that brings me to 5.

 

5. Do not be afraid.
This is the most important. Not everyone struggles with this.

Some people find it extremely easy to open and honest and clear. Some people need to learn to be a little more afraid.

For me though, I have had to learn to fight my own corner.

If you’re thinking “What if they won’t want to work with me anymore if I say this?”

The answer is, if they don’t, do you really want to work for them?

When you stand up for yourself professionally, you get the respect you deserve. If you don’t go elsewhere.

Need more client assistance? Watch this amazing Creative Mornings talk with the great Michael Bierut.

5 Vows Every Creative Person Should Make

Sometimes I learn something really super important and then totally forget it and quit practicing it all together.

That’s why I thought of communicating these as vows. I think they are so important, they should be written on our hearts! Without further ado, here we go:

1. Vow to Be Authentic
Authenticity is such a buzzword that it’s nearly laughable.
However, rather than dispose of it on these grounds, I say we elevate it.
I would propose that it’s unrivaled height of buzzwordiness is due to how desperate we are right now for truth and honesty.
For years advertising has tried to pull fast ones on all of us, thousands of times a day. Over time we all developed extremely accurate BS detectors. This is just one of the reasons we long for authenticity.
If your plan is to pretend to love something you don’t, to get in on trends you don’t care about or earn an easy buck, forget about it. The creative world is not for you.
You have to actually care.
If you don’t care they will see it.
Who will care about your creation if you don’t? 
No one.

2. Vow to Do What it Takes to not Compromise
If you rely solely on your work for sustenance, and your work isn’t cutting it, the only answer is to compromise. When you scramble you make decisions out of desperation.
Decisions in desperation are very different than decisions due to inspiration.
If it’s not working, get a side job until it does. Take the pressure off. Your best work is going to come from a place of interest and passion. Not from trying to make rent.
There are exceptions to this. Some people thrive under pressure, but the truth is you know where, when and why you compromise in your creative work. 
Get out of those situations.

3. Vow to Never Stop Growing
When I first graduated I was lucky enough to get featured by a few great online publications and it helped kickstart my career (thanks Pitchfork, BOOOOOOOM, The Fox is Black and It’s Nice That! I couldn’t have done it without you!). And even though at the time I probably wanted my work to really ‘blow up’, I’m actually really glad that it didn’t get toocrazy.
If it had, I don’t think I would have been so intentional about pushing myself and developing my practice. I’ve seen people whose work blew up and that’s all any client seems to want from them.
If I was still doing what I was doing 5 years ago I’d be miserable. I hate doing what I was doing 6 months ago!
If you don’t grow your work you will miss out on one of the greatest pleasures of doing creative work: seeing yourself create things you never thought you could.

4. Vow to Make Something Everyday
Alright, maybe take weekends and vacations, but beside that, you need to make stuff.
Doing my daily NOD project, where I created a new character every weekday for year, really solidified this idea in my mind. I realized that it was essential to my well being and my growth as an artist. Taking too much time off from creating is regression. When it comes to creative pursuits, if you’re not growing you’re shrinking.I feel like we refer to Will Bryant’s classic quote “I Make Stuff Because I Get Sad if I Don’t” quote every week, but it’s just that brilliant!

5. Vow to Do the Work
This one directly relates to the above vow but it’s also different.
After reading this amazing Great Discontent interview with James Victore I took his lead and looked into Steven Pressfield’s book The War of Art. Pressfield also had a follow up book called Do the Work. These books were about what he calls the “Resistance”.
In my understanding the “Resistance” is that thing that keeps you from doing what you were put on this earth to create. The thing that makes you start late. The thing that keeps you not making. The thing that makes you procrastinate.
The only thing that counts is stuff you actually did. Quit worrying about how no one will care, quit being afraid of what they will think, quit putting it off til tomorrow. Do the work! Take 4 hours and work on “your thing”, then repeat.

I really do believe in these things and I hope writing this helps me practice these things better myself!

A side note for the Art Directions community: I do Art Directions because I am passionate about sharing the things I am learning about following your creative path. Even more than blogging, I love talking face to face with people about their creative problems. So I am offering a skype video chat consulting session with anyone who feels stuck trying to go to the next level in their creative path. I realize this might be new concept for many people, but I believe I can add value and I know that I am passionate about doing so. So for now I will be doing 1 hour skype video chats, on a pay-what-you-think-it-was-worth basis when the skype chat is over. No questions asked. During these skype chats we will focus on ways of getting through your current roadblocks, and also answer any questions you have. For more info, email me at: andy@andy-j-miller.com P.S. I’m really goofy and not scary.
Lastly, what vow am I missing?

5 Vows Every Creative Person Should Make

Sometimes I learn something really super important and then totally forget it and quit practicing it all together.

That’s why I thought of communicating these as vows. I think they are so important, they should be written on our hearts! Without further ado, here we go:

1. Vow to Be Authentic

Authenticity is such a buzzword that it’s nearly laughable.

However, rather than dispose of it on these grounds, I say we elevate it.

I would propose that it’s unrivaled height of buzzwordiness is due to how desperate we are right now for truth and honesty.

For years advertising has tried to pull fast ones on all of us, thousands of times a day. Over time we all developed extremely accurate BS detectors. This is just one of the reasons we long for authenticity.

If your plan is to pretend to love something you don’t, to get in on trends you don’t care about or earn an easy buck, forget about it. The creative world is not for you.

You have to actually care.

If you don’t care they will see it.

Who will care about your creation if you don’t?

No one.

2. Vow to Do What it Takes to not Compromise

If you rely solely on your work for sustenance, and your work isn’t cutting it, the only answer is to compromise. When you scramble you make decisions out of desperation.

Decisions in desperation are very different than decisions due to inspiration.

If it’s not working, get a side job until it does. Take the pressure off. Your best work is going to come from a place of interest and passion. Not from trying to make rent.

There are exceptions to this. Some people thrive under pressure, but the truth is you know where, when and why you compromise in your creative work.

Get out of those situations.

3. Vow to Never Stop Growing

When I first graduated I was lucky enough to get featured by a few great online publications and it helped kickstart my career (thanks Pitchfork, BOOOOOOOM, The Fox is Black and It’s Nice That! I couldn’t have done it without you!). And even though at the time I probably wanted my work to really ‘blow up’, I’m actually really glad that it didn’t get toocrazy.

If it had, I don’t think I would have been so intentional about pushing myself and developing my practice. I’ve seen people whose work blew up and that’s all any client seems to want from them.

If I was still doing what I was doing 5 years ago I’d be miserable. I hate doing what I was doing 6 months ago!

If you don’t grow your work you will miss out on one of the greatest pleasures of doing creative work: seeing yourself create things you never thought you could.

4. Vow to Make Something Everyday

Alright, maybe take weekends and vacations, but beside that, you need to make stuff.

Doing my daily NOD project, where I created a new character every weekday for year, really solidified this idea in my mind. I realized that it was essential to my well being and my growth as an artist. Taking too much time off from creating is regression. When it comes to creative pursuits, if you’re not growing you’re shrinking.

I feel like we refer to Will Bryant’s classic quote “I Make Stuff Because I Get Sad if I Don’t” quote every week, but it’s just that brilliant!

5. Vow to Do the Work

This one directly relates to the above vow but it’s also different.

After reading this amazing Great Discontent interview with James Victore I took his lead and looked into Steven Pressfield’s book The War of Art. Pressfield also had a follow up book called Do the Work. These books were about what he calls the “Resistance”.

In my understanding the “Resistance” is that thing that keeps you from doing what you were put on this earth to create. The thing that makes you start late. The thing that keeps you not making. The thing that makes you procrastinate.

The only thing that counts is stuff you actually did. Quit worrying about how no one will care, quit being afraid of what they will think, quit putting it off til tomorrow. Do the work! Take 4 hours and work on “your thing”, then repeat.

I really do believe in these things and I hope writing this helps me practice these things better myself!

A side note for the Art Directions community: I do Art Directions because I am passionate about sharing the things I am learning about following your creative path. Even more than blogging, I love talking face to face with people about their creative problems. So I am offering a skype video chat consulting session with anyone who feels stuck trying to go to the next level in their creative path. I realize this might be new concept for many people, but I believe I can add value and I know that I am passionate about doing so. So for now I will be doing 1 hour skype video chats, on a pay-what-you-think-it-was-worth basis when the skype chat is over. No questions asked. During these skype chats we will focus on ways of getting through your current roadblocks, and also answer any questions you have. For more info, email me at: andy@andy-j-miller.com P.S. I’m really goofy and not scary.

Lastly, what vow am I missing?