This creative lark isn’t easy. Sure, making films or splashing paint around can be a lot of fun, but no matter how much you enjoy what you’re doing, you’re bound to smack into a big, hard metaphorical wall every now and again.
The Sound Shop works with artists, musicians and filmmakers every day – so knowing how to help people get past this creative block is super important. With that in mind, I thought I’d talk to someone who could help with a few tips—and who better than absolute artistic powerhouse, Daisy Emily Warne?
Operating from her studio in Margate, Daisy is a jack of all trades, and master of all. She’s art-directed music videos for the likes of Rat Boy and Chrissie Hynde, she's taken photos for Sony and Parlophone, she’s done design work for Dreamland Trust and Lick Yogurts and, if all that wasn’t enough, she’s currently adding the final touches to a solo album under the name KUB.
Surely someone as busy as her must have a few tricks of the trade for keeping the ideas flowing? I phoned her up to see how she got past the dreaded creative block…
First things first, can you explain a bit about what you do? You must be pretty busy.
I’m multidisciplinary I suppose, but I mostly work with design and aesthetics. I come from a film background, so art direction is the main thing that ties it all together. I started in film, doing music videos and short films, but I was also in a band at the same time, so I did all the branding and aesthetic stuff for that. So that’s how I’ve ended up doing what I do now - from everything colliding together.
How do you deal with creative block? When you do so much stuff constantly, coming up with new ideas all the time must be difficult.
I remember I had a moment when I’d been working and I was in my band, and everything fell apart at the same time and I lost a lot of confidence. So to sort it out I completely changed my environment. I moved to Margate and gave myself a massive break from everything.
It was quite a dramatic way of getting rid of creative block. I moved to somewhere where there’s a lot of time and space, so it was easier to think about things. The main thing with creative block is allowing yourself time to go through the motions and get over it.
How does this work with deadlines and stuff?
If you don’t have the opportunity to give yourself time and space, you’ve just got to get on with it – but maybe approach it in a different way. If I’m in front of my computer and it’s not working out, I’ll get out a piece of paper and start painting. By using a different medium, it makes me think about what I’m trying to do in a different way.
“If you work all the time, you just procrastinate more”
Creative block can sometimes be a positive thing, as it usually means you’re bored of what you are doing and you need to challenge yourself in a new way.
When do you tend have to have creative block the most?
It comes if I'm really overwhelmed by a project, either because it's a lot of work or it's something out of my comfort zone, or both. Those kind of jobs can make me feel super anxious, and I can't think about them properly for a few weeks.
I've had a few jobs like that. When I was working on a project about the history of Dreamland - I had never done a book before and I was a bit scared of it, but when I actually sat down and faced my 'book fear', it was really fun and not nearly as hard as I thought it would be.
You mentioned that having time and space can help your creativity. Because you do so much, do you find it hard to switch off sometimes?
I’m one of those people who works every single day. So, last week I had a day off and I was way more productive after. I used to work from home, and that meant that I would never stop working. Taking yourself away from your work is a good thing. If you work all the time, you just procrastinate more.
As an art director I suppose it’s important to have strong ideas and vision. When do you find it easiest to come up with ideas? You can’t really force that stuff.
I think everything needs a seed – ideas don’t just come out of thin air. Working as a creative, you need to be able to come up with ideas and not just expect them to be given to you by the universe. I usually do a lot of research to help piece together my ideas and make it my own.
For art direction, you need to do a lot of picture research. I’ll look at things in real life, or old photographs or paintings. Weirdly enough, sometimes I’ve used pictures I’ve come across on Facebook – the way someone’s party photos were composed were used as a reference.
Do you think working with other people helps?
If you have a client and they really challenge you, the project can often turn out better. You can take that criticism on board and think outside the box a bit.
I think it's hard to challenge yourself, if you are working on something alone, you almost have to set yourself tasks to not just take the easy route. So that's when annoying clients are good, they will make you think more about what you are doing. You can’t take stuff personally.
Do you find that hard sometimes?
I’ve worked with a lot of difficult people, so I’m pretty tough now. You’ve just got to get on with it and remember that the criticism is about the work, and not about you.
I think it’s really important to take other people’s opinions on board. Making some sort of compromise can be good. That’s another way to get past creative block actually – rather than giving yourself too many options, just limit yourself to a few things. Giving yourself limitations can often make something really interesting.
I’ve done videos before where I’ve limited myself to one colour, or today I was doing a design job and I limited myself to only using potatoes.
Haha amazing. You mean like potato printing?
Yeah, it’s really fun doing stuff with your hands. There are often too many options on a computer, so sometimes it’s better to get a pen and paper… or some potatoes. On a computer if you make a mistake, you can easily undo it, but those little mistakes can often make new ideas.
I used to do this thing where I would have a ‘names into the hat’ situation. I had three bowls - one for the medium, one for the method, and another one for a small influencing theme. I would pick them out at random, I would get things like ‘make a film with paint, based on the colour red’, and then I would apply this to whatever job I was doing.
“Working as a creative, you need to be able to come up with ideas and not just expect them to be given to you by the universe”
Do you think some people create their own block? A lot of people say they want to do something, and then complain they haven’t got the money or the equipment.
Oh yeah, you don’t even need good equipment. It’s one of those things where someone wants to do something, but they’re frightened of it, so they’ll give themselves excuses. If you’ve got a good eye and a good idea, you don’t need to have crazy stuff. And it goes back to that limitation thing. A lack of resources makes you think more creatively and you usually get an interesting result.
Yeah definitely. Okay, I think we’ve chatted on for a fair bit now. To round this off, can you give us five quick tips for getting past the dreaded creative block?
If the world is your oyster and you are overwhelmed with which direction to go then, just set yourself some rules, find the boundaries.
If you get stuck and you are just going round in circles, then stop what you’re doing, and try doing in a totally different way—use your hands, mess stuff up, turn it upside down.
Embrace your mistakes - you'll often grow to love them more than your intentional ideas! Especially if you struggle to be spontaneous, letting in a bit of the chaos can be great.
You need to rest your brain and sometimes when you have time away from your work the best inspiration can strike.
This one is very important - you have to sleep enough to get rid of all the extra rubbish you don't need in your brain to make way for super awesome ideas!
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