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Finding inspiration and coming up with new ideas is one of the most frustrating processes to navigate as a creative entrepreneur. Here, seven freelancers share how they do it.


Cleo Barbour

Cleo Barbour is an artist and designer producing colourful graphic illustrations, prints, embroidery art and a collection of fun-loving accessories.

My biggest passion is colour and while travelling I photograph a lot of brightly coloured buildings and scenes. When I am a bit stuck creatively, I dig out my old travel photography and mood boards from previous projects. They remind me of what truly inspires me.

My workspace is key and my home studio is decorated with photos and past experiments. When I open the door in the morning, I enter my work zone and mindset. Even though I can sometimes feel isolated, I find the positives of working from home overrule the negatives. I have a great network of local female artist friends, and find it helpful to schedule weekly catch-ups to talk about our work. Paddleboarding, a walk or cooking are also all a great boost when my mind feels foggy.

Top tip: Remember what inspired you in the first place and find more if it, whether it’s a new art book, an exhibition, reading a biography or googling the subject until your heart’s content.


Yazmin Lacey

Yazmin Lacey is a singer and songwriter creating jazz, soul and R&B music.

I find inspiration in everything; from a picture to a conversation with a friend. Most of the time I write about my experiences or things I’ve seen. If I’m struggling with ideas, I try not to get too frustrated and trust the process. If I start stressing about my work, I’ll leave and write something else, sing something else or do something else, and then come back to it. If I’m really stuck, I try to keep writing something. It’s always good practice and you never know when a word, a phrase or a little drawing will come in useful.

I find simple tasks like cleaning, walking or cooking can really help spark inspiration. Some of my best melodies have come to me when my mind floats. I like jamming with other people in rehearsal spaces but when it comes to locking in the lyrics I do that alone.

Top tip: Don’t overcomplicate it and focus on making things you would listen to.


Imogen Forte

Imogen Forte is an award-winning commercial, editorial and documentary photographer.

I love shooting real people and real situations so the world always throws up plenty of inspiration. In my photography, I’m looking for an emotional connection, so it’s good not to overthink it. I like to work intuitively and let my instincts guide me to the shot I want.

I always find it’s helpful to shoot myself out of a creative rut. I’ll go out street shooting, or set up a portrait session. It’s always a learning curve, even if it’s a steer to the kinds of shots that I don’t want to be taking. But more often than not it’ll kick start a new way of thinking about my photography and act as a catalyst for a new line of work I want to explore.  

Top tip: Be proactive. I think there’s a myth that good ideas come easily and it’s really not true. It takes time to come up with a good idea and more time to finesse it.


Will Harris

Will Harris is a poet and author. He is the author of the essay Mixed-Race Superman, published in the US by Melville House in July. His debut poetry collection, RENDANG, is forthcoming from Granta in 2020.

It’s easy to set yourself up for disappointment when it comes to inspiration. Last week I clicked on one of those ‘How It’s Made’ videos and discovered that it takes 1,100 peanuts to make a jar of peanut butter. That’s a lot of nuts. Now imagine thinking each of those nuts contained a moment of inspiration. They might have, or it might have felt like that, but it takes more nuts than you could possibly keep hold of – roasted, fast-cooled, and ground – to fill a jar. All you can do is try not to dwell on each nut or, better still, forget you even like peanut butter.

Any ‘creative blocks’ I’ve experienced have usually had to do with my inability to deal with some unprocessed hurt. My defences rear up. In response, I read more, I go to therapy, I talk to friends. These things help. They help me give space to my past selves. I sit with them. I try to love them. I hope that if I can love what hurts, it will no longer be what controls me. I also try to watch at least one bad film a week. This week it was the 2006 Adam Sandler film Click.

Top tip: In My Emily Dickinson, Susan Howe writes: “life lived forward can only be understood backward.” Which feels so true as to be almost truistic, but – on the train, the past rolling out in front of me – I was shocked. All those narratives I’d projected into the future – built around growth and progress – seemed to disintegrate like a peanut butter sculpture on a hot day. But from that high-protein mess, a new conviction grew: reject the world as it is, reject the future as planned. There’s no sight but hindsight.


Alice Gabb

Alice Gabb is a lettering designer specialising in Modern Calligraphy and stationery design.

Old packaging, vintage catalogues, frescos on buildings and old signs all inspire my work. If I’m struggling with a creative block, travelling always helps. I spent two months in America two years ago and I’m still working on ideas from that trip. When I can’t go on foreign adventures I make the most of London. Old Spitalfields Flea Market, Pollocks Toy Museum and The Wallace Collection are personal favourites.

I believe looking after yourself (sleeping, eating and moving) is key to creativity. Guilt about lack of ideas doesn’t help either. Sometimes it’s just better to get yourself out of the house with a sketchbook or a good book, and go and explore something. For four years I shared a studio space with other creatives and it was so inspiring. Their achievements helped me think bigger and made me more ambitious.  

Top tip: Get off Instagram and stop following people’s work that you like if it makes you feel weird.


Gareth Neal

Gareth Neal is a contemporary furniture designer. His East London-based design studio creates high end furniture designs using both digital and traditional craft techniques.

Inspiration is around us constantly but I get excited by architecture, science fiction, tools, traditional crafts and the natural landscape. I find writing and conversation help with a creative block. Rock climbing stills my mind and relaxes me in a way nothing else does. I claim its vertical yoga. Music is also crucial – it’s a soundtrack to your life. It’s also important for me to do something that has a meaning, and justify its material use and place in the world.

My studio is divided into a clean dust free space for design and computer-based work, and the other half is mainly a workshop, a space for exploration, experimentation and crafting. When you are directing your own design practice you have to switch between designing individual projects and products, and then thinking about the long term and all the projects running through the studio. I find that separating the ‘office’ and the ‘workshop’ space allows me to fully inhabit these different roles, so when I step into the workshop I’m completely free to be creative.

Top tip

Learn a new skill to inspire your designs and develop your practice. Ensure not to look for inspiration from other people in the same discipline.


Lizzie Evans

Lizzie Evans is a creative entrepreneur managing a design-led portfolio career. She is best known as the founder of design store SMUG in Islington, London.

If I’m in search of inspiration or suffering from a creative block, I try to do something else. Go for a walk, take a shower, eat nurturing and delicious food, even take a nap. Sometimes I just need a bit of space, peace and time.

I like to be in a beautiful and functional environment. I need a certain amount of peace and quiet so I’ve never been into working on my laptop from a cafe. I tend to work from my studio upstairs at SMUG or from my north London flat with gorgeous views of the park. When searching for ideas, I prefer spending time alone. I like space to think. In the shower or taking a bath work well for me. My favourite idea time is laying on a sun lounger by the pool but that only happens once or twice a year.

Top tip

Don’t expect to be able to just sit down at your desk and create. Fill your cup first and value the time you spend doing that.


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