Avoiding the Burnout
Title Illustration

Since my early days, back when I was putting crayon to construction paper, I’ve always found creative work to be a great way to escape from the stresses of the world in a productive and mentally beneficial way. Years have passed, many new skills were learned, yet creating is still one of my favorite ways to spend my time. But as a full time designer, it sometimes gets difficult to maintain that spark 100% of the time. When you are expected to consistently provide great ideas, you’ll need to have a few tricks in your back pocket to use on those days the well feels bone dry.


Create for Yourself

Not everything you make has to be for your portfolio or clients. In fact, creating something that you don’t intend to share, but rather to use as a learning experience, can be extraordinarily beneficial. Creating for yourself is a great way to stay on your toes, learn new skills and stay up-to-date with trends.

  • Set Your Own Guidelines.
    • Have an idea or dream client that you’ve been meaning to try out? Absolutely! Set your own guidelines. Throw spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. It doesn’t matter because there’s no one to tell you no!
    • Giving yourself hypothetical projects and concepts is a great way to flex your creativity while doing something you’re passionate about.
    • Some of my favorite projects have been instances of this, making a series of cartoon-y monsters to promote a film festival, making some really bad music-based puns paired with minimal illustrations to promote a vinyl subscription service, and using abstract shapes to build branding for a make-believe Danish chocolate company.
  • Study something you love.
    • I’m of the mentality that if you want to learn something, you need to go hands-on to gain a full understanding of it.
    • Love impressionism? What can you create using colors from one of your favorite pieces of art? Wanting to have a better understanding of posing characters or anatomy? Make a doodle of a well-known Grecian sculpture. Trying something more contemporary? Google image search the term ‘lookbook’ and make sketches of what you see. I find these to be great examples of aesthetic, dynamic posing, as well as helpful resources for understanding lighting and clothing physics. Saw some really cool typographic effect that you wish you could pull off? You can probably achieve it with a little bit of trial and error. Get in there, get your hands dirty, you really have nothing to lose.
  • Learn a New Skill.
    • No matter how talented or well educated you may be, there is always room to learn something new and resources that want to help you learn. Who knows, maybe you’ll fall in love with what you learned —if not, it's still a great way to show off to your friends.
    • Have you ever found yourself saying “Gosh, I wish I knew how to make 3D renders”? Good news! Blender is free and there are a wide wealth of resources online eager to share their insight and tricks on the subject. Is there some new software out there that you want to try out? Check if they have a free trial period and give it a go! (Just make sure you cancel before you are billed if it’s not what you were looking for.)
    • The internet is an amazing place, filled with creative people willing and excited to share their insight, and it’s honestly a bit foolish to not be taking advantage of this vast, free resource.


Nourish Your Noggin

Some things are easier said than done. I, unfortunately, find myself in the camp of having difficulty taking care of my mental well-being sometimes, but remembering these (fairly obvious) things can really do wonders to get your brain working to your favor.

  • Get that good, good sleep
    • I’m sure you’ve heard this a million and a half times by this point in your life, but it bears repeating. Do your best to rock a steady 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night. Falling behind will catch up to you quickly, and next thing you know, you’re trying to create something amazing when you have zombie brain. And everyone knows zombies aren’t creative.
  • Exercise… Or at least move around
    • Believe it or not, there are some creative people in the world who also exercise! I have trouble believing this myself, but a reputable source insists it’s true! Don’t be intimidated though, we aren’t going for bodybuilder status. In fact, simply going for a walk or run a few times a week can be more than enough. It’s less about the activity and more about the mindset it puts you in. American painter Nathlie Provosty explained this concept well, “When I’m still, the mind can race, but when I run, I can step out of the mind and watch the thoughts.” It’s easy to get caught up in the moment, letting your thoughts get cluttered. I find going on a quick walk when I’m feeling stuck is a wonderful way to get out of a loop or to come back to a project feeling fresh and inspired — some of my more clever ideas were thought up mid-walk.
  • Food For Thought
    • As the saying goes, you are what you eat. A hard-to-digest concept that poses its own issues, so I would like to make a slight alteration to the age-old saying: “Your brainpower is directly affected by what you eat.” Not as fun but an important consideration to make. I won’t get too preachy here because once again, I’m sure you’ve heard this in your past. Eat foods rich with the nutrients your brain craves, you’ll feel good about yourself, and your brain will be more prepared to tackle whatever problems you’re faced with.


Step away, Experience Life, There’s a Whole World Out There!

Learning, practicing and taking care of your mental well-being is great, but you know what’s even better? Fun! Experiencing pleasant, inspirational, and enjoyable experiences are essential for a creative mind and should not be overlooked.

  • Love the mundane
    • Probably the easiest tip on the list but I’ve gotten so sucked up into work-life that I’ve forgotten to do the little hobbies I enjoy that make me… me. Love to knit? Watch old movies? Dance to disco? Play video games? Browse Social Media? Whatever it is, it’s beautiful and you’re beautiful. Make time for you to be you, working too hard and not having time to do the things you love is a great way to get burnt out in a hurry. Have some fun! Do what you love! Be yourself and don’t stress too much!
  • Socialize
    • Second nature for some, more of a difficulty for others. As someone who is pretty low on the extroversion scale, I sometimes have issues with getting too wrapped up in my work and forgetting to be social.. I can make it work for a few days, but pretty quickly I’ll start to feel the friend sized hole in my heart grow. The next step is pretty obvious: see what my people are up to and talk about some stuff! It’s a great and easy way to give your brain a chance to change gears, to force yourself to concentrate on things outside of creative work. Also, you should be keeping up with your friends anyways, so c’mon.
  • Travel/Outside/Museums
    • Experience that dang world! There are really so many little things to find inspiration in out there. Nature is beautiful. History is essential to understand the human condition and why people do what they do, and love what they love. Traveling, visiting a museum, or going to a park can do wonders in granting new perspective, or for taking your mind off of things. It’s easy to get inspired by the world we live in, there are plenty of opportunities and experiences ripe for the picking.

As a creative, you are never truly off the clock, but you will always be surrounded by things that can creatively invigorate you. Don’t ignore it and your work will thank you for it.


Graphic Designer Chelsea Wohlgemuth, takes us on her route to redthread through a cute bird comic!
It’s been a hell of a year working here at redthread as the Creative Strategist — the person behind the scenes on many accounts making sure the analytics line up with the big ideas.