Got a Creative Block?: 5 Exercises to Get Unstuck

Every once in a while it’s good to color outside the lines . . . or at least that’s what I keep telling that uptight little uniformed schoolgirl inside my head! Like many people, I tend to fall into a creative rut pretty easily. Does this happen to you, too?

I guess you don’t need to be an art major to know that when making anything—beadwork, meals, outfits—it’s easy to stick with the things you know. Maybe you find yourself willing only to work with bead colors (or flavors or blouses, for that matter!) you’re comfortable with. Perhaps you’ll only try with patterns/recipes/ensembles you’re certain will turn out. You follow the rules to a T and don’t take any risks. The reality is that these things are obstacles to keeping things fresh, especially if you’re designing your own work. 

So, what to do? Here are a few tricks that might help get your creative juices flowing:

Change your vantage point. Stand back from your beadwork and look at it from afar. It’s easy to get myopic about your work when you’re constantly looking at it from up close. While you’re looking, stretch your back, twirl your wrists, and do a few jumping jacks. If you get the blood flowing to your brain a little better, you may have a creative epiphany when you get back to work! 

Page through art history books. Doing this should give you some good perspective on the struggles other artists have gone through to make their masterpieces. If you’re stuck on working with color, check out the Impressionists. Pattern? Look at Byzantine and op art in one sitting. Theme? The Expressionists and ancient Chinese art. Shape? See African, ancient Japanese, and Minimalist art.

Go jewelry shopping. You don’t have to spend anything—just look. Seeing other jewelry artists' work is a great way to be inspired.

Sketch, sketch, sketch. You don’t have to be a Rembrandt to begin a beading sketchbook. Even if your book only consists of chicken scratch and verbal notes about the kind of beadwork you’d like to make in the future, it will get the right side of your melon exercising its artistic muscle.

Take a beading class. Even if you’re well-versed in all the stitches, taking a class is a great way to find out how other artists bead. You’ll learn tricks you never knew about. Plus, you’ll meet a whole room full of beaders you might not know. 

Do you have other outside-the-lines tips to share? Post them on the site! 

Jean Campbell writes about beading and life every Wednesday on Beading Daily. If you have comments or questions for Jean, please post them on the website. Thanks!

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Michelle M.

About Michelle M.

I was the founding editor of Beading Daily (2007-2009) and my now a freelance designer/writer/editor.  My designs have been published in Stringing, Step by Step Beads, Jewelry Gifts for the Holidays, Creative Jewelry, Beadwork, and other magazines. I enjoy stringing, bead embroidery, wirework, metal work, mixed media, beadweaving—pretty much anything that involves beads or jewelry.  I also enjoy exploring new crafts like pottery and felting.  I write a personal blog if you want to see more of my work. 16+ Free Beading Projects: A list of the free projects I created for Beading Daily. Contact Info If you have a question regarding Beading Daily, please contact customer service at or the current editor, Kristal Wick. If you'd like to contact me, you'll find my info on my website:  You can also follow me on Twitter at: Pictured here is a pair of earrings I made for the Spring 2010 issue of Stringing in an attempt to get over my fear of designing with the color orange!

27 thoughts on “Got a Creative Block?: 5 Exercises to Get Unstuck

  1. I tried to email Michelle M with a question but don’t know how to do that but anyway here goes with the question.
    I am doing a summer challenge with a bead store and we have been given a broch piece with all these holes in it then when we are finished the project the thing with the holes gets fastened to another piece with the broch pin. Now I have never worked with a piece with all those holes –HAS ANYONE GOT ANY ADVICE FOR ME – WHAT KIND OF THREAD DO I USE -HOW CAN I MAKE IT A NICE PROJECT – I HAVE AND IDEA OF WHAT I WANT TO DO BUT HAVE NEVER WORKED A PIECE WITH ALL THE HOLES- HELP ME PLEASE

  2. I am thankful that I rarely suffer from beader’s block – I usually have the opposite problem of a dozen or more ideas in my head all shouting to be made at once!
    When I get stuck, the first place I go is to my box of handmade lampwork beads – lots of different glass artists’ work in lots of different colours and styles – there is almost always something in there that sparks an idea (or three) and gets me going again. If that doesn’t work, I flick through books, go for a walk, empty out a load of bead tubes onto a tray and see what colour combinations arise by accident, or start beading a simple project from a magazine in the hopes that it might lead to something new and different. I don’t usually stay stuck for long!

  3. Hi Helen,

    You might get more help if you ask your question in the forums. I’m not sure how many people will see it here! (Click on the “forums” link at the top of this page.)

    There was a brooch design in the Fall 2007 issue of Step by Step Wire Jewelry that used that kind of “sieve brooch finding.” That designer (Jean Power) used a very thin (28-guage wire) to attach pearls and crystals. She matched the wire color to the brooch piece so that wire didn’t stand out. Hope this helps!


  4. I really like your suggestions for curing beaders block. Leafing through any sort of art book is great for ideas — especially color combinations.

    I was “stuck” a while back and couldn’t get inspired to do any beading. Then I found a great bead shop near where I work that has evening classes to demonstrate techniques for beading or polyclay. It doesn’t matter if you already know how to do what is being presented, it’s the “Fellowship of the Bead” (apologies to Tolkien) feeling that you get from being around other beaders. For seasoned beaders, the demonstration/project class is more of an excuse to get together, talk about our own projects, encourage each other, feed off the energy in the room and just have fun! And I believe that relaxing, talking and remembering to have fun is what generates new ideas. I recommend going to classes to help jump start your creativity.

    By the way: The great bead shop I’m referring to is Beads and Other Fancy Stuff in Morganton, NC if you’re in this area.

  5. When I get a creative block. Its time for a break! Time to check out a new magazine or like Jean says, go jewellery shopping. What also helps me, I take a handful of beads (the ones I want to make something with) hold them to my forehead (I know it sounds silly, but for me it works) and sit and think for a bit, then boom! It hits me. I just go to work and make something beautiful!

    Tabitha Aker
    The Jewellery Maker

  6. A friend of mine carries one of those old brass rings that you use for canning. She goes to fabric shops and galleries and put the ring here and there. Those people are paid a large amount of money to come up with fabulous color combinations and that ring lets her SEE what color is where. marilyn peters

  7. When I need a fresh idea I usually try to put together some unusual colors in my wardrobe and make a piece of jewelry to bring all those colors together.
    I also received a great deck of cards from my daughter last Christmas titled ‘Creative Whack Pack ‘ by Roger vonOech’s. They contain 64 creative strategies to provoke and inspire your thinking.
    If I’m making a bracelet for my art shows I will also do a couple of small samples that stretch the technique a bit further, adding embellishment on the top or sides, doing the same piece twice and hooking it together for a wider bracelet, changing the color combinations.
    Another fun trick is to limit yourself to using only 1 color in several shades, using only complementary colors, or using all matte finish beads or all metallic beads. I also like to doodle designs on paper and see where it takes me. I tend to have the opposite problem of too many projects and not enough time.
    Amy Johnson

  8. Check your area for an arts group/guild or club to join. When I was new to my city, I joined 3 of them.

    The best part of our meetings is “show and tell” when we share our latest creations, techniques or ask for help with something. I always go home from these meetings with ideas buzzing, a new tool or technique to try and juices flowing.

    Sometimes, just getting out of my studio and going where I can talk with people helps. Solitude is great for focus and productivity but I need feedback and interaction.

    Challenges are also great motivators for me – if you don’t have a group to join, try on online challenge at any number of websites or ‘zines. It is always amazing how no two people have the same inspiration, even when using the same components. The problem-solving of the challenge idea is all I need to get going with ideas.

    Lynette Fisk

  9. I enrolled in a metalsmithing and lapidary class at my local junior college. There are people there who do a wide variety of jewlery. It is a constant inspiration and I’m always coming up with new ways to use beads. My problem is finding the time to work on all the ideas. Our instructors are enthusiastic when it comes to being creative and always helpful. Sometimes we even teach them a few things. Make your own focal beads and charms or shape your own stone in a variety of ways. Make your own metal beads, lampworking, make your own dichroic glass. Want to do whatever, you’ll probably find a way to do it here.


  10. I think a good suggestion to share is to look at color swatches at fabric stores, or in stores with a fabric department. Take a look at the blocks used for quilts or browse through all of the cloth for sale. Notice the lines/decoration in each one and transform it into a piece or pieces of jewelry.


  11. When I’m stuck I find inspiration in home decor magazines and fabric stores for color. Sometimes I walk the mall; good excercise, clears the head, and I can also see what jewelry styles are displayed. I almost never fail to see something that kick-starts the creativity process. Sometimes the best ideas come from looking at stuff I’ve already made.

    When those fail, it’s time for a vacation!

  12. I don’t suffer often from creative block either~as Nemeton said, the opposite is more the rule for me! Too many projects, too little time….but:
    -I love and always purchase the “color” issues of home dec magazines; most have an annual one. They’re great inspiration for color choices out of my norm, and the photography is wonderful. Don’t forget the ads as well for inspiration!
    -I use my photographs as inspiration for pieces; the colors and “feel” of them provide me with great ideas to create memory jewelry that evokes a time and place.
    -play with a child to get great “out of the box” ideas!


  13. I like looking for creativity in other crafts. I get a lot of great ideas for beading in quilt and scrapbooking books and magazines. And I find great polymer clay inspiration in quilting, woodworking, metalwork and traditional clay magazines.

    By doing more than one complimentary craft, I can move between modalities when I’m stuck. Can’t bead? Play with polymer. Can’t come up with something new in polymer? Go play with beads. Maybe it’s just that a change in body movement memory that allows my creativity to free up.

  14. I keep a number of mini-projects on the side that don’t take long, such as beaded beads. They help me during the “dry periods” and also add to my stockpile. These days I’ve discovered artist trading cards and am beading a few for quickies.

  15. I am new to beading of any kind. I am a mixed-media artist, trying out work similiar to that of Beryl Taylor. My question for seasoned beaders is: how do you bead? Simple question, but if I work at my desk they roll all over the place. Sitting on couch with beads tucked into the folds of my shirt…not much better. Is there a “trick” or tool that helps hold beads and makes it easier to pick them up? It has got to be easier than what I have tried or you all would be going NUTS. Thanks for any advise. DD

  16. At this point, I don’t have beader’s block, I have soooo many projects that need to be worked on. I am finding it hard to get myself in the mind of getting each one done. I am working on beaded purses for my 4 grandchildren and hopefully I have years to complete them, but I would like to get them done and then go on with my beading life. I travel fairly often and use the places I travel to as inspiration for pieces. I have now set a goal since reading your article and will complete these purses in the next few months and be free to be my beading self. Pat

  17. Great ideas from everyone. I have 2 suggestions:

    1. surf the web – lots of inspiration there
    2. A few times a month I get together with a fellow beader and we just play with the beads or wire. Sometimes bouncing ideas off someone else or seeing their stash of beads will inspire you. She once had 1 big oval bead left over from a necklace and I turned it into a bracelet. We both liked it so much we’ve bought beads to make it again. We also teach each other techniques we’ve learned or challenge each other to do something with a particular bead or style.


  18. Jean,I love the web site it has really helped but I was wondering if the results had been posted on the Fall Challenge : Cinderella? I did not know if I may have missed the results.

    Air Force Mom

  19. I do get stuck, and worse, I get in ruts of doing the exact same thing in different colors or with slightly different beads… But it’s all EXACTLY the same, and I end up feeling like a worker on a factory line…

    So, my biggest helps are:

    – Yes, magazines, and books. I don’t necessarily buy, but just looking helps me. If I find something I can’t leave in the store, I write down the title so I can buy it later. (I’m on a seriously tight budget.) I’m NOT looking to make exactly what I see, but to springboard off into something more my style.

    – I love looking at jewelry. Walmart, Zales- it doesn’t matter. I love looking at something and thinking about how I could make it better, or different…

    – I work with my sister! 🙂 We have completely differently styles. I tend to create pieces with a light and airy feel and I love sparklies and prefer wirework. My sister loves stones and fiber work. She prefers a thicker, more weighty feel and also goes a little more funky than I would.
    Working together inspires each of us. I use beads I never would have even looked at because I see her do something incredible with them… And the same is frue for her. I have a huge cache of crystals, which she probably wouldn’t have touched. But after seeing some of my stuff, she got inspired to use them. And of course, she uses them totally differently than I would have.

    – I know my style. I think that is probably the best way for me to KEEP out of a rut… I’m able to describe in a couple sentences the essence of ‘my style’, which means I can take an idea and change it into something else. My sister found this great article in an art mag talking about styles as the 4 elements- air, fire, earth, and water. We were able to read through them and kind of define how we fit in… It opened up some new ideas for us on how to think of our beadwork. Of course, we cross over styles. (Use the idea to EXPAND what you do, not limit it!) But it let us get cosier with what we do, and what makes what we each do special and unique.

    Since the two of us have a tight budget, we focus on our work being unique. We can’t spend enormous amounts on special beads or findings, so we try to work on keeping our pieces as one-of-a-kind as possible.


  20. Wow, lots of great tips here, I love the one about playing with kids Lori, they have no problem thinking out of the box as they do it all the time. My son can often see exactly what the problem is with one of my not-quite-going-right pieces!
    DD, sounds to me like you need a beading mat! This is a piece of non-slip fabric that stops beads rolling everywhere. Inexpensive and widely available… and even something simple like the lid of an ice-cream tub is an improvement on nothing at all, it has a little rim that will stop your beads going all over the desk. Hope that helps!

  21. I love to go to the hardware stores and borrow the paint swatch cards to get color inspirations for my beading ideas, seeing the different colors gives me great ideas for when I get home,this is a great way to get fresh ideas especially when you make lampwork beads. ( this is what I do.) I’ts also fun because my 9 and 10 year old daughters can help me find the colors they know I like.The girls also collect the little cards to cut up and do craft projects with for when we get home. The paint swatch card are perfect to hang your new inspirational earrings on for sale when your finished. This way you can recycle them. I also love to look at my old beading books and beading magazines to get ideas from years ago. Happy Beading.

    Hannah Braun-Allen ( Bead Trade Game Inventor)

  22. In addition to books and magazines, I save pictures from the web in folders in “MY Documents”. One is tittled “Colors” and is filled with images that I found by searching under each of the four seasons, gardens, modern art, Africa, Rocky mountians, etc. Another folder is tittled “Jewelry” and I save pictures of contempory hand crafted pieces and vintage pieces, particulary from the Art Deco era. Then when I get a block or am just looking for inspiration for a new piece, I open one of the folders, start a slide show and just let the images wash over me. If a particular image strikes me, I can STOP THE SHOW and determine what it was about the image that struck me and how I can transfer it the media of beads.

    Marilyn, I love the idea of using a canning ring to isolate a block of colors. BTW, people do still can vegies and fruit and you can get new rings in you supermarket.

    Bead away. PegM

  23. I took a wonderful class with Fiona Ellis, a knitwear designer, where we took inspiration for our own designs by taking an inspiring piece of art and turning it all around, blocking out portions with pieces of cardboard, then sketching what visual patterns the artwork inspired. That lends itself well to my beading. She recommended the book “The Vein of Gold: A Journey to Your Creative Soul” by Julia Cameron for more ideas to inspire creativity.

  24. i was in a bead shop in ocean city md and i recently heard about bead soup. as you work on diffrent projects you take a few of the left over beads and instead of putting them away you put same color and similiar color beads into jars after a while you have bead soup!!!

  25. I do that all the time Anna – as a result I now have a couple of kilos of bead soup in tubs on my shelf! It comes in handy when I can’t think what to bead, I just grab the nearest tub and pull something out and start stitching. In fact my preferred way of working is to mix everything up until I’m happy with the colours, and pick out beads at random!

  26. I have a coloring book which is all geological shapes. When I get blocked up, I start coloring, it helps me put colors together and the shapes help me as well. Somehow going back to childhood color helps me.