Article: Laura Harrington

We’ve all heard of ‘Writers Block’, but what if your job is more about pictures than it is words? We’re just as likely to experience the block too. Just as stringing random words together doesn’t make you a writer; throwing pretty pictures in a Google deck, doth not make them a designer. If you’ll excuse the pun, there’s an art to keeping those visual ideas flowing and staying on top of your game, whether you’re in New York or elsewhere it’s a language without words.

As an Advertising Art Director in New York, it’s easy to fall into the trap of ‘inspiration’, it’s flat-out everywhere, but scrawling inspiration sites can often be hinder more than help free up that brain freeze. Let’s be honest for a second, for the most part, the creative cat is out of the metaphorical bag (I won’t ask why the cat was in the bag in the first place) but even my mum can put together a Pinterest board, and most people under 25 can use Photoshop, everyone’s on Twitter and the mystery, for the most part, has seemingly been revealed.


Here’s the cheat-sheet to avoid becoming artistically stale in a city that never sleeps and is crammed to the rafters with some pretty darn-talented people. It might seem obvious, but do yourself a favour, get out of the house already.

Do Good-er

An easy art infusion directly into the vein, that will give that warm fuzzy feeling; without even having to go anywhere near a dodgy guy down a dark alley, is to volunteer.

All the New York galleries have volunteer programs that have some serious perks. Not only do you get free into all the other NYC museums (saving on average $25 a pop), you get after hours lectures, new exhibition previews and meet lots of other art-obsessed people. Word on the paintbrush is that there are some pretty crazy waiting lists to work at some of the best museums, but you can often snap a temp volunteer spot for larger exhibitions. I’ve now been testing this theory out at The Whitney Museum of American Art as an Ambassador since late last year; I’ve contributed to 3 major exhibitions and met some incredible people, artists, collectors and most recently Calder’s Grandson.

If you’re more of a doer than a viewer, then New York Cares is probably the one for you. They have a huge range of non-arty and arty stuff, for want of a better word. My personal favorite being the opportunity to throw down my paint palette and smother the walls of Queen’s in color, painting a mural for artist Brittany Baldwin.

Course Bitch

Another great way to fuel that arty void without slicing off your ear is to take a course or a night class. Argh! Nobody panic! It won’t cost you an arm or a leg, break the bank or add to any college debt. I’m talking about the good stuff BYOB life-drawing classes, screen-printing workshops and jewelry making classes. Of course, it’s a great way to meet people in your world that you haven’t met yet, without ripping your hair out at home trying to fill that sketchbook.

Small Gallery lover

New York maybe filled to the brim with some of the most award-winning and famous museums in the whole wide world, but there is a wealth of smaller boutique galleries with up-and-coming artists desperate to be explored. If you’re wondering through Brooklyn, you might even stumble on some of mine. Wink.

An afternoon can be spent just wandering in and out of the galleries in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Have a Google, there is even a downloadable map!

The Bushwick Open Art Studios from September 22nd-24th is an incredible way to get a glimpse into the raw studio space of the new artists on the block and perhaps find yourself some space. This two-day event hosts a huge range of talent whilst you wander the graffiti infused streets of Bushwick, cradling your Roberta’s pizza slice.

Pencil’s Down.

This isn’t school. Clubs are cool. And if you think they aren’t… you haven’t found the right one. Art Direction isn’t just about pictures – well it is, but it’s much more than that. As one of my early mentors loosely once said, you need to be a sponge, a cultural sponge, soak everything up, even the things that seem completely unrelated, because when you ring it out, you’ll get something different. His words, not mine, but in a long-Britishy-waffly-way he had a point. Inspiration has a funny way of blindsiding you on a Sunday.

I joined the ‘Brit Pop Choir’ in Lower East Side for a term, meeting some people with an accent I fully understood and taking my voice for a spin – the first time in about 15 years or so, that didn’t involve me standing in the shower. It helped. If I got stuck trying to visualize something, I sang about it. It helped. You’ll have to take my word for it.

Fast track 50 years and I joined a book club. I’m seriously upping my nerd-points, so this 80-year-old, in a 30-year-old body, took on a new challenge. One book per month with the added pressure of having to talk about it. Next time you get stuck, pick up a book it will make the world of difference. The challenge with this one is finding the time to read in the city that never sleeps. Maybe an audio book on busier months?

…And if you’re sitting here saying, I’ve tried all of the things you’ve said and I’m still stuck. Put down your Wacom stylus and go buy a nice pen. I’m serious, find your nearest art shop and buy a nice pen. Well for me it would be a new stick of charcoal, but whatever tickles your fancy. It doesn’t have to be expensive, just one that you like to doodle with, and well, start doodling. I don’t know whether it’s the fresh air, the smell of the art supplies or actually the pen itself, but that’s a good start.

It’s different for everyone, so if you have some more suggestions of the arty side to NYC and how to break the block, let me know below…

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