Ways out of the creative hole

Ways out of the creative hole

I think every artist knows it: The creative hole. You have completed a large project and suddenly nothing works anymore. You are unmotivated to start something new and afraid of failure. What has been achieved so far seems so good that repeating it is either boring or one fears the viewer might be disappointed with what you create next.


When I talk about the creative hole, I'm really just talking about these things. I'm not talking about real depression (nowadays called burn-out because it sounds better). So I am not speaking of states where you don't want to get out of bed anymore and really doubt the meaning of life. Such situations eventually become self-perpetuating and the only way out of this is to start psychotherapy.

The creative hole I can help you get out of is more of a creative crisis. I have experienced it several times. Every time I put out a coffee table book. These projects are huge. There is insane financial investment in the shoots, book production and also distribution makes a lot of work.

After I had published a book, I immediately thought: You're not going to do such a big project again, are you? Combined with the fear of whether I could really take such good photos again. The second book was already better than the first. How am I supposed to top that?

So for the time being, there's a void. And it takes time to come to terms with it. But maybe it helps to know that you're not the only one who has a creative crisis now and then. And that's why I'm writing down my methods for getting out of it. These are not universal tips, but they work for me.



First try to understand why the crisis exists. Is it the routine? Always doing the same thing? Maybe you just need something new. Variety.

Or is it fear of negative feedback? Not getting the attention you crave? We all need validation and social media makes us compare ourselves more and more, hurting our creative artist heart. It happens quickly that there is a pressure to not be able to keep up. Or the feeling that everyone else is better than you.

I would always recommend writing these feelings down. And do it with a pen on a piece of paper. By hand, that is. I'm a very big fan of this method because I'm convinced that this way of writing suits our brain better. These are only my own empirical values and that's what my article is about. Personal tips, not scientific explanations.

Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.

Henri Cartier-Bresson


A friend of mine once said "Every start is a beginning". That sounds silly in itself. But that's exactly what matters. You have to do something to move forward. If you want to be a musician, for example, you should spend a lot of time practicing on an instrument. That makes sense. So why not do the same as a photographer?

It is impossible to lift up the camera and take that one grandiose photo. The secret behind everyone we admire is that they do a lot. It doesn't matter if they are fashion designers, chefs or athletes. They all train incredibly hard to do something great.

And they try things. Combine unusual materials, try new dishes or learn new tricks with a ball. So everyday life is the training ground. And practice makes perfect, as we all know.



That sounds nice in theory, but I don't know where to start, you might say. And I have experienced exactly these moments many times. For example, I would like to photograph a lot more models, but I can't afford to constantly rent locations and pay model fees. Unfortunately, I don't have a muse either.

So, a new project is needed. That is my secret. I get motivation from creating projects for myself. If nobody asks me to do it, then I'll do it myself.

I'll give an example. A few years ago I was looking for fire hydrants on the side of the road and photographed them. That seemed very silly to me at first. I felt downright stupid. Also how people looked when I knelt in front of a fire hydrant to take a picture.


But when I got the first ten images together — an international mix — I really got into a relationship with these hydrants. I had grown fond of some. I remembered the places where I found them. And as a series they seemed quite nice.

These hydrant photos have not appeared anywhere. Never been published. Today I am showing them for the first time on my blog. But they helped me out of my creative hole and I learned from them to think serially.


What are such projects good for? In the beginning it is just a job creation measure to get you going. Staying active to escape the creative hole. Then it becomes a passion. And maybe later it will be an exhibition. Or a collage. Or just an addition to your own portfolio.

These projects do not have to be goal-oriented. They simply help to get structure into everyday life. And systematics is very important.



I always need order in my work. Outer order ensures inner order for me.

Others like to talk about creative chaos when they are sitting at their desk in a heap of stacks of paper and lots of crap.

That may work for others. I can not do this. And that's important to realize. There is not one creative type of person. People are different. For me, structure and order are essential.

Structure is also incredibly helpful when working serially. Why should you work serially at all? Quite simply: It helps other people understand our work. If blue objects can be found in all of our pictures, the viewer recognizes this and creates a connection. They are grouped in his mind and that means he has accepted the series as such.

Several images are combined into one big whole, which gives the project more meaning.

That's why I always try to bring structure to my projects.


If you don't feel like photographing hydrants, I can understand that. That was just an example. What's the best way to come up with ideas? I would take notes again. Make a ritual out of it. I always fold a DIN A4 sheet in the middle so thatit becomes a DIN A5 sheet. This size is much more sympathetic to me for my ideas. A whim? Certainly. But it works to have rituals like that.

On the paper I write things down. I list my ideas unfiltered. This makes it easier for me to delete stupid ideas in the next step. A few good ideas remain. Or almost good ideas, which with a little change can later become good ideas. So don't be afraid of stupid ideas.

But where do ideas come from?

You have to be in a relaxed state to come up with ideas. I think we all know that. We're in the shower and suddenly we have an idea. It's the moments when we engage in activities that don't overwhelm our brain. This is the state in which the parasympathetic nervous system predominates in the brain. Simply put, relaxed states.

It can happen when driving a car on the open road. Or in the bath. While swimming. Or long walks. It is important that you really switch off. No mobile phone at the same time, no podcast on the ears. Just doing nothing. Boredom. Or as they used to say: celebrate leisure.

No fear

Don't be afraid

You should not be afraid. Maybe set yourself a time limit. For example, I don't photograph fire hydrants anymore. But I have a new project. It has nothing to do with nude photography. That doesn't mean that I want to change in any way. Nude photography remains my greatest passion. But I want to stay creative, develop and try things out.

I hope to give a little courage with this article and perhaps to have shown a possible way out of a creative crisis — which happens to all of us from time to time.