Take inspiration from nine illustrators as they share how they find time to work on creative projects and stay motivated and inspired.

To help boost your own creativity levels, we asked nine freelance illustrators what projects they’re working on in isolation, how they keep spirits up and motivation levels high, as well as their top tips for illustrators who are feeling stuck in a creative rut.

Read on to discover what illustrators including Yevgenia Nayberg, Ben the Illustrator, and Carolin Löbbert have been working on in isolation, and the Netflix shows, books, and activities helping them to find inspiration and unwind at the end of the day. 

1. Carly Allen-Fletcher 

Loughborough, United Kingdom

The Creative Projects Keeping These Freelance Illustrators Inspired — Carly Allen-Fletcher

What are you working on at the moment?

At the moment I’m researching and writing a few picture books, and also working on some book covers. When I’m not doing that, I have some personal projects that I’m working on too. I like to have a few different projects on the go at once!

How are you keeping motivated?

Switching between different projects is a good way to keep things fresh for me. I also really enjoy doing personal projects—it’s a good place to explore new ideas or techniques, and to really have fun with whatever you are making.

The Creative Projects Keeping These Freelance Illustrators Inspired — Work on Something Just for Fun
Illustration by Carly Allen-Fletcher, carlydraws.com.

What top tip would you give to an illustrator who is feeling stuck in a creative rut?

Work on something just for fun, just for yourself. I would also say it is really important to take some proper time off. Give yourself time to relax and recharge, and you can get back to the studio ready to go.

“Work on something just for fun, just for yourself.”

What’s your go-to activity to unwind after working?

I like getting some fresh air and going for a walk; it’s great to get out of the studio and stretch my legs. Apart from that, I’m an avid reader so I like to relax with a good sci-fi or fantasy book.

2. Oksana Grivina

Aveiro, Portugal

The Creative Projects Keeping These Freelance Illustrators Inspired — Oksana Grivina

What creative projects are you working on?

A few months ago I got very excited by a 3D project and decided to start studying 3D illustration. I used to work as an industrial designer and have been able to revisit my 3D modelling skills. 

I also invented a cartoon character and he’s doing things under my supervision. At the beginning he was a doctor advising people to use a face mask and latex gloves. Now he works in his home office wearing a jacket and underwear!

The Creative Projects Keeping These Freelance Illustrators Inspired — Finding Inspiration in Lockdown
Illustration by Oksana Grivina, aka Grinbox.

How are you keeping inspired and motivated in your creative work?

All my time right now is devoted to creating stock imagery. It’s an activity I can’t get bored with and keeps me occupied. Of course, one must focus on creating relevant and topical images, but beyond that is complete freedom. I love learning and use any new knowledge in my work. Raster images in the beginning, then a few years of vector, now 3D illustration—who knows what’s next?

The main motivation for me is the projects of other artists. I draw most of my inspiration from Pinterest—I feel like a kid in a candy store! 

Do you have a strategy for lifting yourself out of a creative rut? 

You lose motivation when you do something you can do very well. For me the best way to get excited about a job and look forward to the result is do something for the first time. Whether it’s a new style, technique, color palette­—I’m always trying to introduce something fresh.  

What do you like to do to relax and recharge?

I love to run in the forest next to my place when I feel overloaded by the middle of the day. I work all day, on weekends as well, but when I have such a bit of free time, I love to work with metal creating fire pits­—it’s my favorite rest and passion. The process consists of doing a 3D model, transferring it to the metal ball, cutting with plasm, then polishing, welding and painting.

3. Billy Hayes (Chicken Billy)

Texas, United States

The Creative Projects Keeping These Freelance Illustrators Inspired — Bully Hayes

What are you working on right now? 

Organizing and taking stock. For several years I have been burning through projects and making lots of art. Even in a digital landscape, files just get thrown in folders and forgotten. One of the things I’ve been telling myself for years is that I’m going to sit down and really organize my archives. It has been rewarding to slow down (even if it was forced) and reflect as I organize.

Besides the organizing, I have run across some old unfinished projects. These are personal projects that I never had the time to complete. Now is a great time to revisit, revise, or reinvent.

How are you keeping inspired and motivated in your creative work? 

Find art and beauty in everyday life. One of the things I have found fun is turning my son’s lunch into a mandala. When he was physically going to school I would pack him a lunch, or he would buy his lunch. With him home everyday now, I take time and try to do something special. I take the fruit, vegetables, and peanut butter jelly sandwich and carefully arrange them on a plate into a balanced circle design. Some of them come out pretty cool.

This daily exercise got me thinking about the idea of creating a mandala. In a spiritual sense it is a soothing and restorative practice. What started off with my son’s lunch has sent me off exploring different ways to create mandalas. It has turned into a sort of adult coloring book craze at my house. I get it now. Drawing a mandala and coloring it is a very therapeutic way to get into the zone and do some self-care.

What top tip would you give to an illustrator who is feeling stuck in a creative rut? 

Keep your sketchbook(s) going. This is nothing new but an important reminder. Those ideas that seem random now have a way of presenting themselves later. It’s a bit like an art reference diary in a way. Over the years my sketchbooks have given me new life when I go back to what I was thinking during a specific time. 

Working in a sketchbook daily has advantages. Along with building muscle memory it can give your mind a release. Many times I surprise myself by what happens on a page. It seems my subconscious has something to say when I didn’t realize it. 

My sketchbook is my safe place and it’s cheaper than a therapist, I guess.

What do you like to do to cure isolation blues and unwind after working? 

Pre-COVID, I would go thrift store shopping on the regular. I really enjoy the randomness of what you come across. Now I get my fix at the Internet Archive. Tons of weird and random old books, movies, and music. I type in keywords that come to mind and see what comes up on the search.

My sketchbook is my safe place and it’s cheaper than a therapist, I guess.

For TV shows, initially I went down the Tiger King and Ozark route. Those faded fast. The Last Dance with Michael Jordan kept my attention for a hot minute. It’s the recurring shows that have really allowed me to unwind. Dateline on the DVR is a staple. My family also has a nightly ritual of playing The Price is Right. Another fun one is Andy Cohen’s Real Housewives of New York City. Those women are wild. Dorinda is my favorite—“Clip, clip, clip!”

4. Yevgenia Nayberg

New York City, USA

The Creative Projects Keeping These Freelance Illustrators Inspired — Yevgenia Nayberg

What creative projects have you got going on at the moment?

I am putting the finishing touches on my latest picture book, Mona Lisa in New York. My publisher is in Munich and it is quite a unique experience to collaborate during the quarantine. I am also illustrating a non-fiction graphic novel and two new picture books.

Keep up to date with my projects on my Instagram page.

How are you keeping inspired and motivated in your creative work?

Since I cannot ride my beloved New York City subway—where I usually get all my material—I have to make do with long walks in Brooklyn. Thankfully, my neighborhood is full of street artists and they are busy at work. I find their colorful messages and it makes me feel connected to my tribe.

What tip would you give to a creative who is feeling stuck in a rut?

Discover new artists online. It’s exciting and humbling. Watch your favorite films without the sound, just for the color and composition.

What are your favorite isolation activities?

I am finished with my quarantine cooking spree at this point! I re-watch my favorite Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson movies. I draw quarantine comics in my sketchbook. And I do a lot of solo salsa dancing in my studio.

For a behind-the-scenes look into Yevgenia’s studio, check out her Artist Series video on our YouTube channel.

5. Carolin Löbbert

Hamburg, Germany

The Creative Projects Keeping These Freelance Illustrators Inspired — Carolin Lobbert
Photo: Inga Seevers

What are you working on?

Recently I’m trying to continue personal projects I was already working on before the pandemic. In my opinion it’s always good to have these kind of personal side projects to work on during periods without other jobs. My recent side projects are a poster series and a new book project.

How are you keeping inspired and motivated?

I’m trying to keep the creative flow alive by trying not to focus on what doesn’t work at the moment but what does work. It can be hard to get illustration jobs right now, but you could focus on updating your website or your Instagram account instead. You can also develop new strategies for your creative work.

I’m stuck in a creative rut! Any tips?

Maybe it can help to do something else you love and not to focus too much on your creative output. I love to play basketball or do yoga.

What helps you to recharge and relax during isolation?

In Germany we were at least allowed to go for a walk even during total shutdown. The highlight of the day was going for a walk in the nearby forest once a day with my family.

6. Ben O’Brien (Ben the Illustrator)

Frome, United Kingdom

The Creative Projects Keeping These Freelance Illustrators Inspired — Ben O'Brien

What projects are you working on?

I’ve got a few small projects on at the moment­. One is a map for a travel company, which I’m really thankful for as other travel industry projects were cancelled at the start of lockdown. I’m also working on some social media illustrations for singer/songwriter Jade Bird who is working with Microsoft to create an online gig experience.

Aside from those two client projects I’m focusing on spending time with my family. I have a ten year old son so we’re homeschooling, which is hard work but also quite fun, especially science experiments and art projects! But it’s the personal work that’s really fueling me with energy and optimism at the moment.

How are you keeping inspired and motivated?

When lockdown started and I moved my desk out of my shared studio and into our spare room at home, I vowed to keep myself busy. With jobs being canceled and a lot of uncertainty, there would always be time and space for me to create something.

I started a run of small personal projects—I designed a “Stay Home” poster and offered people the chance to customize it based on their own household. I even spent a few hours illustrating Joe Wicks’ living room.

After these projects I was looking for something else to get the juices flowing, when a chance encounter on Twitter took me into one of the most fun projects I’ve worked on in some time.  Tim Burgess, the front man of The Charlatans, has been running daily “Listening Parties” on Twitter (#TimsTwitterListeningParty) where everyone listens to an album at exactly the same time and tweets their memories and stories relating to the album. I offered to design Tim’s hashtag emoji, but they already had one by the brilliant Pete Fowler. 

Tim however enjoyed my work and we started to talk about how I could contribute to the Listening Parties. At first I illustrated scenes of people listening at home, but it was my interpretations of album covers within these scenes that people really fell in love with. 

Since then I have been using every spare moment to recreate album covers in my own graphic style, and it’s been so much fun. We’re now considering how to build charity fundraisers in the future based on the Listening Parties and the artwork I’ve been creating. I’ve connected with music lovers, bands, and even some of the original cover designers dating back decades. I’ve also started getting enquiries for commercial work stemming from the Listening Party artworks, which is really great.

What top tip would you give to an illustrator who is feeling stuck in a creative rut?

Take a break! I find that most creatives in a rut have put too much pressure on themselves. Find a new area to get involved in­—I’ve always been a keen music lover and have worked in the music industry, so it was great to get back in there and find new opportunities. List your passions and choose one to take your illustration into a positive new direction.

What’s your go-to TV show that’s keeping you entertained?

We love a lot of creative competition shows on TV, they often inspire new things in me, my regular favorites are Master of Photography and The Great British Sewing Bee. But there’s also hours and hours of other shows, such as Portrait Artist of the Year, Landscape Artist of the Year, Next in Fashion, Glow Up, and Netflix’s The Big Flower Fight. TV aside I’ve also been enjoying the new Fiona Apple album and eating cakes my son has been baking (a new hobby he’s discovered in isolation).

7. Helena Perez Garcia

London, United Kingdom

The Creative Projects Keeping These Freelance Illustrators Inspired — Helena Perez Garcia

What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve just finished an illustrated book that has kept me busy for six months and I’m about to start working on a new book for children. I’ve also just finished some editorial illustrations for Elle Spain and Il Corriere della Sera. It’s been a bit quiet during the lockdown, but I’ve been trying to keep myself busy doing some personal work and focusing on self promotion. 

I love watching Friends when I’m feeling down as it always makes me laugh. Chocolate cake always helps too!

How are you keeping motivated?

I find myself struggling to be motivated during the lockdown. I believe this has happened to many illustrators. Hearing such bad news every day makes me feel a bit negative, overwhelmed, and hard to focus on work. I’ve been reading a lot to keep myself motivated and to detach myself from reality a bit. I’ve been also creating new personal work to fill some gaps in my portfolio that needed a bit of a punch.

The Creative Projects Keeping These Freelance Illustrators Inspired — Try Something Different
Illustration by Helena Perez Garcia.

What top tip would you give to an illustrator who is feeling stuck in a rut?

Try to do something different, like going for a walk, calling a friend, or reading a book. And be kind to yourself, it’s normal to feel stuck sometimes.

What’s your go-to TV show to cure isolation blues?

I love watching Friends when I’m feeling down as it always makes me laugh. Chocolate cake always helps too!

8. Ingrid Bockting

Amsterdam, Netherlands

The Creative Projects Keeping These Freelance Illustrators Inspired — Ingrid Bockting

What projects have you got in the pipeline?

I’m always working on different projects at the same time. This week I was working on two different book covers. One is a cover for Dutch author Hendrik Groen that needs to be illustrated in a traditional shaded style. The second cover is a modern typographic cover about the perfect capsule collection in your wardrobe. 

Beside this I’ve been illustrating a column for a French traveling magazine and also sketched some illustrations for a yoga magazine. I also started a very special project curating art for a new hotel concept. In the rooms will be five different artworks—three of them will be made by me and my partner (leendert meets ingrid) and two photographs of other artists will complete the collection.

How do you stay inspired?

I am always immediately inspired when a new client contacts me. Half of my work is cooperating with good publishers and enthusiastic entrepeneurs. Besides co-creating with people, I find a lot of online inspiration in Pinterest and Instagram and the city I live in, Amsterdam.

What top tip would you give to a creative who is stuck in a rut?

Try to define your style and find out what you’re good at. Then try to take this to the next level. Feed your personal website and see what you miss and what you got the most joy out of. Try to find and create in this direction.

What’s your favorite relaxation activity?

I love reading newspapers and magazines and diving into a good book by A. M. Homes. I love art house drama movies and totally loved Killing Eve. A city walk or a ride on my racing bike is also good for unwinding. Food-wise I can’t resist a fresh scone from Bakkerswinkel Roelof Hartstraat in Amsterdam. The bakery sits in between my house and my temporary quarantine office.

9. Stephanie Wunderlich

Hamburg, Germany

The Creative Projects Keeping These Freelance Illustrators Inspired — Stephanie Wunderlich

What are you working on at the moment?

I am coeditor of Spring Magazine, a comic anthology that is published once a year and I just finished my story for the next issue, Ghosts. My story “Shut the Doors” is a kind of ironic instruction manual for behavior during the shutdown. I was really lucky that during the last two months I’ve been busy with a commissioned project that I started before the lockdown. The Spring story was the self initiated side project I did.

How are you keeping motivated with your work?

I love what I am doing. I rarely feel demotivated. However it is crucial to self-initiate work without any client expectations, and that is not result-driven. Of course I look up what other creatives I admire are doing. 

What top tip would you give to an illustrator who is feeling stuck in a creative rut?

When I am stuck with some creative work I sometimes start a little side project that might bring quicker satisfaction or to get back a sense of self-confidence ( I am quite an impatient person). Then I start working intuitively on a papercut. I try to get in a flow without making sketches beforehand. Papercut illustrations are an ideal way to actually play with compositions. You have loose elements that you can arrange very flexibly. If you like it glue it. If not, just throw the parts back into the pile of snippets. They might find their ideal place in a composition later on.

What’s do you do to unwind after work?

During the shutdown I’ve enjoyed watching Netflix mini series like Unorthodox and The Kalifat. I also caught up with old comedy series like The Monthy Python Flying Circus and Little Britain. I indulged in yoga initially but lost discipline. We also spend a lot of time cooking.

Cover image via Yuzach.

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