30 Tips to Spend Free Time Finding Inspiration for Creative Projects

30 Tips to Spend Free Time Finding Inspiration for Creative Projects

At most of the exhibitions where I showed my work, I tried to be present to talk to the visitors. The most frequently asked question was: where do you find the inspiration for your subjects? To which my answer was that I had some tricks for that.

Developing inspiration is a conscious process. Or at least it could be. It also depends on our character what our favourite method is.

In this article, I give you 30 tips to spend your free time finding inspiration and spark your creativity. It is a random list of all kinds of things I occasionally do. Get inspired.

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Tips to spend free time creatively

Getting inspiration is not just a divine spark that suddenly comes to us but can be mindfully guided by what we do. Even activities that at first glance seem to have nothing to do with creativity can give rise to new ideas.

Finding inspiration

Childhood activity

Are there any childhood activities you stopped doing?

Colouring with crayons, for example. Or use a soft pencil to colour the edge of a piece of paper (torn or cut) and then smear it with your finger on another piece of paper. Or scratching on paper with a soft pencil while there is a penny underneath.

Check out pictures on Instagram

Get inspired by the many photos you can find on Instagram. You can search for keywords by the hashtags that most people use. Follow me while you’re there. 🙂

Look at shop windows

Idee-Shop, a German webshop (easily translatable in Chrome).

What does the current fashion look like? What resources have been used to decorate the shop and make it attractive? What materials are hip?

Visit archives

If you are looking for inspiration for a product, you can look for archives in design museums. When you are interested in old texts or letters then archives of newspapers or city archives are a treasure.

I spent quite some time in a regional archive to discover my family tree. Those old manuscripts were beautiful to discover.

Visit the theatre

What do the decor and costumes look like? What has been used dramatically to make an often performed play or opera attractive or modern?

Leaf through magazines

If they are old magazines, you can tear out photos and try to combine them with new images. Make collages with the pictures or with texts.

Mérida theatre

Do something you do not dare to do

Ask for an interview with an artist you admire. Take that course you always thought you would not be good at.

Dream or daydream

They say you can’t trust dreams. But especially weird dreams can be such a great inspiration for new ideas.

Take pictures using a theme

Just take photos of trees for a month. Or photograph only round shapes. Also, try to find scenes in just one colour (monochrome).

Related: How to Stay Inspired in Photography? Of these 7 Tips, I Particularly Like #6

Check out the colours of the fashion season

Look at the trends. What’s hot. What’s not.

Go to the movie

One of my best recommendations is Bon Dieu. I laughed until my face was hurting. Hilarious. Although this was just for relaxation. Another must-see is Kinky boots. I have seen this film several times and each time from a different point of view. Marvellous.


Imitating has a negative meaning in our society, but in the time of the guilds, an apprentice had to imitate the master to learn the craft. You learn a lot by trying to copy something exactly.

Lamp or art?

Look into a dictionary

Open it on a random page. Or search for a specific word and see what terms are mentioned in the explanation and then look up those as well.

Look at advertisements

Promotional photos and commercials have to pinpoint an idea in an extremely short period of time. How do they get their message across?

Browse through Pinterest

Like Instagram, Pinterest is very picture-oriented. It’s easy to make inspiration boards for yourself to come back to time and again.

Watch the empty space

Free the ocean of plastic
Play Free the Ocean‘s game every day for free and fund the removal of plastic.

One of the exercises in a model or still-life drawing class is to focus on the negative space instead of on the subject. It’s interesting to look that way when you are walking in a street or in nature.

Related: How is Negative Space Helpful for Designers and Artists?

Listen to music

Rhythm and timbres can inspire visual work. Take a look at CD covers. Does the cover reflect the atmosphere of the song you’re hearing?

Make a poem

Use rhyme in an ordinary way. Or you can write the letters of your name in separate lines and take them as the first letter of a sentence.

Make lists

Lists and brainstorms evoke associative concepts. One leads to another, to the next, and so on, and so on.

Middelheim statue
Middelheim, Antwerp, Belgium


Give your own twist to an imitation.

Take a hot shower

The best ideas come when you are relaxed and no longer consciously thinking about a problem. Eureka!

Open not just your eyes, but also your other senses

Or close your eyes and listen carefully. Only use your hands to ‘view’ an object. (It’s such a pity most museums forbid touching the statues!)

Write with your non-dominant hand

You literally use another part of your brain when you discard your own automatisms. I taught myself to knit left-handed. This turned out to be very useful when knitting with several colours in the same project. Since I can knit back and forth without turning my work, the different knots of wool don’t get tangled up.

Cut stamps of potatoes

Simple chores often give room for creativity. And the stamping itself can evoke new ideas.

Draw mindlessly

Doodling, mind-mapping, sketching, but also drawing what you see in front of you are great sources of inspiration.

Invent things that can not be real

Einstein has been able to develop the theory of relativity because he imagined that he travelled through space on a light beam.


Buildings and crowds inspire us as we walk around town. Trees and silence inspire us in nature.

Find an interesting exhibition

There are so many great museums that I always have a shortage of time. (Do you have my tips for a museum visit yet?)

Related: 17 Excellent Tips to Enjoy Art for Free

Dutch bicycles

Make as many pictures as you can of an object

Change the point of view. Go far away for an overview and get closer to the details. Lie on your stomach or stand on the stairs.

Find etymological meanings

Or look up words in another language and examine similarities to sounds or words. In my graphic design practice, we got ideas for new names for projects or businesses by browsing an etymological dictionary, technical handbook, or dictionary.

Spending free time

If you’re used to being inspired by the smallest event or simplest object, it becomes second nature. Do as all great artists do and keep a small notebook in your bag so that you can jot down any ideas you may have in writing or drawing.

What do you do to get a stream of ideas flowing? Let me know in the comment box below.

This article is an update. Originally published on 17-07-2017.

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10 thoughts on “30 Tips to Spend Free Time Finding Inspiration for Creative Projects”

  1. Hoi Hannie
    Leuke borden!
    Ik haal inspiratie uit mijn gevoel van dat moment-triest/ vrolijk/serieus/ontspannen enz. en snuffel veel op Pinterest. Ook yoga en wandelen in de natuur geven me rust en ideëen.
    Momenteel bezig met druktechnieken en patroontekenen. Stof genoeg!
    groetjes Jos
    bedankt voor je boekjes

    • Geen dank, het was leuk om die te maken en nog beter als anderen er weer inspiratie uit kunnen halen! 🙂

      Heerlijk om zo creatief bezig te zijn, hè. Pinterest is inderdaad een geweldige bron. Bij mij wisselt het af, soms kijk ik meer op Pinterest, soms op Instagram. Doe jij nog iets met je grafische ontwerpen?

      Have fun, en dank je wel voor je comment, Jos.

  2. Walking in nature works the best for me, but strolling city streets without a plan or a deadline works too. Besides that, reading, listening to music, making a collage (a moodboard or visionboard, I love it), spending leisure time with friends, going to the museum. Instagram. All the things you already summed up so nicely above LOL….
    Cooking a meal does the trick for me too.

    • Cooking can be so creative! You might know that I don’t cook, so don’t laugh at me. 🙂 I see the creativity in the cook in the house (my husband). Apart from the creativity, it is also delicious of course. And it is a great way to divert ourselves so we can get back to any demanding creative task we have to do after the meal.

      Vision boards are great. I make one at least once a year in December to visualize my goals for the next year. And several smaller ones during the year. It works like a charm.

      Thanks for your comment and enjoy your meals. 🙂

  3. I have used your idea of the dictionary a lot in the past! Nowadays the internet is a substitute for that but it is indeed a great way to come up with new ideas.

    Also, I talk a lot with my friends about stuff and that way my creative juices get flowing. 🙂

    Thanks for your list, I totally forgot about potatoes stamps, so that is on my to-do list now.

    • What a marvellous addition, Nancy, how could I forget that? Of course, talking with friends is a huge source of inspiration. Talking with strangers as well, come to think of that. Which leads me to watch the news or documentaries on TV.

      Thanks so much, now you have got my engine going too! Have fun.

  4. Window shopping is one of my favourite ways to daydream. My house is finally completely remodelled and redecorated, I have way more clothes than I’ll ever need so impulse buys are not ideal right now. Admiring gorgeous windows is the next best thing.

    • Shop windows are great places to come up with ideas! Recently I saw beautiful cyanotypes that made my creative fingers itch. That will be my next project.

      And you’re right, we all own way too much, more than we ever need. Possession is not very satisfying. A cosy home and good company are much more valuable. 🙂

      Thanks for your comment, Aubree, and have fun.

  5. Wow, such a big list here haha. I have a list of things to do that don’t include screens, things to do in my yard – from chill picnics to dance parties, I find that being organized even with your free time means you won’t feel like it passes by without you having time to do something meaningful.

    • Indeed, Mariah, planning relaxation is important too. When you’re relaxed, creative ideas pop into your head without much effort, which is great. Have fun relaxing. 🙂


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