Happy New Year!
I thought I'd start the year by reminding myself of ways to stay focused, inspired and productive in 2018. Thought I'd share my notes, as well as some practical ways to get out of creative block that I teach my students.
1) Frequency- work a little bit everyday.
According to Gretchen Rubin in “ Harnessing the Power of Frequency,” frequency:
a) Makes starting easier - by working every day, you keep your momentum going as you can easily just pick up where you left off the day before.
b) Keeps ideas fresh – you will be much more likely to spot relationships and connections among ideas when your mind is constantly humming about your work.
c) Keeps the pressure off – steady work (and consequentially, lack of anxiety) is more likely to put you in a playful mood, able to experiment, take risks, and try different approaches if one doesn’t work.
d) Sparks creativity – “ creativity arises from a constant churn of ideas, and one of the easiest ways to encourage that fertile froth is to keep your mind engaged with your project. When you work regularly, inspiration strikes regularly.”
e) Nurtures frequency – developing the habit of working frequently makes it much easier to sit down and do something even in small block of time.
f) Fosters productivity – seeing yourself move towards your goal is reassuring, inspiring and confidence-building Is a realistic approach - with all of our other obligations, carving out a small block of time each day makes sense.
“ A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules” – Anthony Trollop
2) Habits and associative triggers- establish a pre-painting routine that shifts your brain to creating mode.
“ It’s vital to establish some rituals – automatic but decisive patterns of behaviour – at the beginning of the creative process.” – Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit
“You try to sit down at approximately the same time every day. This is how you train your unconscious to kick in for you creatively.” – Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
“ Stick to the same tools, the same surroundings, even the same background music, so that they become associative triggers for you to enter your creative zone “ – Mark McGuinness, “ Laying the Groundwork for an Effective Routine,” Manage-Your-Day-to-Day
3) Space- keep a physical space that is conducive to creating.
“ In the end, there is no one ideal for creativity. What works for one person is useless for another. The only criterion is this: make it easy on yourself. Find a working environment where the prospect of wrestling with your muse doesn’t scare you, doesn’t shut you down. It should make you want to be there, and once you find it, stick with it. To get the creative habit, you need an environment that’s habit forming. All preferred working states, no matter how eccentric, have one thing in common: When you enter them, they impel you to get started” – Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit
b) Mental space - block out times for creation and solitude.
“ What is necessary, after all, is only this: solitude, vast inner solitude. To walk inside yourself and meet no one for hours – this is what you must be able to attain.” – Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
“ If you want to create something worthwhile with your life, you need to draw a line between the world’s demands and your own ambitions. Yes, we all have bills to pay and obligations to satisfy. But for most of us there’s a wide gray area between the have-tos and the want-tos in our life. If you’re not careful, that area will fill up with email, meetings, and the requests of others, leaving no room for the work you consider important. A great novel, a stunning design ... achievements like these take time, thought, craft persistence. And on any given day, this effort will never appear as urgent as those four e-mails ...” – Mark McGuinness, Manage Your Day-toDay
4) Inspiration – give your eyes a little feast every day.
" Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees ... “ Jim Jarmusch
" We are shaped and fashioned by what we love." - Goethe
" I like to put things around my bed all the time. Pictures of mine I like and other things, and I change it every month or so. There's some funny subliminal thing that happens. It isn't just looking at it. It's looking at it when you're not looking at it. I really begins to act on you in a funny way." - Diane Arbus
" The best things in life happen to you when you're alone." - Agnes Martin
5) Remember that the creative process involves seemingly inactive and/or dormant periods.
Melanie Rothschild, in The Art of Mistakes, identifies these stages of creativity:
Inspiration – stimulation of a flowing of ideas
Preparation – collecting ideas and/or source materials Incubation – a seemingly dormant period, but one in which disparate ideas are working behind the scenes to come together and form new ideas and solutions
Illumination – when all the idea pieces come together and allow things to move forward
Clarification, distillation, evaluation – refining ideas, narrowing the choices
Perspiration, Implementation – hard work of actual “doing”
6) Perfectionism - rethink how you see mistakes.
“ Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep “ – Scott Adams
“ The function of the overwhelming majority of your artwork is simply to teach you how to make the small fraction of your artwork that soars. One of the basic and difficult lessons every artist must learn is that even the failed pieces are essential ... For you, the seed for your next art work lies embedded in the imperfection of your current piece. Such imperfections (or mistakes, if you’re feeling particularly depressed about them today) are your guides – valuable, reliable, objective, non-judgemental guides – to matters you need to reconsider or develop further.”
– Bayles and Orland, Art & Fear
“ To require perfection invites paralysis” – Bayles and Orland, Art & Fear
“ Understanding the organic role of mistakes in the creative process may be the single greatest thing we can do to connect with a genuinely creative sensibility ... Mistakes give us ideas that we could never deliberately think up otherwise ... Making mistakes brings us to the point of new thoughts and information ... Of all places, art is a spot where mistakes should be considered honoured guests. ” – Melanie Rothschild, The Art of Mistakes
7) Paint even when you don’t feel particularly inspired – the doing itself will generate ideas.
“ My truth is to work- no excuse – just to work every day like the manual labourer that I am. Through work comes new ideas, and the spark to either follow and develop, or develop and then abandon.” – Ruan Hoffman, Creative Block
“ I don’t wait for moods. You accomplish nothing if you do that. Your mind must know it has got to get down to work. “ – Pearl S Buck
“ The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you.” – Chuck Close
“ To generate ideas, I had to move. It’s the same if you’re a painter: You can’t imagine the work, you can only generate ideas when you put pencil to paper, brush to canvas- when you actually do something physical.” – Twyla Tharp
8) Technique – hone your craft so that when inspiration does strike, you have a full arsenal to realise it with.
“ The professional dedicates himself to mastering technique not because he believes technique is a substitute for inspiration but because he wants to be in possession of the full arsenal of skills when inspiration does come.” - Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
PRACTICAL WAYS TO GET UNSTUCK CREATIVELY
1. Be a beginner. Try a new tool or material -not only does it automatically make you think in new ways, it also takes a lot of creative pressure off.
2. Give yourself constraints/limitations. Creating limitations for yourself allows your brain to focus and go into problem-solving mode. You can impose limits on things like:
3. Introduce some chance or randomness. This helps you loosen up, take a more playful approach, and also helps put you in creative problem-solving mode.
4. Collaborate. Working with other artists help spawn new ideas, and also helps you loosen up and not be “too precious” with your work. (ie Exquisite Corpse)
5. Work in a Series. This is a great way to do a little bit every day ie. Every day do a 6x6 composition. Do the same subject matter every day for a month with different materials, in different styles, etc.
6. Change just one small thing. ie. Try the SCAMPER technique * Substitute * Combine * Adapt * Modify or Magnify * Put to other uses * Eliminate * Reverse/Rearrange