Grab a Cuppa for 5 ways to Nurture Creativity

Stop for a moment and think about your life in the long term. Think about what you want to be able to look back on. Will you gain satisfaction from the journey you have taken in your life? Will you take pleasure in seeing how far you have developed as a person and as a result will you take pleasure in what you have been able to give to those who are dearest to you? To your community? Will you take pleasure in all those dishes washed, clothes ironed, floors swept and toilets cleaned? Surely not.

I am often asked two key questions. The first is how I manage to make connections between ideas and twist them into something new and how I manage to do so much. Although these two questions don’t look at first glance to be related they are. Much of it has to so with a mind set and how I prioritise various activities in my life. You may want to settle back with a cuppa as I describe what has worked for me and it might work for you – or parts of it might.

I have been having interesting side discussion (via email ) between myself and Elizabeth of Quieter Moments on the nature of creativity. It was provoked by a comment I made in the Develop a Personal Library of Stitches forum. To set it in context many of the students are busy. Both Thanksgiving, the start of the holiday season and Christmas preparations is biting into their time. This means that some feel pressured complete a piece. Yet for some when under pressure stitching by rote kicks in and inventiveness slides away. I made the observation that creativity is a strange beast as unlike many parts of our lives it is not to be simply switched on and off. That said however, I think that it certainly can be nurtured.

I am fortunate enough to have had a visual arts training and next year I have reduced the number of hours I am teaching to one day a week and will be working from home. I know many people do not have this luxury and for years I had teaching commitments so I was out the door by 8 and home at 6. I know what it is like to work, run a house, study and try and fit in some sort of creative practice. Much of my attitude has been developed as a result of this experience.

I am not one for sitting around and waiting for the muse to appear but for me it is true that unless you can carve out some mental space creative practice suffers. Being able to draw on your creative skills is like any other skill as it is a skill that has to be used constantly otherwise you lose it or worse never really develop it.

One of the lessons I learnt early on is that if you want what you do or make to be seen as something more than a hobby it is worth first considering how serious you take what you do. How can other people take what you produce seriously if you do not? Where in your life on your list of priorities does your creative activities rank? Is it squeezed in between family life and work obligations? If this is the case is it possible to claim some time? Can you find an hour a day, or an afternoon on the weekend? I learnt to prioritise finding a regular, constant block of time in which to work. Developing a consistent habit of studio based work is not to be undervalued. For anyone interested in exploring their own creative development and cranking up the quality of what they make I suggest you find a way to do this. Talk to your family and see if something can be negotiated so there is a little time and space for you.

I have a space in which I work. If you want to shift what you do from a recreational activity to a creative practice claim time and space in your life to do it. I have a room in which I step into and close the door. I call it a workroom as that is what goes on in there. Creative activity is playful but it is also work. Play in our culture is not taken seriously it is something that can be interrupted, something that can be set to one side and something that is never prioritised. Work is prioritised. Constantly referring to creative activity as play undermines what actually goes on and what is achieved. If you want other people to take your creative achievements seriously you must take the process seriously, and allocate an area in which to work.

This last 6 months I have not been in the paid workforce. Up until this week the computer I used was in the living area and my daily routine is to step into my workroom at nine every morning. That’s right I get up take a shower dress and go to work. I do this everyday. I don’t bend that rule unless it is an exceptional circumstance or something that in the workforce it would be legitimate to take time off work for. For instance this week I went to the optometrist. I was working before the appointment and afterwards taking time off only for the appointment. I have friends that would have lost a whole day because it was broken by an appointment. They don’t frame what they do as work , so what time they do have available is cut into. Obviously a habit of self discipline is needed. Once discipline is cultivated it becomes very easy even routine.

I have a saying that if you never shift out of neutral you creative life will remain in neutral. Stimulation and engagment is necessary. Obviously the net and the online community constantly stimulate my ideas. This daily visual sustenance constantly feeds me. Challenges such as Take a Stitch Tuesday also stimulate creative activity. But I don’t rely on just the net. I also read books, visit exhibitions, take photographs and draw. I ask questions, do a little research into an idea and engage. All these activities constantly stimulate me and in the process new ideas are generated and this literally make me shift gears..

I have also developed a habit to catch ideas as they come. These are noted in either a Visual Journal or I take note of them digitally. As I have said before Visual journals are hold all’s for ideas. A visual journal is not necessarily a place where you plan a project out to the last detail and then set about working the piece. Instead a visual journal is a place to toss all your ideas into – stir them up and see what happens. Just because something is noted down does not mean it is on your ‘To Do list’ it is simply an idea that may be worked up at another time. The idea may or may not be worked but unlike ideas noted on scraps of paper (the back of an envelope) because it is in a journal the idea will not be lost. Visual journals contain ideas that percolate away in the back of your mind. When you have time you can draw on these ideas and work them up into something.

If you have a very busy life it is even more important to keep a visual journal as a visual journal is ideal to catch ideas when they are fast and flowing and you don’t have time to work them up. If there is no time to work through an idea – but you have taken a quick note of what you are thinking at a later point it is possible to return to the idea, reshape it and develop it. I have returned to ideas that were noted years previously. If they had not been noted I would have lost the idea but because it was recorded in my visual journal it was there just waiting to be explored when I had the time.

For this reason there is a sense of control for those who use a visual journal. For instance if via a workshop, a class, a exhibition, a conversation, or something seen on the net the sparks of an idea are shooting off the end of a sparkler it feels stimulating but a bit heady. So many ideas at once that it is hard to focus on any single point. This is the time to quickly pull out a visual journal and note them down. In noting them down you will focus on the ideas and in focusing on some of those sparks you will feel in control of your own creative process.

In the act of maintaining a visual journal you will think about projects either consciously and subconsciously.(I have spoken about my visual journals before and if you want to take a peak inside them I don’t mind)

The next step is to take some of those ideas when you have a block of time and set to work to develop viable options to express that idea. At this stage explore more than one option. Sample a few ideas as usually at this stage a process of re-stimulation kicks in. You may call it inventiveness, inspiration, creativity what ever, but really it is focussing on what you are making and actively working an idea. In the working of the idea – the push and pull that goes on more ideas will develop. Put simply creative work generates more ideas. Note them down! The more creative work goes on the more there will be to do. The process feeds on itself and given the right environment such as a space and consistent discipline will generate a body of work.

For me the key elements that aid creative practice are:
1 How the process is prioritised,
2 Allocating regular time,
3 Making a space for you,
4 The habit of regular work
5 Catching your good ideas when they come by using a visula journal.

There are many other methods of working these are the ones that work for me. What do you do? Can you come up with 5 things that work for you? What are your tips? Share them and leave a comment – I am sure everyone would like to hear different viewpoints on this.

16 Comments

  1. That was a great write-up. Thank you!
    Lack of a routine because of lack of discipline! That’s my greatest enemy.
    I definitely need to re-orient my thought process that okays this attitude.
    Priority – No matter what I do and no matter how proud of my needlework I am, my family while indulgent never take me seriously. To them, my work is just a hobby! Their attitude really frustrates me.
    Space – My husband works from home most of the time as he is in sales – so naturally he has his own table. My sons of course have their owns tables. I do have my own table too. The computer and all its attachments are supposedly mine as I am the one with a degree in computer science but the table is everyone else’s too.
    I have all my files on the bottom rack of the common book shelf. My craft books occupy the third shelf, my threads and other craft equipment are in three narrow draws I insisted I wanted under the kids bunk bed. All the fabrics I have in an old trunk under our cots.
    My sewing machine enjoys the pride of the place on a used for anything and everything stool. My sewing table ? The dining table of course when nobody is eating.
    But then I have seen creativity in lesser encouraging circumstances. So, I really have nothing to complain about. It’s all in the mind really. Maybe in another decade or so when my birds have flown the nest I’ll have my dream workspace and a different attitude from my family.
    Good health and cheer to you and your family.
    Bhavani

  2. I personally feel that some people are born with a “creative” gene. I have a dear friend you can just look at, say a sign that says merry christmas. Then she can re-create this sign while putting her own idea – or “twist” on the ‘original sign’ made by her. While I look at a sign with no thought of how I can change that sign. I feel that I am ‘crafty’ and like to make things – only by following a pattern. I do not feel an inner voice saying ‘change or add to that pattern’. When I read/see other peoples projects on their blogs, I say to myself ” I would have never thought of that”. (OH, I never took any art/craft/music/sewing classes while in college). Thank you Sharon for sharing yourself on you blog. Linda K.

    Linda K
  3. Taking hobbies seriously dovetails with possibly the most important thing I took from my creative studies in college: Don’t apologize for your art.

    If you release creative output into space you shouldn’t defuse it by offering a retraction regarding its quality or content. Whether you make a mistake, or just felt the performance was a little too risqué, you have to allow it to stand on its own for the audience.

    Of course, this doesn’t apply to the creative process itself – that’s what preparation and practice are for. However, an imperfection in a final product or performance is part of its art.

    As for visual journals, some people can’t produce visual reference so quickly (even some visual artists!), but i think your concept is an important one. I keep a scratchpad of text ideas, but i actually work the best with voice memos to myself.

    Even that’s a hard habit to keep – we need 21 days on average to form a habit, and the smarter we are the longer it takes!

  4. Jacqui you can get glow in the dark pens – do a google there are plenty of options

    Thanks everyone for your input to this discussion I am reading and thinking about all of them. I wonder why people do not keep visual journals? Particularly those that are started and then left to one side- are they not kept long enough to be useful and there fore re-enforce the habit? Just musing here …

  5. You make a very good point about having a regular schedule. The year I achieved the most was when I worked in the studio from 9-3 while my son was at school. Often worked continuously without stopping to eat or drink – definitely not recommended however! This year the family seems to have had what would best be described as a flexible schedule and I don’t feel as though I’ve got organized since Christmas last year! And I must say I have not achieved very much at all. I’m in the process of moving my studio (and the accompanying 5 bookcases full of books) and fully intend that after Christmas I will get back into a regular routine of stitching.

    As to a visual journal … do you have any suggestions for a “glow in the dark” variety. I always find my best ideas come in the middle of the night. Meantime it’s back to writing in the dark and hoping I can read it in the morning!

    Jacqui
  6. Hi Sharon, very thought provoking and very timely for me and most of us really as we wind down the year and look forward to what the next will bring. I would love to hear about what you think creativety is as I have never seen myself as creative. I am thinking aloud on my blog inspired by your article

  7. I like your journal better than mine! Basically, I just have a very large notebook with plastic sleeves in it, where I insert work samples, fabric samples, etc., and, if I want to make notes in particular on them, I glue them onto a notecard and slip it in a sleeve – usually with several other similar items, which eventually get bunched up! I can always go back and dig for what I want, but the lack of layout can be frustrating. I also insert pages of notebook paper here and there that I have worked out my ideas on. I may have to adopt your book method, methinks. Thanks for that!

    As far as space is concerned, I couldn’t agree more! I do not have the luxury right now of a personal space for working – I set up projects on my dining room table or on my kitchen table, and must usually set them up in one session, because I don’t like the mess lying around. We have a constant stream (or so it seems) of visitors at our house, so I just don’t like having my stuff out. I get pressured to finish a set-up job sometimes, just to be able to clean it up, and this is not only frustrating, but rushing can cause mistakes. We plan to add on a studio, etc., in the next year, but not until we can pay cash for the project. I refuse to have the pressure of debt for a workspace!

    As for time – I have blocked out my time to Friday evenings, and three hours on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, only, for creative work. This is very limiting, but it forces me to make use of my time.

    Prioritizing is smart, in every area of one’s life. Thanks, Sharon, for giving us all something to think about!

  8. I write for a living, and am assuming that the creative process will translate across different media. One of my cardinal rules is to write no matter what–even if I feel completely uninspired or if I long to do anything but write. (The latter is often the case, too.) Hoping that the mood to write will magically precede the act of writing doesn’t get me anywhere, but beginning to write will often initiate at least a trickle of ideas. For me the hardest part is getting started, so what helps me is to leave a bit unfinished at the end of the day. That way I can pick up more easily when I resume in the morning.

    It also helps me to go to completely different sources. My writing focuses on a very grim topic, and the embroidery helps sustain personal balance and perspective. So do frequent trips to museums and galleries. Other ways of seeing or looking at your material aren’t always literal.

    This site, and many related blogs, have given me huge amounts of inspiration, for which I’m very grateful.

    ElizabethD
  9. A great post Sharon, thanks for writing it. I am like you – I call the place where I do my creating a workroom and I take my time in there seriously. I schedule appointments for late in the day and I do any house cleaning chores early in the morning before I step into my workroom. I am bad however at the journal part but I am attempting to get better at it!

  10. I too am fortunate to have a regular scheduled time in a sewing room that is my own…8 a.m. to 12 p.m. I add more time later in the day but the mornings are “prime time”.
    The way I start every day, though, is with meditation of at least a half an hour. That stokes my creativity more than anything else.
    Great post, Sharon!

  11. I was more productive when I worked full time. I am not sure where the problem lies, but I think part of it is that I consider myself a housewife and not an artist. Don’t get me wrong, I am no slave to housework, but I do spend a lot of time doing the move and shift stuff. I have yet to unpack completely!

    I quit doing the Artist’s Way and my morning pages. I really do need to get back to them. I am planning to restart the program.

    I also have a plan for getting my life as an artist into gear in January. Giving myself just another month to change my orientation to artist and establish a new routine.

    One of the things that surprised me was that I need a lot more sleep than I was getting for the last ten years! I get up to let the dogs out and go back to sleep on the sofa. Part of that has to do my thyroid problem and I am clearly starting to do better since they changed my meds in October.

    So, now it is time to actually set my priorities. Some are evident to me now; others will unfold as I start the transition:

    1. Set a schedule and stick to it.
    2. Spend time every day in my needlework studio.
    3. Better utilize, and therefore reduce, my time online.
    4. Get back into the habit of doing my morning pages.
    5. Get rid of the dining room table and turn it into an art/fiber area.

  12. Well, I didn’t read this with a cuppa but I did have a beer at my side, does that count?? :0)

    I think one of the most important ways to boost your creativity is a space of your own. One where you can spread out and leave a project (or projects) out so it can be picked back up if you are interrupted by life. A place where you can make a mess and then close the door until you can get back to it.

    I kept a visual journal for awhile after reading your earlier post about it, but then I kind of slacked off and finally quit. I need to pick that back up again.

    As always, a very thought provoking post. Thanks!

  13. I can agree with most of what you say, Sharon, except the part about dishes washed, clothes ironed, floors swept and toilets cleaned.

    I find that if I have regular routines that get these necessary bits out of the way, that opens up all kinds of free time for me to hunker down in my studio and get busy with my creativity. I find that if I leave those necessary parts of life undone, they eat away in the back of my mind and actually thwart my creative process.

    Another routine I have is to write in my journal each morning as soon as I get up. By plopping down in words the things that bug me or my oddball dreams, it clears my mind so that I can start my day without that baggage running in a loop through my head.

    I also find that getting dressed all the way to the shoes before heading down to my studio lets my body know that it’s time to go to work! Then, prioritizing is essential.

  14. Thank you Sharon. As usual, you have written something very thought-provoking. I am one of those people who struggle to find time to be creative and know I would benefit from having a regular schedule. My life always seems to get away from me to the detriment of my creativity. There’s nothing I love better than being able to spend an entire day in my workroom, but family and friend obligations tend to take over. One thing I will take away from what you wrote today is that I will start a journal as you suggest. So often ideas occur, but are gone within moments. Having a journal at hand at all times would be a great tool for me and, knowing now that all that is written down doesn’t have to be acted on (thanks to your wise words) will be absolutely wonderful.
    Thanks again!

  15. Your concept of the visual journal as idea-capturer has been the best innovation for me, Sharon. I utilize the other ideas — space, time, call it work, etc. But now I keep a couple journals — one in my purse, one by the computer, and one big one by my work chair in which I can sketch/plan in more detail. It has made a huge difference. Thank you.

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