Most artists take great care of their art making tools. . . that’s a given. But whether you are naturally creative, or have developed your talents through training, it’s just as vital to care for and nurture your creativity.
Here are the nine techniques that I recommend to all of my artist clients who need a creative boost:
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1. Keep an art-related idea journal
Keep a spiral notebook with you at all times to capture ideas, sketches and references to use later. It’s like keeping an art diary, and it’s for your eyes only, so you can record everything.
Writers call this a “swipe file.” It doesn’t mean that you plagiarize things that you find—that would be highly unethical and unoriginal to boot! But whether we acknowledge it or not, we are all inspired by what surrounds us and what came before.
That is the point of this journal. Find things that inspire you, and save them to inspire you later on. You never know what will be useful down the road. It will save you time rediscovering things you have already worked through, and give you a wellspring of creative ideas for times when the well seems dry.
2. Put up an art ideas bulletin board
I have a board like this in my studio for art ideas, as well as one in my office for business thoughts.
Post anything that come to you, pictures, quotations, ads—whatever flies through your mind or catches your eye. You never know what will come from these artifacts.
3. Create an idea treasure chest
Collect images from magazines, quotes, postcards, etc. This can be anything that will stimulate future work. Store them in a way that makes them easy to get at.
It’s an amazing experience to open your treasure chest of ideas and rediscover things that previously excited or inspired you. Maybe you weren’t ready for them when you found them and put them in the box but you might be ready for one or more of the ideas now.
I love the feeling of going into my treasure chest—it’s like opening a gift from a loving friend who really “gets” you and what your art is about.
When you have actual things you can handle in your treasure box, it’s a lot easier than trying to recall ideas or start from scratch. You’ll remember ideas that you had previously, and recall why you chose the objects or see new connections that you missed before.
4. Pay attention to your energy levels
When you are freshest, do the most important art projects or art marketing tasks that demand your highest creativity. Save the more mundane jobs for when your creative tank is low.
Sometimes you need to take a complete break from art to let new ideas incubate. Don’t try to force creativity. Just be okay with the lull. Most times it’s a great incubation period and ideas will surface later. The tank will fill again.
Artists have different time spans and times of the day in which they can produce quality creations. Sense your rhythms and respect them. When the “inner bell” goes off, it’s time to move on to something else where your energy is fresh.
5. Split your art projects into smaller pieces
Always break big, overwhelming projects down into smaller bits. It’s usually easy to maintain your enthusiasm when you’re working on small pieces rather than the whole.
I love the languid beginning and enthralling ends of making art pieces, but often find I need to limit the middle to short bursts in the studio. (It reminds me of long childhood car trips when we would ask, usually about every 15 minutes, “Are we there yet?!?”)
Don’t set yourself up to be overwhelmed by expecting to produce too much at any particular work session. You’ll enjoy the work better and have a more consistent experience of satisfaction if you accomplish large projects in smaller bits over time.
6. Quit (or modify) art projects that are boring
Look for the kernel of excitement that provoked you to begin the project, and re-work it into something new. Find the smallest speck of interest or quality in what you have created, and start another piece of art with those aspects instead.
If that doesn’t work, it may be freeing to just throw the piece away. If you can do this, you know you are learning to curate your work and to release attachments to things that are holding you back.
7. Do something other than art for a little while
Distract yourself temporarily, and see if some time away allows you to recapture your excitement for the project. If you can’t get enthused, put the project away for even longer, or just move on.
I’ve come back to pieces years later and was able to complete them with what I had learned in the meantime.
8. Adjust the results you’re aiming for
Maybe you’ve created something that isn’t quite right. Or it’s not the final version of what you want to submit. Consider it a practice piece and remove the pressure of it being the final version.
Since it’s just practice, consider what would happen if you tried to wreck it. Even if you don’t actually do that to the piece, you will come up with interesting ideas that don’t come when you are treating the art piece as too precious.
9. Find other artists and teachers to work with
Isolation can make common problems seem bigger than they are, or make you feel like you’re the only one with these troubling issues.
But the truth is, every other artist goes through the same thing, and can empathize with your situation, or even help you work through it. So connect with others in similar situations and learn from them.
It’s an unfortunate fact of life that everything ebbs and flows. . . even creativity. And while we would love for our creativity to to just flow out of us, whenever we want it, sometimes we need a few “tricks up our sleeves” to move out of the ebb, and back into the flow.
Hopefully a few of the techniques above have already resonated with you, but if not, I encourage you to give one or two a try. More creativity is always a plus, wherever you get it.