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Creativity Exercises and Practices That Will Help You Find Joy and Productivity
Some non-artists might think creativity begins and ends at the easel, but we know better. Yes, that is where plenty of artistic breakthroughs happen, but they are just as likely to occur when you are nowhere near paint or brush. You are a creative engine and you might get flickers of new ideas or solutions to problems when you least expect it. Also, that creative engine? It has a battery that needs recharging now and again. These creative exercises, several inspired by the work and words of Jane Dunnewold in her book Creative Strength Training, will hopefully help in both areas.
You will find a way to start anew or keep going on your creative journey, whether you are feeling rusty when it comes to creativity and looking for ideas, or you are seeking ways to think or see in a new way, which is what creativity is all about.
Spend 15 minutes sketching, painting, drawing or mark-making with your non-dominant hand. What are you going to notice? Everything. Using your non-dominate hand makes you so much more likely to focus, even if you are being critical of what you are doing (stop that), and will allow you to see shapes and forms in new ways.
You won’t take anything for granted and you will find yourself understanding how layers and textures come into play. Two bits of advice: give yourself space to work twice as big as you usually do as non-dominant marks tend to be less
controlled. 2? Embrace the opportunity for happy accidents. Be ready to see something remarkable and you will!
Don’t Watch the Clock
One enemy of creativity is too much stress. Feeling a bit of pressure to do or make is a good thing, but don’t look over your shoulder as you create. And don’t punish yourself by mourning the time that has gone by.
With any creative project or piece of art you set out to create, keep the clock out of it. Even if you are in a time crunch, set a timer but don’t keep checking your phone or the clock.
Immerse yourself in your creativity completely during the time you can devote to it, whether that’s 15 minutes or hours of the day.
This from Jane’s book, Creative Strength Training:
I use the scavenger hunt approach whenever I get an idea for a new series. It always works! An idea occurs to me and sticks around long enough to gain traction. Consider the idea of “boundaries,” the theme of a series I created. Free association allows me to delve deeper into the topic. It works like this:
1. Write a word (I chose boundaries) at the top of a page of paper.
2. Set the timer for two minutes.
3. Write down whatever words come to mind during that time. Do not edit. Just write.
This list making produces a wealth of raw material, words that are already visual images and words with potential to take content deeper. I move to the acquisition of images based on the free-association list.
“Boundaries” translates into maps, fences, birds on a wire, ﬁsh swimming in schools, migration patterns and military intervention. Where I take those associations is up to me, but the remarkable process of “mining for meaning” has begun.
Take a color and make a list of objects, places, and people that fit under said color category. Scour the internet for inspirations in the color story of your choice and then, once you are filled to the brim with everything that blue-green-red-whatever embodies, make a painting with just that color and nothing else.
Include the objects you have listed or qualities of them, like their particular textures or outlines. Or you can simply paint a scene or object in monochrome. Make it a blue and only blue still life of a dish-filled sink or a red potted plant next to a red couch.
Make the color dimensional, play with pattern and marks and most definitely use several different brushes or size pens and markers to add even more variety. Not so one-note after all…!
Three Times the Charm
The saying is right when it comes to artfulness. Take an idea and sketch it three ways. Make the choice of a color more involved by trying three different hues out first. Paint a still life only after positioning and repositioning the objects differently three times or keep them where they are a paint the same composition differently — inspired by Cubism, Impressionism, and Abstract Expressionism for example.
What can become clear after awhile is that you don’t have to stop at just three. So make it four, make it 10. Keep pushing your vision and it will rise to the occasion every time.
Mix Your Media
It is timeworn advice but it is true. The more you experiment, the more creative paths will open up for you. If you aren’t sure where to start, start with paper. Collaged paper and paint go great together. Cut out words to include for a Pop Art punch. For more subtle, go tone on tone but use a lot of different texture.
But the best way is to use what you have at your fingertips and see what happens. Watercolor and pastel go great together and you might have both on hand. Don’t always keep your creative pursuits siloed. Then they can never teach you something new.
Choose Your Favorite Skill
What is it about art that you love (most)? Make a list if you really want to get your thoughts in order. Is it mixing colors or using colors? Sewing? Using one particular pen or brush because it just feels good?
Pick one and strategize how you can do the thing you love and only that thing, or how you can learn more about it or more to do with it. Do that and just that–cutting out everything you don’t like and soaking up your favorite parts of creativity.
Let Memory In
What is your first memory?
Your favorite place from childhood?
Your first memory of food? Of water? Of the color red?
What is your favorite memory?
Where did you meet your best friend or partner?
These questions are like unleashing a flash flood, right? Of sights and sounds, places and people … that is how provocative memory can be. How about letting memory play a key role in your creativity?
These memories are likely as vivid to you as any painting and they are uniquely yours. Let them lead you to make art or creative projects that are more personal. You may find it freeing and, if you choose to share the work with others, allow others to relate to you in a richer way.