How to Get Creative
And Enhance Your Inspirational Experiences
Mindful stitching is only one way to work this Slows Stitching Movement thing. There are so many other ways for you to get into touch with your surroundings and for your soul to become inspired.
I mentioned in my last webinar that we human beings just need to open our eyes, our ears, our sense of touch, and our sense of smell … Every one of our senses is perfectly designed to inspire us beyond our wildest imaginations and toward our loftiest creative goals — if we just pay attention.
Here are a bunch of tools I use to get me both inspired, out of any creative blocks, and back in tune with the creativity that is sometimes (often) trapped inside of me.
CHANGE UP YOUR ROUTINE
Doing the same thing, day in and day out, is enough to drive any human to distraction! I would like to blame my routine, or lack thereof, on my ADD but that simply is not the case. The fact is, like most people, we get into a rut because we keep doing what feels comfortable to us, then before we know it, our comfort zone turns into a prison that we can’t seem to escape from.
If you drive the same way to work every morning, take a new route a couple times a week. You might not want to try this when you’re running late, which is the story of my life, but actually plan some time and use a website like MapQuest.com to help you find new ways to get to where you’re going. You might be very surprised at what new colors, shapes, and ideas come to mind just by doing the same thing you’re doing every day (like driving to work) but doing it in a different way.
The same is true for you stay-at-home or work-at-home types, like me. Take it from me, I know how stifling working from home can be. And even know you may not have any set-in-stone plans or schedule to ‘lock you in’, I think if you really look at your life from day to day, you will find that you have also created a kind of daily routine that is affecting, negatively affecting, your creativity. You need some playtime!
Schedule some time, one time a week, to do something completely out of your comfort zone. If that means driving out of town to visit a town where you’ve never been, or driving to a quilt store, or craft store, or yarn store that you’ve never visited before, or hitting a couple local museums. I always find myself coming out of the museum full of new ideas for creative projects that are my own, and not something I’m ripping off from any of the artist’s work that I have just seen up close and personal, but only inspired by.
Changing your routine is like changing your thoughts. Changing your thoughts can change your life. Consciously change your routine and watch your creativity unfold before you.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF CREATIVE ME, ME, ME TIME!
You’re a big kid now, making your own decisions and schedule, and if you are not going to take care of yourself with some creative ‘me time’, then who is? It is impossible to fit creativity into the nooks and cranny of your busy life these days, I know. You must plan a slice of time where you allow yourself not only important downtime, but time to get to the nuts and bolts of your inspired creativity. Speaking of a routine… Just like you may schedule lunch at noon every day, schedule at least 20 to 30 minutes of creative time in your day as well. Maybe it’s the time after you wind down after work, or a half an hour after dinner, or from 10 to 11 o’clock in the morning. Or even plan to get up earlier than you usually do, and schedule a half an hour of creative time as soon as you finish your 3-page intuitive and daily writing. It’s a perfect time for open thought and pure, consciousness driven, creativity.
STOP BEING SUCH A SISSY
Years ago, when I first moved to San Francisco in the late 70s, there was a book that was popular by a man named, Gerald Jampolsky. The title of his book was called, “Love Is Letting Go of Fear.”
The general premise of his book is that there are only two emotions – love and fear. Everything we do, is a result of love or out of fear. I know it sounds a little airy-fairy but I have to agree. When I actually sit down and think about the choices I’ve made, it comes down to love or fear! Yikes!
I know that the most common opinion is that creative types like us are afraid of failure. I disagree. I think, more often than not, creative personalities are more afraid of success. Everybody loves a loser. You will be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t love a failure. Everybody loves you when you fail!!! Now, when you succeed, all the knives come out and people are gunning for you. I have been successful and I have been a failure and I can tell you from first-hand experience, success is much more frightening. Enough about me…
So you want more creativity in your life. What is stopping you? Is it fear of failure or is it fear of success? Have the choices you’ve made been made out of love (especially for yourself) or made because you were scared of your own shadow? There is no need to be embarrassed by any of your choices, or any of your feelings. Anything you’re feeling around this question, love or fear, is valid. The problem with most creative types is that we are not in touch with those feelings. So what to do?
Obviously… Get in touch with your damn feelings! The next time you find yourself “stuck” ask yourself if you’re stuck out of love or the fear of your creative success. That’s not hard to do. I’m not saying that it is pleasant to do, I’m just saying it’s not that difficult. Asking yourself these questions enough times, will ultimately bring you to the realization of what motivates you and you will soon be able to identify your ‘stuff ‘ quickly and with hardly a thought.
If you find yourself, more often than not, proceeding creatively in love, good for you. If you find yourself stuck and paralyzed by fear, then you’re a hot mess who needs a little work.
How does one move through creative fear? Just like you might walk through a fire. You just walk through it, quickly, focused, and being careful that you don’t get burned. One thing you do not do when walking through a fire is stop halfway through and let the flames consume you.
Set your creative intention, pick up your tools, feel the love or feel the fear, and start your creative exercises anyway. Start some thing, one thing. Just know that I have often said to myself, “this is scaring the crap out of me but here I go…”
Make friends with your fear and creative anxiety and move foreword with intention, an open heart, and busy hands.
MEET NEW PEOPLE
We’ve all been there: Sometimes we get bored with the people we love, feel comfortable with, and who we are always around. Just like a routine, surrounding yourself with the same people day in and day out ,or week in and week out, breeds boredom. It’s not that the people you’re surrounding yourself with aren’t terribly lovely, loyal friends and spouses who are wonderful. It’s just that, at a certain point, they may cease to inspire or stimulate us regularly, and inspiration and stimulation is exactly what we creative souls need.
I am not implying that you need to find a new circle of friends, hook up with an affair, or join some bogus new group that you don’t have time for or really do not have that much interest in. What I am suggesting is that you stop walking around so tight-lipped that one might think that you had your jaw wired shut.
For many people, what I’m about to suggest is one of those “fear” things. I’m asking you to engage people in public. Yes, it will seem a little awkward at first, but like creativity, and like priming the pump, once you start and get used to it, the rewards will be insurmountable and opportunities for inspiration and creativity will just be handed to you.
Make small talk with people in the grocery store checkout line. Make eye contact with people you walk past, maybe even say “hello” and exhibit that you might be open to the world and not some pre-programmed dolt. Every time you have an opportunity to chat with someone or meet someone new, do it! You have no idea the wealth of resources, ideas, contacts, and motivation that can come from a simple ‘hello’ and trite conversation while you’re waiting for coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts! Work the room! Yes, work it.
The more you know about people, and not through gossip or speculation or superficially, but the more you ask questions, find out about their tastes, their lives, what makes them tick, the more inspiration and wonderful ideas will be revealed to you, as a tool for your own creativity.
Okay, so you might be the shy type. That’s too bad. Shy works when you’re in second grade. Shy does not work when your 153 years old. Speak up and connect with the people who share the planet with you, then reap the creative rewards.
How many of us walk through our day-to-day lives and never bother to look around us, to see what experiences are taking place everywhere we are? How many times to you consciously take note of what smells are around you? Did we completely miss something we might have found interesting right in front of our noses? Then we wonder why we are creatively bankrupt and why all of the artsy stuff we create looks like unimpressive supercrap.
For the moment, you are on this earth whether you like it or not. You might as well pay attention to what’s going on around you. Take advantage of the creative gifts that are being handed to you, by hundreds a day, that you are just not noticing.
Like The Slow Stitching Movement suggests, you need to become invested in your life and in what you’re doing every moment of every day, just as you might become part of your stitching project with intentional foucus. When you listen to the radio, listen for the subtext or the lyrics of the song rather than just the tune or ad copy or jingle. What kind of creative feelings does that experience evoke? Pay attention.
When you’re taking the garbage can out to the curb for pickup, open your eyes and see what is new in the neighborhood, be it plant life, or smells, or sound. Let’s face it, nothing could be more drab and trivial than dragging your garbage to the front curb. But if you pay attention you will see , hear, smell, or have the opportunity to feel something that will stimulate your muse and lead you down a trail of creativity and inspired productivity.
How many of us have spent a wallet full of money to put art on the walls of our house, yet never really look at the content. Pay attention! Look at the painting hanging in your dining room or living room. What can you come up with, creatively, that inspires you through this painting – a painting that you walk past 350,000 times a day and never see? Pay attention.
When you’re walking through the mall what are the designers and graphic artists and greeting card creators and product developers (all of whom make up beaucoup bucks) waving in front of your face to inspire you everywhere you turn? Pay attention. A 10 minute walk through any store or shopping center should give you enough creative and inspirational material, should you remain conscious, to keep you busy for three years! Pay attention.
Pay attention to every part of your life, even the” insignificant” parts, you never know where your next amazingly creative idea might come from.
BEGIN AT THE BEGINNING… AGAIN
Sometimes even the best ideas turn out to be your worst creative experience. And with that, sometimes you just have to toss everything away you were thinking or were working on and start from the beginning.
So many of us get so invested in what we think is the right way to be creative, or the right intuitive process, or the right whatever…and sometimes it’s not the right anything and it gets us stuck in creative belch!
I think it might just be human nature that once we’ve invested time, or energy, or money into a project that we continue with it even when, in our gut, we know it’s just not working.
What? Do you think you live forever? Why waste time on something that’s not going to work, or looks like hell, or isn’t your vision, or something you’ve lost interest in? The time you invest in trying to salvage something that you just know isn’t working is time you will never get back. Sometimes it’s best to just scrap it and move on. Even better, give that hellish project away to somebody else. Often times, a fresh set of eyes can create something wonderful from your nothing. I know you’ve heard about making a silk purse from a sow’s ear. Sometimes that happens – but only once you send it on its way.
Sometimes making the decision to start from scratch is not just about working on some kind of tangible project like an afghan, or quilt, or needlepoint project, but it is also true of your artistic reputation, your job, or how you’re seen, or see yourself, in the world. Sometimes tossing it all and beginning again is the only logical choice. Don’t be afraid to toss the junk and start again.
When things aren’t working for me, I start from the very beginning. It may take chutzpah, but were all born with a little of that. Ditch what isn’t working in your life – people, places, or things – and start fresh. Sometimes, it’s the only way.
OPEN A DICTIONARY
Words are your creative friend. Learn to see them, feel them, and allow yourself to be inspired by them.
Feeling like you are at a creative dead-end? Open a book. Just like listening to music, reading a book can invoke and stimulate many creative images that you can tap into for your own work.
When you’re reading a novel, read with intention. Don’t just look at the words, the sentences, and how the story is progressing, but literally stop and jump into the structure of the words, the imagery, the sound, the rhythm. Doing this will open up another part of your creative mind. Yes, it might take you 3 1/2 weeks to get through “Good Night Moon,” but at least you’ll get more out of it than a bedtime story.
Make it a point to never read anything without getting at least one germ of a creative idea from it. There are times when I have been caught in that ugly uninspired rut when I simply close my eyes, open a dictionary, point to a page, and find the word that my finger is closest to, and begin my next creative pursuit using that word as my inspiration.
I ask myself “What image does that word evoke? What color is that word? What shape? What does it feel like? How does it make me feel? What kind of feelings does it bring up in me?” Answering those questions, no matter how trite they may seem, can begin helping you unlock that creative block you had been experiencing. Of course, it’s not enough just to answer these questions, you actually have to put those answers into practice. Immediately start drawing, painting, a fiber art or mixed media project, stitching, free-form embroidery, or whatever it takes to illustrate what that word represents to you, in the art medium you choose to use.
Like everything else, you will get better at this with practice. Before you know it, simply opening a book and pointing to a word, will start you off on your day’s journey of creative enlightenment.
GET YOUR ASS OUT OF BED AND OFF THE SOFA
If you want to be a productive, creative soul in this lifetime, if you want to engage in life rather than allowing it to pass you by, if you want to experience the creative gifts that living in this world offers you as a talented human being, then you have to get your ass out of bed in the morning.
You can’t read the newspaper in bed and expect to get a lot of work done. You can’t open up a novel and wile away the day away reading and expect to be creative and have something to show for it. You can’t screw around all morning and think you’re going to get anything done in the afternoon because statistically it just doesn’t happen.
I understand that we all have our own biorhythms, better times than others when we work during the day, some of us are night owls some of us are morning people, and some of us just waste time between the sheets as though something miraculous is going to appear on our craft table.
Like you, I have often fantasized that I was the main character in The Shoemaker and the Elves, waking up every day to beautiful new creations and handmade products. That just didn’t work for me. Yes, I would leave rotary cutter on the table along with a very generous supply of fabric, thread, plug-in my sewing machine, and a pair of sharpened Gingher scissors… Yet, at the end of the day, if I didn’t get my ass out of bed nothing was completed. Nobody showed up while I slept away my lack of creative motivation and vision.
TURN OFF THE TV
Several months ago, we had our television cable disconnected. I went through a withdrawal like a junkie who ran out of methadone. I literally lived though the stages of disbelief, anger, sadness, depression, and finally acceptance.
On the other side of those feelings, I do not miss television a bit, the household is saving well over $150 a month on cable bills, and I find myself with more energy and focused time to create.
Maybe, just maybe, you have more intestinal fortitude than I do and can actually turn off your television and walk away from it for an extended period of time to pursue your creative aspirations. I was not that strong. So, un-cabled went the TV.
I cannot imagine ever having my cable turned back on again. I don’t feel, for a second, like I am missing a thing, every news item or every bit of important information I need I can find on the Internet, and I have actually found my habit of television-watching to suck my energy dry as well as any creativity I might have had percolating in the gray matter I called my brain.
I know this may seem radical for a lot of you, because it seemed radical to me. But I can also tell you, what I’ve gained from axing Comcast from my living experience, can’t even compare to the enormity of what I thought I was losing.
I don’t think anyone would debate me on the fact that we need oxygen to live. But I would like to take this one step farther, and that is we need oxygen to be creative. Yes we have to breathe, but if you want to take advantage of some fabulous creative inspiration, you need to get some oxygen, some real hyped-up oxygen, into that blood of yours! That means – and I loathe to say the words – cardiovascular exercise.
Luckily for me, I am built like Craig Louganis in his prime (see how creativity can work in you life?). But a naturally well-built body doesn’t do much in stimulating creativity. You need to get some oxygen in those lungs of yours.
Many, many creative people swear that short and easy walks around their neighborhood, through the woods, or on a trail, helps then in myriad ways to clarify their creative process and to stimulate new ideas.
I need warn you, that if you are walking for health benefits and weight loss, it is fine to walk as a group or with a friend. If you are walking to capitalize on some creative inspiration or clarity, then this is a task you must do alone. You can’t be talking for 3 1/2 miles and expect some kind of creative genius to seep into your noggin.
A 20 minute a day, easy walk, will not only prolong your life and keep you physically healthy, but it will also get rid of the cobwebs that are blocking the terrific ideas that are lying dormant inside of you. Put on your Adidas and hit the dirt.
GIVE UP GOALS
Nothing ever came to me, no hint of genius or process, as a result of having had a goal. If you are goal oriented and you are having problems trying to find some creativity in those cells of yours, then give up your goals. Simply kick them to the curb. Rip up your list. Take back what you told people. Fly solo.
If I had a nickel every time I said the following, you would be reading this blog while I was drinking champagne with Elle McPherson in St. Tropez: “Creativity is about process. It is about your intentional and meditative and creative process and never about a goal and/or a result of your creative process.”
There are times when you may have a creative goal. Art directors have a gazillion creative goals. Those who design crochet work, quilting, or needlework projects for magazines and books have a gazillion creative goals and deadlines. But in order to get inspired, in order to actually become creative, your focus needs to be strictly on the process of your creativity and not on the result of your work. If every creative thing you do has a goal attached to it, then you are robbing yourself of some prime fabulousness by jumping into, and swimming in, your process.
You wonder why you’re not creative, why you’re stuck? It’s because all of your energy is being placed on some imaginative piece of art that hasn’t even been stitched yet! Let go of that kind of thinking. It will undermine everything that you do creatively. You have got to work your process to get wonderful creative results. Logical steps 1, 2, and 3, doesn’t allow for any flights of fancy or new ideas. If you want stellar creative stitched work as your legacy, give up the deadlines and toss the goals…
IGNORE IMMEDIATE GRATIFICATION
You are not weird. Why? Because everyone loves immediate gratification. If not now, then yesterday. It’s just the way we are hardwired. But as a creative stitcher, immediate gratification will be your certain death.
Taking your time with your stitching, striving for excellence, developing and mastering new technique, takes time and patience (which I have little of). There is no such thing as immediate gratification when you’re trying to do excellent stitching work. When you give up on wanting immediate gratification, you are opening up to a whole new way of looking at your creative process and your project at hand.
See, this is what I learned: Life is full of contradictions. For instance, if I am in a rush to finish work by a certain time, I find that if I keep on glancing at the clock every couple of seconds, time begins to drag.
I know that I get frustrated with having to wait in line at the grocery store, that’s why I make it a point of getting into the longest line I can find. Once I do that, all of my antsy anxiety vanishes. When I get frustrated trying to find a parking space next to where I need to go, I consciously decide to park as far away as I can. That kind of choice takes away all resentment, angst, and gives me the feeling of being in control. The same is true with immediate gratification in your creative work.
Give yourself five hours for a 15 minute project. Give yourself three years for a one year project. Give up any expectation of having anything completed. Instead, allow yourself to be surrounded and enveloped in the process of your creative work rather than the outcome and expectation of immediate gratification. When you do this, you will be setting yourself up for creative success rather than frustrating and aggravating feelings of discontent.
It’s all in the way you look at things, in the way you experience things, all of the time that makes a difference.
Is your creativity in critical condition? Is nothing turning you on, nothing stimulating you? Have you lost interest in everything you were once very interested in? My suggestion is to unplug.
Yes, this is very different than just unhooking your cable television set and ordering Netflix every evening. This is genuinely unplugging: No cell phones or texts. No computer. No radio. No television. No videos. No novels, No news or newspaper. No magazines. Nothing. Yup, it’s monastic at best.
When you completely unplug from the world for about a week or so, you will begin to feel, see, and imagine things that you haven’t been able to do in quite some time. The void of constant stimulation will actually stimulate your creative muscle. You will find yourself with so much extra time that it might cause you some anxiety. Work through that anxiety while embarking on your process of a new creative stitching project.
I will not lie to you, this is hard-core. And while I have done it, I can’t say I enjoyed it but I can say I received many inspirational gifts as a result of the experience. Now, to be really honest, I had to begin this process 8 or 10 times before I could finally get through a few days, let alone a week. It was very difficult for me, but I finally did it, and my creativity was busted wide open. (Like it had a choice… What else was there to do?)
TO GET YOUR CREATIVE MOJO BACK:
That’s right, FAUX create. That means creating something, as an outsider artist, that you have no training in whatsoever. So, if you are a master crochet artist, start working a project using polymer clay. If you are a cross stitching marathoner, try your hand at creating a scrapbook page. If you are a master quilter, pick up a set of super-cheap watercolor paints that at your local craft store and start painting.
I know and you know, you are going to suck at any of these things that you have no experience with. But that’s not the point of doing them. The point of engaging in faux creation is to push yourself outside of your creative comfort zone, which will then propel you forward in your art medium of choice in a more focused and imaginative way. Again, this is one of the exercises that will ‘prime the pump” of your creativity and get you started.
TAKE 3 PICS A DAY
Either use the camera you got as a high-school graduation gift, or the camera attached to your smart phone, and make it a personal goal to shoot three inspirational photos a day. Now, when I say inspirational photos, I’m not talking about becoming Annie Leibowitz . I’m not suggesting you put any amount of time into composition, light, or color. What I am suggesting is that you take three pictures of day of things that inspire you.
Here are some of the random shots that I’ve taken for my inspiration photos. Some are from my travels, others from shopping, in shop windows, pavement, walls, entrances, even a floor I saw on television! etc.…
None of my photos may do a thing for you. But they inspire me. When I’m feeling creatively bankrupt, I simply have to look through all of the photographs that I have taken and downloaded on my computer, in order to find something that will hit a nerve that will start me in a new direction or help me continue on the creative road that I’ve begun.
When you set a goal of taking 3 or 5 or 10 photos a day, you actually begin to force yourself to see things that you wouldn’t have even noticed before having to reach your daily allotment of photographs.
This idea is very similar to Oprah’s gratitude journal. Every day Oprah would have to write one thing she was grateful for in her journal. It doesn’t seem so difficult except you run out of things to be grateful for on a conscious level. By committing to one two or three grateful experiences per day, means that your awareness of things you should or could be grateful for comes to the fore of your engagement in your life. Not only do you find the minimum of journal entries that you are grateful for, through this process you begin to see many more things that you could be grateful for.
It works the same with taking photographs of things that inspire you. If you have to take 3 a day, as I am asking you to do, you will find yourself taking many more photos a day, just because you are forcing yourself to become more aware! Plus, your mind and your creative openness will be so in tune with what’s around you, that everything will begin to look inspirational. Yeah, it’s a mind game, but it works and it works well- to your benefit – to help you see inspiration everywhere around you.
MAKE TRASH YOUR CREATIVE CASH!
Years ago, I taught a sun dyeing technique on fabric at a local quilt shop. Before I actually taught the technique, I took my class on a scavenger hunt around the town of Clinton, New Jersey, through the parks, along the business section, and all around the town. I asked the students to search for interesting shapes and for things on the ground that they might be able to take back to the workroom to use as designs for their sun dyed fabric. For some of the students, it was a difficult task to begin. But not long into our scavenger hunt even the most reticent of class participants began to find more and more and more creative opportunity in the trash on the ground.
Feeling creatively stuck? Take a scavenger hunt. Search the ground for trash and clues that will stimulate your creativity. Keep an open mind and an open heart and it will happen.
Just want to say that “I know”
I want you to know, that I am well aware that if those of you who feel like you need to jumpstart your creative process will want to try all of these tips and tricks at one time. You may very well end up mumbling to yourself while curled in a fetal position in some random room. It could drive you crazy.
You do not need to try every single one of these ideas in order to stimulate your creativity, although you might try a few. Some of these techniques will work for you and some of them will not. But if you’re desperate enough to start to get your creativity flowing again or to enhance your creative process and pump up the volume on the projects you are already engaged in, then you should try one or two of the ideas that appeal to you.
We are born creative and our creativity needs to be acknowledged and released from our psyches. Ignoring the call to create something wonderful from nothing, out of fear or being stuck, because of overstimulation or your unwillingness to take some time to take care of your creative self, is sad. Without taking action, the resentments, mild depression, lethargy, and creative blocks will continue until you do the work to release them. Start here. Be gentle with yourself. Like life, creativity and finding your inner voice is a process, not a goal or end result.
More blocks I’ve been working on
This week was almost mind-numbingly busy. I hosted another live Slow Stitching webinar on Thursday. I taught a full day class a local quilt shop on Saturday. And I’m working on some other projects to be announced in the future. It was insane! I’m still behind.
This week, I conceptualized a few more blocks and started the process on each. I have not done any detail work on any of them. The Guardian Angel needs embroidered wings in iridescent blues, my homeless youth needs finger detail (just had enough time to finish the brickwork), the Sister of Charity needs a cross on the left side appliquéd to the patch, and the Pittsburgh skyline and fountain needs a whole lot of detail work.
I did design several more blocks for my legacy quilt. But none of them are even near finished as of today. I’m going to show you what I have finished anyway, and will show them to you again once they are completed to the point where I want to show them to you but not totally 100% completed – that will be for my final reveal in a year or so.
The goal, is to make time every day, which I have, to allow your creativity to come forth. No hard and fast goals or time limits. I want these blocks to be perfect and that will take time and energy. Here they are in progress.
I don’t know where to start. Everything you wrote is so inspiring. I love the idea of three (or more) photos a day and am definitely going to start that. Back to carrying my camera with me whenever I go out. As for talking with strangers, yes it works. I used to be painfully shy, but now will say hi to anyone and have made some wonderful friends that way. Time to get off the iPad and get creative. Thank you, Mark, for all you do and for your long distance friendship. Love you!
Ummm…. my head is spinning and it feels good! I think I’ll have a glass of wine and go for a walk by myself 😉
Really…. thanks Mark – thrilled that I took your webinar and that I took the time to read and digest this post. Remind me, when we meet, that I owe you! PS – It’s kind of ironic that I spent the day visiting two local museums and drooling over the inspirational vintage quilts…. Perfect!
OMG! The Sisters of Charity! Couldn’t miss that one; had them as teachers and principals for 8 years. Your silouettes are wonderful. I look forward to every post you write.
I am rereading a number of these posts. I have plenty of projects going and am happy with most of them but I keep thinking I want to do something more, a more thoughtful project done over time instead of racing my way to the finish….sounds like I am getting on this train!
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