Monday, September 14, 2009

Fundamentals: Creativity

Creativity is a mysterious phenomenon. It is ethereal; it is fleeting. Since creativity is such an important part of my work as an artist, I thought it prudent to research the principles behind creativity so I could have more breakthroughs and less creative blocks. As I dove into my research in the past few weeks, I started to realize that the process of becoming intensely creative was analogous to the process athletes use to prepare for their game. Sure, football players scrimmage in order to prepare for their games, but they do so much more. They run drills, lift weights, practice the fundamentals of football. I realized that in order to create some really great stuff, I needed to practice the fundamentals of creativity - namely, I needed to make stuff for the sole purpose of, well, making stuff.

The creative fundamentals are outlined in great detail on The Accidental Creative, a website and blog founded by Todd Henry, who describes himself as "the arms dealer for the creative revolution." Henry preaches "unnecessary creating" in order to have enough resources to "create on demand," that is, to create for a living. Henry's podcasts and blog entries are incredibly articulate and insightful. I had always had a hunch about some of this stuff, and he was able to verbalize it and provide an in-depth analysis of it. One topic that I found to be a great relief was that you need be intentional about what you allow your mind to take in. "You create what you take in," Henry says in one of his podcasts, a reference to the old adage, "You are what you eat." He describes the importance of becoming very intentional about observing the world around you and drawing from everyday things and events for ideas.

In the last few weeks, I have been incredibly intentional as to what I have allowed in my mind... and have found not only that I have become much more creative in my "art life," but I've become a much happier person. For example:

I have both spiritual and creative devotional time.
Devotional time is critical for both a healthy spiritual life, and a healthy creative life. My church provides a daily devotional sheet that tracks along with each week's message, and I find that making time for these small spiritual nuggets to be incredibly satisfying to my soul. Along the same line, I recently purchased a book called Crafter's Devotional: 365 Days of Tips, Tricks, and Techniques for Unlocking Your Creative Spirit by Barbara R. Call. This book has a small "devotional" to complete each day, and I have found that it has really stretched my creativity by encouraging me to try projects I never would have thought to try otherwise.

I have banished TV news from my home.
I don't watch the news on television because it makes me angry and depressed. I allow myself a cursory look at Google News in the afternoon so I can still be informed, but not overcome. Also, my husband keeps up on the news pretty regularly, so I can count on him to fill in the gaps in my knowledge. If there is something I want to know about, I am trained in research, so I research it, intentionally, on my own.

I watch my favorite movies.
When I watch these movies, I not only absorb the plot, but I also intentionally observe things like the cinematography and artistry of the film as well. Sometimes I even take notes while I'm watching so I can figure out exactly why this movie is a favorite. This has helped me to identify my own style and what inspires my artwork.

I watch cartoons.
Cartoons rock, and how can you not be in touch with (1) your inner child and (2) your creativity whilst watching cartoons, especially the old classics like Rocky & Bullwinkle, Wacky Races, and Looney Tunes? Boomerang is fast becoming my favorite channel.

I act silly.
Luckily I come from a long line of silly people. All I have to do is hang out with my extended family to tap into my inner silliness, but when I am not able to be around them (most of them live far away), I have taken to participating in childlike activities, like going up to the nearby elementary school and swinging on the swings, or playing a good old fashioned game of HORSE with my husband. I am thinking of buying some Lincoln Logs.

I listen to great music.
Which is pretty subjective, right? What am I listening to right now? Intergalactic by the Beastie Boys. Regardless of your taste, make a favorites playlist on your iPod and jam out. You'll feel more creative, I promise.

I am making my house pretty.
And really, really organized. My former life as a process engineer has been incredibly helpful here. The same principles I learned about Lean Manufacturing have translated directly to my home and the processes I perform around the house, like cleaning, cooking, etc. I spend less time looking for things, and more time doing fun things. My home is becoming a place of inspiration and a reflection of our personalities, which makes it a fun place to be.

I laugh. Hard.
Need I say more? Laughter really is the best medicine - and one of the best creativity performance enhancers around.

I make time for my friends.
I have a few really close friends who are just like my family. Spending time with them is good for my soul. Last week, I was fortunate enough to spend two days shopping, dining, laughing, and crafting with my best friend. We had a blast, and I spend the next two days pouring creative ideas out on paper. Coincidence? I think not.

I limit my exposure to negative people.
We all have those people in our life who take the wind out of our sails just by being around them. They might even be friends and otherwise great people, but they are constantly emitting negative energy. Maybe they complain, or even attempt to engage you in negative conversation about other people. Granted, sometimes these people truly need a friend to listen, or they are going though hard times, and I definitely make time to be a positive person in their life to help them out. However, I only do this when I am feeling emotionally strong. When I am feeling emotionally and creatively vulnerable, I make sure to take care of my own mind and spirit first - since spreading my own negative emotions does nothing to help the other person.

I write.
Journaling is not only incredibly therapeutic, it can also help to spark creative ideas. Each morning immediately upon rising, I write three pages of whatever is on my mind. Morning is the time of day when I feel most creative. I often wake up with a great idea for a project, or an interesting thought. If I don't write this down, these gems will evaporate quickly. Sometimes when I go back and read what I wrote, it makes no sense at all, which at least makes me laugh (see above), reminding me of that one episode of Seinfeld.

I work out.
Engaging in some form of physical activity each day not only fills my brain with endorphins, but increases my ability to focus for longer periods of time. I am much happier and more productive when I go for a run or lift weights. So the next time you don't feel like working out, remember the benefits of this activity span far beyond a great bod.

I eat right.
I have recently made the commitment to stay away from excessive amounts of sugar, because abrupt increases and decrease in blood sugar are not only dangerous to your health, but those spikes also pretty much annihilate the ability to think and solve problems. Eating with keeping a constant blood sugar level in mind will make you healthier and more productive, too.

I get some fresh air each day.
The photos from this post are from a few days ago, when I decided to go for a drive in the country and "document" it from the driver's seat. I randomly snapped photos without looking through the lens, and got some pretty interesting ones. I had fun, got some fresh fall air, and came home smiling.

Whether you are trying to be more creative for work, or you just want to feel better, the principles outlined above are sure to put you on the path to either. I would love to hear other peoples' ideas for embracing the fundamentals of creative growth, so be sure to leave a comment with your thoughts. And have a great week!

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