Find Your Inspiration And Create Original Work!

When first learning to paint, I wanted my paintings to look exactly like the references I used. I desperately hoped to acquire skills and technique so I could recreate the work of other artists. I searched for watercolor instructors to take classes so I could learn how to copy! After all, isn’t that how we learn? We copy and practice, taking advantage of another artist’s suggestions about color, style, and composition. Over time, I became an excellent copier, and I became more confident in my painting skills. However…

MOVING BEYOND COPYING.

Copying started to bore me. Ugh! My paintings were technically well done, but there was not much of me or my personality in them. For instance, my painting of a luna moth on tree bark was accurate, but now it seems a bit flat and static to me. At some point I realized that there had to be more! 

Luna Moth On Bark Watercolor Painting.

Things definitely got more interesting to me when I began to alter and interpret references. In a painting of Boston Marathon runners, for instance, I removed some runners and transformed one into one of my sons, who ran cross-country. I painted my first granddaughter as the young girl on a carousel. Another granddaughter I painted with a pile of gingersnaps that she had absconded with. This was a much more satisfying way to paint!

Wren and Gingersnaps Watercolor Painting.

I really began to want to move beyond copying. I soon yearned to learn how to design my own work and tell my own stories in my art. At the same time I continued to study watercolor technique and composition, knowing that I still had more to learn.

PERSONALIZE.

I don’t think anyone can tell you how to create art work in your own style. No one can tell you what issues are important to you. You have to do that for yourself. We are each unique individuals who see the world based on our own experiences and interests. Your style, like your handwriting, cannot help but come out. But style is more likely to emerge when we stop copying every last detail of an image and begin to interpret references.

Listen to yourself (notice your feelings) to better understand how to create work that has meaning for you. Worry less about whether your art is ‘good enough’ or what others will think of your work.

HOW?

Sometimes you don’t know where to start to create ‘original’ art. I remember not knowing how to design a painting or even what I wanted to paint. I felt at a loss and uncertain. I had to get to know myself better and become more confident even while I was learning more about art. I needed to reconnect with my own intuition and become more aware of my own preferences and feelings. And trust myself. That kind of growth is not likely to happen all at once – it certainly didn’t for me. I often felt that I knew better what I didn’t like than what I did like. Gradually, though, I noticed being drawn to some topics, some compositions more than others. I found myself wanting to eliminate certain parts of a reference or to combine two reference photos to build a scene more interesting to me. I was even excited to take some of my own photos to use for reference. With time, I began to acknowledge my own independence and value my own opinion. It remains an ongoing process; it isn’t always easy. I continue to wean myself from over-dependence on others’ photo references. 

LOOK INWARD.

To begin to reduce a dependence on copying and using other artist’s ideas, start to look inward. Look for your own inspiration. What  interests you? What excites you? What gives you joy? What kind of painting do you enjoy seeing or creating? 

Your heart knows the way. Run in that direction. (Rumi)

Experiment and try new things. Notice where you lose track of time and fall into the enjoyment of painting. Are you fascinated by landscapes and paintings of the outdoors? Do you prefer flowers, or a still life? Could you spend all day exploring colors? Does it thrill you to see paint flow? Or would you rather paint lots of details close up?

There is no formula. What do you want to create? What would you paint if no one was looking? What makes you happy? What do you always return to in your art? That is your inspiration.

What do I like? I find I really enjoy painting landscapes, the outdoors, or scenes relating to the disappearing traditions of New England. I seem to be searching for the forgotten, the lost, the answer that’s always right around the corner – I always seem to be searching. I’m drawn again and again to images of dirt roads, doorways, windows, streams and rivers moving on, distant hills, fog and mist. 

Flowing Forward Watercolor Painting.
Tristan’s Fall Road Watercolor Painting.

DON’T FORCE.

You cannot force insight or creativity or intuition, but you can be open to them. Find a place of calm inside yourself, not of fear, self-doubt, or anxiety, to better notice your thoughts and intuitions. In other words, a fearless open mind will invite creativity in. 

Personally, I find it hard to ‘let go’ of striving, to create a place of acceptance and calm in my mind. My tendency is to keep pushing, to produce results, which doesn’t always end very well. I have to keep telling myself that things happen in their own time, on their own schedule, sometimes when you least expect it. After all, some of my best painting experiences happened unexpectedly when my hand and my brush took off and left my ego behind; then the painting somehow flowed and took on a life of its own. 

Pitcher and Pears Watercolor Painting.

You could describe this letting go and being open as Annie Dillard did in Pilgrim At Tinker’s Creek. She describes one way of seeking not “as actual pursuit” but as putting “myself in the way of“ what is being sought. She adds “Something might come; something might go.” Roger Ebert said it another way. “ The muse visits during the act of creation, not before. Don’t wait for her. Start alone.” In other words, keep on painting but don’t try to force anything.

Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working. (Pablo Picasso)

HOW COULD I DO IT?

A helpful resource to build for yourself is a FILE of inspiring images. You can cut out pictures from magazines (of colors you like, shapes that might work in your art, interesting people, beautiful vistas). Photos taken on a walk could be added to your inspiration file. Gather online images from Pinterest, Facebook groups (such as ‘Landscape References Photos For Artists’ or ‘Free Reference Photos For Artists’ ), or websites of copyright free images (pexels.com , unsplash.com , https://publicdomainarchive.com/index.html , watercolor world (https://www.watercolourworld.org/), Library of Congress (http://www.loc.gov/pictures/), British Library Copyright Free Images (https://www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/albums)) . Check museum websites for copyright free images ( for example, https://www.metmuseum.org/art/the-collection ).

You can file or organize images by topic to make later retrieval easier.

I look for inspiring images from my photos taken on walks, by scrolling various online copyright free sites, in books, and compiled images from  several of my photographer friends. I search for shapes, colors, themes to adapt for my art.

You could visit museums near you to look for inspiration. Start sketching, whether everyday objects, shapes, or the view out your window, to create images to inspire your art work. Go for walks (and snap your own photos) in the woods or parks, around your town or city. Notice and take note of what interests you.

IN PRACTICE.

Be open to new ideas. When you choose to adapt a reference, use your intuition and imagination to create something original. A reference can be a mere starting point for your painting. This approach often works for me because I think of each painting as a kind of puzzle to be solved. I enjoy the ‘detective’ work of figuring out how I might approach and create a painting. 

Try to notice your own reactions as your work progresses. Does it feel right when you eliminate parts or simplify details? Do the changes make your statement stronger? Could you combine several photos into one painting? Rearrange objects to emphasize your center of interest? Make sure to include both soft and hard edges, maybe lost edges, to encourage the viewer’s imagination? What if you change the mood, season, or time of day? Try to include some visual energy in the painting. Varying the quality of light can create contrast or a glow so that you are not recreating a flat, dull scene. Change the viewpoint by zooming in for a closeup or pulling out to create a distant vista. Altering your color choices can also give a very different feel to the work. Or you can totally shake things up by taking only colors or shapes from your reference to create abstract paintings. You can even paint completely from your imagination, without any reference.

FINALLY.

Experiment. Ask yourself, is this painting working for me? Take credit for taking action even if it doesn’t work. Then keep going! Finding your own inspiration can be exhilarating!

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After Watercolor Basics… What Next?

STAGE I. THE BASICS.

Anyone with desire and focus, can learn to paint with watercolors. The process, however, can take a very long time, even years, and true artists never stop learning (nor do they want to). But let’s assume that you have learned what materials you need and the fundamental techniques you need to use those materials. What comes next?  When I began to paint in 2008, I didn’t know. I don’t think I even knew that I was considering such a question. What was important to me at the time was improving! I wanted to get more proficient. In this post, I intend to share some of the steps I’ve taken in my process of learning watercolor, a few questions I’ve asked myself, and several concerns I’ve had along the way.      

Red Bumpers Watercolor Painting.

STAGE II. COPYING & CLOSE OBSERVATION.

Beyond the elementary techniques, I found that what I wanted was to portray my reference images as accurately as possible. I quickly learned that close observation was required. But as an artist, I found ‘seeing’ isn’t simple.

Most of the time, we look at things with only part of our attention.  We see only what we expect to see, often assigning a label to every image.  For instance, if what we are looking at is a ‘tree,’ we may not explore carefully what is really there.  This habit of not paying close attention keeps us from actually LOOKING at things.  In the everyday world, we quickly categorize and move on, perhaps in part because there seems to be so much information.

When I started painting, I would choose an image to paint, and the first thing I’d notice was a lot of detail. I was distracted by details, as perhaps you are, too. What do you do with all that detail? How do you know which details are important? Those questions overwhelmed me. I had been told to ‘look carefully’ at a reference, but the more I looked, the more confusing detail I saw. Over time, however, I began to believe that the trick had to be focusing on something else, not trying to capture every tiny detail.  Focusing on small details, like individual leaves, or trying to include every tree trunk or grass blade in a painting, didn’t work well.

Thus, to paint more successfully, I forced myself to slow down. I tried NOT to look at small details first, but instead to examine and study the shapes, values, and colors that made up the larger framework of each scene. ‘Seeingdoes mean focusing attention, looking closely, but especially at the arrangement of shapes. For example, where is the light hitting the tree branches?  Can you see through the branches?  What is the overall shape of the tree?  Are branches straight, upturned, crooked, rough?  Is the tree lopsided or symmetrical?  Are the highlights a different color from the shadows?  What is the weather, and how does it affect the appearance of the ‘tree’?  By asking such questions and looking carefully, I began to more accurately paint what I SAW, NOT what I THOUGHT I saw.

As I became more familiar with and practiced at painting, I began to see more subtle color, more nuanced detail, more understated tones. It seems that ‘seeing’ cannot be forced and may only develop gradually over time, with experience, and when one is ready. With practice, however, we can expect to notice more and sooner, perhaps even noting details that others miss or take for granted.

Forsythia In Vases Watercolor Painting.

DRAWING HELPS YOU OBSERVE CAREFULLY.

Drawing trains the mind, hand, and eye to work together.  Many beginning artists may avoid drawing altogether if they can, feeling that their drawing skills are not good.  However, you should not feel obliged to render precise drawings of what you wish to paint.  Do not let your concerns about drawing ability or drawing technique deter you. I found that even sketching a quick, rough thumbnail required me to consider what was important in a scene. One of the main purposes of drawing is to TRAIN yourself to see shapes and spaces more accurately – to ‘see’ like an artist and keep the big picture in mind.  By keeping details to a minimum, just getting some information down without stressing, you can help yourself to see.  

More specifically, you should look for basic SHAPES and notice how they are connected.  Find larger shapes first; then fit smaller shapes into them.  See the image as a whole; and only then concentrate on individual components.  Distracting details are only decoration on the surface of these shapes. Squinting your eyes often helps you to see beyond any unnecessary detail. Concentrate; work slowly and intently.  Give yourself the time to observe and take in information before rushing to produce an image.  Ultimately, the goal is to be able to perceive what you see as totally abstract forms, values, lines, and color, as in a jigsaw puzzle. You must shift your perspective. Remember that shadows are shapes, as are reflections.  Backgrounds have shape and should act as frames for the subject of a painting.  Only when you can ‘see’ in this way will you begin to be able to suggest three-dimensional reality on your flat, two-dimensional paper.

Frederick Franck, artist and philosopher, says in The Zen of Seeing/Drawing:  “I have learned that what I have not drawn I have never really seen, and that when I start drawing an ordinary thing I realize how extraordinary it is, sheer miracle . . . .”  So do not hesitate to sketch and draw what you intend to paint.  As you draw, you will notice which details are important and sharpen the mind/hand/eye coordination necessary to improve your painting skills.  Drawing is a skill that requires practice and time, just like any other ability (including learning the techniques of painting).  The skills and mental processes necessary for drawing are the same as those you use when painting with a brush.

White Primroses Watercolor Painting.

STAGE III. BEGIN TO DESIGN, PLAN, & SIMPLIFY.

When I began to feel more confident reproducing an image before me, I sometimes found myself wishing I could improve a composition; the reference pictures I found weren’t quite satisfying. Occasionally I wanted to combine two photos instead of having to copy one. In other instances, I wondered if some of the components in a picture might be better relocated to another section of the picture, even left out. A tree or a building might have been blocking what I thought was the most interesting section of the picture.

At this point, I also began to take some of my own reference photos, to create a view I desired. I essentially inched my way toward DESIGNING my paintings, seeing what was in front of me but arranging and modifying the information to actually improve the picture, making it something I liked better and felt was more effective. 

Eventually it dawned on me that this desire to improve a reference might be the start to a new stage in painting for me. To improve a painting, I could forget about ‘reproducing’ nature. I could start to REARRANGE it! I could take what I liked and ignore what I didn’t want to include. Definite rules about design and composition existed and could greatly improve a painting. I wanted to learn them. 

Mastering Composition by Ian Roberts is a comprehensive guide and excellent resource that can help you learn more about composition. 

These blog posts might also be of interest if you want to know more: “Composition!?!”, (5/7/2020), https://leemuirhaman.com/2020/05/07/, and “Designing A Strong Painting With Good Composition!”, (10/16/2018), https://leemuirhaman.com/2018/10/16/designing-a-strong-painting/.

Red Geranium Watercolor Painting.

I found that this designing and PLANNING need to be done BEFORE any paint is put on the paper. Again, you will need to study your subject for a while. Think about what it is that attracted you – that should be the primary statement or BIG IDEA in your painting. Consider what you will emphasize in the picture. Eliminate anything that might compete with or distract from the ONE focal point and main idea. You shouldn’t try to include every daunting detail in a scene. Instead, it pays to NARROW your vision (even to crop an image) and SIMPLIFY your subject. 

Ask yourself what your focal point is. What will your painting be about? Is there a lead-in to invite the viewer into the picture? Think about what you want to say before you start. WHAT do you hope to achieve, and HOW are you going to achieve it? Establish some clear objectives. 

While drawing or sketching develops necessary observational skills as mentioned previously, drawing also helps you to plan and condense information into a simplified format. This clarification will strengthen the message of your final painting.  With a drawing you are more likely to end up with your focal point being prominent, because you concentrate mainly on that particular feature.  Your drawing will be streamlined, easier on the eye of the viewer, because you collect only the information that counts and leave out extraneous material. Thus, drawing trains the brain to think about and analyze what is essential to the picture.

High Jinks Watercolor Painting.

IV. EXPRESS FEELINGS & EMOTIONS.

A later stage in improving my painting skills grew out of the wish to have my feelings and emotions come across in each painting. When establishing the IDEA for a painting now, I try to think about how I feel. We all interpret a scene in our own way – WHAT you want to emphasize and WHY will probably differ from what interests me or another person. That is to be expected – we all have different experiences, reactions, thoughts, and feelings that affect our impression of our world. These factors will affect our chosen focal point, our ‘big idea’ for a painting, even the style in which we paint it. (Our own particular concerns and perception directly determine the painting style we choose.)

In other words, I try to consider MOOD when planning my painting approach to a picture, and then work to express it. It seems easier for me to achieve some success at this in some paintings than in others. I contemplate how the scene makes me feel. Happy, sad, excited, nostalgic? I strive to determine what it is I want to show and what the meaning of each topic is to me. Why did I choose to paint this picture? Why was I drawn to this image? Does the scene remind me of a favorite place?  Does the picture make me feel calm? Do I feel like laughing when I look at or think about this subject? 

I believe great artists are able to paint their feelings about a scene, as well as an impression of its actual appearance. (Think about Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, for instance, or Vermeer’s Girl With A Pearl Earring.) They make sure they don’t copy the details so faithfully and precisely that there is no room left for life, mystery, or emotion in a painting. Instead, such artists paint their interpretation and memories, share what they feel are the significant factors behind what may be a commonplace scene, attempt to translate emotions aroused in their hearts. They often reveal their skill at rearrangement and invention in the scene.

T’s Fall Road Watercolor Painting.

Emotion can be conveyed in a painting in a number of ways. The mood of a painting can be created or altered by hard, soft, or lost edges; light and dark values (contrast, high key, or low key); line and arrangement of masses (lyrical, angular, curved, open, closed-in, a preponderance of verticals or horizontals); light (overcast, ominous or threatening, nighttime, bright and sunny, glaring, or late afternoon); and color choice and color proportion (warm, neutral, cold, cheery, drab, soothing, jarring, or balanced). For more in depth information on emotion and mood in painting, see “Get In The Mood!”, (9/4/2018), https://leemuirhaman.com/2018/09/04/get-in-the-mood/

Choosing and combining so many variables appropriately and successfully to express your emotion takes experimentation and practice, yet is the ultimate goal in art.

Take note of and respond to your own emotions – these feelings are what you will try to get down on paper and share with viewers of your art. Think with your heart. People will connect to YOUR art with THEIR emotions! 

V. BECOME YOUR OWN TEACHER.

After painting for ten years, I lost my beloved mentor and watercolor teacher, who died in 2018. Before he died, he asked me to take over the teaching of his watercolor classes. While I didn’t feel at all ready for that, I really didn’t want to let him down. For that reason, I started teaching others what he had taught me. However, I couldn’t help feeling that there was still more for me to learn. If I had questions, though, who could I ask? My solution was to study art books, seek information online, and continue taking occasional workshops in person and courses online. 

I also began writing blog posts (in 2018) to share with others the information I was learning about watercolor. I studied and wrote about things I was struggling with, or topics I found especially interesting. In order to write about a subject, I had to consolidate, understand, and make sense of it for myself. Writing has helped me know my own thoughts.

I think we can all work towards becoming our own best teacher. Always keep learning on your own and for yourself. I’m not suggesting you avoid taking classes or working with watercolor instructors you enjoy and are learning from. Instead, I’m asking you to treat yourself as a good teacher would, by being supportive of yourself, allowing yourself to investigate and learn more about the art topics that you might be struggling with, and searching out information about your art interests. (One of my recent investigative searches has been about how to paint light, create the glow of light in watercolor.) I hope that you take an active part in your own art education.

If interested, the following blog post will explain more about creating the best possible attitude toward your painting: “How Can I Become My Own Best Teacher”, (7/21/2021), https://leemuirhaman.com/2021/07/21/how-can-i-become-my-own-watercolor-teacher/.

Crossroads Watercolor Painting.

WHAT’S NEXT?

For me, I want to continue to write and to paint with watercolor. I hope to freshen up my website, perhaps even adding an option to purchase directly from the site. I would like to improve my skills at designing my own pictures more creatively, and to spend more time painting my own compositions. I will also, of course, persist in studying, learning, and researching what intrigues me about watercolor.

What’s next for you?

Join me and get painting tips, inspiration, and the latest news about classes, new art or products for sale, sent to you by email. Subscribe here. I’ll give you a free copy of my Color Blending Tips pdf. that you can download and print.

What do you think about this quote by Martha Beck who has said, “An artist’s real contribution isn’t what he paints, but the way he sees.”? Let me know in a comment below.

Jumpstart Your Watercolor Painting!

Several articles I’ve read lately have made me aware of the great benefits of ‘daily painting.’ Painting every day develops creative habits and greatly improves your art. You become more skillful, productive, and successful as an artist, according to the many painters who have tried it. Wait! Don’t, like me, immediately dismiss the idea of painting daily as impossible for you.  Try to keep an open mind as you read the following comments, and you may find that you are excited and inspired to begin to paint more consistently yourself.

Artist Mary Gilkerson explains: “Before you tell me you just don’t have time, let me point out a couple of things. Consistency over quantity. Consistency matters. Doing a small painting daily is better for your growth than 5 big paintings a month. 20-30 minutes a day can make a huge difference.

“The rewards: 

   1.  Your work improves.

   2.  You stay motivated because ideas flow easily.

   3.   Small daily steps move you closer to your goals.

   4.   Muscle memory takes over and the difficult things become easier.

   5.   You paint faster with more ease.

   6.   You paint more intuitively and responsively rather than consciously.

   7.   Your own personal style will develop without you even having to think about it.”

Chris Krupinski agrees and has said she knew she wouldn’t be a really good painter by painting only on weekends, so she committed to painting two hours every day no matter what. 

Duane Keiser, who is often credited with initiating ‘daily painting’ (as in completing a small painting a day) in 2004 and posts his work for sale on a daily blog, states that his daily small paintings “are about the pleasure of seeing.”

Simple Red and Green Watercolor.

Simone Nijboer, a Dutch artist, talks about her art journey, sharing this: “For many years, I wanted to paint but did not dare to start. When I had gathered enough courage, I started painting, but dropped it again quite soon, since I had lots of insecurities, doubts, and unhelpful thoughts around painting. 

“This all changed when I started painting on a more or less daily basis. I loved it so much! It might sound exaggerated, but I personally feel that daily painting changed my life. 

“Creativity became an indispensable and joyful ingredient of my day, and this joy spread over to the rest of my life.”

Carol Marine, artist and author of Daily Painting, rediscovered the joy of painting when she began completing small (mostly 6”X6”) works daily during her son’s naptime. “Painting small and often gave me the freedom to experiment – every day I got to start on an entirely new project. No longer did I feel overwhelmed by the large number of things I wanted to paint – I could do them all. And I could do each one fifty different ways (or more)! If one subject or one style didn’t quite work out, well, I didn’t sweat it. I had only invested part of a day’s worth of work on it, after all.”

Two Fruits Watercolor.

Stephen Berry, a watercolor artist who writes the blog Seamless Expression, has written (3/11/2022) a most compelling description of how the daily painting process has affected him. “I’ve been doing a daily painting for each of the last 32 days, and it’s been a wonderful learning experience.  I can’t recommend it enough!  I’ve gotten to stretch myself in a lot of ways, and although it’s been daunting at times (and logistically complex!), it’s also been a great deal of fun.  So much fun, in fact, that I intend to keep going….

“At first, the painting experience was just like normal for me, but slowly, as I began to paint each day, it dawned on me that I was going to paint again, and soon.  That can be very liberating!  Paintings become less precious, failure less demoralizing (although still totally irksome), more chances get taken.  And that means growth….

“Painting daily has provided me a space to try out new approaches— high key paintings, or new color relationships, new pigments, new compositions, etc…. I need to pick subjects I can easily simplify— and that means strong shapes and bold contrasts.  And that is often very good for creating compelling composition.”  Berry says he works hard to recognize what is really essential in an image and to decide just what it is he wants to paint. What is not essential, he discards. “There’s a bold, graphic quality to the final product, which I like….The changes in my compositions have been so compelling to me.” (See  http://www.seamlessexpression.com/blog/2022/3/10/daily-painting-for-a-month-and-longer to read more of Berry’s blog post.)

Lily Pads Watercolor.

I’m inspired! Are you? Will you choose to complete a small daily painting, or decide to commit yourself to regular painting every single day (not necessarily finishing one work daily)? Perhaps you’d like to really commit yourself to getting good at your art by painting consistently, not just on the weekend! Promise yourself to paint for 30 minutes to an hour every day, whether you finish a painting during that time or not. Return the next day to paint for the same amount of time, and the next day. By the third day maybe you’ll have a finished painting. The main thing is to figure out what works for you to get you painting more regularly, painting more than you used to.

Let me know how you get yourself to paint consistently. Do you have tips that you would like to share with others who struggle to find the time to paint? Let me know in the comments.

Join me and get painting tips, inspiration, and the latest news about classes, new art or products for sale, sent to you by email. Subscribe here. I’ll give you a free copy of my Color Blending Tips pdf. that you can download and print.

Are We Getting Less Creative?

Scores on tests of creativity (e.g. the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking) have been declining since the 1990’s, says Michael Easter, author of the ‘Comfort Crisis.’ Skills measured by the test include curiosity, open-mindedness, imagination, and problem-solving, all abilities necessary for success in life and art. Studies have shown that children with higher creativity scores on the Torrance Test become more accomplished adults. 

DISSATISFACTION.

Scientists believe that several factors affect creativity scores. One factor is the cultural Puritan work ethic – the expectation that to be a success, a person must hustle and be industrious. As adults, we often believe we should be more productive with our time, get more done, and be more efficient. To-do lists get longer and longer. Yet, try as we might, we are unable to get everything done that we think we should. We look hopefully to productivity experts for hacks to improve our time management. Busyness may at times seem like the only path to success. 

Related to our feelings of busyness are the many interruptions and distractions from screens – the average American devotes about 10 hours and 39 minutes each day to consuming media, approximately 65% of waking hours, according to a 2016 Nielson report – on their phone, T.V., computer. Further, many people are interrupted repeatedly throughout the day by numerous notifications from their digital media. 

Wachusett Reservoir Watercolor Painting.

DECLINING CREATIVITY.

It’s no wonder many complain of feeling overworked, dissatisfied, missing out on the beauty in life, feeling time is passing too quickly, having no time to relax, always rushing. Scientists suggest that our hurried, stressful, over scheduled lives and large amounts of time spent on digital devices contribute to declining creativity.

DIGITAL MEDIA CAN BE ADDICTIVE.

Social media, in fact, has been designed to grab our attention, to encourage addiction! Metrics, algorithms, and optimization tools are sensitive to POPULARITY (what gets clicked on), not necessarily to the TRUTH. You’ve heard of click-bait – sensational rumors, salacious images, outrage-driven rants that get shared, a lot. The more you pay attention to your devices, the more you encourage ads and clips (that the algorithms deem to be of interest to you) to be shown to you. Too many interruptions, and the result can be uncertainty, disorientation, upset, cynicism, even a short-circuit in your ability to think rationally.

REDUCE DISTRACTIONS TO IMPROVE CREATIVITY.

With so much rushing and increasing use of digital media, there is seldom time for relaxing, daydreaming, unfocused thought — all things necessary for creativity. It’s not very realistic to think you can rush to squeeze a productive painting session into a free 15 minutes between other demands. Despite all the recommendations to use your time more productively and get more done, perhaps we should be doing FEWER things! Do less, and do it better. 

Swamp Watercolor Painting.

We may be TOO BUSY for creativity to blossom. Is it even possible to be productive AND creative? Childhood used to be a time of unsupervised puttering and exploring, and lots of imaginary play (NOT organized sports, tutoring, educational T.V. or computer games). Kids and adults need time to daydream, ponder, and be creative. We all need time to “moodle,” as Brenda Ueland says in ‘If You Want To Write.’ By moodling she means “long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering” in the present, as opposed to desperately rushing, worrying about the future, striving to accomplish more, “always briskly doing something.”

GET BORED TO BECOME MORE CREATIVE.

To increase creativity, we need calm and unscheduled time. Perhaps we even need to be BORED. By automatically grabbing your phone to check texts or watch an entertaining YouTube video when you have a free moment, you may rush right past an important observation or a creative thought of your own. Try something new. Pause and let your mind wander. Rest and reset. We don’t always have to be productive.

Sam’s Hill Watercolor Painting.

Science has shown that boredom, unscheduled down time, and daydreaming increase creativity by allowing our brain the space to think freely and come up with new ideas. In contrast, constant busyness inadvertently reduces creativity. 

Many successful people have shared their high opinions of boredom. Austin Kleon refers to the following people in his blog (https://austinkleon.com/2015/12/17/the-benefits-of-boredom/). Author Neil Gaiman believes “The best way to come up with new ideas is to get really bored.” Steve Jobs maintained “I’m a big believer in boredom. Boredom allows one to indulge in curiosity, and out of curiosity comes everything.” Peter Bregman, CEO of Bregman Partners, says “Being bored is a precious thing, a state of mind we should pursue. Once boredom sets in, our minds begin to wander, looking for something exciting, something interesting to land on. And that’s where creativity arises… My best ideas come to me when I am unproductive.” Writer Scott Adams admits  “I’ve noticed that my best ideas always bubble up when the outside world fails in its primary job of frightening, wounding or entertaining me.” Nobel Prize winner Joseph Brodsky thinks  “Boredom is your window… Once this window opens, don’t try to shut it; on the contrary, throw it wide open.” And Albert Einstein concluded “Creativity is the residue of time wasted.”

RETRAIN YOUR BRAIN AND NURTURE CREATIVITY.

So, how can you retrain your brain to allow for more creativity and inventiveness? 

First, get in the habit of scheduling FREE TIME and allowing yourself to daydream. Constant busyness actually makes you exhausted and prevents you from working at maximum efficiency. 

Second, put in a concentrated effort to RESIST your cell phone (you can disable notifications, shut it off for awhile, or put it in another room) so you will not be interrupted. You DON’T have to respond to every text or email immediately since being ‘busy’ all the time does NOT make you more productive. 

Third, VARY your routine – doing the same thing, at the same time, in the same place everyday can be a creativity killer. Instead, take a different route to your destination, check out a new location, hang out with different people. Be more spontaneous. 

Fourth, take a WALK. Walking energizes your brain. You don’t have to devote much conscious effort to the act of walking, so your attention is free to wander, invent, think, observe. ‘Eureka’ moments tend to come to us not when we’re intensely focused on a problem but when we’re idly thinking about something else, allowing our subconscious mind to contemplate the issue in the background. (A hot shower may work in a similar way.)

MAKE YOUR CHOICE.

It does seem that “You have to CHOOSE between endless distractions and innovative ideas.” as author Jessica Stillman says.

If you’re interested in reading more on creativity, see my related blog posts, titled “Creativity Can Be Learned”, https://leemuirhaman.com/2019/01/08/creativity-can-be-learned/, published January 8, 2019, and “Fostering Creativity.”, https://leemuirhaman.com/2019/09/24/fostering-creativity/, uploaded September 24, 2019.

Shelburne Vermont Field Watercolor Painting.

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Why Is Creating So Hard?

It may seem that the outside world is preventing us from taking part in our creative art or hobbies. At times, it’s hard to find any time for our interests because of our many day-to-day responsibilities. But it also seems that when we find some time, it’s hard to even get started. We hope to find some time daily but often struggle with feelings of avoidance or resistance in our effort to pursue our interests. We might feel that if we get our chores out of the way or check a couple more things off the to-do list, then we’ll deserve to do something creative. But we seldom seem to get our break. We may have a stretch of a couple of free hours for ourselves one day, then have difficulty returning to continue or to finish our projects. We may be procrastinating, unable to begin or continue, for a variety of reasons.

First of all, yes, there are too many other things to do – we’ll never get them all done! Like many ‘responsible’ people, we may spend so much time taking care of everyone else that we don’t make time for ourselves. ‘Life happens’ and interferes, right? 

Well, actually, the difficulty might not be having so many things to do. Our struggles may be more INTERNAL, relating to our thoughts, our attitude, the way we look at the situation. WE are the ones who don’t decide to MAKE THE TIME, don’t make art a PRIORITY, and become discouraged, doubt ourselves, even self-sabotage our dreams. We all do it to some degree. We all deal with what author Steven Pressfield calls ‘resistance’, a tendency to sabotage ourselves when we attempt to improve our life (for example, through doing art, beginning a diet or an exercise program, writing a book, making New Year’s resolutions, etc.). Most people tend to pursue creative work only “ as a sideline”, when nothing else is pressing.

Summer Tomatoes Watercolor.

PROCRASTINATION may be the most common example of resistance to creative work. “I’ll begin that project tomorrow”, we tell ourselves. Unfortunately, when tomorrow arrives, there may be another obstacle, so we repeat, “I’ll get to it tomorrow.” Putting our creative dreams on hold can become a habit as we come up with one excuse after another! We become stuck, afraid to act on our creative passion. 

RATIONALIZATION and PERFECTIONISM may set in, making the situation worse. “My work probably won’t be good enough anyway. I don’t want to embarrass myself.” More excuses! So what if what you begin isn’t wonderful and perfect? What you’re attempting never even existed before you tried to bring it forth. You may have success, you may not.

Barn Interior Watercolor.

What to do with this FEAR? How can we move beyond those fears and judgements enough to let ourselves create and to accept ourselves and our art? Give yourself a break! Be kind to yourself. Focus on the process of doing, not on the quality of the end product. We all doubt ourselves and fear that our work won’t be good enough. Accept your doubts and fears; don’t deny them, but take some ACTION in spite of your fears. 

Take action BEFORE you think you’re ready. (You may never feel ready!) DO it anyway. As Steven Pressfield suggests, “The more resistance you experience, the more important your unmanifested art/project/enterprise is to you – and the more gratification you will feel when you finally do it.”

Howard’s Trumpet Watercolor.

So, make the decision to practice your creativity REGULARLY if you want to make progress. Begin. Start small, with what you have now (the space, time, money, equipment). Be determined to create the HABIT, build MOMENTUM. Some of your work may be terrific, some may be awful. So what! Sooner or later, with persistence, things start to happen. And you’ll feel all the better for doing it! It’s a practice, and it takes practice… Just don’t give up!

You might enjoy these other blog posts that relate to creativity: “Fostering Creativity.”, (9/24/2019), https://leemuirhaman.com/2019/09/24/fostering-creativity/, and “Creativity Can Be Learned!”, (1/8/2019), https://leemuirhaman.com/2019/01/08/creativity-can-be-learned/.

Join me and get painting tips, inspiration, the latest news about classes, new art or products for sale, sent to you in my newsletter. Subscribe here. I’ll give you a free copy of my Color Blending Tips pdf., that you can download and print.