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.

Craft Fair Season Is Near. Get Ready!

Every year, countless communities host fairs, events, and farmers markets that showcase local artisans. Perhaps you’ve seen them before and wished to be a vendor yourself. Well, there’s never been a better time to try your hand at selling your art. But, before you reserve a booth, it pays to prepare. Today, watercolor artist Lee Muir-Haman shares practical insight on how to get started.

Organize your finances.

Do you know what comes shortly after craft fair season? Tax season. If this is your first season selling your handmade goods, you should know that you are considered self-employed, and you have to report income just as you would with a traditional job. However, you may be able to lower your tax liability by forming an LLC. 

LLC formation services can show you the rules in your states, and they are much cheaper than using an attorney. Furthermore, if you haven’t already, take the time to invest in a mobile point-of-sale system that links to your accounting software. This will make it that much easier at tax time and will come with the added benefit of helping you keep up your profits and losses. You’ll also want to keep written ledgers to track cash payments.

Master your presentation.

Just as you would not show up to a job interview disorganized and disheveled, you should not arrive at your point of business unprepared. Your presentation is absolutely essential, and you will want to master it before you set up shop. In most cases, you will be allowed a 10’ x 10’ space. Buy a tent canopy to match, which will help protect you and your merchandise from the elements. You’ll also want tables on at least two sides of your booth. Next, consider how you will display items. The For Creative Juice blog, for example, offers up plenty of inspiration for displaying jewelry and other small items.

Cull your offerings.

This may not be easy to hear, but you can’t take all of your merchandise with you to each vendor fair. First of all, it’s not practical to try and overcrowd a small space, and, second, new products have between an 85% and 95% failure rate, according to online commerce advisor Beeketing. Because of this, it makes sense to start with only those products that you feel confident will sell at your events. 

Conduct market research, which might be as simple as taking a poll on social media. Ask your former customers what they are most likely to buy and at what price point. While you can always add a few small complementary products to your lineup, stick with the basics to begin. This will make it easier to put a price tag on what you have to offer. Remember, as with painting, simple is better.

Create contact opportunities.

It happens to all businesses — you lose a sale at the moment. But, that doesn’t mean that potential patrons won’t come back for more. Remember, their hands may be full or they may have exceeded their discretionary spending budget for the day. Make sure to bring with you plenty of brochures, business cards, or other promotional items that will help them remember you when they need a unique gift later down the road.

Craft fairs are a fun way to make some extra money or to replace an income entirely. But, they are a lot of work, and selling homemade goods is considered a business just like any other. Before you begin, make sure you get yourself together so that you can enjoy the success you’ve envisioned with each piece you’ve made. A final thought: visit lots of vendor fairs. This can give you a good idea of what sells and what sits in inventory.

Craft Fair Face Painting.

Image via Pexels

Guest article by Lucy Reed (lucy@gigmine.co).

Lucy Reed considers herself an entrepreneur since she was a kid, from the lemonade stand she opened in her parent’s driveway at age 10 to the dog walking business she started while in college. She created the site Gig Mine to help like-minded business people take advantage of the growing sharing economy.

How Can I Become My Own Watercolor Teacher?

Wouldn’t it be terrific if we could each find our perfect watercolor painting teacher (if watercolor is our chosen medium)? But they are hard to find! And a great artist doesn’t necessarily make a great teacher. How many good teachers are there? And how easy are they to find? I looked for years for a local watercolor teacher before running into my mentor by chance. You may be limited by where you live and the desire to take in-person classes. You will have more teachers to choose from if you are willing to take a workshop or even an online course. But after the workshop ends, then what? Even if you could find a good local teacher, would classes cost a lot of money? And each teacher you are able to locate will provide instruction in their own way, in their own style. Will they teach what you need to know? 

What if, in addition to any painting instructor or classes you find, you could also become your own teacher, able to learn about and explore all the things you need and want to know? You can, with the proper attitude and mindset. First you must make a strong commitment to improve your painting. To become your own teacher, consider what you’d hope for in any good teacher, then strive to cultivate those same characteristics in yourself. 

Forsythia In Vases Watercolor.

Are you able to cultivate the awareness and OBJECTIVITY necessary to evaluate your paintings with some detachment? In other words, can you get some distance on your work? To be a good teacher to yourself, you must be able to step back and view your work as though someone else painted it (during the painting process, as well as after the painting is complete).

CLOSELY OBSERVE details in your work and the scene you are painting. Does what you’re doing in your picture work? What is going wrong? If something is not quite right, pause during painting to evaluate the situation. You’ll need to figure out the problem if something looks odd, before rushing in to try this or maybe that. While pausing, ask yourself what you might change to correct the problem. For instance, are my values (lights/darks) correct? Am I using the colors and color temperature I need to create an effective image? Are edges soft or crisp enough where they need to be? Am I using too much (or too little) wetness? Am I emphasizing my center of interest appropriately, or has another section of my painting taken over center stage? Have I lost important highlights? Through such an assessment, you can become aware of the picture’s difficulties and create a plan to resolve any problem. With possible solutions in mind, you can then resume painting.

Red Flowers Watercolor.

You will need to have PATIENCE with yourself. Learning to paint takes perseverance and time. While we all strive for quick progress, often it seems like we take two steps forward only to take one step back. Yet, that is how we all learn – we need to take action and learn from our mistakes.

Be KIND to yourself. You deserve respect and understanding. A good teacher is warm, caring, supportive, and has empathy – encouraging painting strengths as well as pinpointing places to make improvements. 

Don’t give up! A good teacher is positive and reassuring. It’s okay to step away from a painting for a breather if you need it, but remember to be ENCOURAGING and give yourself a pep talk, in spite of any frustrations.  For more insight on self-assessment of painting problems, you might like to read ‘A Positive, Problem-Solving Attitude To Overcome Frustration’, (1/9/2020), https://leemuirhaman.com/2020/01/09/become-a-problem-solver-to-overcome-that-awkward-stage/.

Crocus Watercolor.

Let’s be HONEST. Give yourself honest feedback (but not harsh criticism). Painting is NOT a matter only of talent – painting skills can be learned. Improvement comes from lots of practice and repetition.You know learning to paint can be difficult, and sometimes frustrating and discouraging, but don’t forget it can be fun and worth all the hard work!

Take RESPONSIBILITY for improving yourself. Search out and study when you want to learn more (through books, YouTube videos, ‘googling’ a question you might have, signing up for a workshop, joining art Facebook groups that interest you, taking online classes with teachers you admire and joining their online support groups). Try not to blame mistakes or poor painting on outside circumstances (poor quality paper, humid weather, lack of time, confusing template image, cheap paints). Blaming takes responsibility out of your hands and will make it difficult for you to see what YOU can do to take charge and resolve any difficulties.

Apple Blossoms Watercolor.

Do not settle for half-hearted effort from yourself. Strive to do your best! A good teacher has high expectations, and will MOTIVATE and CHALLENGE a student. Encourage yourself to do the hard, consistent work necessary to improve.

Finally, don’t take yourself TOO SERIOUSLY. Yes, you need to work hard, but keep in mind that everyone makes mistakes. No worries! Strive to enjoy the process of painting. Remember a good teacher is fun, full of joy, playful, perhaps even high-spirited. My favorite watercolor teacher told jokes and stories throughout every single class.

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.

From Pretty Good To Better Composition!

Only occasionally, as artists, do we discover a perfectly designed composition we’d like to paint. More often, we find an appealing image that needs some improving and editing to make it more effective. Editing allows an artist to interpret a scene and tell the picture’s story in a stronger, more personal way. All the information may be there in front of us, but we may want to re-organize some of the parts. We might want to combine several reference photos, or totally remove some distracting information. We know we don’t want to just copy a reference, but how would you go about ‘improving’ a composition?

Joe English Hill Photo, Spring.

Here is an image that appealed to me. Let’s evaluate the composition though – it does have some problems. It’s hard to tell what this picture is about, isn’t it? It probably wouldn’t make a very good painting, as is. What attracted me to this scene in the first place? I was drawn to the dramatic cliff (barely visible in the photo) rising steeply behind the vibrant, early spring colors. So, my first decision would have to do with figuring out what I want my center of interest to be, and then deciding how best to emphasize it. 

I decide to make the cliff my center of interest. How could I simplify some of the shapes or eliminate unnecessary detail? There is too much information in this reference photo. I certainly don’t have to include all of the trees from the photo. I will remove some of the smaller trees blocking the view of the cliff to uncover it. I will also eliminate a few trees on the far right, but leave one tree to help frame the cliff. This tree on the right would also function to stop your eye from following the line of the top of the far hill right on out of the picture. While I think the large green gold trees on the left also function as a frame of the cliff, I want to move them more to the left to further open up our view of the cliff. And I want to increase the height of the trees on the left, hoping they appear closer to the viewer and increasing depth in the picture. And finally, I plan to exaggerate the size of the cliff to make it even more prominent in my painting. 

Early Spring Color, Joe English Hill, Another View.

Color will be important to give the picture the feel of the new leaves and grasses of springtime. Spring is a time of fresh growth, when buds and flowers burst forth. Fields and forest floors are becoming free of frost and snow, and bright green shoots begin to appear. I hope to exaggerate the brightness and variety of colors in the final painting by using bright complementary colors. Reds and greens (complements) will be used for newly emerging leaves, and yellow and green gold leaves will complement purple-tinged rocks and purplish shadows. Muted grays and browns are planned to contrast with the bright colors.

I hope to make use of differences in color temperature as well. Cooler colors on the distant hill (and minimal detail) should help it recede, increasing depth in the painting. In contrast, warm yellow greens in the foreground field and trees should advance.

Values (lights/darks) in the reference photo seem to be much too similar. By looking at this black and white version of the reference photo you can see there is very little contrast in values. If there are too many areas of equal light intensity (or a lack of shadows) in a painting, the image will tend to look flat, less interesting, or bland. I will need to create more contrast to make the picture work better! Good value contrast (with light values close by and emphasized by darks) can create the illusion of light, depth, and a center of interest.

Black and White Version of Reference Photo.

After experimenting with several small thumbnail sketches to find a better arrangement of strong lights and darks,  I chose this arrangement. 

Final Thumbnail Sketch.

The lightest values in the painting will be the green gold leaves, road, cliff, some saved light birch tree trunks. Mid-values are planned for the middle distance trees on the opposite side of the road. And the darkest values, which will help to highlight the cliff, will be the top of the hill, dark shadows and tree trunks. 

Below is the finished watercolor painting, and its black and white version, which resulted from the improved composition.

Final Watercolor, Joe English Hill.
Black and White Version of Painting.

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.