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Twyla Tharp, “The Creative Habit,” and coming up with new ideas

Twyla Tharp, “The Creative Habit,” and coming up with new ideas #creativity
I had the pleasure this week of hearing Twyla Tharp, dancer and choreographer, and author of the famous book, “The Creative Habit” speak at Hofstra University. Her book, which I already read, is on many “best books on creativity” lists. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to hear her speak. She was no nonsense and honest, especially in her advice to the young dancers in the audience.

She began the talk, after introducing herself, by going through the book briefly and summarizing each chapter. Then she asked for questions from the audience, and while some were specific to dance, some were great questions that led to interesting answers – like “How do you know the difference between brainstorming and over thinking things?”

Twyla talked about the time she left NYC and went to a farm, where she and other dancers “worked.” No thought of celebrity or success, or social media (which didn’t exist at the time), but just focusing on dance. I appreciated this reminder that creativity is about putting in the work.

She said, “It takes work to have new ideas.” They don’t just hit you out of nowhere. You have to get going first. You have to be in the habit of “going.” She talked about the “rituals of preparation” and how important they are – whatever they are for you – to get you going. Once you have an idea, you move on from the ritual.

As a painter this all makes sense to me. The importance of sitting down every day to paint. Starting with anything to warm up and get going. I sometimes find the sitting down part is the hardest. Life is always trying to get in the way, even guilt that I should be doing something else. But this thought replaces the guilt, “I am a painter. I paint.”

Learn more about “The Creative Habit” by Twyla Tharp here.

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The Feelings of a Beginner

The feelings of a beginner #creativity #painting I realized this weekend how discouraging it can be to be a beginner. I worked on two very different projects for me. One was a paper diorama. The other was painting two canvases with acrylics.

In both cases I was an unorganized mess. Materials all over. I had the wrong tools. I was literally uncomfortable. And in both cases, things weren’t turning out so great. Self doubt leaked in and I thought, “This is a waste of time.”

I realized this morning that all these feelings were related to being new to something. Thankfully, I had the perspective of the two very different projects. Otherwise I would have thought, “I’m not good at that.” When I looked over at my watercolor setup this morning, I saw all the things these past years have given me – routines, methods, techniques, the right tools, etc. These things make it easier to sit down and create comfortably and not let self doubt in (as much).

If I continue with acrylics or dioramas or any other new thing, over time things will get better and easier. If you are a beginner – don’t give up! Allow time to work out the kinks. Then you’ll have a comfortable “space” to freely create.

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Have you visited my online shop? Prints of my seascapes are available on watercolor paper or canvas, in many sizes including the new “mini” canvas 11″ x 14″ at shop.eileenmckenna.com. Take a peek! The perfect gift for beach lovers.


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Being “In” a Painting

Painting waves in watercolor | creative habitsPainting for an entire hour proved impossible this morning, as I had things to do. But a half hour is better than nothing. As I worked, I thought about how daily work keeps you “in” a painting. You’re engaged in the project, even thinking about it when you are away from it. Being “in” a painting helps bring you back to your creativity. It’s easier to get to work – you know what to work on, perhaps you’ve even thought out how to tackle an area of the painting. But when a few days pass without revisiting your painting or project, that thread is broken. It’s harder to motivate to sit down and create, because you might not remember where you left off or possibly even what you were working on.

Want a dose of creative inspiration? Sign up for my newsletter “My Creative Collection” by clicking here. Learn more about the newsletter here.

Prints of my watercolor beach paintings are now for sale at shop.eileenmckenna.com. Take a peek!
The Blue Collection by Eileen McKenna | watercolor beach ocean landscapes available as limited edition giclee art prints


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Painting – a schedule and a plan

Seascapes - first later | watercolor | painting | watercolor layers | ocean beach painting
All three of my kids leave for school early this year. I decided my new goal is to spend the extra hour in the morning painting. As soon as I set the goal I immediately questioned it. An hour? That’s a long time. Usually I work on paintings in short spurts, allow the watercolor to dry and come back to it later. How could I paint for an entire hour?

A plan began to form in my mind. For my early morning sketchbook work, I often use a pen. What if my hour of painting included sketching with paint? The no pressure exploratory work I enjoy in my sketchbook?

Now I’m excited about my painting hour. For one thing I have a scheduled time, which will help ensure it happens, and secondly I have a plan.

My morning painting plan:

  • Work from 7:30-8:30am
  • Listen to an artist podcast interview
  • Begin with sketchbook painting. Select two colors to paint with. Explore the shades of each and mixing of the two.
  • Move on to a painting or two.

Areas to explore during my painting sessions:

  • Color – get to know better the colors in my palette
  • Sketching with paint
  • Figure painting
  • Portraits
  • Ocean Painting

It wasn’t enough to declare this summer that I was going to focus on my creativity. I’ve learned I need to schedule the time and make a plan to make sure my goals are met.

Want a dose of creative inspiration? Sign up for my newsletter “My Creative Collection” by clicking here. Learn more about the newsletter here.

Prints of my watercolor beach paintings are now for sale at shop.eileenmckenna.com. Take a peek!
The Blue Collection by Eileen McKenna | watercolor beach ocean landscapes available as limited edition giclee art prints


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Back to Creativity

Daily sketchbook work | creative habits day As much as I’m excited about the extra time I’ll have once the kids are back in school, I know how easy it is to put all the “have to’s” first and let creativity slide. If I’m being honest, time is not always the factor, sometimes it’s easier to knock an item off the to-do list than to motivate myself to create.

I already have an ambitious list of “back to school” resolutions and goals for September. This last morning of summer vacation I thought, in the simplest terms, what do I really want? To draw and paint is the answer. Past experience has shown me that daily sketchbook work and starting the day with creativity are two things that help me maintain creativity.

In the mornings, as the kids get ready I usually have some down time. Sometimes I work in my sketchbook, but more often I write in my notebook, usually about plans to be creative, and I go on my iPad. I’ve decided that I will not go on my iPad. I won’t look at email or social media during this time. I will write in my notebook, my morning brain dump, and I’ll draw in my sketchbook. It will be the “no pressure draw what ever I see” kind of work.

This year all three of my kids will be gone by 7:30 am, which brings me to my next “back to school” resolution. For 1 hour I will paint. I’ll paint my watercolor seascapes, I’ll play with shapes and color in my sketchbook. As I write this I’m already thinking, “Wow an hour is really long.” But really it isn’t. People don’t go to work or school for one hour. If I want to switch projects, I can practice hand lettering, or figures, or illustration.

The beauty of this early morning painting time, is I can do it no matter what else I have to do that day – work, appointments, errands, etc. I’ve been given an extra hour. It’s a gift, I need to use wisely.

Want a dose of creative inspiration? Sign up for my newsletter “My Creative Collection” by clicking here. Learn more about the newsletter here.

Prints of my watercolor beach paintings are now for sale at shop.eileenmckenna.com. Take a peek!
The Blue Collection by Eileen McKenna | watercolor beach ocean landscapes available as limited edition giclee art prints


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Pick a picture, pick a subject…

Sketchbook painting
…and start drawing and painting. Sitting with my coffee this morning, I was beating myself up for not painting this week. But when I looked back on the week and all I did – work, back to school stuff including orientations, meetings, haircuts, doctors’ appointments, and birthday preparations – it makes sense. Okay I forgive myself. Now what? Pick a picture.

So I did. I didn’t overthink it, I picked one and started painting in my sketchbook. I didn’t select good watercolor paper and tape it to a board – to prepare for a “frame-able” piece. I selected a page with writing on the back. No pressure, just pick a picture and get back to work.

Want a dose of creative inspiration? Sign up for my newsletter “My Creative Collection” by clicking here. Learn more about the newsletter here.

Prints of my watercolor beach paintings are now for sale at shop.eileenmckenna.com. Take a peek!
The Blue Collection by Eileen McKenna | watercolor beach ocean landscapes available as limited edition giclee art prints


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Get back into a Creative Groove

Getting back into a creative groove
After a busy week I was so excited to get back into a creative groove. But sometimes it isn’t so easy to dive right in. I may think about it, write in my notebook about it, but still I can’t seem to get going. Thankfully, I’ve learned steps to overcome this.

How to get back into a creative groove:

  • Start working in a sketchbook everyday.
  • Don’t put pressure on yourself. Just play.
  • Work on whatever strikes your fancy. Limitations can be stifling.
  • When inspiration strikes go with it. Don’t wait. Don’t let it pass. Fan the flames of your creativity by going with that spark of an idea.

After a few days, you’ll start to build momentum. Your daily sketchbook work will lead to other ideas. Playing will lead to creating more finished pieces.

And don’t feel guilty because a break can be a good thing. A time to step back and reassess the type of projects you’ve been working on. But I don’t like to let a break go on too long, because it makes it harder for me to get back to it.


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20 consecutive days of drawing and painting

Feathers in my sketchbook. 20 days of drawing consecutively.

My mom called to say, “You haven’t painted today.” Thanks for the reminder mom.

Yesterday I didn’t feel like it but I grabbed my sketchbook anyway. I didn’t want to break my streak. I grabbed a magazine and inspired by the feathers on the cover, started drawing. One night this week I even got out of bed when I realized I’d forgotten to draw! I know how quickly one skipped day can become two or three or more.

Drawing from magazines - Real Simple

Even when I’m reluctant to start drawing or painting once I get started  the switch flips and I’m into it.

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Daily Creative Habits – Take 2

Daily creative habits, sketchbook work, Day 1
Day 1 again. With vacation and other busyness behind me, I’m trying to get back into the creative mode! Back to turning creativity into a habit (again). I played around on my iPad this morning. Later I pulled out my sketchbook.

Drawing on the iPad in Adobe Sketch

I wrote a new checklist to keep me on track.

Creative Checklist:

I know from experience that the daily work, propels me to keep up with the other stuff. How do you stay on track?

Did you see my new “Swimming Laps” pattern?
Swimming Laps fabric print. Swim team, swimmers https://www.spoonflower.com/fabric/6301733-swiming-laps-by-eileenmckenna

I am a huge fan of the Canson sketchbook, because of the bright white, thick pages that don’t buckle when I use watercolor.
Favorite sketchbook

This posts contains affiliate links to products I use and recommend. I earn a small commission whenever you buy using these links, at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting my blog!


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Back to Daily Creative Habits

Back to daily creative habits. Shells in the sketchbook.

For the past couple of weeks I’ve done minimal drawing and painting. Periods like this seem to be a pattern for me. I think about doing creative work all the time, but I put everything before it – even binge watching shows on Netflix. It’s not creative block. I have tons of ideas. I just can’t seem to make myself pick up the sketchbook or sit down with my paints. And as the days go by it gets harder, and harder.

Experience has shown me that these periods can be avoided if I maintain the habit of drawing daily in my sketchbook. So today as I finally grabbed my sketchbook – I made the commitment to draw in it everyday. Other than making the time, I don’t put pressure on myself to make the results great. I know if I do the work, and play around, good things will come. I already feel happier after drawing these shells that I collected recently.

I first learned about the power of habits when I read Gretchen Rubin’s book, “Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits – to Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life.” Back then I had also fallen out of the habit of being creative. I learned from the book that it was harder for me to be creative because I had to make the conscious decision to do it. It was an internal willpower battle every time and was no longer something I did without thinking.

Creative Habits and Gretchen Rubin's book "Better than Before"

Rubin perfectly states it here,
“When we change our habits, we change our lives. We can use decision making to choose the habits we want to form, we can use willpower to get the habit started; then – and this is the best part – we can allow the extraordinary power of habit to take over. We take our hands off the wheel of decision, our foot off the gas of willpower, and rely on the cruise control of habits.”

Read Better than Before.

This post contains affiliate links to products I use and recommend. I earn a small commission whenever you buy using these links, at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting my blog!