Often the hardest part of anything is starting. So many things can hold you back – fear, uncertainty, a lack of confidence. It’s important to take stock of those things so they don’t slow you down. So you can move forward.
Since I was young I loved art, but like many people, I got away from it. But the desire to be creative stuck with me, even if it was dormant for a long time. It wasn’t until I had a career and family before the desire became stronger than the things holding me back.
Before I started my creative exploration journey, I took stock of all the things holding me back. One worry I had was about other people judging me and anything I might create. I realized creating wasn’t about how others viewed my abilities and “talent.” Creating was about me, and how it made me feel. There would always be people who didn’t like what I made. This shift in thinking freed me up to move forward.
I’ve never looked back and never regretted committing time and energy to creativity. It fills me up and brings me so much joy!
These days I can’t blame lack of time for a lack of painting. Being stuck at home, I’ve got nothing but time. What I am struggling with is what to paint. Sometimes it seems easier to go on my iPad than to figure out an idea.
Coincidentally my son asked me the other day, “Do you always know what you’re going to paint?” As I indicated, the answer is no, and it can be a real roadblock. When you are out and about, experiencing life, you are soaking up inspiration. Nowadays, not so much.
Here are some ways to find creative inspiration during self quarantine:
Go outside (in whatever way is safe for your situation). Walk around your neighborhood, or your yard, or sit by a window. The birds, trees, flowers, clouds, all provide inspiration. Absorb it, and take photos.
Look through your phone. What inspiration did you capture on your phone that you never drew or painted? Now you have time. I’ve made albums on my phone to separate inspiration photos.
Technique. Perhaps there is a technique you admire others doing. Try it! Find reference photo appropriate to that technique and practice. I admire paintings with sun dappled water, so I found a photo and tried it.
Catalogs. I keep catalogs to use as reference. Athletic attire ones have great figures to practice from, and sometimes great scenery. Recently I painted a skier and mountains from an ad in a magazine. I also painted a woman doing a headstand. I love the Burpee plant and seed catalog, such beautiful flowers and vegetables to paint!
Look around your home. Walk slowly around your home and see if there are any interesting subjects or arrangements to paint. Try to look at your space with fresh eyes. Or paint or draw an ordinary scene like the couch with a lamp, but add interesting wallpaper to it. Reimagine your space.
Set up a still life. Create an interesting composition with things in your home. The refrigerator is a great source of interesting looking things. Cut some fruit in half.
Portraits. In self quarantine with loved ones? Make them the subject of your next project.
Color. Try a project where it’s less about what you are painting and more about the color palette you are using. You could even recreate a painting you’ve done before but with a different color palette. In my “Let’s Paint Paris in Watercolor” program we explore painting using Monet’s winter palette. It is such an interesting exercise!
I need a project to motivate and inspire me. Something to break up the routine and dull-drums of the week. Without a project I’m bored.
For me, a project doesn’t need to come from someone else. I’m just as motivated by my own projects and challenges. A deadline certainly helps, even if it’s self imposed.
Right now I’m embracing the freedom to work on anything now that my “Let’s Paint Paris in Watercolor” project has wrapped up. But I also need something to get me excited to create and to hold me accountable.
I took a trip down memory lane to review some of my bigger projects:
This Blog – when I started it and it was new, it was so motivating! I finished so many projects just because I wanted to post the final product. “Finishing” was a skill I had to learn.
Month Long Challenges – I participated in several, back to back challeges – InkTober, a month of World Watercolor Group’s prompts (food), and my own Countdown to Christmas. These focused months led to me dedicating myself to…
Painting Watercolor Seascapes – Originally a month long project it lasted well beyond that (a year?, 2 years?), and is still a focus of mine. I’ve just launched an watercolor seascape painting online lesson to share all I’ve learned.
Acrylic Seascapes – I dedicated a month to exploring seascapes in acrylics. I learned so much and progressed so much. I’m dying to get back to acrylics!
The 100 Day Challenge – I participated in the 100 Day Challenge and focused on illustrated map making, something I was curious about for years. The project was great, but map making was a side interest that took over and 100 days was way too long. I didn’t make it to the end.
“Let’s Paint Paris in Watercolor” – After our trip to Paris, I was so excited to paint what inspired me. I decided to invite others along via a paid email series. The program included four weekly emails with watercolor tips, a Paris theme, specific prompts with details and links to learn more, reference photos, and videos of my process painting each prompts. Turning the idea to paint Paris into a shared experience pushed me and motivated me so much! I dove much deeper into the theme than I would have if I painted alone. But I almost bit off more than I could chew – painting and filming and editing five videos a week was a lot even without the technical issues I experienced. But, I learned so much.
A project is great because it gets you excited and forces you to focus, but it’s important to remember that saying yes to one thing is essentially saying no to other things. I want to be intentional about picking my next project. In the meantime, I’m painting poppies. 🙂
When I was a kid I compared myself to other people. Was I faster, smarter, a better artist than so and so? Part of this had to do with the insecurities of being young. I thought my “abilities” were set in stone. I never thought about how I could improve in an area. As a swimmer, it never occurred to me that I could train differently, harder, or improve my stroke to get better. And we didn’t have access to endless resources on the internet to help with improvement.
Comparing myself had negative effects on me. If someone was better it devalued what I could do. It made me feel like I wasn’t good enough. In my book, Creative Exploration: A Six Week Process for Introducing Regular Creativity into your Life, I share the story of getting to high school and seeing amazing pencil portraits by a girl named Peggy. Seeing Peggy’s drawings made me feel bad about myself. It never occurred to me that I could learn new techniques and practice to develop my skills. Looking back – yes Peggy’s portraits were impressive, but all they really did was shine a light on the fact that I lacked shading skills, and experience with portraits. Instead I thought the “comparison” showed I lacked talent and wasn’t “good enough” for art school.
As an adult I’m much more focused on what I’m doing. When I paint, I’m challenging myself. I work at it because I enjoy it, but also because I want to improve. I now know that practice plays a huge part in developing skills. If I’m struggling with a technique I’ll spend time experimenting and sometimes look online for tips. I don’t necessarily equate knowing a technique with being “better” as I would have as a kid. I just think of the person (I learn from online) as more experienced in that area. Or I think of them as someone further along in their creative journey.
I think of each painting as a learning opportunity. What went well? What aspect do I need to work on? Identifying areas to improve upon is the first step to getting better. Even paintings that are unsuccessful are helpful in that they reveal areas to work on. And everyone has their own way of painting (drawing, creating, etc.), their own unique style, which is another reason not to comparing yourself to others. Keep the competition with yourself.
Recently I went to a high school reunion. I went to an all girls high school – which is quite a bonding experience! The “reunion” was a party a bunch of us threw to celebrate our fiftieth birthdays. It was a lot of fun and great to see and spend time with this great group of “girls.”
A few friends commented that they love watching me paint on Instagram. One said that she didn’t remember me being creative in high school. While I loved art class in high school, I certainly didn’t spend my off hours creating. What I think is interesting is that when it comes to creativity most people have an us or them mentality. They assign themselves to one camp or the other – creative or not creative.
They assume you must have an innate talent to paint and probably have always done it. What I believe is that ANYONE can do it. You might deem yourself “terrible” at the start, but with time and effort it is almost impossible to NOT get better. But, it’s hard to convince some people of this. It’s almost like converting them to a new religion. They firmly believe they belong in the “not creative” camp and aren’t willing or don’t think it’s possible to venture out.
What camp are you in? Have you ventured out of your original camp? Or are you ready to?
It’s hard to commit to a daily painting challenge but every time I do, and stick with it, I’m always happy with the results. The first few times I did my Christmas countdown (daily watercolor illustrations counting down to Christmas) I followed prompts. Last year and this year, I’ve allowed myself the freedom to paint whatever fits into the Christmas/winter/holiday theme. I love the flexibility to explore.
The first few days of a daily challenge can feel a little awkward, or stiff. But after that you open up to the inspiration around you. Flipping through a skiing catalog I saw a Telluride ad that I thought would be so cool to paint. It was totally outside of the normal thing I would do. I enjoyed the process and was pleased with the results. The thing I get most excited about are the ideas. Last year I painted a girl with a record player in front of a tinsel covered tree – me as a kid, playing a favorite gift.
Daily painting or drawing is hard, especially during the busy holiday season. But the break from the busyness and the interesting creative process of coming up with new ideas is so worth it!
If you have creativity in your life – regular creativity – you know what a gift it is. It’s relaxing – almost like meditating. What better gift this holiday season than the gift of creativity? Here are a variety of gifts that will inspire creativity in your friends and family.
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Create a gift set with my “Creative Exploration Book,” favorite sketchpad, sketching pencils, kneaded eraser, and colored pencils. The recipient will be all ready to explore their creativity!
This kit is the perfect gift to get someone started in Polymer Clay. I know because it’s the kit I bought when I wanted to give sculpting a try. It comes with a huge variety of colors as well as tools. Sculpting with polymer clay is easy and fun and your creations bake right in the oven!
Block Printing Kit
Block printing is so fun and satisfying. Create one design and print several copies of it! Pair the Speedball block printing kit with Strathmore cards. The Speedball kit even includes ink and Strathmore makes such nice papers!
Screen Printing Kit
I’ve wanted to try screen printing forever. I should add this to my list!
Combine a baking book with pans or accessories. I love to bake and Williams-Sonoma products are some of my favorites!
Learn from one of the best! We just made a Gordon Ramsey recipe and it was the best Shrimp Scampi we’ve had! And it didn’t take forever to prepare. Combine a recipe book with Gordon Ramsay knives or other cooking accessories for the perfect gift.
How about a kit to grow a succulent garden?
Combine a “How to Crochet” book with needles and yarn for a unique gift.
An embroidery kit is a great way to introduce someone to embroidery. Everything is included – except maybe scissors. 🙂
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Nache’ is a designer and maker and I’ve listened to her podcast – which highlights creative women and their side hustles – for years! Talking with her was so much fun! In Nache’s words,
“Eileen never gave up on her dream of being creative. In this episode, she explains how creating an art blog helped her gained the confidence to get back into painting and inspire others. She also walks us through how and why she built-out courses after a tutorial went viral on Pinterest, her process for developing a creativity book, and why she continues to create simple tutorials for those getting started.”
At the end of each year I try to reflect on my intentions for the year versus the reality. This exercise is important for me especially because I’m the type to reach a goal and then turn around and create new ones, without really recognizing my accomplishment. As I finish the sixth year of My Creative Resolution (the blog and the commitment to regular creativity), I decided to look back on my entire creative journey, by determining the words that defined each year:
2014 – Finishing/following through, developing a creative practice
2015 – Trying different things – watercolor was a constant
2016 – Challenging myself and sticking with my creative journey through ups and downs
2017 – Focusing to learn and improve my skills. Painting seascapes became a focus and remains one. I created my first “how to” post.
2018 – Paint, teach, connect were my intentions for the year and they matched reality. I had my first in person teaching opportunity!
2019 – Embrace uncomfortable opportunities and goals
I’m proud to say that I’ve become someone who embraces scary and uncomfortable opportunities and goals, which has led to experiencing amazing things. I now regularly teach a kid’s after school drawing and painting class. I initially terrified, but now I love it.
Since writing my first “how to” step by step painting post, I’ve aspired to create video lessons. There were so many obstacles – I don’t want to be on camera, how to create it, I don’t want to record my voice, etc. It took a few years to figure out the format and the how to, and to get comfortable with putting myself (and my voice) out there. I can’t tell you how satisfying it is finalize a project like this. Now I have the Birch Forest Watercolor Online Video Painting Lesson template to follow for the next video lesson. Next up is “Painting a Seascape.”
The interesting thing about my creative journey is how much I’ve changed. From starting out as someone who aspired to be creative but didn’t know the how or the what, to six years later wanting to inspire creativity in others. Want to be creative on a regular basis and experience the joy that creativity brings? Explore mediums and subjects, in search of your thing? Learn about my new book Creative Exploration: A Six Week Process for Introducing Regular Creativity into your Life by clicking here. Creativity is for EVERYONE! Talent is just a starting point.
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