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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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Add a notebook to your painting setup

Eileen McKenna watercolor artist
I find it useful to have a small notebook opened next to my palette. This way if I have a thought for a blog post, want to remember which blue I’m using, or whatever, I can just scribble a note to myself. I also write down the date and time of the photo I’m painting from. This way it’s easier to find on my iPad when I sit down again to paint. This saves me a lot of time.

Curious what my favorite art supplies are? Read
 

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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!


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Start with basic brushstrokes

Watercolor setup. Eileen McKenna. #artist #setup
It has been over a week since I last painted – gasp! Work has been busy and I could make other excuses. Things haven’t slowed down, BUT this morning instead of diving right in I thought, “Sometimes we have to make time for the things that are important to us.”

Brushstrokes

I set up all my stuff – which had been put away to use the dining room table. I turned to a blank page in my sketchbook and grabbed a tray of extra blue paint and started making strokes. I had no thoughts about what I would paint. Then I grabbed a fan brush and started playing with that. The strokes reminded me of beach grass.

Beach walkway sketch

Next thing I’m doing a watercolor sketch of the path down to the beach. The jump from no idea to an inspired idea was so quick. So don’t wait for an idea to strike! Sit down, set up, start with some basic lines or brushstrokes. Who knows where it will lead!

I’m so proud that after a year of painting the ocean, there are 21 paintings in my shop,  available as prints on watercolor paper or canvas. Browse them all at shop.eileenmckenna.com.

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


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Just 5 minutes of sketching

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I’ve been sketching everyday. To accomplish this I’ve committed to “just 5 minutes.” Even on the busiest days, I figure I can spare 5 minutes. My old schedule was of a couple of hours of creating, one day a week, with shorter periods added here and there. But by the time another creative day came along, I sometimes couldn’t remember what I had been working on. These short sketching sessions keep me in the creative mode. They have been great. A great way to practice, come up with ideas, or just relax. And sometimes it goes beyond 5 minutes. 🙂

Hope your having a creative New Year!


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Just get started…and the ideas will come.

settingup
I try to paint or draw everyday. The first step for me is to pull everything out of the closet and set it up on the kitchen table. This seems like an obvious step, but my point is I don’t wait for that bolt of inspiration to strike.

Occasionally, I know what I’m going to paint as I head for my supplies. More often, as I pull out my sketchbook and paints, I think, “I have no idea what I’m going to create,” followed by, “oh! I can paint [blank].”

I know if I don’t pull out the paints, nothing will get done. It’s rare that I’m about to put pencil or brush to the page, and I still don’t know what I’m going to do. The process of pulling everything out and setting up, usually allows an idea to form. I think this is only possible, because I stay open to inspiration. When I see something that strikes me, I take a picture – even at the supermarket! These inspirational moments are in the back of my mind. I guess you’d say I’ve done my homework.

Gerber Daisies at the supermarket:
supermarketpic

startofgerbergerbersupermarket

I’ve written several posts that relate to this topic of “What to paint?”

I remember very clearly the moments before I started working on two of my favorite pieces from last year. I sat down to draw and had no ideas. In both cases I stepped outside to the backyard and looked around. In one case I took a photo of the Montauk Daisies and went back inside to paint them. The other time, I collected a couple of leaves and other things and brought them inside and started to paint. You really don’t need much to get you going.

With watercolor, the painting often needs to dry between layers. So I leave everything setup all day, and from time to time, sit down to add details. It works better for me to finish in one day. If too much time goes by, my interest wanes, and the chances of finishing decreases.

My Process:

  • Setup
  • Decision on what to paint*
  • Start
  • Get in the “zone”
  • Add finishing touches throughout the day

*Sometimes my first idea isn’t the painting I continue with that day. It’s more of a warm up. But more often than not, I stick with that first idea.

How do you decide “What to Paint?” I’d love to hear! 🙂

I took this picture while I was out running. Maybe it’s my next painting…
futureflower

 


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What to paint?

cherryblossom
I wanted to paint, wanted to get “into” a project, but I had no ideas or inspiration. I couldn’t go outside and take pictures of the garden. It’s covered in snow. Not a pretty snow, a solid, icy, block of snow. As I was trying to come up with an idea, I grab two magazines and remembered the post I wrote about coming up with ideas. Looking through magazines was on my list.

Both magazines had pictures of cherry blossoms in it. This was ironic, because just that morning I booked a Spring trip to Washington, DC, which is famous for it’s cherry blossoms. I was really inspired by a picture in Martha Stewart Living with the cherry blossoms on a dark slate background. I love the look of a dark background. One of my goals for 2015 is to paint on dark paper.

My steps:
cherryblossom1  cherryblossom3 cherryblossom2

cherryblossom4

It felt good to get into my project. My goal was to stay loose and not paint each flower – which is why I started the flowers and buds by splashing the pink on my paper. I wanted the background to be dark. To achieve this, I had to apply a couple of layers to the background. I think buying gouache paint is in my future!

For me this painting is not so much about the final product, but about getting started, and getting ideas flowing again.

I can’t wait for Spring and for the Cherry Blossoms!