We are all creative people, but sometimes...gah! I have notebooks and sketchbooks just waiting to be filled, but I sometimes feel so stumped. What is it that gets in our way?
Firstly, we are also our own worst critics. We can stunt our own creativity simply by judging ourselves too harshly, too soon. Have you ever created something, only to stop halfway and think "That's rubbish"? Would you talk about someone else's half-made work like that? We can be too quick to dismiss ourselves when we want perfection and when we do, we cut off a pathway of creativity that might have been taken had we felt a bit more adventurous.
My current motto is Making To Make Happy - saying this to myself stops me from judging myself on outside ideas of artistic greatness, and lets me evaluate my work in terms of the feeling it generates or the purpose it has.
Secondly, you don't know to do what you don't know exists. How can you ask about, or think about, or write about, something you have no awareness of? Sometimes it's just handy if someone else reaches out and says - "Hey there! Look at this! Isn't it cool?"
In turn, we also need to reach out to the world and say, "Hey there! I'm stuck! Can you help?". Many artists work alone, and I am the biggest introvert so I can enjoy the isolation, but being so doesn't mean I don't want or need community. Help can be surprisingly close at hand - the rabbit-hole-wonder of the internet means we have multiple ways of finding things out and inspiring each other.
If you are feeling in a bit of a rut, not knowing what to draw, sing, write or make, here's a few things you can try...
1. Change Your Environment
Who said "A change is as good as a rest"? Not sure...it's from the Victorian era...but it is true! Switching up your environment will refresh your senses and get you reacting differently. If we sit in the same room or studio all the time expecting inspiration to hit, we will generally be disappointed...because after a time, our brains recognise that space far too well to be automatically stimulated.
This is not to say you can't work in your studio or bedroom if that's where all your supplies are - it is always there to return to. But it's just that - go out and come back to it. Pop a few supplies in a bag...pens; pencils; note/sketchbook; laptop; ukelele! (you don't need all of these, just the ones that help with your chosen creative endeavour!).
Then head out into the world. You can go to a quiet woodland and sit on a log; find a bench in your town and watch the bustle; take a blanket and sit on the beach, or in a field, or beside a waterfall. Go to a historic house, sculpture park or museum. If you don't want to see other people much, get up early and beat the crowds or take an evening stroll (if it is safe to do so).
Once you are at your chosen destination - make a start! Look at something, anything, and draw it/write about it/hum a ditty. If it starts to lose your focus, move on to something else and don't judge yourself. You can stay in one place or keep moving. Do quick speedy notes/drawings on multiple subjects, or spend longer on just one.
Afterwards, look back on what you made. Take a mindful moment to ask yourself:
Why did I choose this thing to write about?
What, specifically, attracted me to draw this? Was it the colour, the shape, the texture?
What feeling was this triggering as I write/draw? What was I trying to capture here?
Nobody else needs to know the answers to these questions - they're just for you. You don't even need to be completely sure yourself - but by asking yourself the questions, you're starting to figure out what is inspiring you now. Because remember, your inspirations will always be changing, growing as you do. Sure, there will be themes you return to again and again, but there will also be times when your perspective will shift...and you need to let it. As much as other people may label you, keep in mind how much you label yourself...and adjust those labels as you grow.
2. Sense It Differently
This is about changing your perspective by limiting one of your most relied upon senses. So if your media is visual, get a scarf and blindfold yourself. If you are playing an instrument, put headphones in so you cannot hear the instrument as clearly.
*Before you put on the blindfold, remember to get everything you need set up in easy reach so you can manoeuvre safely!
Try sculpting something in clay without seeing it - just feel it with your hands and see what happens. Try and draw something without looking at the page. Record yourself playing a tune that you can't hear - when you listen afterwards, does it sound like what you thought you were playing?
Alternatively, if you don't wish to limit a sense, limit your time instead. Put a timer on beside you for a ridiculously short time - perhaps 30-second bursts - and only draw or write for that burst. Then do another burst, on a different idea. You can do them all on the same page if you like, drawing or writing over each other. Don't worry that they are unfinished, the point is to force yourself into action, regardless of outcome.
The end results of these experiments are often messy, and you may not want to keep them forever, but they are an opportunity to let go of your perfectionism. Step back from feeling you need to create beauty immediately - focus more on the feeling you had in the middle of creating. You may surprise yourself with what you manage to achieve.
3. Let Your Phone Decide
Don't our phones already run too much of our lives?
Yes, absolutely they do. But this is just a silly speedy way to generate a prompt which is weirdly in tune with your own character...
* Full disclosure - I adapted this from a game someone posted on Facebook. It made me chuckle, what can I say!
Pull up your messages on your phone.
As if you were writing a new message to someone, in the text box type: My creativity is
You will see three word suggestions above your text box - click the centre one repeatedly until you have created a sentence.
You may end up with random gibberish - that's fine too! Use whatever words it gives you as a basis for a doodle, or a short page of writing, or a line in a song.
4. One Loooong Line
Continuous Line Drawing is a thing. Teachers told me about it and it crops up often in arty practise. It's odd, it's fun and it messes with your brain. So, what is it?
Grab some paper and a pen. You can use a pencil if you like - just make sure it's sharp and dark enough that you can see all the marks clearly.
Think of something to draw. It can be something you're looking at, something you can imagine, or just a load of shapes.
Put your pen to paper...and keep them touching for the whole drawing! No breaks allowed! When you need to move to a different part of the page, you will have to draw a line to get there, because you must not raise your pen.
This exercise can be relaxing, meditative, brain-tickling.... You will be stretching your problem-solving muscles every time you change direction. You will end up with an interesting doodle which may or may not look like what you intended. Either way is fine! Look at your finished art and admire how your brain worked out all the pathways. You may find you really like the looseness of the style, or the shapes you unwittingly created...and this may just trigger future ideas later on!
5. Join An Art Challenge Community
Sometimes you just need someone else to give you a push! This is where you can reach out across the internet and find random inspirations to get you creating in a regular way.
Look out for art challenges on Instagram and similar platforms - here's a few to get you started:
One of the most well known inspiration-generators, Inktober aims to get you drawing regularly - but you could personally use the prompts to spark any creative endeavour you need a boost on, be it writing, music or sculpture. They run daily prompts throughout October, but are also providing creative prompts every week for their #inktober52 year challenge.
Artful is actually an art subscription box, and if you have the money to spare, sub boxes can be a way of expanding your knowledge and materials. (Disclaimer: I have not tried the Artful Sub, so this is not a recommendation to buy the box - if you are interested in it, do your research and see if it's right for you!) However, not everyone can afford a commitment like that, or it may not be the type of creativity you're into.
But these types of companies often run interactive challenges on their social media streams, which you can adapt to suit your own goals. Artful run a daily challenge (#artfuldailychallenge) where they post a prompt for you to interpret as you wish. You can keep the results to yourself, or if you want to share you can tag them in an Insta post and they might share it on their stories.
Multiple artists and platforms use this tag to challenge you to find your style (while promoting theirs). An image is posted with #DTIYS or #DrawThisInYourStyle attached, and you can then try to re-draw it in the only way you know how - your way! It's a good way to get out of your comfort zone and to get your brain ticking over about how you can adapt someone else's (possibly very different) style to suit your own.
This website is a random prompt generator, purely designed to provide the little creative push you need to get going. You can narrow your prompt down to, say, a creature or an object, but then just click the button and let the generator choose your path.
To give an example: On clicking "Creature" today I received "This Dragon likes to hoard odd things like boats, shoes, and broken vhs tapes". I could use this to illustrate a scene, or I could write a short story; I could write a dragon folk song or build a model of a dragon in a boat.
All creativity ebbs and flows.
There will be days when you feel so creative you won't want to stop doodling; when your fingers fly across your laptop keys; when you realise you've built an entire miniature Hobbit set model in your lounge and you forgot to have lunch.
There will be other days when your sketchbook seems an endless void of unused pages; when words won't make sense in your head; when one line of your latest song idea loops endlessly in your brain but never seems to spark the next line.
And there will be the in-between days, where you may have lain on the floor staring at the ceiling for two hours, and felt wholly unproductive, but while you were down there your brain had been roaming, exploring, percolating and gradually building idea blocks in the background.
All days are valid - all days lead you to the next. Be kind to yourself - don't beat yourself up on the days when productivity is difficult - you are getting there.
You are always getting there.
Keep making to make happy xx
Watch how I got on with these prompts in my youtube video: