The Secret to Being a Creative Person

Is hard, repetitive work that nobody ever sees.  Sketchbooks filled with sketches and studies, honing fine motor skills and developing the ability to see things.  Long, monotonous, unsexy hours spent hunched over paper or canvas, in a messy studio, or outside on gray ugly days.

If you want to be a creative person, draw from life.  Draw with whatever media you can get your hands on, whenever you have a free moment.  Draw your kids.  Draw your cats.  Draw your mug collection.  Don't worry about being 'creative' until you have an idea you want to pursue.  Don't worry about impressing anyone, and don't worry about taking overpriced online classes on creativity taught by people who promise things they can't deliver.

Look at what other artists are doing, and not just the ones you like.  Develop a healthy curiosity, become NOSY.  Be nosy about what the birds are up to out your window, what the cats are getting into downstairs, what your kid thought of his best friend's packed lunch.  Eavesdrop at cafes, take notes, make sketches.   Give yourself free hours where you idly sketch or just brainstorm.  Turn the TV off in the evenings, don't turn to Facebook when you're bored.  Boredom is the ally of creativity, boredom gives Inspiration room to speak, and gives you the silence to hear it.

Creativity is free.  You were born with it. You don't have to pay for it.   Kids are creative.  You don't have to be taught creativity.  You just have to open your mind and your ears, let your mind wander.  Creativity, like opportunity or luck, is best when you've prepared for it, when you create a nice little nest of skills, hardwork, and technical knowledge.  Carry a sketchbook, or scratch paper, with you EVERYWHERE, you never know when inspiration will strike.  Carry pencils, carry pens, and teach yourself not to be overly picky in the materials you use.  Your muse isn't going to sit and wait for two hours for you to get out of work.  Even a rough sketch on a receipt is enough to capture the magic, to preserve it for later.

If sketchbooks freak you out, draw on printer paper.  If clean sheets of paper intimidate you, draw on the backs of used printer paper.  Draw on paper bags.  Draw with cheap colored pencils, draw with china pencils, draw with whatever works for you while you're honing your skills.  Don't worry about impressing anyone, don't worry about sharing your progress until you feel comfortable doing so.

Have you ever tried to draw something from your head, and no matter what you tried, it just didn't come out right?  For many, the issue isn't coming up with ideas, but being able to execute them.  While your artistic ability and creativity are separate, your satisfaction with your work may be tied to how well you're able to render what you see in your head.   If you're disappointed in your work, or struggle to capture that mental impression, there's a good chance you just haven't developed the fine motor drawing skills necessary to be able to execute what you imagine.  That's why so many artists recommend practice by drawing from life or from reference.  The more you draw from life, the larger your mental store of images will be, and the more often you draw, the more your hands will remember the correct motions.

Another issue maybe that your scope is too big.  Don't go about painting a mural by just slathering paint on the wall- you need to plan for it!  Draw numerous thumbnail sketches with a variety of compositions until you find one that works the best, then blow that up into a slightly larger drawing where you refine details, then project that onto the wall, and rough your drawing in with chalk or charcoal.   I work on my comics in stages- scripts, thumbnails, roughs, pencils, then I paint.  I can't imagine trying to draw comics right on the watercolor page with no planning- it would end up a mess.

Lastly, if the ideas are just NOT coming to you, it may be because your life is too crammed packed, you don't leave time to BE creative.  If you have trouble accessing that inner creativity, maybe you ought to tone down your inner critic first, and give yourself permission to make mistakes and learn.  Don't expect perfection overnight, and don't assume that by taking an online class that promises to teach you the secrets of creativity, you'll suddenly understand how to use the years' worth of art materials you've hoarded like a dragon.

I'm not going to pretend like I'm an expert on creativity with you guys.   There are plenty of professionals with doctorates who study it far more in depth than I have.  To be honest, I take it for granted- it's like a faucet, when I need it, I turn on the taps and let it run. Creativity is a big part of what I do, but it's dwarfed by how important prep work and research are to making that creativity count.  I have a masters degree in Sequential Art, and a BFA in Digital Art, and I've been involved in the fine art gallery scene, the commercial art freelance arena, and the murky swamp that is self published kids' comics.  I'm not a fan of trying to obfuscate things so I can make a profit by attempting to clarify.  I'm also not into the notion of selling fake miracles- the only thing I guarantee is that if you put the hours in, study hard, practice often, and seek critique, you will improve.  There's no overnight success, no magic pill you can pop, or magic class you can take that's going to make you a creative, artistic genius who's comfortable in their own skin.  Believe me, if there were such a pill, or such a class, I would've taken it long ago, as would many comic artists.   In order to be comfortable with calling yourself an artist, you have to get used to thinking yourself as an artist, and for many of us, that comfort comes with filling sketchbooks and producing work.  My regular readers KNOW  how much I draw, you've seen the sketchdumps full of studies, and that's honestly the bare minimum I need for my fingers and brain to remain limber.  My super dedicated readers, the ones who follow my Twitter and Instagram, know how much I draw EVERY DAY- not a day goes by where I don't post something I drew that day.  You guys don't have to follow what I do- it works for me, but I can't promise it will work for everyone- but you know my advice comes from a very sincere place.

Things I Find Helpful:

  • Setting limits and restrictions
  • Working along a theme
  • Finding an area I want to improve, and hyperfocus on that
  • Finding an audience I want to serve (or attempt to serve)
  • Working on monthly challenges
  • Keeping logs of ideas- in my sketchbook, on my phone, in notepads.  So when I need an idea for a comic, but can't come up with a fresh one, I have lots to work with
  • Setting hard deadlines to finish projects by

Selling seminars on creativity is like bottling oxygen, and telling people that without your bottles, they cannot breathe.  You're in an oxygen rich, inspiration rich environment, so just inhale.  You're going to be ok.  You've got this.  Don't let anyone kid you that they've got the magic secret, just behind this paywall.  You were magic all along.

If, knowing this, you still want to take those sort of online classes- you want the community, the inspiration, you want to meet new artists and make new friends- go for it, you've got my blessing.   But please, avoid classes where there's zero promise of one on one contact, instruction, or critique with or from the instructor.  You are getting absolutely nothing but hot air for your money, and you can get plenty of hot air here, for free.

Speaking of free, Lifehacker posts articles on creativity ALL THE TIME, often with studies to back their claims.  Before you pay for some nebulous e-course on creativity, why not try checking out their archive?  A simple search for 'creativity' brings up all kinds of information.

Build Better Habits with an Improvisational Mindset
Set Rules for What You Can't Do During Creative Time
Form Your Best Ideas With a Monthly Idea Countdown
If You Can't Come Up With a Good Idea, Brainstorm a Bad One
Don't Brainstorm With a Blank Slate
Plan Your Free Education at LifeHacker U: Fall Semester 2015
You Don't Have Creative Block, You're Just Procrastinating

Some Fresh Inspiration

Vivian Swift's Blog
Paris Breakfasts
Shirley's Illustrations

Ellie of the Stars

And hey, speaking of creative!  If you didn't know, the first volume of my family friendly watercolor comic, 7" Kara, is available for purchase!  You can also see lots of last year's sketches, curated in ashcan form, in Artistically Challenged, my 2014-2015 sketchbook.  The purchase of both, or either, helps me keep the lights on, keep myself and my cat fed, and even gives me a modicum of self respect.  You can totally feel good about yourself as a contributor AND enjoy a really cute comic/ peek into my sketchbook.  If physical objects aren't really your jam, you can always send me a tip via Paypal using the sidebar link.  If you opt to do neither of these things, that's cool, you are still very much welcome to keep reading this blog, but maybe considering sharing any posts you like or find helpful to your social media of choice using the handy dandy share links above?  Sharing my content with your friends and family helps me expand my audience, which is always a good thing!


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