I get regular emails from artists and creatives who ask how I am so productive and how I keep coming up with new styles and ideas. Well, it may surprise you to know that I have the same hang-ups about my craft as any creative individual and that can weigh heavy at times. But I have a system of practical things that help me make the most of my creative energy.
Here are 5 quick and easy tips on how to get more from your creative time, how to accept the process of learning in a constructive way and how to make sure you give yourself the respect you deserve. And I may point out that these definitely work for me but may not be for everyone; I do think however that these blindingly obvious tips hold a seed of relevance for all creative minds.
1. Create when you’re not creating
Ever find you’re unable to switch off from thinking about your art? Are you always thinking about how and what you’re going to create next? Chances are whether you’re just starting out or a seasoned professional that you’ll answer yes to both those questions. However, simply thinking about things can sometimes be as distracting as not thinking about them at all. Almost all of my work is influenced by the things I see around me. If I can’t organize that I don’t stand a chance.
Top Tip: Use an app on your smartphone
If I imagine something in my head I stop, reach for my phone and open a paint app and use my finger to (very badly) record my idea. Doing this is a visual trigger for when I look at it in the future. The process of doing the sketch implants a stronger residual memory in my head than letting the thought pass through without recording it. When you come to use it the chances are that you’ll recall the place you had the idea and maintain a stronger connection to it. Triggers are good, put them to use.
Top Tip: Always carry a notepad or sketchbook
I also use a pen and paper if I can only think of the idea in words. So this is my next tip: carry a notepad with you. Sounds obvious doesn’t it? Have you got one to hand? Just yesterday I saw a stranger walking in my local town who was wearing a jacket made up of the most amazing purple and lime diamond shapes with a blue weave running through it. It was so strongly registered (as something I wanted to paint) that I sat down on the nearest bench and wrote a single sentence describing it. One day, that will be a painting and I will remember the image of the person in my head. The system works. I learned to use a sketchbook from artist Kerry Phippen, a master at event recording. And even though I’m an abstract artist the ability to record things like shapes and shape combinations is crucial.
2. Visualize yourself actually doing it
I also use my mind to visualize myself painting something rather than just what it will look like when it’s finished. Sound silly? Well consider this. Way before I ever commit to opening a can of paint or cutting a piece of canvas I close my eyes and think how I will actually paint what I see. in my head I am opening cans of paint – this helps me choose the colours. I write that down.
Next I think about how I am going to use my materials to get the effects I want. If you’re a sculptor you may see yourself moving your fingers over clay or paring back wood. A painter may see themselves sat at an a easel or desk. When you have this visual reference ask yourself what brushes you’re using, what you’ll work on first, which parts you believe will need the most attention and how long you think it will take. See the space you create in as if you were watching someone else. Studies have been carried out with athletes and bodybuilders about how the power of visualization can help them lift heavier weights simply by imagining themselves lifting a heavier weight. Your brain is powerful, use it to help you. Racing drivers do it to memorize the best line through a race circuit.
Top Tip: Write as much down as you can
If you think a particular brush or tool will be required then make a note of it. Is there an order to how you’re going to do things? Do you need to do preparatory work first? This is an opportunity to be technically and practically prepared for when you come to create. I always prepare beforehand. Canvas is always cut, paints are always ready, tools are lined up. Every painting is planned this way and there’s a very good reason for this – it means I can concentrate on the important thing – creation.
3. Give yourself time and shut the door
Families, jobs and other outside influences are always present and can be detrimental to the time you create in. There’s no getting away from that but you can help yourself by allowing time. I know it sounds obvious but how many times have you been disturbed when you’re in the middle of something? How often has a text message come through when you least need it? When did you last get that knock on the door saying ‘I know you’re busy but…’?
Top Tip: Get rid of the distractions
Turn the phone off. Yes, I know it’s hard but do it. Let your families know you don’t want to be disturbed for anything other than fire or death. Schedule the maximum time you have then add an hour for the wind down. More than anything else it’s this alone-time that is the most sacred. I’ve had periods where I have sat and stared at the canvas and done nothing, even though I know what I’m about to do. Sometimes that happens and other times I cannot wait to get started. But at least I have my precious space. My own space that is only for one thing. Me, and whatever I choose to do within it. Respect that and make others respect it too.
Top Tip: Take a break
I’m terrible at this. Research has shown that concentration levels decrease, in almost every kind of mental activity, the longer you continue at it without a break. The mind and body require regular rest intervals to prevent collapse. Stop every hour and at least put the brush or tool down, get up out of the chair and stand up. Open a window, have a cup of tea and breathe some fresh air. And don’t feel you have to limit yourself to a short break either. I sometimes take an hour or so before I carry on. We are all different so we all know when it’s right to stop and right to continue. But be aware that creatives are also stubborn and resilient so a little discipline goes a long way. My work is better when I take regular breaks.
4. Accept what you’ve done and move on
You are going to make things you love and you are going to make things you hate. On most occasions you’ll probably be pitched somewhere between the two. Accept that this is how it is. I learned that the amazing and incredible pieces don’t happen very often so I accept that. The things that make you fist pump in the air or make you say ‘wow’ a lot – they are the special times we remember. But don’t expect that every time. No doubt you’ll be up and down with your reactions and relationships with what you create to some degree or another. That’s OK. That’s perfectly acceptable. Embrace it.
Top Tip: You never fail; you merely learn how to be better
Don’t be down when it goes wrong. You’re better than that. If you’re starting out your ratio of bad to good will be higher. Your next piece will be better than the last if you want it to be. There’s no need to beat yourself up over it is there? No-one is dead because of it and your loved ones still love you. I used to get really down about things when they didn’t go right but now I am less bothered by it. I will always be learning and I will always make things I hate or that simply aren’t good enough. It is an essential part of the process and EVERY creative person is the same.
This is how we get better. We need to feel this way to make ourselves improve. It’s hard sometimes but you are better than you think.
5. Don’t ask for opinions
Dangerous things, opinions. Because art is so subjective and personal you’re going to get a different reaction each time you ask. If you have doubts over your work then ask someone you trust for technical feedback rather than an emotional one. Most of us cannot disassociate ourselves from our gut reactions to art when we are asked to give an opinion on it. This is because of how our lives have shaped our feelings towards the world we live in. And unfortunately this isn’t a justifiable cause to give commentary on whether a piece of art is good or not. One will love it, one will not. That’s no barometer on whether it’s any good though. Be wary of opinions.
Top Tip: Ignore the critics
They will stunt your growth. You don’t need them. You will probably always be your own and best critic anyway. You don’t need someone to tell you that the piece of work you’re most happy with is crap do you? If you enter open art competitions you may be used to this already. I wrote about my experiences with juried art competitions and I happen to believe they are a waste of time anyway and do more harm than good. But that’s my own opinion.
Top Tip: Use Social Media thoughtfully
More often than not if you post to Twitter and Facebook the general level of feedback will be a like, a share or a re-tweet. But even this is subjective too. Don’t be worried that no-one is sharing or liking what you’ve done. You need to be mindful of when to post your work, to what audience and in what context (are you selling, are you interested in showing work-in-progress?). Context is important as it sets the tone for the way you present your work and, consequently, can have an impact on the level of interaction you get. If all you do is post fifteen poorly photographed links to your Flickr page or blog your audience will grow tired and move on. Show your creativity by all means but do it as if you were someone seeing it for the first time.
Advice and tips; they may not work for you but maybe one or two of my suggestions can help rejuvenate or kick-start your creative output and also deal with what happens afterwards. That’s not to say you should race off and turn out 50 pieces in week – I’m sharing practical lessons I have learned from doing this professionally, that help me maximize the time I have available and get the best from it. After all, it’s the small things that make the biggest difference.