Tag Archives: improvise

Five Ideas for Jumpstarting Creativity

No preamble – here are five great ways to jumpstart your creativity today:

1. Make an  External Change.

Change is the greatest creativity kick starter there is. If you are stuck, change your environment. The fastest fix is to go for a walk, or perhaps a bike ride. Go somewhere to sit. Change your view out the window.

“To sit in the shade on a fine day and look upon verdure is the most perfect refreshment.” ~ Jane Austen

Disney Concert Hall tree and spiral

Or make a bigger, if temporary, change. Work in a different part of the house, or a different place altogether. J.K. Rowling loves coffee shops for writing:

“My ideal writing space is a large cafe with a small corner table near a window overlooking an interesting street (for gazing out of in search of inspiration).”

One of the reasons people go on artists’ retreats is the change of environment. Use the change as impetus for some quick creativity jump start exercises.

  • Notice and list 10 different objects or items in this new environment that aren’t in your old space.
  • Use all four walls to inspire four zentangle doodles.
  • Look for shapes in the clouds.
  • Play a different piece of music inspired by the space. Startle yourself.

2. Revisit The Old.

Go to a place, read a book, watch a favorite movie or enjoy a song from the past, especially those that stirred emotions. It might be the comfort of a beloved book, a movie that always makes you smile or cry, a song that you always dance to, or a place that you haven’t seen in a while. Take a break to a happy place to refresh your spirit.

Ancient classics in a row

Or rediscover the old and almost forgotten – old notes from past projects or journals, old projects still incomplete. We call these UFO’s – UnFinished Objects. Sometimes time has softened their edges and it’s time to dismantle the contents or take the whole story in a new direction.

  •  Maybe an old story will inspire an illustration.
  • Choose colors for how you feel and pin them to a vision board for a pallette.
  • What had you forgotten from your notes? How do they apply to your current project?

3. Try Something New.

Not to instantly achieve mastery, but instead to inspire originality in your ongoing work, play with a new art form. If you write, try visual art. If you predominantly explore one genre, play around with the conventions of another. If you always work by hand, explore CGI. If you always create on a device, remind your hand what a pencil feels like.

Try a new medium. If you generally work in acrylics, try paint chip mosaic or embroidery. If you usually play piano, try some electronic percussion.

Add a new activity to your day. If you rarely read, set aside half an hour for a book – try a compilation of short stories. Bake, garden, sew something. Bring in a piece of history – an activity that is rare now – polish your leather shoes, darn sox. These kinds of gently physical activities can be very meditative.

 4. Play With A Child

Always without a time table, allow the child to direct the play. Follow their lead and direction. It will probably be magical. You will see the world in a new way. You might have to improvise a whole story about a doll and its animal spirit guide.

Jayn with her doll

 5. Make an Internal Change

Not forever – unless it works fantastically – try working to a different schedule or muss your routine. If you are a night owl, try an early morning work session. If you set your tools down at sunset, try getting up at midnight. Try – just as a test – reordering your task list.

If you always plan every detail of your work first with sketches and detailed instructions, try doing something off the cuff without a plan. Or a baby step: if you generally lay out all your tools before you start, would pausing to fetch each one as you need it change your process to one that was more extemporaneous or simpler? Embrace the random.

Or conversely if you always improvise as you go, waiting to see what emerges from your process, try giving yourself strict guidelines or a definite plan. Write a treatment or outline before starting your story. Lay out all your tools.

butterflies and tools

I’ve always planned essays, but improvised stories. I’ve researched and made sketches, been very plan oriented in set design, but embraced random serendipity with art dolls. More and more, I find having a plan, writing a treatment, working to my own sketch, to be helpful. There are more steps, but the final result is better. And how I love mind storms and vision books.

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Crafting Useful Things – Part One

Materials Based Crafting

Practical crafting is a combination of flourishing creative thinking and design, and skilled manufacturing or making. A few years ago I wrote about my process for designing craft projects for my then column in Natural Life MagazineOver the next couple of weeks I’m going to break down my project and object design process as weekly themes, and hopefully illuminate my philosophy for making those intentional design choices in the cause of making useful things.

Buttons and paper Wall Decor

By way of an overview, here’s the relevant part of the article, which was in part about my challenges in upcycling plastic bottles and packaging items.

“I do not want to design a goofy crafting project just for the sake of “cleverly” using the recycled material in some contrived way. The end product must be genuinely artful or pretty or useful – and sensible. I’m pragmatic too. Costly tools or extra materials for making it from a recycled source can doom a design idea. The project design should take advantage of the qualities of the source material as a good way to achieve the final result, rather than displaying an uncomfortable union of wishful thinking and imposed manipulation.

But most of all, especially in light of what I have learned about the recycling industry, I don’t want my crafting project to be a less green use for the plastic item than placing it intact into the collection bin. So multiple use is important.

Here is an insight into my intentional design process:

    1. I examine the material and list the qualities.                                                                                                For plastics: Generally unbreakable. Somewhat flexible, yet largely rigid – the shape is inherent to the object. Often soft enough to cut with ordinary scissors or X-Acto blades – but still retains shape. Impermeable – at room temperature – to water but may be susceptible to some solvents or dyes. Often transparent or translucent. Reactive to heat in a variety of ways and temperatures (caution required). Slick or shiny surfaces – may or may not accept paint, markers. Usually very lightweight for the size. Sometimes can be folded and retain fold. Lasts and lasts.
    2. I will often sketch ideas and, usually with recycled things, I’ll cut up a couple for experiments.
    3. I make a prototype or examples.
    4. If necessary, I test the instructions, patterns, and fun quotient by inviting friends – child or adult – to try out the project with my supplies. If need be, I make changes based on the success of the lab.”

Step 1 is unique to what I call “Materials Based crafting”. It can be great fun and a great creativity jump starter. It’s the imaginative equivalent of wandering around the arts and crafts store and asking yourself “What can I make with that?” For anyone interested in upcycling and creative reuse, it’s an essential step.

Understanding the physical qualities of the material, whether it is new or upcycled, whether it is man-made or natural, is important if you want to make something useful, lasting and beautiful, out of the material.

A similar mental process is taking inspiration from fabrics for your fashion design, rather than going in looking for a specific color or cloth.

Button Headband

People who enjoy this are often great at extemporizing with assemblage and collage. They see the potential in a stack of stuff. They are also great at using familiar materials or objects in different ways. One example is taking buttons and twisting wire to make them into brads for scrapbook layouts (my favorite). I love these found object art dolls (robots) by ckudja on Etsy.

On the other hand people who are meticulous planners, engineers at heart, also can appreciate the process of examining and categorizing material.

Some crafting materials to consider: plastic bottles (as I did), corrugated cardboard, junk mail, padded mailing envelopes, old fencing or pallets, polymer clay, air dry clay, regular clay, sticks, pebbles, concrete blocks, metal pipe fixtures, felt sheets, sandpaper, acrylic scraps, wire, rusty nails, melamine plates, ceramic pots, balsa wood, leather, raffia, canvas, chiffon, old pencils, empty jars.

It’s not a finished list by any means.

Now an idea that seems to be the opposite: Wabi-Sabi

There’s a Japanese aesthetic principle called Wabi-Sabi. The Wikipedia entry has a nice summary, including:

“beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”….materials that age such as bare wood, paper and fabric become more interesting as they exhibit changes that can be observed over time .”

It has a lot in common spiritually with Shabby Chic and Prim aesthetics, which also embrace wear, age, distressed surfaces and rough edges. But it differs from them to embody spacious simplicity with one tiny, asymmetrical flaw, and man made structures with a random seeming intrusion from the natural world.

A big part of creating Wabi-Sabi art pieces is embracing randomness (which will be an upcoming theme on its own) and improvising with imperfect or found materials.

Worn Calligraphy

Worn with age

But Wabi-Sabi is still founded on understanding and appreciating the qualities inherent in the materials along with the outward visual appearance.

Examining the material is like actors improvising a scene to play and warm up before working on the script. Next week I’ll be talking about the more structured next steps, including how the approach to materials is different when the focus in on an intended/desired outcome.

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