Creative Insights: Quinn McDonald

Stoking the Creative Engine: 5 Tips to Keep You Going

Going to your studio day after day can begin to feel like a routine. If you’ve read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, you know she encourages the artist date—time spent enjoying art as an experience, not as a creator.

Every creative soul needs a break to stoke up the creative engine, to take a break that fills you up without loading you with obligation. Here are five fun ways to keep you creatively engaged:

1. Dig out your idea-book or sketchbook. I keep a stack of index cards with me and write down ideas as they show up. They are never fully formed, and are often half baked, goofy, or incomprehensible. The idea is to grab the idea while it’s fresh, not create the process for developing them. And yes, you have to write them down because ideas are fragile and vanish when your mind focuses on the kids’ fight or what to make for dinner. The shortest pencil beats the longest memory every time. When you are creatively stuck, flip through the cards. Instant ideas!

2. Lower your standards. Sounds horrible but it works. When the perfectionist in you shows up, creative play runs out the door and hides. Experimenting is play. Each time you leave our studio unfulfilled or unhappy, you risk not returning. Doing something creative is better than quitting. When we create without pressure, without that high bar we so often set for ourselves, we can venture into a new area of creativity without fear. That leads to interesting results, fresh ideas, new discoveries. The bar won’t stay low, but it’s good practice to jump over a bar at any height.

3. Leave the studio—get out in nature and watch. Wait . . . didn’t I just say not to leave the studio? Don’t slink out, leave with a purpose. See what happens when the wind blows, how the different trees move, where a gust of wind shows up first. Watch the clouds form new shapes and dissolve. See how small branches are attached to bigger branches and how those connect to the trunk. Watch running water and see how it goes around and through obstacles and what floats and sinks. Each season offers plenty of variety.

4. Phone a friend and do something fun. See a movie, visit a gallery, go window-shopping and look for things that are purple or things that have triangle shapes in them. Browse in a bookstore. Each person picks up a copy of the same book with color photos, one of you describes a memory brought out by a photo in the first 30 pages, the other guesses which photo it was by listening to the details.

5. Plan a snack or meal in great detail, then eat it slowly and mindfully. Turn off all sound distractions and concentrate on one bite at a time. Chew slowly. Savor flavors and textures. It’s refreshing to nourish your body. And, because body and mind are linked, you are stoking your creativity through mindful eating. Chocolate counts.

Quinn McDonald is an artist whose book, Raw Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art will be published by North Light in July, 2011. She’s also a writer and certified creativity coach.


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