I'm not someone who often gets bored, lacks for inspiration, or suffers from creative block. If I get stymied, it's usually a matter of confronting too many
possibilities and ideas. But it's still fun to think of ways to keep the creative process fresh.
A couple months ago, as I was sorting through old magazines, I started jotting down a list of ideas for keeping art-making interesting and original. The list quickly grew toward forty items, so I decided to finish at 41 and offer it as my gift to you for my 41st birthday, which is April 6.
The ideas are presented in no particular order, along with random but relevant photos from the past. I hope you will use it as a kind of Grab Bag of Creative Inspiration!
41 Ways to Keep It Fresh
1. Have a supply swap. Challenge yourself to create something using only these new materials.
2. Create an inspiration board. Change it up once in a while! Don’t let it become old wallpaper.
3. Keep an Idea File (sometimes known as some sort of sketchbook, art journal, or glue book). Pick it up and look through it instead of reaching for a magazine or the remote.
4. Explore an art material or supply you’ve never used, or haven’t used in a long time, preferably from your existing stash. Make a list of items that you haven’t actually used yet, and work from that.
5. Work in a different size than you usually do. Do you usually make inchies, ATCs, or postcards? Try a large canvas! Or vice versa. Do you usually use a small book for your art journal? Try journaling big!
6. Choose a central subject to keep the same across several pieces, but work in different media—collage, watercolors, acrylic, fabric, etc.
7. Choose a central subject to keep the same across several pieces, but work in the style of different artists. (There was a Cloth Paper Scissors article about this kind of project back in September/October 2013.)
8. Join a challenge or swap with artists you’ve never worked with before.
9. Pick a book from your shelves and choose a project to complete.
10. Choose a person or a holiday and create a piece of art with that focus in mind. Give the completed project as a gift.
11. Make a list of “quickie” projects that serve your need to create, keep the juices flowing in the downtime between projects, and trigger ideas for new endeavors. I might carve a stamp, create an ATC, alter a Rolodex card, bind a simple book, or stitch a postcard.
12. Change around your art-making space. Try taking everything off of your work table, and then selectively return key items to new places. Rearrange the furniture, if possible. Change the way you organize your supplies.
13. Create a work of art that captures your mood or your environment right now. You’ve never been here now before, so what you come up with is bound to be fresh.
14. Create a work of art to welcome or usher in the coming month or season.
15. Visit a section of a museum that you would normally never visit—modern art, arms and armor, textiles, furniture, Impressionism—it will be different for everyone. Use your sketchbook or journal to think of ways this exhibit could influence your art. Let it influence the next piece you create.
16. Work in a new environment—a different room in the house with a different view, the backyard, a public place, a friend’s house, the place you work (after hours!).
17. Go to the library and spend time in a section you would normally never consider. Browse the books there—antique cars, medicine, self-help, dogs, architecture, bridges—it will be different for everyone. Use your sketchbook or journal to think of ways your perusal of these books could influence your art. Let it influence the next piece you create.
18. Make your materials from scratch. Take your own photographs for collages rather than using found images. Make your own painted papers for greeting cards. Create your own spray-able inks. Find unique mark-making tools around the house or in the yard in place of markers or paint brushes. Carve your own rubber stamps.
19. Try working on a new substrate—watercolor paper, stretched canvas, bound book, matboard, clothing (jeans, shoes, etc.).
20. Adapt the RAFT approach to art. When I was teaching high school, RAFT was a way to differentiate instruction for students. We created a menu of roles (R), audiences (A), formats (F), and topics (T). These categories can be mixed and matched to create unique assignments. I think the concept could be adapted easily to the world of art!
21. Have a crafternoon or Craft Night to create with your friends and see what everyone is working on.
22. Look for art tools and materials in unusual places. Visit the hardware store, the dollar store, the bed and bath store, the grocery store, with a focus on finding usual items to use in unusual ways in your art.
23. Work in colors or styles or techniques that do not usually attract you. (Try doing that with your clothing, too!)
24. Take an online class or purchase a DVD to learn a new technique relevant to your art. (You can also do this for free by finding a book at the library or watching a video on YouTube or Vimeo.) OR, learn something completely unrelated and new. (Collage artist? Try a class on drawing faces, making jewelry, or creating with polymer clay.)
25. Respond to something going on in the news through a piece of art.
26. Try something new online. Start a blog, set up a Facebook page for your artist self, create some boards on Pinterest, join an online community with forums and galleries, take a class, try a challenge, join a swap, tweet, try Instagram, figure out the point of Google+, watch a tutorial on YouTube (and some favorite music from high school while you’re at it!), contact a favorite artist. Don’t forget to tear yourself away from the computer and make art!
27. Set up regular Artist Dates (popularized by Julia Cameron) with yourself. Keep filling that creative well! Take time to think about and sketch or write notes about how the excursion informs or influences your art and creativity.
28. Make art with children, or at least with children’s art supplies.
29. Teach something you know and love to people who are interested in you and your work.
30. Try creating work that follows magazine themes and guidelines, and try to get published. Don’t get discouraged by rejection. Either try again, or go back to making art for yourself and/or the people who appreciate you!
31. Take it public, especially if that’s outside your comfort zone. Share your work on Facebook or on a blog. Sell at an arts and crafts fair. Get your work into a store. Set up an online shop. Create an online video. Offer an online class.
32. Go on an art retreat.
33. Take a class at a local college, craft store, nature center, or arts center.
34. Create an art partnership. Find a like-minded individual and commit to meeting together regularly to share your art, offer encouragement, and fulfill pre-determined objectives. (Will you critique each other? Share supplies? Teach each other techniques? Swap finished art pieces?)
35. Give your art pride of place in your home outside of your art room. Have it framed, if applicable. Give it proper space on a wall, a shelf, in a niche, on a bookcase or bureau, etc.
36. Give yourself a challenge (create it yourself or find one online): Adding something new to a canvas every day for a month or a year. Creating a Christmas craft each month of the year. Drawing a face every day for a month. Creating a collage a day. Working in an art journal every day. Sending out a piece of mail art every day. Practicing a new tangle every day.
37. Purge art supplies and art room materials that no longer inspire you. Donate them and work with only what you love, making space for anything new that comes your way.
38. Try working on your art at different times of day to see if your productivity or quality is affected. Challenge long-held beliefs about being a “morning person” or a “night owl,” and see if art doesn’t perk you up at times when you just thought you were at your worst.
39. Try a new “ritual” or a change to your art-making environment. How is your art-making affected by playing music (or turning it off)? Wearing an apron? Putting on a special piece of jewelry? Burning candles? Drinking a special tea or juice at break times? Standing instead or sitting? Sitting instead of standing? Opening the windows? Adding more light? Opening the door (or closing it)? Letting the cat, dog, or bird in with you as you create (or making them leave)?
41. Collaborate on a project, like a shared canvas or an art journal round robin or a collage box, or even traveling pants!
41. Take your art on the road. How can you bring it with you when you travel and make it part of your vacation or business trip or family obligation?
Looking over the list, I see about 12 things that I haven't yet tried for myself, and every one that I have
done could easily be done many more times in new ways. We have no excuse for getting into an artistic or creative rut when so many possibilities for keeping the process fresh abound!
Which of these ideas is your favorite? Do you have any new ideas to add to the list?