Friday, January 21, 2011

Five Tips for Endless Artistic Inspiration

For many artists, ideas and inspiration seem to run in a relentless cycle of feast or famine. I've had my own experience with this - weeks of overflowing motivation and productivity followed by weeks of what I like to call "mud brain", the feeling like there's nothing left in your formerly creative mind but sludge.

After reading loads of self-help books, spending years practicing different approaches to nurturing creativity, and learning quite a bit from trial and error, I've compiled this list of tips that never fail to help me revive that waning artistic flame:
  1. Pay attention. Sure, it sounds simple, but how much do you really notice in your environment each day? Can you see the brush strokes in the paint on your walls? What color is the dash in your car? Seeing some of these mundane details with "new" eyes can spark the inspiration to use a new color or texture in your work. Better still, these things can remind you of similar things you have seen or imagined before, allowing your mind to wander to the place where all great ideas come from.
  2. Write things down. We all like to believe that our memory is fabulous and that any knock-your-socks-off idea that comes along will stick like glue. Don't make that mistake! Get in the habit of carrying a pen and paper and jotting down words or short phrases as they come to you during the day. My husband, always thinking outside of the box, even came up with the clever trick of writing on the shower tiles with a wax pencil. We all know that we get our best ideas at the strangest moments - catch them while you can!
  3. Go play. I've noticed that most of us creative types tend to dry up when we push too hard to "get" good ideas. A great way to beat that sort of burnout is to do something just for the fun of it. If you are mostly stationary when you work, why not do something more physical like playing a good old-fashioned game of kickball? Running all over the place at work? Try something fun but more relaxing, like a hand of poker or a video game with friends. As soon as the pressure is off, the creative thoughts are likely to start flowing.
  4. Collaborate. This tip could easily be paired with tip #3. The goal of a team project does not need to be lofty or important, it just needs to be something that has a clearly defined finish so everyone can celebrate when that goal is reached. Something magical and strangely magnetic happens when you put minds together to collaborate on a project - your brain will form at least three ideas for every one idea that's spoken. What should you do with those ideas? See tip #2
  5. Whine, bitch, and cry, but by all means get it out of your system! If you're artistically frustrated, don't hang on to that feeling and let it fester, get it out in any non-destructive way you can find. My favorite "dump" for this kind of blockage is to write it out. Trust me, you lose a lot fewer friends this way than if you decide to call up a buddy and air your artistic grievances. Anne Lamott, Julia Cameron, Natalie Goldberg, and many other creators sing the praises of stream-of-conscious writing (not to be confused with a journal) each morning. Write down anything and everything that's bothering you, whether it makes sense at the time or not, for as many days as it takes to purge it all. Then, take a deep breath and greet your creative medium refreshed.

I hate to admit, but there is no instant fix, no magic bullet that is going to reset all of your inspiration switches and get you moving again. Creativity and inspiration are like plants that need constant care - you have to nourish them in order to collect a bountiful harvest.


  1. More spot on advice Beth! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thank you so much for this advice!

  3. I just hope everyone will put these tips to good use :)

  4. very helpful tips to put to use. Creativity like a good friend needs to be nurtured and supported with consistant authenticity.