Creativity and artistic ability are two different subjects. Creativity is a natural gift that every living person is born with. Babies engage in creative play, children pretend they are princesses and super heroes, adults create meals in the kitchen and decide what clothes to put together for the day, etc. So being creative is a basic human quality.
When someone says something like, “I don’t have a creative bone in my body,” what they are really saying is that they don’t believe they have artistic talent. Some people are born with the artistic ability to make art without much thinking, some people stress out if they’re asked to make art, some people learn the how-tos and then their artistic skills improve.
The important thing to remember is that creativity is in you, no matter what you think. Creativity is in you no matter what degree of artistic ability you have. If you’re interested in learning how to draw or paint, make jewelry or do arts and crafts or write poetry, just know that you have already achieved the first step just by virtue of being a human – you have creativity.
To develop artistic ability, first is choosing what you’re interested in creating, and then finding someone who can teach you the basic steps. Developing artistic ability is like learning how to ride a bike, as cliche as that sounds, because at first it may seem difficult… but with practice it gets easy and natural. In truth, the creative challenge is really to surrender to the learning curve so your inborn creativity can find it’s expression.
We humans are magnificent, creative beings that have a fundamental human urge to do something well – for its own sake – as part of our natural makeup. Doing something well includes increasing skillfulness and keeping our attention on what we’re doing rather than on ourselves. Whether a graphics artist, a physician, a musician, or even parents or politicians – each one immerses himself or herself in a “craftsman’s” effort. When we’re in the process of creating something or doing our best to accomplish something good in life, not only are we aware of the physical/material elements of what we’re doing, but we apply our individual ethics and values as we challenge ourselves with personal ideas about what good work really means.
Being skillful at something holds many dimensions, such as the mechanical technicalities we employ and the passionate energy that we require to do good quality work, be it creative arts, professional activities, or what involves our interest in daily living. To an unexpected extent, our personal craftsmanship leads us to a place where we can discover things about ourselves through our effort and intention for making things, creating accomplishments.
For people who enjoy creating art, we lose ourselves in the process; and that is the craftsmanship that becomes time-transcending and blissful and the outcome is not as important as the process, the doingness itself. Making the most of what we are doing, developing our skill for the love of it, is a natural energy and inherent in creativity.
I find doodling to be a creative outlet. When I doodle, I am drawing in an unfocused way with my attention occupied on other things. My doodles can be uncomplicated drawings with some meaning, they may be brainstorming, quickie designs for jewelry or paintings, or they may just be abstract or curly shapes. People like to doodle silly cartoons of people they know, famous comic book characters, made-up imaginary beings, geometric shapes, landscapes and flowers, textures and wandering patterns.
Growing up, I was called a daydreamer by my teachers; I used to doodle in my school notebooks and even the margins of my textbooks, mostly because I was not interested in class. To this day I doodle when I’m on long telephone conversations and when I’m in seminars.
I also keep journals and doodle in them. Then I go back in with acrylics or watercolors and paint them, which is a fun way to get myself to re-read my notes. Doodles can be a source of ideas for later drawings and paintings, so I keep a chunky file of doodles I’ve done that I liked, torn out of old notebooks or from other pages of notes and doodles.
Many people have told me that they always wanted to be an artist but that they don’t have any talent, that they don’t have it in their genes, they don’t have a creative bone in their body, etc. Once they actually sat down and received personalized instruction, these beliefs changed. I recently read in a blog that someone named Seth Godin said, ‘Art is anything that’s creative, passionate and personal.’ If you love to bake or crochet, if you love building fences and brick walkways in your garden, if you’re crazy for singing country and western oldies, these are creative, personal passions. So everyone is an artist of one ilk or another. Being an artist does not mean you can draw and paint like a master. It means you have a natural, creative life force within you that expresses itself in many ways; much of this energy is, of course, for survival. And when you are doing things you enjoy – sports, crafts, dog training, whatever – you are also expressing that creativity that every human being is born with.
In modern society, we are continually bombarded with standards of beauty and what is cool, and these standards are imposed by others. Artists coming out of various cultures not only express what’s inside, but there is also an influence that delicately affects us out of culture. This is where the intellect takes over. It is a reservoir of endless, inner commentary based on a lifetime of inflow! This can have a deep impact on creativity, sometimes causing us to be hard on ourselves, be critical of what we are making, make us feel stuck, etc., all of which I call “inner creative challenges.” I have a personal “bag of tricks” I use to help me overcome myself, and to stay in touch with my inner creative energy. Different things work for different people and each individual can find ways to inspire his/herself.
I cannot command my creativeness to appear, but I can influence it. Some examples are that I often keep a small sketchbook in my purse, I take photos with my phone of things I want to refer to later, I jot down notes of ideas that will probably slip my mind, I change what I have hanging on the walls, I have several projects going at the same time so I can get away from something I can’t be objective about, I work on my painting upside down, I make lists of unexpected things I could incorporate into a work, I take a class in something new, and I always try the opposite of what I would normally do in a drawing or painting (or in my jewelry designs).
Other things I do when those inner creative challenges arise are I’ll take a walk or a drive to get away from my project, then draw something while I’m out for a change of pace. Or I take 5 minutes to talk to myself in the mirror and encourage the one I see across from me. Sometimes I take ten to practice changing my thoughts – I sit quietly and then for every negative thought, I make up 25 positive thoughts. I’ll trace a drawing/painting I’m working on, transfer it to another paper/canvas, and start over in a completely different color palette or style. It’s all about being kind to myself and having fun. And I’ve discovered that whenever I’m too serious about my art, the inner creative challenges rear their ugly heads!
Creativity doesn’t strike like lightning. It’s seems instead a bit like a friendly energy arising within. And it is possible to create the right environment for it to thrive. Creativeness is not something that can be learned, however, anyone can become skilled at arranging conditions to promote the best opportunity for creative expression. For example, practiced artists surround themselves with a variety of supplies they enjoy using – charcoal, sketchbooks, paints, clay, etc. – and dedicate a space to create whenever the urge strikes them.
For beginners, you can start by clearing out a drawer or shelf to have a place to begin collecting items to make art with. Try browsing large art supply vendors online for good pricing, and visit local arts and crafts stores just to wander around and see what there is. Creativity in drawing and painting loves to have lots of supplies, colors, paper… whatever strikes your fancy!
If you feel stuck (no ideas or don’t like what you’re making), shake up your thinking patterns. Most important is to train yourself to play, and not be attached to the outcome. What you make is not the goal; allowing yourself to enjoy your creative energy and have fun, is. It’s about new possibilities, new perspectives. So just relax, play, experiment and enjoy the materials. That’s what creativity is all about.
When children are given the opportunity for creative, open-ended play, the imagination is stimulated and they learn to think in new ways. New ideas form because in creative play they are free to see things in different ways. They begin to rearrange things and think outside of the box they normally live in. They fantasize and dream about things, and do whatever feels fun or interesting. They exercise their curiosity as well as their visual muscles.For as long as I’ve been teaching the visual arts of drawing, painting, and animating, I’ve seen children and adults develop faith in themselves, through self expression, because each one is seeing himself or herself as unique. (Read my full article here.)
Adults are like children in their need to express their inherent creativity. Creating art makes people of all ages feel good, and happy people have more self-esteem. I’ve had many students, children and adults, whose self-esteem grew as they became more proficient in drawing and painting.