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The Little Spark-30 Ways to Ignite Your Creativity

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You were born with a creative spark inside. Do you look at yourself now and wonder if the spark has gone out? Ignite that inner fire with the 30 engaging exercises, fun activities, inspirational images, and motivating ideas in this book. Learn what your Little Spark of creative passion looks like, how to capture it, and how to make room for it in your life. Read the book cover-to-cover and use it as a month-long creative roadmap, or just dip into the exercises as your time and inclination allow. Either way, you will change your life.

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Spark 1. Just Start

ePub

Beginning is the hardest part for many creative people. I tend to procrastinate about starting any new project. I put a whole bunch of things in my way before I start: to-do lists, errands, cleaning—it’s as if I am trying to delay or defer my pleasure.

STARTING TAKES GUTS.

What if I’m terrible?

What if I fail?

What if I ruin it and waste all these materials?

You might be terrible at first. You may fail. You are definitely going to waste materials and make a mess. Then you won’t. In that order.

When you are ready to begin and you feel that fear popping up, ask yourself a simple question: “What is the worst thing that might happen if I fail, make a mess, fall on my face, waste some materials, or am terrible?” Your answer might be: “I’ll waste money that I don’t have and I won’t be able to pursue this anymore.” Or, “If I mess this up, then I’ll prove my parents (or spouse) right—that I’m not talented and I can’t do this—and I’ll be truly embarrassed.”

 

Spark 2. Create the Space

ePub

ARIZONA ARTIST CYNDI COON STORES MOUNTAINS OF MATERIALS FOR ART JOURNALING, PAINTING, AND CRAFTING ON FLOOR-TO-CEILING SHELVES. EACH BIN IS CLEARLY MARKED SO SHE KNOWS WHAT’S INSIDE.

You need a space, big or small, in which to be creative. Having a good work space cements you to your dreams. The creative space is a launchpad, refuge, retreat, temple, labyrinth, and safety net. It gives you a sense of purpose. Your space is a flagpole on the moon. If you believe in your dream enough to make a spot for it in your life and mark it with a flag, then you’re more likely to pursue your passion and hear the Spark when it calls.

Even if you’re still figuring out your creative direction, there’s an obstacle in the way if you’re always having to move everyone else’s stuff out of the way before you start. The Spark might not stick around for two hours of housekeeping. It helps to have space ready. For some, a sewing room might be a cleared-off dining table, with other materials hiding in a nearby cabinet or closet, or it might be an armchair for knitting. For others, a separate messy space might be necessary. It isn’t always possible to have a separate room, but creating a space with boundaries is important, regardless.

 

Spark 3. Take a Class

ePub

JAIME JENNINGS AND AMBER CORCORAN OWN FANCY TIGER CRAFTS, A RETAIL CRAFT AND CLASS SHOP IN DENVER, COLORADO. THEY HAVE HOSTED AN OPEN CRAFT NIGHT EVERY TUESDAY NIGHT FOR SEVEN YEARS. “BEING IN THIS COMMUNITY IS ONE OF OUR TOP REASONS FOR DOING WHAT WE DO, AND IT DRIVES OUR LOVE OF OUR CRAFTS,” SAYS JAIME.

The main thing I hear from people about what keeps them from their creative dreams is: “But I didn’t go to school for that.” This lack of training can make people feel paralyzed. While an education is not the only route to achieving your dreams, studying something definitely has its perks. You get an amazing energy and buzz from taking a class. You learn about technique, craft, and process—the bones of a working practice. You get tips from others in the field about integrating that practice into your life. You develop a vocabulary and learn how to see and discuss what you make (critique).

Formal training instills in you a sense of confidence. Confidence comes from gaining fluency. Classes will help you feel comfortable exploring your creativity. When you start something new, you are not expected to be good. You just need to have an open heart and be gentle with yourself as you learn.

 

Spark 4. The Crazies

ePub

IT ALL STARTS WITH THAT TINY SPARK.

And then come the Crazies.

The Crazies are the opposite of the Spark. They are the voices that tell you that your urge to follow your creative dream is crazy. They say, “Hogwash! Nonsense! What is wrong with you? You have such a nice life—why are you dissatisfied?” The Crazies are programmed to trip you up. They represent all the people who ever told you that you couldn’t. You’ve heard these voices your entire life from the dream stealers of Responsibility, Security, Financial Plans, 401(k)s, Your Parents’ Fears, and our culture’s weird value system and mythologized/misunderstood creative life that goes like this:

We love art. We need art.

We love creative people, but we don’t like to pay too much for what they create.

If you choose a creative life, you choose a life of poverty, lack, and struggle. You will suffer for your art.
(Which isn’t really true.)

They inhabit your mind and churn out a bunch of nonsense to keep you in the place where you behave “rationally and responsibly.” The Crazies love that—the things that make you “normal” and “acceptable,” the things that make you “blend in.”

 

Spark 5. Time

ePub

“Forever is composed of nows.”

EMILY DICKINSON

It is a fact of modern life that we are busy. Cultivating a creative life will require some thoughtful shuffling of things to make room for it. Be aware of your own rhythms as you establish a creative practice so you can take the path of least resistance (which is always the right path). I don’t believe in the “struggling artist” paradigm.

IF I AM STRUGGLING AT ANYTHING,
I GENERALLY FEEL LIKE I NEED TO FIND A BETTER WAY.

IF DOORS ARE OPENING BY THEMSELVES, THEN I KNOW I’M ON THE RIGHT TRACK.

Pay attention to the little things in your life that are like green lights telling you to go.

Do This

Think about the following:

What is your best time of day? When do you feel most creative? Have the most energy?

 

When are you sluggish, tired, or drained?

 

What times of day are more neutral for you?

 

What helps give you energy?

 

Spark 6. Make a Huge Mess

ePub

Every day when I pick up my daughter from preschool she is covered in remnants of her creative day, and I mean covered. She is dirty, sandy, gritty, painted, and stained. There’s sandwich on her face and sand in her pockets. Her shins are unrecognizably brownish-gray. I kneel down next to her, beaming, and say, “That’s what I like to see! I know you had a good day because you got messy!”

Do you honestly think I want that dirty child in my new car? Absolutely not! But I know I am being a really good mom in those moments because I am encouraging her creativity and validating her process and exploration. She can get in the bath later. Life is filled with opportunities, and if you are worried about getting dirty or making a mess, either metaphorically or for real, then you will be limited in your possibilities.

And so it is with grown-ups. You know you are on the right track if you are making a mess of something. You have to fall on your face sometimes. Who is your life for? Is it a big performance that you have rigged up with hidden strings and edited with Instagram-style filters to make you seem beautiful and perfect all the time? I did that for a long time. The years I Photoshopped my life into perfection and managed my image for some perceived gaze were some of the least creative of my life.

 

Spark 7. Permission

ePub

A PAGE FROM CYNDI COON’S JOURNAL

First, my creative parents said yes to my creativity, even as a baby. Then my first real art teacher was Dicki Arn. Starting in kindergarten, she held my Spark in her palms and blew gently on my tiny flame all the way until sixth grade. We are now Facebook friends. In my heart, I know she is the reason my whole life has unfolded as it has.

As I grew up, I studied with several teachers, and eventually I met Anne Arrasmith, an artist and visionary working in downtown Birmingham, Alabama, at a studio she created called Space One Eleven. I was probably about eleven when I started studying with Anne. I studied with her until college. Her teaching style was radical—she didn’t teach anything. She just said to her students, “Come on in, y’all. Now, let’s get to work!”

She gave her students nothing but space, time, materials, and permission. She offered an open door to her wild studio filled with crazy, sophisticated materials and tools. Space One Eleven took up a whole old building downtown. It had a wood shop and rooms upon rooms of stuff—it housed a pottery studio, a resident intern who painted huge oil paintings of weird Grateful Dead–inspired frogs, and a photographer’s lab.

 

Spark 8. Process

ePub

AYUMI TAKAHASHI IS A SUPERSTAR BLOGGER, MODERN QUILTER, AND DESIGNER LIVING IN JAPAN. HER STUDIO AND PROCESS REFLECT THE SMALLER SCALE OF JAPANESE HOMES. ORGANIZATION IS A MUST IN A SMALL SPACE. AYUMI’S FUNKY, FRESH SENSIBILITY IS MIRRORED IN HER STUDIO. INSPIRING PROJECTS AND PATCHWORK HANG ON THE WALLS.

Each day is a microcosm of the larger picture of your life. Each moment you spend tending to the Spark, the more your life will go in that direction. As your working process evolves, begin to notice it so you understand what helps you as you work.

After a while, you will learn how to incorporate the creative process into your days—how to integrate your dream into your reality. The more energy you spend on your passion, and the more your creative passion reveals itself to you, the more it will grow.

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

ANNIE DILLARD

REMEMBER:

HOW YOU DO ANYTHING IS

 

Spark 9. Grace

ePub

SUSAN SILVERMAN HAS DANCED HER WHOLE LIFE. SHE TEACHES AND

CO-OWNS A SMALL STUDIO IN PHOENIX, ARIZONA, CALLED DANCE THEATER WEST. SHE IS FILLED WITH GRACE. SHE’S IN IT FOR THE LOVE. GRACE IS THE HINGE BETWEEN EFFORT AND EFFORTLESS, AND IN THIS IMAGE YOU CAN SEE HER AT THAT EXACT MOMENT.

Grace comes from within; it is the hinge between effort and effortless.

We are programmed to think that work has to be hard to be valuable— that we are supposed to struggle in order to yield the most prized outcome. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I would say that the opposite is true. Work can often be easy. Taking the path of least resistance will serve you. Doors swing wide on their hinges when we move from the heart. Creativity is a flowing thing. You can’t white-knuckle it into existence. Loosen your grip and give it some space to flow.

In yoga there is a name for this, from the very old yoga sutras of Patanjali (Yoga Sutra 2, “Sadhana Pada”)—Sthira Sukham Asanam is Sanskrit for “balancing ease and grace with work and effort.” This is absolutely critical for a creative practice. If we are only full of effort and we are trying to muscle and power our way through our work, our yoga, our project, then it will seem harder than it should. We might feel tense or uptight as we work.

 

Spark 10. Break Your Own Rules

ePub

I PROBABLY WROTE HALF OF THIS BOOK UP IN THE TREE FORT WE MADE (ALTHOUGH I WASN’T USUALLY IN MY SUPER-CUTE TOMS WEDGE HIGH HEELS). IT FELT RIGHT TO SHAKE IT UP AND BE CREATIVE ABOUT MY WRITING LOCATIONS, TO PICK CREATIVE SPOTS. I WROTE ONE CHAPTER IN MY DAUGHTER’S BED, SURROUNDED BY TOYS AND STUFFED CRITTERS.

Breaking out of the standard operating procedure you have created for yourself is a huge step toward a creative life. Cultivating a creative life means thinking and acting in new ways so you can be open to the possibilities around you.

YOU MUST DISRUPT YOUR NORMAL PATTERNS SO YOU CAN SEE THE WORLD WITH NEW EYES.

We often react to the world in predictable ways. Sometimes our behaviors become programmed, as if we are on autopilot. We put on our socks in the same order, follow the same routine in the shower, scoot around the house, and begin our day in a scripted pattern. These are the habits and patterns that we have created over many years.

My freshman year at art school, there was this teacher, you know, the teacher that has almost mythic status? His name was Al DeCredico (1944–2009). He was brilliant. His teaching techniques were designed to take the cocky, naïve nineteen-year-old freshman students and crack them wide open to the world and everything in it. How do you do that in a Drawing 101 class?

 

Spark 11. Jar of Markers

ePub

THESE JARS HAVE BEEN ON OUR TABLE LIKE ARTFUL BOUQUETS FOR FIVE YEARS. THE PAPER IS ON A NEARBY BOOKSHELF. WE DRAW WITH THEM EVERY DAY.

No matter if your creative passion is playing guitar or glassblowing, you need a jar of markers or colored pencils on your dining table (or some other table that you sit at regularly). We have several at our house—one for markers, one for colored pencils, and one for plain yellow pencils and scissors. They have been there for five years. I use beautiful Japanese ceramic cups and mason jars to hold the markers. They sit in the center of the dining table where we eat every day, three times a day (plus snacks and homework), like an artful bouquet of creative possibility. Granted, I am a mom to small children, and granted, I have written that this is my very most favorite tip for fostering creativity in children. But doesn’t it apply to grown-ups as well?

You know what these jars are? They are an invitation to creativity. Whenever we want to draw, sketch, or write, they are there. We don’t have to go find the materials. The paper sits on a nearby shelf—within arm’s reach of the table, we keep journals, drawing pads, and stacks of recycled printer paper.

 

Spark 12. Go Window Shopping

ePub

Retail, in our capitalist society, has cornered the market on creativity in so many ways. Big business means big money. Big retail brands have dollars and creative interns (armies of talented, unpaid college kids) and think tanks and more dollars and control groups and idea labs and more creative interns. Forget the actual goods—just think of merchandising, branding, and marketing. Stores are the new galleries. The creative aspect of consumerism is that we are all curating our own story through the things we buy. Whether we are conscious or unconscious of these choices, they tell a story about us to the world.

YOU ARE SURROUNDED BY A TAPESTRY OF RICHES EVERY DAY.

I, as a creative person, feel inspired just by getting dressed—just by which scarf I choose to wear with which pants. When I wander around my city and the world, I am looking at materials, relationships between things, objects, ideas. I am curious about the pageantry of this beautiful life—not just the beauty of the natural world (which inspires me daily), but also the pageantry of what we humans do here, the stuff that we make, sell, and buy. I have always been a huge fan of package design and international grocery stores. I love seeing the cultural differences in packaging and colors, the psychology of commerce.

 

Spark 13. Get In Your Body

ePub

PHOENIX, ARIZONA, YOGA TEACHER ANTON MACKEY ENCOURAGES STUDENTS TO TURN OFF THEIR MINDS AND LOOK WITHIN BY CLOSING THEIR EYES AS THEY PRACTICE THEIR YOGA: “YOU DON’T NEED TO SEE THE POSE; YOU JUST NEED TO FEEL IT.” TRUST YOUR BODY TO TAKE YOU WHERE YOU NEED TO GO.

Research shows that using your muscles also helps your mind. Studies reveal improved creative thinking after aerobic exercise. Regular exercise increases the number of tiny blood vessels that bring oxygen-rich blood to the brain and body.

In addition to the physical effects of exercise, sometimes you just need to get out of your head. The mind can be so noisy. That is one of the many reasons I love yoga. I go into the yoga studio, close my eyes, and let go. My teacher, Anton Mackey, turns up the music and I am free. I get out of my head. I am present in the moment. It is simple in that space—just me, my breath, and my moving body.

Some people get that feeling from running, hiking, cycling, or swimming. It is more than endorphins and blood flow—it is Space between yourself and your thoughts; space between each thought. Getting into your body through exercise creates stillness in your mind. Meditation is another way to find some quiet space. For creativity, it is important to turn off the incessant chatter of your mind and to bypass the intellect, to create a fresh place inside.

 

Spark 14. Inner-Kid Care

ePub

I DREW FRAMES DIRECTLY ON OUR LIVING ROOM WALL TO CREATE AN EVER-CHANGING GALLERY FOR OUR CHILDREN’S ART. WHEN THEY MAKE NEW THINGS, WE JUST REMOVE ONE AND PIN OR TAPE THE NEW PIECE IN ITS PLACE. THIS WALL IS THE FOCAL WALL OF OUR HOUSE. HANGING ART IN AN IMPORTANT SPOT HONORS CHILDREN’S CREATIVITY.

You need look no further than the bright, shining, creative kid you used to be to find the source of your creativity. She or he has been here all along. We have to talk about it at some point, and now is the time. How can I write a book with the sole purpose of enabling your creativity and helping you listen to your little Spark without figuring out when you lost it or covered it up? It has most likely just been hiding.

This is a simple exercise to uncover memories and release them. Give yourself about 20–30 minutes of quiet alone time in a comfortable spot. Read the following activity aloud. You can use your phone to record your reading, then play it back while you meditate.

 

Spark 15. Doubt

ePub

GIN BLOSSOMS GUITARIST SCOTTY JOHNSON OFTEN SITS AT HIS PIANO WHEN HE WANTS TO WARM UP AND GET INTO THE FLOW. BECAUSE THE PIANO IS HIS SECOND INSTRUMENT AND NOT HIS FIRST LOVE, HE FEELS FREE TO PLAY AROUND AND EXPLORE.

“Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.”

ANONYMOUS

Many of us hold on to doubt so we don’t allow ourselves to build a ladder with duct tape and backyard twigs to get us to the moon. But you can, you know. You can build that ladder with your own two hands, sheer excitement, and intention if you trust the process and take the first step.

One of the most important ways we can overcome self-doubt is to make peace with it. Befriend your doubt. Notice when it shows up. Gently honor it like an old friend. Maybe even nicely ask your doubt to leave. When we are busy trying to get rid of something, we expend a lot of energy and we are unwittingly feeding it.

FOUR WAYS TO REMOVE DOUBT

Rituals

We don’t have enough rituals in our modern culture, but our ancestors did. Use ritual to honor the transition into your creative activity. A ritual can be a simple thing we use as a tool to step into a more personal, internal space. It may be dark chocolate. It may be a moment of gratitude for the blessings of today. It may be a simple prayer in which you ask for strength and courage and that you work to your highest and best good. Maybe you say, “Today I will make a mess, play, and have fun.” I burn sage (smudge) before I work (a Native American ritual), to clear the energy and start fresh.

 

Spark 16. Have a Secret

ePub

MY ALL-TIME FAVORITE ARTIST IS MY DEAR OLD FRIEND, BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA, ARTIST DOUG BAULOS. HIS IS AN ART OF SECRET KEEPING, MYSTERY, AND HUMANNESS. HE FINDS HIS WORK IN LAYERS. HE IS A POET—A SOUL MECHANIC. HE DOESN’T REVEAL ALL OF HIS HAND—EVER. YET HE REVEALS A LOT BY WHAT HE KEEPS UNKNOWN, BY WHAT HE DOESN’T SAY.

I was an eighteen-year-old freshman at the Rhode Island School of Design when I received the following homework assignment. My Two-Dimensional Design teacher, Jack Massey, asked us to do something very simple: have a secret.

This is what he told us to do:

Do something alone, just for you, by yourself, in the middle of nowhere, in a hidden place or out in the world—with no one else around. You can make a piece of art, do a performance or action, dance, write something, or make a site-specific installation. Whatever it is, it is your secret. Don’t tell anyone about it or talk about it—to anyone—ever.

That was ages before social media, before we advertised our every thought on Facebook, before we became increasingly entwined with externalizing our lives.

 

Spark 17. Inspiration

ePub

IN MY STUDIO, I PUT MY FAVORITE STUFF OUT SO I CAN SEE IT AND IT CAN INVITE ME. I LOVE THE COLOR OF DENIM AND MY STACK OF SOMBER JAPANESE TEXTILES THAT I HOARD. I KEEP SKEINS OF RECYCLED SILK SARI RIBBON FROM LEILANI ARTS OUT SO I CAN BE INSPIRED BY THE RICH COLORS.

LOGAN MILLIKEN, OF SILVER & SAGE JEWELRY, IS INSPIRED BY THE CONNECTION SHE MAKES NOT JUST WITH HER BEADS BUT WITH THE ARTISANS SHE SUPPORTS AROUND THE WORLD.

ADAM RAYMONT IS A PAINTER BASED IN BERLIN AND NEW YORK. “MOVING THINGS AROUND MAKES THINGS FRESH AND CREATES NEW RELATIONSHIPS WHICH MIGHT KICK OFF A NEW IDEA,” HE EXPLAINS. HERE IS HIS STUDIO— LAYERED WITH WORKS IN PROGRESS.

FOLLOW FIREFLIES

Inspiration is everywhere you look. It can be commonplace or holy. It can catch you unaware and take away your breath. It can leave you speechless. How often have you been playing around online, and twenty minutes later you snap back into reality after you were utterly absorbed by an interesting article or video?

 

Spark 18. The Pleasure Principle

ePub

I LEARNED TO KNIT IN FOURTH GRADE FROM MY GRANDMOTHER’S NEIGHBOR, MARION EPSTEIN (MANNY) AND FROM MRS. BROUGHTON, WHO WOULD TEACH US AFTER SCHOOL. EVER SINCE, KNITTING HAS SOOTHED MY SOUL. EVEN IN ART SCHOOL, I WOULD COME HOME FROM THE INTELLECTUAL RIGORS OF THE STUDIO AND CLIMB IN MY BED WITH SKEINS OF COLORFUL CHENILLE. I’D KNIT SCARVES AND READ MARTHA STEWART LIVING MAGAZINE LIKE IT WAS SOME FORBIDDEN PLEASURE. CRAFTING SEEMED LIKE A DIRTY SECRET TO ME THEN, BUT IT KEPT ME SANE IN THE IVORY TOWER.

“Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.”

RUMI

What makes you feel good? Why would you need to be reminded about seeking pleasure? We are all so good at that, right? No, not really. But you once were. And certainly you knew what made you happy as a child.

When was the last time you watched a seven-year-old, or a four-year-old, at play? I do every day. Here is what it looks like: they flit, they fly, they wander passionately from one creative enterprise to the next. Now playing with tiny plastic Littlest Pet Shop critters, now drawing, now LEGO, now back to Pet Shops, and on it goes. Constant desire. Constant movement. Constant momentum, even when they take breaks: Look! Here’s a roll of duct tape! Look! I can write my own comic book! Look! Ice cream! Pleasure, pleasure, pleasure the whole way through. Children seek pleasure at every turn. They don’t need reminders about how to play, how to have fun, or how to make room for themselves. They know what feels good.

 

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