Friday, June 11, 2010

Inspiration Friday: Scratching my creative itch!

The first steps of a creative act are like groping in the dark: random and chaotic, feverish and fearful, a lot of busy-ness with no apparent or definable end in sight.... You need a tangible idea to get you going. The idea, however minuscule, is what turns the verb into a noun - paint into a painting, sculpt into sculpture, write into writing, dance into dancing. (Twyla Tharp - The Creative Habit)

The habit that Tharp uses to approach her blank page she calls scratching. Like scratching a lottery ticket to uncover your prize, or as Tharp explains it "It's like clawing at the side of a mountain to get a toehold, a grip, some sort of traction to keep moving upward and onward."

I love this notion of scratching. What gets me started on a piece or project? How is a seed discovered and then planted? How do I coax creativity out of its dark cave?

As much as I tend to be an orderly, organized person, I am discovering my need for some sort of controlled chaos in order to free up my creative juices. My own personal scratching technique is to be sure I have a couple of projects ongoing to turn to when inspiration strikes. If nothing else, in those seeming lulls of creativity, I have to remind myself to do some prep work. Using this means readying my materials like gesso-ing some journal pages or postcards, shifting through my photo files and uploading pictures to Flickr, or cleaning out my materials bins and discovering new scraps of background papers, magazine clippings and other ephemera that I have collected and which may spark an idea.

When working, I like to move around from project to project striking when inspired. Often when I am working on one piece, I have an idea for another piece and while something is drying or when a piece is marinating, I then move over to a second or even third piece. I am finding my postcard paintings are fantastic vehicles for scratching an idea or image or color scheme that may move into a larger format later on.

Other ways I scratch or stretch out my creative muscles include drawing up inspiration from nature:

Children's books are great sources for inspiration. An image, character or technique pops out at me while reading to Cowgirl and I secretly stash that book away in my art space to peruse and explore later on. (Oh yes, I steal freely from Cowgirl's collection!) The illustrators of children's books are some of my favorite artists and their imagery and styles appealing to the child in me.

Paying attention to Cowgirl's stories is another way I mine for artistic gold. Her imagination and spin on the seemingly ordinary always has me rushing for my journal to jot down ideas. A series of images based upon the antics of our otherwise lazy dog Moose has been particularly fertile ground. Cowgirl has a wonder spin on language: reading the weather section in the paper, she will inform us "Today is sunny, tonight is moony ..." She loves me "all the numbers" (which means a lot) and is wise to the times when I am trying "egg her up" (her interpretation of "buttering someone up.") Lots of good visual puns there!

Any kind of movement - taking a walk, free form dancing, yoga - are all ways to shake off the cobwebs, get the blood flow moving to the brain and stimulate some fresh thinking. Tharp writes about this and it is amazing how I can begin my yoga practice with my mind all cluttered, confused and tied up in knots. Even 15 minutes of movement and focusing upon my breath has the incredible effect of resetting my mind so thoughts flow freely and easily. (Yup, got my bit in for 21-5-800!)

Of course a huge place to scratch is here online. You all are some of my favorite sources for ideas, challenges, and projects. I sometimes wonder if my best pieces of writing are over in someone else's comment section! But as I read and write in others spaces, I often find myself typing my way into a new topic to be explored here and in my written journal.

My absolute favorite way shimmy into creative flow is to watch How To videos. For a mega-normous dose of creative juiciness, any video from the always inspiring Connie of Dirty FootPrints Studio has me humming and buzzing with art making potential.

Oh yeah, can you feel that?! Aren't you ready to hop to ASAP? (And if you feel inspired but intimidated, then I encourage you to check out Connie's newest e-course offering entitled BIG. I'll be there along with some super wonderful art lovelies painting our hearts out this July. And just to be clear, Connie does not know I am posting her video or writing this. I have grown so much as an artist - there, I said it, I am an artist! - and a huge dollop of gratitude is owed to the generosity of Connie as a teacher and as a fellow traveler on this crazy path of art and yoga. Okay, love letter over ♥)

Anyone who meditates will tell you, once you start scratching, the itches become endless. Not what you want when sitting on the zafu trying to focus on the breath, but hallelujah YES! when surrounded by paints, pencils, paper and pen.

What ways do you scratch for creative ideas? Thinking about your scratching habits, it is useful to have your list handy so the next time the paper seems especially white, you have your habits ready to move over the hurdle of that blank page.

Meanwhile, I ask you: Isn't ecstasy supposed to come before the laundry? I'm just wondering where mine went ...


  1. I've been thinking I need a microscopic tape recorder that I can clip onto my collar because I get so many ideas that just flash through and then they are gone. I try to write down just the jist of some of them so I have scraps of paper floating all over my studio and bedroom. That helps because as I come across them I cogitate how to make it into imagery. But I lose a lot of ideas too. Good thing they keep coming!

  2. I loved the video and the post. I really want to be more fearless like that but am afraid my Art has become really controlled. I seem to follow the same formula over and over. YIKES it even scares me when I say that. A formula artist is an oxymoron. There should not be a formula to art. Now what can I do today to jump out of that box... Thanks for making me think about this once more/

  3. I really enjoyed reading your post. I loved seeing your workspace and I agree about the creative inspiration from children's books. You also have me very intrigued about BIG. I am so loving the creative community I am discovering by way of the Artistic Mother and Flying Lessons. I hope I can find the time and energy to keep up =)

  4. Lovely Lis, what a vibrant post, so full of creative energy :) Love the gorgeous language of your Cowgirl- inspiration indeed. I totally agree with the magic of children's books, whole new worlds of endless possibilities. Thank you for the fab video, it made me smile and want to get out my paints straight away ( and I shall be investigating that e course as your recommendations are, without exception, wonderful). I've been joining in with your weekly reflections the past couple of weeks, hope I'm doing you proud xxx

  5. I have to re-read that book, it is an inspiring one. Great video, it is inspiring and fun. great exalted warrior pose you have there :)

  6. Hi Lisa, thanks for you message, It's so nice to hear from an artistic mom who knows where I'm coming from. That means so much to me. You Lovely blog, and I really enjoyed this post.

  7. Omg, I am also a fan of children's book,I don't think children's books are for kids only, adults who r wants to be in touch with their inner child read them too! The dot is one of my fav!

    I can't start my day without meditation, prayers n visualisation and gratitude to the things I have. It's so important to be centered n have joy n peace to continue this creative journey!

    Love ur posts, I connected!Do keep writing!


  8. Nature and Children's books are big inspirations for me. I'm especially drawn to the writing of L.M. Montgomery. Her words are just so evocative, for example these quotes from Anne of Green Gables series:

    'I'm afraid to even speak or move for fear that all this beauty will just vanish like a broken silence.'

    It was November- the month of crimson sunsets, parting birds, deep sad hymns of the sea, and passionate windsongs in the pines.

    She let the great sweeping wind blow the fogs out of her soul. Anne was not wont to be troubled by soulfog.

    I'm a big fan of Wordsworth's poetry too and I get lots of inspiration from movies, magazines, and especially other blogs!

    To keep track of my ideas I have a little application on my iphone that lets me store notes. Since I have my iphone with me all the time and beside my bed when I sleep I can grab it whenever and idea pops in my head.

    Thanks for reminding me of how helpful moving and exercise can be to clear the mind and invigorate the spirit. It's really something I need to incorporate into my life for MANY reasons.

    And finally a little comment about twitter since you mentioned on my blog that you were mulling it over. I joined mainly so that I could add the twitter widget to my sidebar and allow blog visitors to see a little glimpse into my everyday world. I plan to use it mostly to just record random thoughts and moments that wouldn't normally make it into a blog post. I don't plan to really try to use it to grow my blog community but more as a little bonus to my few blog readers that might be interested in knowing it rained yesterday & I love rainstorms or whatnot :)

    Sorry for the rambling post. It's 2 am here and I just couldn't sleep. so here I am!

  9. I loved reading this, Lis. Twyla Tharp's book is on my Amazon wishlist, but I'm currently working through Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way so have been mulling over these sorts of issues for some time.

    You are so an artist!

    I'm loving 'sunny and moony'! I also think illustrations in children's stories can be stunning and wonderful. As for what inspires me, I find I can't really put my finger on it, and I think perhaps I don't always give myself permission to BE inspired and then to ACT on it. This is something I'm working on.

    As for movement - I often find a walk on the beach with the dog helps to clear away the cobwebs and sort out blocks in my mind.

    Have a great week,

  10. Love, love this post! Yes, you are an artist!

    Also, I checked out 21.5.800 and signed up. I'm late, but oh, well. I wouldn't have found it without you, and I think it's perfect timing for me to jump into that. :)

  11. Loved this post! Got my wheels turning and I had to laugh when you said that sometimes you think your best writing is in the comments on other people's blogs because I literally quoted a comment of yours from my blog and posted it on my Facebook status (as a quote from you) so I could share it with others.

    It was this one: "I mean, the fireflies don’t ask if we want/like their light, they just glow and we all are grateful. Glow away!"

    You go girl!!!!

  12. Thanks so much for posting on my blog! I don't know if comments ever get old, but right now, on my brand new blog, each comment is like a little gold nugget, precious and priceless. It seems we are on the same artistic journey, though you have traveled much farther than I have. It's amazing how many of us are out there, trying to figure it all out. I am going to come back when I have a moment to check out all of your class and workshop buttons you have on your blog. Thanks again!!


  13. i loved twyla's book, and i wouldn't mind re-reading it again! thanks for the reminder and great post!