creative process


Thinking about circles as symbols of wholeness and completion. Thinking about what my life will look like on the other side of this break.

Thinking about things fractured and things connected, things broken and things whole. Thinking about how we live in increments of now: moments, days, decades. But the beauty is in these moments as a whole. 

Yes, these separated moments could stand on their own, but what happens when we put them all together? 
A more complete and powerful picture emerges.

Your creative process needs a Routine Machine.

routine machine Do you set aside creative time, to then spend half of it wondering what in the heck you're going to do? You sit down at your piano or in your studio or with your art journal and you don't know where to start? If this is a constant struggle for you, maybe it is time to whip you creative process into shape. It is time to stop flailing around aimlessly in your creative time and start flying!

How can you take control of your creative process? You use a streamlined, customized just-for-you creative routine that maximizes your creativity. Your creative process can go from flailing to flying in just one day, using a Routine Machine. The good news is that building a creative "Routine Machine" is easier than you think!Darwin info

And how does it work? It is built using creative triggers: A specific workspace? Tea? A walk outside? A quick sketch or sprint of writing? Morning pages? Putting on your smock and stepping into your studio? Pandora?  ...Think Pavlov, but for ideas.

An enlightening 99U article gives us the characteristics that make a creative routine work:

1. Uniqueness – it should be something (or a combination of things) you don’t associate with other activities, otherwise the effect will be diluted.

2. Emotional intensity – the kind you experience when you’re really immersed in creative work.

3. Repetition – the more times you experience the unique trigger in association with the emotions, the stronger the association becomes.

Your creative triggers can be anything used exclusively to tell your brain "it's go time" whether it's idea generation or get-it-done mode. Your brain will learn to respond to the triggers. Yes it's slightly animalistic, but use this fact to your benefit. Train your brain, y'all. Train your brain.

Austin Kleon, who is a master at making creativity look easy, explains how his daily routine and creative space work for him: "hopefully get out to the garage by 10AM or so. Then I’m out there until around 5 or so. I try to adhere to John Waters’ routine: make stuff up in the morning and sell it in the afternoon." Why does his creativity look so effortless? Because the man created his own custom built Routine Machine!

And how do I use my own Routine Machine? This is in constant flux, depending on the season and needs. I wake around 5:30. My morning journal/coffee/breakfast time can include meditation, reading, drawing, working on my "Big Three" (more on that soon), ideating, etc. My mornings are creatively focused (in the studio, churning out written content, working on some of my publishing projects). And my afternoons are for admin/marketing stuff. Then it's family time which rolls right into a restful evening. This ends with an evening "wind down." It often includes soft lighting, reading, and my favorite blanket. This wind down is essential, like a Pavlovian lullaby for my brain. Without it, I often have a hard time falling asleep.

My Routine Machine gives me the predictability and security I need in order to channel my "what's next" creative energies towards projects and paintings, instead of responding to disorganization. This routine is SO important that it's included in my creativity manifesto:

To maintain a level of creativity, I rely on new inspirations and old routines. I always find novel ways to create, whether it be through new tools of creating, or new mediums. Predictability and routine provide the best environments for my soul to have the energy to create. If life demands adaptation and change (both being very creative endeavors) then I will be depleted of my inner creativity.

Now, for that thing about the Big Three. One of the smallest and most useful cogs in my Routine Machine comes from Todd Henry, author of Accidental Creative. He says to keep your "BIG THREE" list in a prominent place in your organizational system. I keep in mine on little cards in my LifeBook system. The "Big Three" can come from projects or challenges that you're chewing on and working through, and you want to keep in the forefront of your attention. "You cannot concentrate on everything at once, so you need to regularly refine your list of critical creative priorities so that you train your mind to be on the lookout for solutions. " There's more from Todd in this Forbes Article on Creativity in the workplace.

Now, let's work on your Routine Machine to maximize your creative process and watch your creativity soar. Here are some useful resources that you can dig into to begin to think through your own Routine Machine!

You can scroll through an entire website, turned book, to help us learn from the daily routines of creative people.

Want others' daily routines in an infographic from InfoWeTrust? (Like Darwin's above.)Owaves

Want to make your day look like Darwin's? YES THERE'S AN APP FOR THAT, called Owaves (screenshot at the right).

OR, you can start with something less complex. In fact, I use the Lift App to create habits of the things I want to accomplish everyday. It's like a daily checklist, with stats!

So think it through—build a Routine Machine that works for you or adapt the one you already have! What does your creativity need? What would your ideal daily/weekly routine look like? What elements would it have? And what would you want to accomplish with it?

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Everyone Needs Creative Play

Play Yields Apparently, play is not just for children. I keep seeing it everywhere. My "paper mentors" seem like people who just play all day and out pop good ideas. Creativity just bubbles to the surface (read: burps) as they skip along all the merry fun activities they have planned. Yes, I know they work hard. I know they get stuff done. But gosh they make it look like fun. And I keep hearing them point towards play as a part of the restful, rich, creative life.

Leonie Dawson calls creative play Brain Holidays, insisting that "Your creative + spiritual + emotional selves all need energy + time too." Julia Cameron calls creative play artist dates; she can't say it better than this: "Artist dates are assigned play." Keri Smith has a box for readers to draw on her very own website. And I would bet money that Sark's favorite word is probably "fun."

These people are SERIOUS about play, y'all.

And when we understand the mechanics of creativity, we will take creative play more seriously.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, why should we "waste time?" Well, according to Scientific American "cerebral congestion," that tired sluggish mental state, has a cure and the cure sparks creativity! And WHO can argue with those experts?! Seriously. Haven't you experienced it? You're working on a project, hit a wall, then push and push and push. Finally you decide to give up—go do something else. And within 24hrs the wall just disappears. The solution to your problem shows up without your beckoning.

Seriously, the brain-science types say "a-ha moments" are a legit benefit of mental downtime. More from Scientific American: "Related research suggests that the default mode network is more active than is typical in especially creative people, and some studies have demonstrated that the mind obliquely solves tough problems while daydreaming—an experience many people have had while taking a shower. Epiphanies may seem to come out of nowhere, but they are often the product of unconscious mental activity during downtime."

Read the article. It is incredible. You might hear angels sing. And it will lead you to this conclusion: Every person SHOULD take time out for creative play because it is a tried and true means of idea generation.

How can we say no to this? Well, our schedule usually gets in the way, right? Those pesky little responsibilities that take up our time... Okayyyy... So, what we need are some quick and effortless ways to engage in downtime:

  • Go on a picnic in your back yard.
  • Take your creativity for a walk.
  • Make mud pies.
  • Go shopping for a fun new creative toy.
  • Grab the frisbee and get some space to roam.
  • Hike. Bike. Climb.
  • Take a joy-ride, windows down, music up.
  • Roam Pinterest and call it "research."
  • Eat slowly at your favorite restaurant or cafe.
  • People watch. <--- This is a good one.
  • Spend some time journaling.
  • Try fingerprinting again!

What do I do? I get outside however I can. Or I take a nap, which is very restful play! Or I ride bikes with my girls. Or I do "research" on Pinterest!

So, JUST PLAY. Find ways to play play play. Plan a time for creative play at some point in the next two weeks. Or think about a daily moment of creative play. Let your creativity loose. Let it run wild for no objective reason. Goal-less play! Play yields Exploration which yields Discovery which yields Solutions.

How do you play? Where? When? Or do you need someone to remind you how to play?

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How to hunt and gather inspiration.

hunt The earliest artists were hunter-gatherers, and seriously? So are we.

They moved from meadow to meadow, terrain to terrain. Their pace followed the seasons, a different practice in the summer than in the winter. They stored up for times of hunger, adjusted as fields became fallow and as fruit became scarce. They understood drought, moving as water and weather took them.

Like them, we can't grow our own creative sustenance—those things that inspire and drive us. We have to go after it, gather it, and store it. We have always been and will always be hunter-gatherers. Thomas Merton said, "The imagination needs time to browse." So give yourself permission to browse, to wander around for the creative fodder you need.

To maximize your creativity, you must rely on a variety of sources:

  • Go on creative inner-pilgrimages to foreign artists' styles, or use foreign writing prompts.
  • Chase down the wildest color schemes or hunt down the secret to the golden mean in photography.
  • Look for inspiring input in "remote" places you've never visited: different books, galleries, forms of poetry.
  • Brave the unfamiliar terrain of new tools and techniques: software, plot style, composition techniques, etc.
  • Try new foods: take a course, read a new textbook, enroll in a class.
  • Explore your curiosities and questions! "[The artist] opens himself up to all influences—everything nourishes him. Everything is gravy to him, including what he does not understand—particularly what he does not understand." Henry Miller

I'd also recommend considering a seasonal or monthly (or moon-cycle) approach to gathering inspiration:

  • Which seasons yield the most inspiration? (Winter is beautifully introspective for me, summer is too busy.)
  • Focus on a certain creative input for a month then cycle to a fresh field of fodder the next month.
  • Choose themes or color schemes based on the weather and the season, letting nature guide you.
  • Participate in NaNoWriMo or participate in a similar challenge for visual artists.
  • Set a creative goal for the season or the year, and see how far you can get with it. (My goal = 200 paintings. Due to an unforeseen serotonin drought this winter, I don't think I'm going to make it...)

Go after inspiration like our hunter-gather predecessors. Feed that starving inner-artist, and she will have the energy and vitality you need in order to live out your creative dreams.

A gentle word of caution: Those courses on marketing and social media are not necessarily creative fodder... While they do help you understand the business side of creativity, they don't invest in the creative side of your soul. When you consider courses and classesartist, look for experiences that will enrich your *creative process* not your *business process.* I know we have to live in both worlds, but the one that stirs your soul and raises your voice the world is your *creative process.* Focus on feeding your starving inner-—she probably doesn't wake up in the morning craving marketing strategies, she craves the sweetness of inspiration! Give it to her. Regularly.

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Do you have a Creativity Manifesto?

Why are manifestos so important? They keep the end in focus. They keep us on track. They supercharge our resolve to go after the things that are important to us. Even Frank Lloyd Wright had one. "In other words, the manifesto is a personal or even handwritten statement intending to shock, inspire, or offend." (here) In this case, we are aiming to inspire ourselves, yes? So, let's steel ourselves. Let's look ourselves in the mirror and tell ourselves to get out there and create because creating makes our world a more beautiful place. You can take a look at instructions for writing your own manifesto:

And if you're curious, here's my creativity manifesto:

"Creating is like breathing – more like exhaling. If I don’t create, my soul suffocates. As I create, I listen to myself. I discover emotions and fears and passions and convictions. I pray soft and subtle prayers—both mine and others'. 

While I create for the sake of my soul and for the sake of the message, I also create for the sake of creating. I enjoy the process, the challenge, the adventure. I hold moments of creating as a discovery, not a job or goal, but as a discovery of what is within me to create.

To maintain a level of creativity, I rely on new inspirations and old routines. I always find novel ways to create, whether it be through new tools of creating, or new mediums. Predictability and routine provide the best environments for my soul to have the energy to create. If life demands adaptation and change (both being very creative endeavors) then I will be depleted of my inner creativity.

To foster my creative edge, I must constantly educate and challenge myself: New books, new lessons, new tools, new goals, new creative endeavors. If I don’t grow, I will lose speed and possibly halt. This development is a monster of a task, and I often feel I am hindered by my own limitations. But I will continue to grow. I will continue to climb upwards to new heights of achievement. I may never ascend to the top of this Everest, but I will strive to get above the snow-line.

Each year I will make a creative goal for myself.  This goal will exist as an end in sight and a way to monitor progress, and will also fuel me to keep a steady pace with new ideas and tools and challenges."

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My Four Step Creative Process


It's simple, really. And it needs to be. The act of creating is daunting enough. Who needs a complicated process to get it done?

My four step creative process:

  1. Input: I am constantly gathering visual material. Harvesting. Studying. They come through many venues. My eyes stay open to things that grab me.
  2. Ideas: If something grabs me, it often inspires a new painting idea. I collect these ideas in a spark file that I can access at any moment.
  3. Go: If steps one and two have been regularly attended to, I will not have a shortage of inspirational energy when it comes time to step foot in the studio. I chose a "next thing" and I go with it.
  4. Flow: Given the proper conditions, my concentration will slip into the flow state. This is ideal, as this facilitates peak creativity and concentration. And when this happens, the creative process is magical. Powerful. Tantalizing.

To confess, I have most definitely simplified these stages for you so you could fill in the blanks with your own preferences. For instance: What are the venues of my visual input? See? That part doesn't matter. What matters is that my eyes are on the look out. The point of #1 is for you to keep your eyes on the look out as well.

And, to be honest, I need these to be in a simple, memorable format, so that when I feel blocked, I can search through these steps to discover where I need to place more energy and time. Sort of a mental cliff-note reference card that I can flip through when I'm stuck. There's always a step waiting for me. Always some stage of this process that I can easily insert myself into and regain momentum.

It's not such a mystery, really. It's about keeping myself somewhere in these steps. This is how I get it done.

Why the art?

Show Flyer

Oh the beauty of the questions that have been presented to me since scheduling this upcoming art show. And one that keeps swirling in my mind is "Why?"

Not "why the show?" but "why the art?"

And, there's much to the answer, but lets start with the basics of what you will see in viewing my work: color, words, texture, open.

COLOR: I returned to painting near the end of my recovery from a couple of years of depression. With that in mind, you'd expect my work to be gloomy and a bit downcast. But in fact the pieces all end up packed with color and vivid energy. This, I believe, is my inner voice saying that there is good and light and energy and excitement to be had.

vivid closeup

WORDS: You might see scrawlings of words and confessions—some legible and some more hidden, but engaging nonetheless. Sometimes these words carry a clear message, sometimes they subtly contribute to the overall form.


TEXTURE: You will find an unmistakable background of heavy texture. I happened upon the power of texture quite subconsciously. I do remember wanting it, and finding ways to create it, but I don't remember thinking it through until I noticed the texture kept returning. The texture, I've discovered, is my way of saying that there are many cracks in the logic of life, many bumps and scratches and dents in our journey, but we are on a beautiful and lively road. And traveling in distinct and unique ways.

Screen Shot 2013-10-15 at [Oct 15] 9.44

OPEN: The subject matter comes from my own affinities: landscapes, seascapes, sunsets, symbologies, birdcages, words, forms. This is the most varied element of my work, the actual subject matter. But in all of these representations, the pieces have a sense of openness and honesty. They are not packed full of overwhelming imagery, but the imagery remains simple and relatable. My hope is that the imagery engages a dance of familiarity and surprise, asking you to think about what the imagery represents in your own life.


The end goal, the "why" of my art, is a dialog of questions and discoveries within the mystery of life. It's the dance of pain and purpose. Beauty and brokenness. Hope and hurt. And my desire is to show you that these things can in fact coexist to create something meaningful and inspiring.