How to be more creative when life gets in the way. Or, how I became “A Creative” in spite of my education.
When I was about 7 years old I lamented to my mom during one of my regular at-home haircuts, “I wish I’d been born with bangs.” I can still picture the pink tile in the bathroom while I sat on the edge of the counter, staring at my long straight brown hair in the mirror.
I saw the reflection of her face break into a grin, and I couldn’t figure out why she would laugh at my obvious pain and suffering.
“You want bangs? We’ll get you those bangs right now.” And she proceeded to perform a miracle, right in front of my eyes.
It was the most excited I’d ever been about a haircut, and my first foray into some kind of style. Sadly, it turns out that with two cowlicks, bangs did me no favors. Guess it’s good I found out at seven. But at least I learned that bangs were something that could be acquired at the hands of a talented stylist, or in a pinch, a resourceful mom.
You don’t have to be born with bangs.
Nor do you have to be born with creativity.
Most people think creativity is a character trait, something you’re born with. People often say to me in a wistful tone, “I wish I was creative, like you.” As if they’d like to be more creative, but it’s just not in their genetic makeup.
I actually believe everyone is born with creativity. Some just have an easier time than others hanging onto their creativity through all of life’s assaults.
How I Became A Creative in Spite of a First Class Art Education
I always knew I wanted to be an artist. So the logical thing to do was to get an art degree. (Plus all the other degree choices required more math and science.) The short version of this story is that I graduated college with a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts, and a fatal case of burnout. Fatal to my creativity, that is.
After four years of trying to achieve someone else’s standard of creativity, I lost all touch with my own spark.
I decided that art wasn’t for me, and in fact, I just wasn’t as creative as I had thought and hoped I was.
So I embarked on a long and winding career path that took me through all sorts of interesting detours. I never once looked back for about 10 years. I didn’t create anything.
Then came babies, and I decided to give up my corporate job and become a stay at home mom.
Amazingly, through watching my own children grow and explore their world in creative and adventurous ways, I started getting the itch to create something. Somehow my own children, with their child-like faith in the the world, and complete absence of self-doubt, restored my desire to interact with the world in new and creative ways.
So I became a designer, then a blogger, then an Etsy maker. In short, I became “A Creative.” And I started thinking about how kids use and grow their creative spark. I think it boils down to three things which, conveniently, start with ABC except in reverse order.
The Upside-Down ABC’s of Creativity
All kids are curious. If you’re a mom, or kindergarten teacher, you know this already. I mean, what mom hasn’t come to dread the question “Why?” from her three year old?
Their questions might be more than we can take sometimes, but they are really just the evidence of a creative mind working to understand their world. Curiosity is the power behind learning. And learning leads to more creative outlets.
To nurture curiosity, recognize these questions, either in your kids or in yourself:
- What happens when…?
- What does this do…?
- I wonder why…?
- How come we don’t…?
- What would you do if I…?
Then what do you do with those questions? Here’s a little trick: you don’t have to know any of the answers. The way to encourage curiosity is to answer “Let’s find out” and then proceed to explore. Either try it, or read about it, or find someone who’s an expert to talk to.
The magic is in the exploration, not the knowing.
I first thought of this concept as fearlessness. I love the word fearless. Who doesn’t want to be more fearless?
But then I realized that bravery is more accurate, because it is courage to act in the face of fear, and that is closer to our experience in living out our curiosity.
We would often like to act on our curiosity, but can’t because we fear:
- or even success itself
Have you ever thought to yourself, “I wish I could paint.” But you don’t have the supplies. Or the experience. Or the skill.
Listen to me. No one is born a skilled painter.
You have to start out making really bad art if you ever want to make good art. So get in there and start making bad art!
Even if people laugh at you, or you immediately throw it away, or you don’t want to tell anyone what you’re doing, just keep doing it. It’s a lot easier to back down from something as scary as making art than it is to wade into it and invite the yucky parts to happen to you.
Which brings me to the last, and maybe most important part. After encouraging curiosity and overcoming fear, the next step in creativity is taking action. I actually find this part to be the hardest.
I have lots of great ideas. Which means I have lots of distractions. I don’t have Attention Deficit Disorder. I have Excess Interest Disorder. I have too many interests to focus on just one at a time.
This makes life fun, but it makes it hard to get anything done, or make any progress on my creative projects. This is something I talk about in my other posts on creativity.
I find it much easier to think about my next project or challenge than to take action on the one right in front of me.
Once you’ve sparked your curiosity and built up your bravery, you actually have to do something. Put pen to paper, hands into clay, or thoughts into words. There is power in taking action. Once you’ve done the first little part, it’s infinitely easier to keep going.
How to Preserve and Encourage Creativity in Kids
Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.Pablo Picasso
I had some great teachers growing up. None of them were my art teachers.
You might assume that with a degree in Fine Arts, I got a lot of encouragement in creativity along my educational journey. In fact, I only remember the discouragement, especially from my probably-well-intentioned high school art teacher who told me I should pursue a less creative career because I just didn’t have the potential to be a good artist.
In spite of her advice, I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to be an artist. But then my college experience happened, as mentioned above. So yeah, in my experience, teachers of art are not great sources of inspiration. (If you are an art teacher reading this, I’m sure you’re the exception.)
So if my teachers weren’t great at helping me pursue creativity, how did I get here?
Both my parents taught me, through words and actions, that I could do whatever I wanted to do with my life. They taught me to ask questions, make up my own mind, and try new things.
They bought me art supplies, and books, and signed me up for classes. And, possibly even more important, they did the same for themselves. In their mid 70’s, my mom has taken up watercolor classes, and my dad is learning a new language, I think it’s his 4th or 5th.
Here is how to bring out your kids’ innate creativity.
- Model it. Get creative, even if it doesn’t come naturally to you! If they see you following through on your creative ideas, that gives your kids permission to do the same.
- Talk about it. Tell them your stories. Ask what they are curious about and try something new together.
- Praise specific efforts, not accomplishments. Try saying, “You worked hard on that drawing. I see where you tried something new. I know that was difficult for you.” Rather than, “What a pretty picture!”
I believe that kids need to see adults being wildly and unashamedly creative, in order to combat the constant pressure to fit into certain academic boxes throughout their school lives. If you give yourself permission to be curious, be brave, and take action, then they will too.
Your Turn to Get Creative!
I hope this has given you some encouragement to try new things and take some creative risks. Remember, no one can tell you you’re not creative. So don’t go telling yourself that either.
Pick up a paintbrush, or try that drawing app on your phone. Get outside and try pressing flowers. Write a poem. (You don’t ever have to read it to anybody if you don’t want to.) Make your own block printing stamp.
Sing in the shower, or the car. (Bonus points if your kids are in the backseat and 80’s songs are on the radio.) Call up a friend and attend a paint-n-sip party together. (Or just drink the wine and laugh at your painting attempts.)
Cook something new. (I’ll be happy to sample if it contains chocolate.) Make your own color palette art. Learn how to use your phone’s camera to its full potential. Paint a room a new color.
There are lots of ways to exercise your creativity muscle. I promise the more you use it, the stronger you’ll get.
I’d love to hear what you’re working on, and if you’re finding some new creative outlets in your life! Leave me a comment below or tag me @thepalettemuse with photos!