In a perfect world, we would all have time to practice our creative craft every day without ever getting artist’s block. But the creative struggle is real, and sometimes it can be really hard to fit doing art into the schedule, or to feel inspired when you’re just mentally stuck. Forming awesome habits as a creative can be a huge help with everything from coming up with your best ideas to getting through those days where the drawing spirit just doesn’t seem to be with you. I talked to a few of our artists here at Threadless and in our Threadless community to find out what habits every creative should have!
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Make something every day
“Practice makes perfect” may sound cliche, but deep down we all know it’s totally true. Sure, there are days you don’t want to draw or days you just can’t seem to get it right. But pushing through and drawing on the tough days makes it even easier to put pencil to paper the next day or when you have a big project!. Artist Derek Hess told us, “For me, it’s all about drawing fundamentals. Once you know how to draw the figure, you can worry about content and what you want it to say.” Drawing every day is an important part of getting those fundamentals down; you’re building your skills a little bit day by day – it’s like working out for your art skills!
Keep in mind, drawing every day doesn’t have to be a huge art undertaking – it can even be doodling! Research has shown that doodling actually helps the brain “revise and improve on creative thoughts and ideas”. Plus, freeform doodling can lead to full ideas! Try looking up daily art prompts, or check out what hashtags or daily little holidays like “National Coffee Day” are trending and create a doodle for them. Things like Inktober or The Sketchbook Project are a great way to kickstart yourself into a routine as well.
Create things for YOU
It’s really easy to fall into the trap of just doing art “for the likes”. And sure, creating a piece of work for a trending hashtag, for a show or movie premiere, etc. is a great way of boosting your visibility. But if you feel like you’re only ever creating things for follower gain or you get tons of anxiety that something might not get the likes you want it to get, this can lead to creative burnout or getting creatively bummed out because you’re not practicing your passion out of love anymore. You’re doing it for external approval, not inner fulfillment. Remember to do art for you once in awhile. Take time to create things without the audience in mind or any intention of sharing them. After you’ve done this, huzzah! You might come out of it with a great piece of art that you want to share. Or you might not – and that’s ok too.
Always keep a notebook handy
We’ve all had that moment – you’re laying in bed or at work when an awesome drawing idea pops in your head. So you figure “eh, I’ll remember later!” And those become the famous last words as your white whale of an idea slips into the dark depths of your forgotten mind…that was dramatic, but you get the point. You never know when an idea is going to strike or when you’re going to see something that inspires you. Carry a notebook around with you at all times so you can do a rough sketch of an idea or just jot it down so that you don’t forget it for later.
Develop a routine
As far as habits every creative should have, this one might seem like a habit every human should have. But there’s this romantic idea that creativity can’t be planned; it strikes when the muse whispers sweet nothings in your ear. While this does happen, waiting around for creativity to bubble up also doesn’t do you any favors. Writer Michael Lewis said, “I don’t believe the muse visits you. I believe that you visit the muse. If you wait for that ‘perfect moment’ you’re not going to be very productive.” Make creativity a priority by making it part of your daily routine. This feeds back into the idea of creating something every day – scheduling in time to do that ensures that you have time every day to hone your craft. Get up super early or stay up late depending on when you work best and have time to get artsy. You can even just make a checklist of projects you’d like to finish that day or week! For some ideas on how to do this, check out the Daily Routines blog (now a book, too!) to see how other creatives do it.
If you work from home, it also helps to create a work environment that doesn’t distract from your work. Have a dedicated workspace (that isn’t your bed). If you work in your room, make your bed so that the area looks a little more legit and organized. And get dressed! Working in your underwear and a t-shirt might sound fun, but can also translate to feeling sleepy rather than productive.
Try new things!
If you’re feeling stuck in the artistic doldrums and in inspiration limbo, it helps to expand your horizons! Trying or learning something new helps you see things in a different way. When you expand what you know, you expand all the areas you can draw inspiration from (literally!) Read about something you’ve never looked up before, take a class, try out a new hobby, etc.! Then you can also bring in things from that activity or knowledge and use them creatively in a way you’ve never thought of before.
Artistically, I think there can be this idea that you have to laser-focus your skills into one medium. While it’s important to hone your craft, never be afraid to switch it up and try out new techniques, mediums, tools, etc. to flex your creative muscle in a new way. One artist who does an awesome job of this is Camille Chew, aka Lord of Masks. She has a consistent witchy style that she carries across mediums from ceramic hands, to large and elaborate paper masks, to jewelry and prints that bring her art to life in new ways.
One of my favorite Nail Gaiman quotes came from an interview with Seth Meyers when Gaiman was asked what advice he has for writers. He said,
“Ideas come from daydreaming. They come from drifting. They come from that moment where you’re just sitting there going, ‘well, everybody knows if a werewolf bites you, you turn into a wolf when the moon is full. What happens if a werewolf bites a goldfish?’ The trouble with these days is it’s really hard to get bored…there’s all sorts of wonderful TV at your fingertips and it’s really hard to get bored…put [your] phone away, go for long boring walks, actually try to find the space to get bored in. That’s what I’ve started telling people who are like,’I want to be a writer!’, good. Get bored.”
Thanks to the internet, you never have to be bored. But here’s the thing: creativity can be born out of boredom. There was even a news story about a man who returned his iPad because he missed being bored (seriously, true story). Being bored forces you to entertain yourself with wandering thoughts, forces you to fill the time by reading a book and creating a world within your mind, forces you to flip on Late Night With Seth Meyers where you then get inspired by Neil Gaiman. Great ideas sometimes come out of a lack of exciting things. So add a little creative excitement to your life by letting yourself get bored.
Have you ever read a short comic or story about little everyday things that’s made you go, “I do this EVERY day! Why didn’t I think to make this a comic first?!” Observing life’s little hiccups, frustrations, annoyances, quirks, etc. can feed into your creativity. Amazing things can come from life’s monotonous moments because they’re relatable. You never know where inspiration is going to come from, so be sure to observe everything and keep your eyes and mind open. Try writing down things you’ve observed that stand out to you in a notebook (you know, that one you should carry around with you all the time 😉).
Allow yourself to take a break
For any Hamilton fans out there, it’s ok to 🎶Take a break!🎶 even if you write (or draw) like you’re running out of time. In fact, it’s important to take breaks. Taking breaks gets a bad rap for being lazy or being a form of procrastination, but research is starting to show that taking breaks can actually help you come up with your best work. Inc. reports that “prolonged attention to a single task actually hinders performance” because the brain is made to detect change and doesn’t register things as well when they’ve been static (like when you’ve been trying to brainstorm that drawing for an hour). Some of the best ideas come from when you’ve taken a step back because you’re allowing your mind to wander. Instead of trying to force yourself to come up with something creative, sometimes the best thing to do when you’re stuck or uninspired is to step away and take a break for a bit. Taking breaks doesn’t distract from the creative process – it refuels it. Try taking a walk outside, hanging out with friends, doing the dishes, reading, even taking a nap!
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Do you have tips on habits every creative should have? Share them in the comments below!
Special thanks to Katie, Luis, and Karen at Threadless for their input, and thank you to awesome Threadless artists Little_G_Design, csweiler, CoffeePine, and SleepyDolphin for contributing their amazing tips!