Wednesday, November 4, 2015

I'm Not a Creative Person

I guess I'm just not a creative person.

I hear this too much. I've been thinking a lot about creativity lately and its power in our lives. And how to respond to that question.

Creativity being the ability to make new connections and combinations between ideas and things. And then to realize that new thought into reality.

Being creative is complex. It's a combination of knowledge and skill, freedom from limiting thought, and motivation from within.

Creativity takes effort.


We need it.

Nothing in life can be stagnant without decay. A stagnant pond becomes unhealthy to drink and breeds disease bearing insects. Our bodies become weak and ill without use. Our minds become dull and forgetful.

If we aren't moving forward, we are moving backward. Though I love to think about just relaxing, not doing anything, retiring from the craziness that is life. I know that it is only possible for short periods of time. After that the decay sets in.

We need growth, and creativity. It heals us. It keeps us young.

The world needs it.

Without creativity, we can never find answers to the world's problems: war, hunger, misery, depression, homelessness, intolerance, hatred, etc, etc. 

All the easy solutions have been used up. We have new challenges to our planet, our societies. The easy way is to walk along the well worn paths. Not standing out, not swimming against the current. There's a quote from Henry Ford that sums it up: "If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you always got".

Everyday Creativity

Every day we have the opportunity for creative thought. My daughter wakes up every day, stands in front of her closet, and creates a new combination of clothes to wear. Sometimes they are, ummm, unusual! Sometimes they are brilliant! But they are creative. She has done an inventory of what she has to work with, where she needs to go, what she knows, and come up with a new combination, a creative thought. And with that warm up, she goes about her life with her mind already thinking along those lines. What if? Why not?

It is that process itself that we need. That surge of excitement. Engagement.

Creating new, more efficient systems. Finding a better bike route to work. Adapting a recipe. Resolving an argument. Hundreds of times a day we have the chance to do what has always been done, or find a better, more fulfilling, more elegant way.

Making creativity a state of mind, a habit, develops your ability to be creative when the big things come along. And gives you a boost of well being along the way.

Creativity and Painting

So this is why I paint, and especially why I teach painting. It is a path to developing and experiencing creativity. Which means it is a path to improving the quality of your life, and the lives of those around you.

Creativity is not for just a few. If you "can't draw a stick figure" that does not mean you aren't creative, or would not benefit from learning to paint. We are all creative. For all kinds of reasons, some of us have suppressed our creativity more than others. But we can change that, and enrich our lives on all levels because of it. Once you develop your creativity into a habit, it effects everything you do.

You are NEVER too old. Someone once told me she had given up painting when she hit 60 because she didn't want to be "an old lady who paints". Wow. It's better to just be an old lady?! Cause there's only one alternative to that! Whether or not you become the next Picasso, or turn your friends green with envy at your skill, is not the point. At all. The point is you living fully. Letting go of the boundaries and the barriers. Feeling that excitement and surge of growth.

Creativity takes effort.

You have to learn your stuff. When I was learning to paint, taking college classes, there was a real emphasis on "being creative". But I didn't have the skills to realize my creative ideas. It was very discouraging. You must develop your skills. Learn your theory. Composition, color, drawing and perspective. Practice your technique. Create that "muscle memory" in your hands so that you don't have to think about how or where to place your brush anymore. This is not an overnight endeavor! It truly is a life long one. To do this you need to paint, and paint a lot. And you need to read, study, be curious, visit exhibitions.

You have to give yourself permission to fail. It's not possible to be creative without taking risks. You must be willing to fail, and to keep failing. If you aren't, you will never try anything new for fear of ridicule from others, or from yourself! In reality it's often only you that cares whether or not you tried and failed, most people just aren't paying attention. In reality, the failure comes in not trying.

Free yourself from limiting thought. If you compare and limit your ideas to someone else's opinions; what your family, your social group, your peers think, you will never have an original thought. You must be willing to entertain all ideas, connections, concepts and not dismiss them because "it just isn't done".

You have to try. Creative thought is a choice. An activity. You have to be motivated to not just continue in the established pattern, but to experiment, visualize, focus. Put in the effort to activate your thought processes, and not just follow the beaten path. Not because someone else encourages you to, or you get positive feedback, but because you want to.

Is Painting Really Creative?!

Using our definition of painting: a putting together new connections, new ideas and realizing them. Is it really creative to sit in a class with me and paint the same painting as everyone else using the same materials?

The simple answer? No.

But you have to learn your stuff. You have to make the effort to learn the rules, so you can break them. Learn your technique so you can use it without thinking when you are excited by a new creative concept.

In my classes I try to take this complex, daunting activity of painting, and break it down, step by step. In my experience our minds tend to shut down and we lose interest when things seem so complex we don't even know where to start. In other words: if it's too hard, we give up. If we don't have immediate success, we give up. If someone else makes fun, or ignores our efforts, we give up. The only way to tackle this is step by step, in an environment that supports failure as the success that it is.

In the words of Vincent Van Gogh "If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced."

What I don't want is to create a formula for creating a painting that you just keep re-creating. Did you ever think about that word? It becomes (re)creation instead of creation. It's fun, it passes the time. That's not a bad thing! I do that kind of painting quite a bit! But what I'm trying to give you is a path to creativity. That healing, age defying, life changing, world changing experience.

So I don't make it easy. I keep giving you concepts and ideas to learn. When you ask me how to neutralize this blue I'm not going to tell you. I'm going to ask you what the compliment of blue is. When you have your value almost right I'm going to tell you that. It's almost right, try again. I'm not just going for good enough. NOT because I want you to paint a perfect picture. I want you to eng
age your mind. Activate your curiosity. It's this process that is the point. All these little discoveries about art, about your own abilities, that are the point.

If you think, "that's too hard for me to do". And then you let go of your fear, you think beyond your pre-set ideas. And then you try, and fail. And then you try again and make some connections - since that color combination didn't work, what if I try this one? And it works! That is the point. That feeling of opening up to the possibilities. Expanding your world. That is the point.

My goal is to help you develop the tools, create the environment, ask the questions. So you can expand your world through creativity. And by doing that, I expand mine!

There are lots of ways

Paths if you will. Paths that lead you to your own unbeaten path. Music, Painting, Dance, Writing, Sculpture - those are some of the more traditional ones. But you can practice your creativity in everything you do. In trying to be yourself, do it better, open your heart and mind to new possibilities. Work, home, relationships, neighborhoods, cities, countries, the world. The ultimate creative act is the creation of your own story. Your own life. Create it, develop it, live it, share it. You have the ultimate power of the universe within you.

So now, how do you neutralize that blue?


  1. Excellent, thought provoking, and timeless. Well done Karen! Thank you for posting!

  2. I am a creative person, always getting a good flow of painting ideas that I may or may not follow through on. One of the key things is to be in a state of receptive allowing at all times. This is why I always have my sketchbook with me, so I can note everything and my mind doesn't have to hold it. This frees up the flow for more ideas.

    If there is something I need to work out, I relegate it to the background and it eventually re-surfaces resolved.

    Sketchbook. Essential.

    1. You are so right Jessica! Those creative thoughts can be so fleeting sometimes! Stopping to sketch them out or note them down is so key. Great suggestion!

  3. Well said, Karen. I love what you have expressed. When I was young, I learned (somehow) that I couldn't paint. I carried that with me for years until I got to the point of letting go of what others thought and giving it a shot. It is now one of my greatest joys. I love the continual learning involved and the surprises that come along on the process. Thanks for describing creativity so well and acknowledging that everyone has creativity. I so agree!

    1. Thank you Sarah. I think there were a lot of us, me included, that got that message when we were young. I'm so glad you got to that point of letting go of what others thought. It's so freeing, isn't it? Here's to being ourselves! :)

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  5. Karen, thanks for the time you put into showing novices like me the rudimentaries of acrylic painting. Your motivational blog helped me recognize some things about myself. My wife and I are fighting serious cancers and my painting (and her knitting) give us the respites we crave from our sometimes overwhelming burdens.

  6. Wow that makes for inspiring reading, not just for Art but for life in general! Thank you Karen for your constant inspiration and guidance. Elizabeth Elsworth (LizJ)

  7. Karen, I just re-read this, and just wanted to say, "Thank you!" Your words apply to life, not just to painting. No, I'm sorry. Not "life", but rather, "living," and it was exactly what I needed to hear! You are a very inspiring individual, in many ways. Again, thank you! KC Cooke

    1. Wow, thanks so much KC :) It means a lot to me to know I'm helping.

  8. You not only paint ridiculously beautifully, but your writing is wonderful as well. Thanks for this!