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Creative Play Newsletter (Vol. 1: Issue 7) – Know When to Walk Away

I am stubborn. (I can hear the people who know me well chuckling at that. “Yeah, a little!” they are thinking sarcastically.) In a lot of ways, that stubbornness has served me well in life, but it doesn’t always serve me well in the studio. I like to get things done and I like to get them done on time, according to MY plan.  But, what I have had to learn over the last few years is that art doesn’t work that way. The Muses aren’t consulting a gigantic project plan and saying, “Ah yes, today Julie is scheduled to complete the quilting on her current piece.” My plan for the day and their plan for the day don’t always align and I hate that.

In my other life, I am a great project manager and am really good at getting things done. When things get hard, I roll up my sleeves and work harder. When a task is taking longer than expected, I make a cup of tea and I work longer.  That does not work in art. Yes, there are times when things are really working well and you do just need a little more time or a little more effort, but there are also a lot of times when more time and effort are just counterproductive. In those moments in the past, I stubbornly tried to work through it. I would just keep sewing even after my thread broke for the fourth time AFTER changing the needle, rethreading the machine, and giving it a good cleaning. I would press on and sew a seam again after having sewn it and taken it out six times already. I would just keep getting more and more frustrated and my language got worse and worse, but I would keep at it. I’d square my stubborn shoulders and just try to work through it. I failed and finally, dawn broke over Marblehead and I realized that unlike PowerPoint slides, art cannot be forced.  Thus, one of the greatest lessons I have learned recently is that sometimes when creating art, you just have to walk away.

I have just learned that there is a name for this action, for walking away when your art is screaming at you that it just is not going to get done today. Tom and David Kelley in their 2013 book called “Creative Confidence; Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All,” call this activity “Relaxed Attention.”  “Relaxed Attention” certainly has a more positive spin than spewing a string of expletives, throwing up your hands and stomping out of the studio while muttering “I GIVE UP!” (which is usually how it happens for me).  Instead, cultivate some relaxed attention by doing something else. Take a “thought walk,” as they call it. Go out for coffee. Sleep on it. Throw your project plan out the window.  In this month of goals and resolutions, know that sometimes you have to just give it time and take a break.

Read the December Creative Play Newsletter

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Creative Play Newsletter (Vol. 1, Issue 6) – Give a Gift

‘Tis the season of giving. You’re probably making your lists and checking them twice, planning gifts for your kids, your parents, your spouses and partners, friends and other loved ones. But, when was the last time you gave yourself a gift? Last month, I talked about the importance of solitude and quiet, which especially this time of year can really feel like a gift. Another gift you can give yourself is permission to go on a creative excursion.


In “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron, she talks about two essential elements of creative practice: Morning Pages and Artist Dates. In an Artist Date, you get yourself out of the studio and out of your routine to experience something new and maybe see the world a little differently. You can go to an art museum, walk through a garden, visit a library, etc. One of my favorite things to do is to tuck a few dollars into my pocket and wander the aisles of an art supply store until I find something that speaks to me. Then, I come home with a new box of crayons or set of paints and I get the benefit of both the sensory stimulation of being in the store exploring new mediums and of trying something new at home. The point is just to experience something a little out of the ordinary that might spark something for your art.  Will your art ever be new if you never do anything new?

Creative Play Newsletter, Vol. 1, Issue 5

Peace and Quiet

Last month, I wrote about Morning Pages from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and their goal of getting the crap out of your head so that your mind is clear for creative work. One of the other goals of Morning Pages is to slow you down long enough to get you in touch with your own thoughts. I know, that sounds a little crazy. After all, if you’re not in touch with your own thoughts, who is? But, when I got started on my recent personal creativity journey, I was moving so fast that it was like a Road Runner cartoon in my head.  My legs were spinning and I was moving at warp speed and everything else around me was a blur, including my own thoughts.

I worked with a life coach during this time and one of the things she told me to do one Friday was to sit in a chair (I could drink my tea) and just sit there, not reading, not doing anything else until I really felt compelled to do something.  Then, once I had finished that task, I was to sit down until I felt moved again.   My reaction when she told me this was, “What???!!!! Are you kidding? What if I don’t feel moved to do anything? Do you really want me to sit in a chair all day?”  Her response was, “Yes.”  Well, I am a serious student so I did my homework.  I settled into the chair with my cup of tea and I drank the whole thing.  Then, I felt moved to go make myself some breakfast. Then, I sat back in the chair again.  One of the things I realized as I sat there that day was how long it had been since I had had a day off. I mean a real day off and not a day off from work to clean the house and run the errands, etc., but a day off to play.  I couldn’t actually remember the last day that I had done that so I am pretty sure it had been years. The other thing that I realized was that once I finished mentally reviewing my To Do list, I actually had some creative ideas in my head. Who knew?

A spot for some peace and quiet from Ravaging Rio and the Ghost in the Library

A spot for some peace and quiet from Ravaging Rio and the Ghost in the Library

It  shouldn’t have been such an epiphany because it seems so obvious, but it was a real “ah ha moment” for me to realize how important it was to slow down. Slow is not my M.O. at all. I am the person who can get an amazing amount of stuff done and still be in bed by 10 PM.  But, that lifestyle is not compatible with creativity. Let me say that again.  Running around all day from To Do list item to To Do list item getting a lot accomplished, but never stopping for a moment IS NOT COMPATIBLE WITH CREATIVITY.  It’s exhausting, for one thing. But, inspiration does not wedge itself in between the grocery list and the phone calls to return.  Ideas need a little breathing space and that only happens if your mind is at rest.

Creative Play Newsletter Issue 3 – Finding My Way Back: Creative Strength Training

Never underestimate the power of the Universe.  Starting in 2007, I explored “creative play,” trying a new quilting technique or creating a weekly journal quilt. In 2012, I took a maternity leave from that and by 2014, I was so far out of touch with my creative self that I wasn’t even sure she was still in there. The Universe knew better however, and started giving me the bread crumbs I needed to find my way back.

One of those first bread crumbs led me to Jane Dunnewold.  I was watching an episode of “The Quilt Show” (and I was a few months behind on them). In it, she talked about an online class that she had started offering called “Artist Strength Training.”  At the time, I wouldn’t have called myself an artist, but hearing about the class set off a little hum in my brain, like a tuning fork being tapped.  I went to bed that night talking myself out of it. “I’m sure it’s really expensive.” “I don’t have time.” “It’s probably not being offered any time soon.”  The next morning, that hum in my brain was still there so I decided to just look into it. Well, it was being offered and it was starting in a few days.  There were spots still available. And, it wasn’t nearly as expensive as I thought it might be. So, I signed up. That one bread crumb from the Universe that I picked up became a lifeline that started pulling me out of the deep of the woods where I had been wandering in circles looking for the road.

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Jane’s class is now a book renamed “Creative Strength Training; Prompts, Exercises and Personal Stories for Encouraging Artistic Genius” and I fully endorse it.  The book contains the same content in ten chapters as the ten weeks of the course, encouraging (and sometimes very direct) words about discovering who you are as an artist and what makes you and your work distinctive; learning how to dismantle the critical voices in your mind that stymie your creativity; and how to work the creative process. Included in the book are responses from students in prior classes, both their written responses to her lessons as well as the art that the course prompted, giving you access to a set of peers, which was such a valuable part of the class.  If you are in need of a bread crumb too, explore this one and see if it feels right for you.

Creative Play Newsletter Issue 2 – Learning to Play

Last month, I ended my newsletter article by saying, “Let the creative journey begin!” But in truth, I have been on my creative journey for a very long time and I suspect that you have too. In 2007, I started a blog that I called “Creative Play.” My idea was to try something new each week, to play around in my studio and to post the results. My last project was a year-long weekly journal quilt project that I wrapped up the week after my daughter was born. She then became my study in creativity. I began to realize both that creativity is innate and that it is important, important enough to be a vital part of early life.

I appreciate now that “Creative Play” came about because I unconsciously realized that I was missing both creativity and play in my life.  If I think back to the playing that I did as a child, I recognize that most of it was actually just pretend work.  I created a library card catalogue for my children’s books. I played architect and drew floor plans at a TV tray desk that I set up in my room. I got a label maker for my 11th birthday and I loved it. I understand that there is creativity in each of these, but one of the things that I finally realized during the past year was that I forgot how to truly play a really long time ago. Relearning that and more importantly, believing that playing is really okay, was a major step in rediscovering my creativity.

One of the things that I have done this year, to bring about more play in my life, is to create a toy box for myself.  Friends of ours from England generously hauled across an ocean a Fortnum & Mason hamper to us.  Once the tea, biscuits, and jam were gone, I appropriated the hamper to be my toy chest and I filled it with art supplies. Now, when I am in the need of a little play time and want a change from my typical medium, I reach into it for some crayons or paints and I play.

Creative Play Newsletter image, basket of art supplies

Creative Play Newsletter Vol. 1, Issue 1 – Losing My Creativity

This is the first edition of my monthly “Creative Play Newsletter” in which I explore the topic of creativity. If you would like to subscribe in order to have it delivered right to your inbox, subscribe here.

I was 36 years old when I got pregnant with my first (and only) child. My husband jokes that the 10th wedding anniversary isn’t the tin anniversary, but the baby anniversary. One Saturday night, we were sitting having a romantic, candlelit anniversary dinner and the following Saturday night, he was bringing takeout pad thai to my room at the hospital.  I mention all of this because the timing meant that I turned 40 and had my midlife crisis the same year that I spent most of my time with a toddler. Every day, my daughter came home from day care with half a dozen papers covered with art that she had made during the day. She made collages of paper and stickers; she drew wild circles of color with markers; and she painted with brushes, “dot-dots” and just about anything else she could get paint on. At home, I would pour out paint into trays and watch as she mixed colors with wild abandon, slashed paint onto paper in broad, free strokes and then painted her hands to make hand prints on paper.  I would watch her fearlessly create and think, “When did I lose this? When did I stop being so free with my creativity?”

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To answer those questions, I did what any INTJ person would do – I started studying. (That “T” stands for “Thinking” in the Myers-Briggs profile.)  I wanted to learn more about the nature of creativity, where it comes from, why it’s sometimes so hard to tap into as adults, and how to get it back. I’ve dabbled in this topic over the years and read a number of books on the topic already, but now this is a project and the subject of this newsletter. If this is a topic that interests you as well, I hope that you will join in a conversation with my on my blog or through Facebook. Let the creative journey begin!

Creative Play Newsletter – One Week from Today

I am putting the final touches on the first edition of my Creative Play newsletter, which will land in email boxes one week from today.  In this newsletter,  I will explore the topic of creativity and will be writing about where creativity comes from (spoiler alert – I think we’re all born with it), how it disappears and how to get it back when it seems to be gone.  I’ll also include some questions or prompts to get your creative juices flowing.

If you’re interested in joining me in this endeavor and getting the very first edition of the newsletter delivered to your inbox, please complete the newsletter sign up form before next Thursday.  I hope you’ll join me!