Can you Improve Your Creative Condition?

Exercises for visionary verve.

Years ago, I was asked to teach a class on creativity. Specifically, I was asked to teach a class on how to be a more creative person. As always, I don’t say no to any new challenge. Say yes, figure out the details later. “Of course, I would love to do this”. I don’t know how to do this, and I’m not absolutely certain it can be done, but we’ll give ‘er a go. Why not? And so, began the process of how to teach a person to be a more creative human.

If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.
Lewis Carroll

To start I had to look at my own creative process. What I realized, without realizing I did it, is that each day began with a mental exercise. Whether a simple sketch, or looking up a random word, or as quick as really looking at something, anything, as if I have never seen it before. This is actually really hard to do. These actions all had something in common. They are all strategies to effectively waking up my brain. Mental stretching, active warmup for your creative id. 

You don’t usually pop out of bed in the morning and go burn up a 10k without a little stretch and warm up. So why would you think you can just sit down and BE creative. You have to ease into this. Fantastic. This would be a core component of what would become my curriculum. 

  • Do exercises to warm up your creative juices. Brain yoga.

I arrived early to set up my classroom. I asked for five round tables with enough chairs, and no other options. I covered the tables in white paper and laid out markers, paper clips, tape, M&Ms, gum and other various things to play with or eat, and then I left. I gave the class a solid 10 minutes before I arrived. This was my test. I wanted to determine whether the class in general was of the follow the rules camp, or take risks camp. I felt it would be a fairly even split.

In I strolled, glancing around to see what had been messed with, and was shocked to find that only one person had started playing with stuff. The rest sat there quite uncomfortably, uncertain and maybe seemingly slightly annoyed with the lone ranger happily munching M&Ms, and with me for being late.

What did this tell me? It confirmed what I had believed was the second and more important aspect of being a creative person, thus teaching creativity. Self-editing gets in the way. If you’ve attended classes on brainstorming, one thing you will hear is to leave the judge at the door. By nature, we are taught to self-edit. We actually get further in life when we are good self-editors. This is the mechanism that helps us shut up when we should, re-write to improve, re-think to build confidence, re-evaluate to lend certainty. Editing is the re- of all we do, and it’s an integral piece of maturity. 

But it gets in the way of being creative. Rather than re- we should be thinking free-. Free-flowing thinking, free-flowing concepts, free-flowing sketching. You get the picture. To better free- anything, you can’t have any smartass making comments about your free- and you need to feel confident to let your free-freak fly. That’s brainstorming.

  • Leave the self-judge at the proverbial door. Allow yourself to just free-flow. You can always fix it later.

This was another component. I needed to teach this very well-behaved crew how to be a little more willing to jump in, damned the consequences. So, I added a daily brain blizzard to the mix where we were all free to add to ideas. They were given the task or problem ahead of time so they would be ready to. Afterall, your dumb idea may trigger the next genius idea. Let’s throw them all into the pot. You need them all to make great things happen. Which leads me to the next element.

Sometimes, oftentimes, creativity needs fuel to fan the flames. You can’t always be creative in your lone little bubble. You need feedback. You need inspiration that comes from outside of your normal world. You need others to build great ideas. It’s fine to get a start with your own bad-self, but use others to check in.

  • Creativity magic happens when others get in the mix. You can start idea generation solo, and even fine tune it solo, but bring in the people mix along the way for a sounding board.

Inspiration is the next piece to this creative puzzle. Similar to bringing fresh eyes in, practice recall on your mental visual catalog. And if you don’t have one, then start. Personally, I’m about color, patterns, texture and draw a great source of inspiration from these literally everywhere. I take photos of interesting textures and color combos, and from time to time I’ll revisit those. Try it, you’ll be amazed how this can un-stick your brain when you are at a loss for where to go next with your piece.

This would be a weekly activity- let’s look around and see what we can find that inspires.

  • Draw on EVERYTHING for potential sources of inspiration, and document things you are intrigued and moved by. 

I also looked at when I felt most creative and did I have any triggers that helped process. Exercise has always helped me with mental clarity, and I suppose that it also helps with my “flow” If I’ve got all the jitters out, and if a bit tired, I tend to have less mental clutter. Getting outside is another big one for me. Two birds with one stone. Get out for a run. Figure out what reduces the mental fuzz, and do more of it. Yoga, meditation, dancing, cycling. It doesn’t matter, only that you determine if clearing your head helps you. I’m guessing it will.

I would love to say that we had a ten minute meditation each class, but students would have left. We chatted about this, rather than practiced it.

Clearly there can be many other means to increasing creativity. The takeaway here, is that yes you can do quite a bit to stimulate that part of you and much to aid in the process along the way. These are a few tried and true ideas. I’d love to hear more if you have some to share!


A few of my preferred creative tools!

Karin Brush Markers 
These are plain FUN! I use them to fill in and when I want a rough edge to my illustrations. They come in every color, but I am particularly fond of the grey pack. get some here

Pigma Micron Pens
You’re not really a doodler unless you have these. buy here

Rainbow Colored Pencils
Because why wouldn’t you want these? here

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