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The Creative Process for Artists – It’s not Brain Surgery!

As an artist of many years, the subject of the creative process for artists and creativity is often brought up by fellow artists, or by friends wondering how the heck I thought up whatever series of work I am currently emeshed in.

The answer used to be, “I don’t know. It just happens.” I said that until my creativity took a rather protracted vacation and left me bereftly wondering how to go forward. It was as though my spouse had left me, or had died. I didn’t know what to do.

After many false starts and pieces that I was appalled about having made, I closed the door to my studio and for almost a year I passed that door every day without ever opening it.



I was afraid. I was afraid that it was gone, that I was done. That my creativity had deserted me forever.

What would I do? How would I survive? I would never survive working in an office or (god forbid) selling retail. That was scarier than the thought that I was finished as an artist. A BA degree in fine art didn’t exactly leave me able to do much except create stuff.

So… I did the only thing I could think of to do. I took a mixed media class at the local college, hoping something would click.

It took a while. There was no eureka moment. There was no blinding light or heavenly singing of angels. But one day about half way through the semester, I woke up with an idea. And never looked back.

But it got me to wondering;

What exactly is the creative proccess? How can I make sure that I never hit the same sort of slump I just dug myself out of? And most importantly, what can I learn that I can share with others?

I started reading about creativity and the creative process (not the same things) and realized that most books that are written about the creative process are written by psychologists and other professionals who have never had (or lost) creative process of their own. They studied those whose livelihoods depended on keeping fresh ideas coming and creating art as their job. Yup. Their job.

Which made me realize that the creative process isn’t smoke and mirrors. It isn’t something that I am lucky enough to have. Mine isn’t any different or better than anyone elses. And most importantly, the creative process can be summed up in one sentence.

A simple sentence.

Creative vortex
Creative vortex

Creativity is a way of solving problems uniquely.

The creative process is simply setting up an end result you want to achieve and figuring out a way to achieve it. By combining the two, life becomes much easier because solving problems is what everyone does every day. It is not special. It is not unique, It is not a different way that some people see things.

Don’t get me wrong.

There are those among us who are uniquely special because they see things in ways that seem impossible to the rest of us. It seems effortless, easy, something that mere mortals will never achieve. And in some cases it is true that a genius in music, art, or writing has that special “something”.

However, don’t let that scare you away from creativiy or the creative process. It is achievable and if it is practiced with regularity will become a habit that will never let you down.

I am not a psychologist, or an intellectual. I am a working artist who has dealt with the matter of creativity and the creative process most of my life. Sometimes it takes an extra kick to get myself to the next level, but most of the time I simply follow the guidelines that I am going to list below to bring myself to a place where I can create.

The Creative Process is not a Mystery.

Here’s the deal. When you can’t think of anything exciting, different, or unique to create, it creates a wall in your mind after a while which blocks the ability to roll with an idea. Any idea. I have a friend who, when I complained to her that I had hit a wall and couldn’t work, she said, “It doesn’t matter what you do, just do something. Don’t stop and think about it, just do it (just like Nike). I live by that credo.

But it is true. If you keep working, even though what you are working on might not be something that you love, it may lead you in a slightly different direction, give you a different view on something. And that may lead you to your next thing. Yay!

The creative process is simply a way of solving problems,

and each time you change one thing, something else occurs that may excite you and give you a vision for an entirely new project.

Mixed Media
Mixed Media

That’s all creativity is. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of your work. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t get accepted into shows or get bought at an art fair. What matters is that you know that you solved the problem before you, expanded on it, refined it, and eventually finished it. You solved the problem.

Here’s a to start a new project if you are stuck.

If you have that panicky feeling inside that you can’t come up with a new concept or idea try this. Choose a medium you don’t usually work in. Choose colors you have a tendancy to stay away from.

I have another friend who is a professional poker player.

He once told me that he plays different kinds of poker, not just the one that he competes in. He told me that it gives him a wider perspective and a better idea about what the other players are thinking and what they may do. It loosens him up for new ideas. Voila!

If you truly can’t think of an image or concept, find a picture in a magazine or online that you like and copy it. Work in a series of five or six pieces.

They can be any size, but keep working the same theme if you like it. Eventually something will change on its own and lead you to another place. That is the creative process for artists in a nutshell.

You Don’t Have to Reinvent the Wheel.

Yup, you heard me. Copy.  Picasso is quoted as saying, “Bad artists copy. Great artists steal.” He had a room in his studio where he copied other artists work in order to create in a different way, see in a new light.

He painted hundreds of works over his career. Some are very similar, painted during the same period, and then he would change to another way of seeing, or a different school of work, or different colors. Anything that kept him fresh.

There is no shame in copying another artists work. It may be just the thing that gives you the idea for your next series.

Bored? Move forward.

This is something to keep in mind. How many times have you gone to a musuem and looked at an artists work, and because of the colors, brushstrokes, design, whatever, knew who the artist was?

I sat next to a museum curator on a flight to New York once and she told me that less than thirty percent of the collectable artists as far as museums are concerned, are women.


Because most male artists fine a niche,

a way of working, a look, and stay with it for their entire career. Women don’t necessarily do that. They and change it up. I don’t know if it is a tendency of the sexes to create that way, or if it is that men figured out that to be collectable they couldn’t change much.

As she was talking about it, I could see what she was saying and it made sense. However I decided that maybe I wouldn’t be an artist that museums would ever be interested in.

And that’s okay with me. I’d much rather explore and be excited by my process and my work than create work with the express desire to be collected by museums. That said, I’m not rich either, and most of those male artists have done quite nicely for themselves.


Creative vortex
Creative vortex

I guess it depends that is most important to you.

Refine, Rework, Move, Remove Then Leave Well Enough Alone

When you are knee deep in a project it is necessary to step back and do something else for a bit before returning to your work.

It gives you a fresh eye and you will see where you need to make improvements. Sometimes it is a good Idea to work on different works so that you can continue working without stoping.

But whatever your process is, either working in multiples or on a single piece, be sure to step away, change gears and take a breath before heading forward again.

It makes for better work, and sometimes if there is an area or even an entire piece that needs work, just the act of thinking about something else sharpens your intuitive process.

And So…

The creative process is no more than a way of working that ensures a fresh view and a host of new ideas to work with. It takes practice, but it works. I think it’s important that all artists understand that it is not mysterious, not something that some have and others don’t. It is a taught way of thinking about working that brings results.

I read an article not long

ago that stated that people who draw, paint, sing, play an instrument or write feel better about themselves. That the satisfaction of having created something that was unique to them encourages self esteem and a happy attitude.

I can’t argue with that because I agree. I believe that people who use an artistic process are better at planning, orginizing, and are more self assured because they can solve problems for themselves in different and creative ways.

Idea! - The creative process for artists

These processes transfer to your home and work life as well. And the sense of wellbeing is something that money can’t buy. Go forth and prosper, and have a great time on your next project.





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  • Yvonne

    This is so encouraging for people who loves the creative process like me. Many times, I feel like I’m stuck for new ideas. Nike is right. Just do it and eventually, you’ll stumble upon something that is fresh and may lead you to a different perspective. Thanks for sharing.

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