Tag Archives: creativity

Thoughts on Inspiration

Amretasgraphics challenged me to muse on inspiration and getting inspired for the summer 2011 issue of Amretasgraphics Blogzine.

Inspiration is elusive. I have found that if I wait for inspiration, the creative impulse gets up and goes somewhere else. It is only by doing something, anything art-related on a regular basis that the Muse comes and sits with me.

When I doodle every day, even for just 5 minutes, then visual ideas begin to swirl. When I write, even for just 10 minutes every day, then ideas for my blog and articles begin to surface. I don’t need a special place (although it’s nice and I do have my little painting space with a dreamboard and a plant nearby) but I do need consistent time.

alarm clock

I used to think that schedules were confining, but now I embrace them. They give me structure and that’s just what I need to be creative. I walk for a half hour first thing in the morning and enjoy all the ideas that start bubbling as I move my body. I write for at least 15 minutes after breakfast and sometimes it’s wonderful, but most of the time it isn’t. However, it opens my mind and makes other writing I do during the day flow more easily.   And I doodle in a journal for 5 minutes before I go to bed. Since I started following this schedule (which is pretty flexible), I’ve been more creative and felt more free. When I really need to get something done, using a timer helps me get it done. It sounds counter-intuitive, but for me, being on the clock makes things happen.  I can do anything for half an hour….and usually that half hour is amazingly productive, when I force myself to focus on nothing else for half an hour.

I like to work on several projects at once and bounce between them. Somehow, taking a break from writing to draw or cook in stages helps give my brain a little mini-break and when I return to the original project, things flow again. On good days I go from an hour on the computer to an hour of painting to a half hour of reading to more writing, then painting, then cooking…and it all feels like a wonderful circle of creative productivity.

Among my must-haves is music. Although I don’t need a special place for most of my creative work, I do have a favorite CD which helps me focus on whatever I’m doing: Theta Transport by Tommy Brunjes. Most trance/electronic music works for me, but I’m really enjoying Theta Transport right now. I also have relaxation cd of ocean waves that I find very effective in helping me concentrate as well.

There are times when I want to do something, but can’t pull an idea out of my head. That’s when I go to the Inspiration folder on my computer – it’s a virtual scrapbox of images, links, quotes, and ebooks. There is always something in there that sparks an idea and gets things rolling. And I am constantly on the lookout for something new to put in my folder– even the hunt for inspiring things is an inspiration!


Zentangles always get me back into the groove

Drawing Zentangles is a wonderful way to get back to creativity.  You divide your paper into sections (called “tangles”) and then you choose from a palette of repetitive designs, and then you fill each section with a design.  And when you are done, you have something amazing.  I got inspired by the book, Zentangle Basics by Susan McNeill, and love to use Indian bridal henna fill patterns in my tangles.

When all else fails and I’m really feeling mired in creative despair, I take a class. Classes get me off my butt and somewhere else (even if it’s just a new screen on the computer). They introduce new ideas, new perspectives, new techniques and connect me with new people – very inspiring! The last class I took was the Take Back Your Creativity e-course. It really helped get back on track and back into the creativity habit.

Ultimately, creativity is, for me, a habit.  When things feel stuck I just have to keep practicing.  When fog descends on my brain as it does from time to time, I just need to keep doodling every day even if I’m only copying designs.  I need to keep writing every day even if it is just writing to-do lists.  I need to just keep doing something, ANYTHING…and then the wheels eventually start to turn, the engine runs smoothly and ideas spin again.


me drawing a flower

Henna doodling. Photo by Debbie Solan.

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Ole, and Elizabeth Gilbert

I read a post on Momentum Gathering about the sort of Yoda wisdom of creativity: “Try not. Do, or do not…”  It’s how the act of making something, doing something, writing something gets the wheels turning.  And pushing yourself to create something — even if it’s horrible — is still creative; you can always fix it later.

This idea is one that I find resonates for me.  I discover it over and over again — in various media.  Do something.  Consistently. Show up and work, and the sparks will start to fly, the creativity will come.

Musicians know this.  Musicians practice scales and exercises to train the muscles to let the music flow through them.  They warm up before expecting something brilliant.  I don’t know why I continue to expect myself to be able to draw or write or paint without training my muscles and warming up.

And then where does creativity come from once you’re ready?  This is a wonderful talk by Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love on creativity and its sources.  Enjoy!


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Take back your creativity

This winter I found myself in a slump.  It happens.  I started a new job and was overwhelmed with details.  I was taking classes on Dreamweaver and WordPress.  I didn’t have many henna clients.  And slowly I just found that it was harder and harder to make creative things happen.  I wasn’t getting flashes of inspiration.  I’d lost my mojo!

For me, creativity is like an engine whirling inside.  When it’s running smoothly, ideas fly and I am happy and productive.  But when something jams the engine or I’m not getting proper maintenance, my creativity slows down and even stops.

Fortunately, I found an e-course at just the right time.  Take Back Your Creativity by Michelle Nickolaisen.

At last! A practical approach to creating space for and nurturing creativity! The modules are perfectly focused and full of useful information and advice.  I especially appreciated the advice for re-arranging things to maximize creative time; it’s so easy for me to get sidetracked with chores (especially when I’m avoiding something) and this helped me to schedule my time effectively.

The workbook is a fantastic resource and I will use it over and over again to help me keep on top of priorities and to stay focused on projects.

I especially appreciated that everything had multiple formats so I could print stuff out or read it on my Kindle.  I especially enjoyed listening to the interviews while I was driving — so refreshing and inspiring — and then catching the details later in the transcripts.

And after practicing the suggestions and doing the worksheets, I found myself thinking about painting and photography and henna once again.  The conscious act of creating “creative space” where you block out time and make yourself do something — anything — doodle, write an essay, take photos, make dinner with intention — and do something on a regularly scheduled basis really works!  The exercises were simple, but effective, and now I’m back to my creative self!

Take Back Your Creativty button

For more info, click here

Yea!  And I loved the course so much that now I am an affiliate.  Check it out — it might change your life!

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Curiosity and creativity

“Curiosity about life in all of its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people.” -Leo Burnett

Curiosity drives questions….and questions spur thinking…and ideas are born.  Creativity is not just for artists.  Some of the most vitally creative people I know are not artists; they’re scientists.

Real scientists must be creative or they won’t get the ideas that get them the grants to do the research the answers the questions they can’t help asking….scientific research is based on looking beyond what appears to be there.  Science requires people to ask questions.  And questions lead to creative thinking.

Unfortunately, many people equate science with number crunching, data sequencing, and very dull calculations.  BORING. Even for the people who do them. Those are important parts of science, but they aren’t the whole story.  Real scientists face problems and have to solve them.  Organizing data and crunching numbers can be tools for finding the knowledge that solves the problem, but they aren’t the end.  There is actually no end….one answer creates more questions, and more questions require more research, which raises more questions….for the curious person with a fire in the heart.

And that is the essence of creativity.  To be on fire to figure things out, to see things in a different way, to understand the essence of something.  Scientists ask questions about the outside world, and artists ask questions about the inner world; both share a curious passion for learning and creating and sharing.

cat and fishtank

Curiosity and my cat, Sahara...

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Happy Mother’s Day!

Day lily
A Mother’s Day bouquet

Thanks, Mom! You were always there when I needed help.  You nurtured and pushed and encouraged me.  You taught me the value of reading and learning and loving.

You have dedicated your life to helping others and your students have gone on to become the first college graduates of their families, doctors, dentists, engineers, teachers.  You may have thought you had no creativity, but your life and your work are living testimony to your ability to think beyond limits and create new ways of solving problems.

You discovered new artistic ability when most people started thinking about retiring.  You learned everything you could about photography.  You took photographs and played with them in the darkroom.  And you achieved excellence — with your own exhibit in the Parthenon! among other notable places.

You are now at a crossroads where your time as an active faculty member is winding down (and after 40 years, it’s about time!).  Your artistic vision is changing and you now have a house and cat to care for.  And yet, you continue to care deeply about the transforming power of education, about art, and about helping people.

My Mother

I salute you, Mom.  I appreciate you.  And I look forward to finding out what happens next!

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Why henna?

Why don’t you do real tattoos?

That’s a question I get fairly often, and my standard response is, “I’m scared of needles.”

And that is true.  Poking people with needles is incomprehensibly terrifying.  But the other truth is, I love henna.

The first thing I love about henna is that it is made from a plant.  Henna powder is simply ground up henna leaves and it is up to me to transform that powder into a powerful staining paste.  I mix in lemon juice and let the paste sit overnight to allow the dye to begin its release.  The next day I add in molasses (to help the paste stick to the skin and also for a silky smooth texture) and essential oils. Lavender, eucalyptus and tea tree essential oils all have monoterpenes which help make the dye easier for human skin to absorb.  And the other essential oils I add such as geranium, vetiver, and ylang-ylang have aromatherapy benefits.  As I mix the paste, strain it, and pack it into cones, I feel like an alchemist, creating something that will not only stain the skin a beautiful color, but also improve your mood just by smelling the fragrance.

Next, I love to draw.  And more specifically, I love drawing the kinds of designs you can draw with henna.  I love lines, and henna is all about lines.  I also love the challenge of drawing on people where the surface is always a bit different — I love making designs work with the contours of human arms, hands, shoulders… each design is new and fresh because each canvas is unique and wonderful.

And third, I love how henna has a process, a lifespan.  The paste is only the first step.  After that flakes off, the bright orange stain is left behind — and that mixes with the body chemistry and oxidizes with the air to create a highly personal color.  The color that I get with henna may not be the same color that you get — even if I use the same batch.

I love how henna deepens in color, then gradually fades and all the shades in between.

henna, persian design, orange
Henna is bright orange at first
persian henna design, temporary henna tattoo, brown
The next day, the design has deepened in color

It’s magic.

OK.  There are concrete scientfic reasons why henna works.  But I embrace them as magic.

Henna is beautiful.  It lifts your mood (both with fragrance and design) and it lasts long enough to appreciate it, but doesn’t outstay its welcome.

No needles required.

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