How to Get Your Creative Itch Back

Woman in warehouse with colourful balloons
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Even the most creative of us sometimes fall into a rut. Sadly, once you get stuck, it can be hard to get started again, especially when there's a gulf between your artistic vision and what you are actually able to produce. When you produce something dissatisfying, you may believe you've lost your ability, causing you to fall into an even deeper rut. We visualize creating art as we did when we were at the top of our game and forget all the practice that went into getting there. Fortunately, there are some tried-and-true exercises you can do to get your creative juices flowing again.

Step 1: Acknowledge the Desire to Be Creative

Start by acknowledging to yourself that as much as you wish to be really creative, you will need to dust off your artistic skills, spend a bit of time practicing the basics again, and accept the fact that you're probably going to be dissatisfied with what you initially create. Make an agreement with yourself that you're going to do it anyway and that you will make a decent effort, not fool yourself with a feeble attempt. You know in your heart that it's only by practicing that you can get back into your art. Acknowledge your desire to be creative, and let that desire motivate you.

Step 2: Buy a Pleasing Sketchbook

Treat yourself to a painting sketchbook you're going to love, that you'll enjoy holding in your hand, that is pleasing to you before you've even done anything with it. A Moleskine with watercolor paper is a great choice, but there are all sorts of options, from large wire-bound sketchbooks to small leather-bound books you can carry with you in your pocket.

When you're ready to use it for the first time, don't open it to the first page. Instead, open it to somewhere in the middle or near the back and start there. This immediately eliminates the pressure for the first thing in your new sketchbook to be something "good."

Step 3: Spend a Week Drawing for 15 Minutes Each Day

For the next week, spend 15 minutes a day making marks in your sketchbook. Use a pencil, art pen, ballpoint pen, marker, paint, anything. It doesn't matter what you use as long as you spend 15 minutes wielding it on the paper without stopping for too long.

Sit somewhere comfortable and draw in your sketchbook what you see, whether it's the whole scene around you or merely one small object. Don't cheat yourself by spending the 15 minutes thinking about what you might do. Put pencil to paper and move it around. The goal of this exercise isn't to produce a masterpiece, it's for you to turn the sketchbook page from an empty one into one with a picture on it. Spend a week doing this exercise each day.

Don't do more than 15 minutes a day for seven days, even if you have the time or inclination. Set a timer and stick to the limit. If you begin to feel frustrated that you can't spend more time drawing, good. You're developing an itch.

If, after a week, you've got your creative itch back, then run with it. If you haven't, keep it up for another week and add another artistic element to it. This could be visiting an art gallery or museum if there's one nearby (if they do free tours, take one), or browse the collection of a museum on the web. Perhaps try watching a how-to or biographical painting DVD (such as the "Impressionists" series or Simon Schama's "Power of Art") or reading a biography of a famous artist. Copy a painting by an artist you like, or dig out one of your own old paintings and try copying that. Keep at it, a little bit every day, and the itch to create will eventually reappear.