Simple Creative Habits and Jerry Saltz’s Lessons

I read an interview with Austin Kleon on the website called Extraordinary Routines. He talks about his creative habits, his routine. The interviews on this website are amazing. Here is a list of what Austin Kleon does every day. Write in his diary. Write a blog post. Take a walk. Read a book. I like the simplicity of those habits. He defines this as a successful day if all these things happen.

How would you define your successful day? Hmm.

I have thought about this for a long time. My fascination with daily habits started with the book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey. A friend just reminded me about this book I read back in 2016. I think it is time to re-read it and see what I have learned in the 3 years since I originally read it. This daily ritual habit is the kind of thing that you work on for the rest of your life. Over the years, I have pared down my essential daily habits and then turned around and added more habits back into the mix. Right now, I’m using a Momentum habit tracker app to keep track of the 10 daily habits I am focussing on now. Honestly, the idea of Austin Kleon’s simple habits for a successful day is looking very appealing right now.

Studio update

Nine Daily sewn squares of 25 Days of Purple Irises

I am working on the completion of the 100 days of four colors first piece, 25 Days of Purple Irises. These pieces are like a visual diary. I remember some of squares very well, what I was feeling, what I was trying to convey with the design and contrasting colors (limited as they may be as all were purple). I remember being excited about certain designs.  Next, I am working with the color blue for 25 days as part 2 of the 100 Day Project.

Time to share

This past weekend, I re-read an article by Jerry Saltz, the art critic for the New York magazine, called How to Be an Artist. I read the article several months ago but wanted to re-read it with the intention of sharing with you. The article is long but well worth your time. There are 33 rules included in this article. You could spend a whole day thinking about just one rule or lesson at a time. I highly recommend you open the link just to see the photography where Jerry Saltz poses like famous artists. Perfectly done. Check out the Frida Kahlo one.

He has some creative exercises in Step Two: How to Actually Begin: An instruction manual for the studio.

I am going to do this one…

Exercise: Build a Life Totem
Using any material on any surface, make or draw or render a four-foot-tall totem pole of your life. From this totem, we should be able to know something about you other than what you look like or how many siblings you have. Include anything you want: words, letters, maps, photos, objects, signs. This should take no longer than a week. After a week, it’s finished. Period. Now show it to someone who does not know you well. Tell them only, “This is a totem pole of my life till now.” That’s all. It doesn’t matter if they like it. Ask them to tell you what it means about your life. No clues. Listen to what they tell you.

He has some great practices to get you thinking about what you like and don’t like. All these are tools for self awareness. Something that is important for all people who want to be more creative. Why do I do what I do?

Probably one of his most important lessons is to give up on envy. So let’s give up the comparison game. This is particularly important in our social media world where people curate just the best of their lives to show others as if hard work was not necessary and art magically appears to a chosen few. 

Lesson 26: Make an Enemy of Envy


Envy looks at others but blinds you.

It will eat you alive as an artist; you live in the service of it, always on the edge of a funk, dwelling on past slights, watching everything, always seeing what other people have, scanning for other artists who are mentioned instead of you. Envy erodes your inner mind, leaves less room for development and, most important, for honest self-criticism. Your imagination is taken up by what others have, rather than what you need to be doing in your own work to get what you want. From this fortress, everything that doesn’t happen to you is blamed on something or someone else. You fancy yourself a modern van Gogh, a passed-over genius the world isn’t ready for. You relinquish agency and responsibility. Your feelings of lack define you, make you sour, bitter, not loving, and mean.

Poor you. Too bad that all those other “bad artists” are getting shows and you’re not. Too bad they’re getting the articles, money, and love! Too bad they have a trust fund, went to better schools, married someone rich, are better looking, have thinner ankles, are more social, have better connections, or use their connections, networking skills, and education. Too bad you’re shy.

A secret: Almost everyone in the art world is almost equally as bashful and skittish about putting themselves out there. I’m unable to attend seated dinners. We all do the best we can. But “poor me” isn’t a way to make your work better, and you’re out of the game if you don’t show up. So grow a pair of whatever and get back to work!

One of the themes from this article is to hang out with other artists and “form a gang”. Quilters, improv quilters in particular, are very supportive on Instagram. One of my online friends is Jen Broemel of @twelveredchairs.

She has started this wonderful Twelve Red Chairs storefront adventure in Indianapolis to host classes and creative get togethers. She needs help to keep this going and has set up a Kickstarter fund raiser. Read more about her Twelve Red Chairs adventure. I donated and you may want to as well. 

Post script: Jerry Saltz is turning this article into a book.

Jerry Saltz’s Instagram is super cool.

One last thing by Jerry Saltz, a video called Picasso’s Guernica, Explained to Passersby in the NYC Subway

Hope you enjoyed these ideas and articles I have shared. Let me know what you think. Send me an email.