Does Reading Books on Creativity Make You More Creative?

I am a bit addicted to books on creativity. I have read over 20 books on creativity and have at least 40 more on my to-read list. Now the question is, can reading all these books on creativity make you more creative? Yes and No. Yes, if you take action after reading them. No, if you use the reading of the books to replace actually making stuff. Sometimes I have used the creativity books as a crutch to try to get into the creative flow as I wrote about last week. But it is a false creative flow, in a way, because it is unsustainable. It ends when the books ends. A crutch can be useful to smooth over rough spots in your creative life. It can help fuel the creative fire or give you the courage to tackle a new project. So with that in mind, I am sharing some of my favorite books on creativity, the special ones that I still think about years after I read them.

The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp. I love this book so much. It is organized in the exact order of starting a creative project, looking at the white canvas or white room in her case as a choreographer, to the end of a project with a wrap up.  Her honesty in the ups and downs of her creative work was startling and so much more effective than if she only shared her successes. One thing that has stayed with me was her project box for each project, like a bankers box.  She threw in everything that helped her gather inspiration from a variety of sources. This gave me the idea for the Evernote notebook Design and Color Ideas which I wrote about in a previous article.

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield is a book I will continue to reread many times, maybe yearly. It is about Resistance to the work and gives me courage to keep up with my creative habit. Resistance is what tells you... you can work tomorrow and today we should just watch Netflix. Resistance says... you suck at this anyway. Reading all the things artists (or anyone with any productive work to do) say to themselves is reassuring that you are not alone. He gives some details of the cost in his life of giving into Resistance. It is sobering. This book keeps me going on my daily creative habit. It is easier to just never stop then it is to have to start again and maybe listen to that voice of Resistance.

Oh how I love Austin Kleon. The first book of his that I read is Steal like an Artist.  He writes about your artistic influence family tree.  He says figure out who influences you or whose art you like. Then figure out who influenced them and then go back as far as you can. Ingenious idea. The more we immerse ourselves in other's creative’s work, the more we can figure out what we like and what we may not like as much. It can help us find our voice. By doing this, it made me realize my creative mentors are Nancy Crow, Gees Bend quilters, and traditional Amish quilters. It helped me think about how my art has evolved over the years. He inspires me to stay curious.

His second book that I read is Show your Work. He debunks the idea of a solitary artist working away. He encourages people to talk about things that you love and share with others who love it too. He emphasized documenting your process, telling the story of your art. This sentence stopped me in my tracks when I read it, "It sounds a little extreme, but in this day and age, if your work isn't online, it doesn't exist. We all have the opportunity to use our voices, to have our say, but so many of us are wasting it. If you want people to know about what you do and the things you care about, you have to share.” This book got me to use Instagram as a tool to connect with others interested in art and to find a continuing source of inspiration for my art.  This book also nudged me to get a website and start a blog.  He has a weekly newsletter of 10 things he has found interesting during the week. Simple and great fodder for “feeding the beast” of creative inspiration.

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert on my desk. The book cover is wonderfully colorful. I have all the other books I mentioned in this article as ebooks.

The last book I am going to write about is Elizabeth Gilbert's new book called Big Magic. I love her way of making creative work just like any job. She always knew she was going to be a writer. She had loads of rejection in the beginning but that did not deter her. She embodies persistence. She gets up every day and just writes because that is what she does. I like her work ethic and she inspires me to create every day too. Her idea of creative genius like a muse in your life is a fascinating way to look at it.  If you have not seen her TED talk on this watch it and be inspired. Over eleven million other people have. She is an avid user of social media.  You can follow her on Facebook or Instagram and get daily inspiration.

I have learned so much from each of these books and way more than I wrote about in this article.  Each lesson I wrote about in this article from each book came directly from my memory.  I did not even have to look at the book again.  That is how powerful these books on creativity can be. 

My conclusion is books on creativity help you with the mechanics of how to get inspired and how to do the work.  Theses tools help support you. But it is up to you to just start creating what speaks to you, what lights you up. 

Design Choices and Bringing It All Together

Last week, I wrote about Color Choices and Context. The next step in the creative process for me is choosing a design and bringing it all together. Actually the process is not very linear at all. Sometimes color choices come first. Sometimes design choices come first. Sometimes the idea arrives with both color and design choices fully formed at the same time.

10 Blues Series, 2015.  Day 253, Stained Glass. 10 inches by 10 inches. Cotton fabric wrapped around stretched canvas.

Some of my favorite designs start with an inkling and some daydreaming. When I approach the studio, I have a hazy vision of what I want to do. For example, the piece Stained Glass from the 10 Blues series was an idea that I had been kicking around for a while with bright colors in a free-form chaotic pattern in a narrow band across a solid square of charcoal grey. The design was foremost in my mind. I kept that idea light in my thinking and felt free to experiment in the studio. It was fun to make and I thought of stained glass windows with the strong contrast between the bright colorful light and a dark interior.

I liked this design so much I modified it for my first 25 day series of 2016, Bits and Pieces of 2015. The design for that series was simple. Use fabric scraps from all of last year's pieces for the Every Day Project and sew them within a square of charcoal grey fabric. No other rules. I loved the freedom and the series has loads of variety from square to square.

Sometimes the color ideas come first as in the Sun Corn series. Once I had the colors in mind, I remembered the traditional quilt design of a square inside a square. I was bringing it all together, the color and design choice. I decided the large squares could be all different yellows and the inside squares could be purples, oranges or grey blues like heirloom corn kernel colors. However,  I never want to limit myself too much but just the right amount to give some structure. Perhaps I may want to choose a rectangle inside the square or add more colors. I need to have this freedom of choice to make it more interesting in the studio every day. See my daily squares in this series in my Daily Instagram Photos gallery.

I have trained myself to make decisions quickly. Decisions is my word of the year. I think this is one of the most important things the Every Day Project has taught me.

Nine squares in the  Bits and Pieces of 2015 series, 2016.  6 inches square each. Cotton fabric.

Make a decision. Pick the colors, the design and move on. Trust your instincts.  Get creating. Spend some time planning but it is more important to just start.

You never know where an idea will come from. One of my dear friends from high school suggested a design idea last week. Take an iconic painting, like a Matisse or Monet, break down the artwork into abstract squares for the series and then reassemble them.  Of course, I would not do it in any way anyone would probably recognize them as the original. But it gives me a thread of an idea. She also gave me another source for color inspiration, the commercial seed catalog from Johnny's Selected Seeds. Flowers, fruits and vegetables are a never-ending source of both color and design ideas. I am grateful for her suggestion. 

Thank you to the commenters on the blog for offering other sources for color inspiration like the book Interaction of Color by Josef Albers and site. 

Looking for inspiration and sharing that inspiration with others is a great way to get out of your head and discover new ways of approaching your creative outlet be it scrap booking, photography, collage, interior design, zentangling, or watercolors, etc.

You need to tend the garden of inspiration to keep ideas growing.

Keep the ideas coming!