What Is Your Creative Habit?

I am reading the Creative Habit, by Twyla Tharp, a dancer and choreographer who, over the past 35 years, has created 130 dances and ballets. The title of the book intrigued me because for the longest time I believed that creativity was a feeling or an inspiration that just happened. I've since come to realize that in order to create I need to be deliberate, intentional, and just start! Or as Nike so perfectly put it, "Just Do It!"
In the first part of the book, Twyla talks about routines and rituals of preparation.
"Creativity is a habit and the best creativity is a result of good work habits." "It's vital to establish some rituals - automatic but decisive patterns of behavior _ at the beginning of the creative process, when you are most at peril of turning back, chickening out, giving up, or going the wrong way."
How true! I am trying very hard to create and stick to regular work habits. Since my studio is in my home and I home school two of my kids, it is very easy to get distracted or allow myself to get distracted! I have a pretty consistent routine for starting my day which includes writing my Morning Pages (from The Artisit's Way), planning my day, some reading/studying, yoga, and then a drawing session to start my time in the studio.
My current struggle is with starting a new project or series and dealing with the all the questions doubts: Is it a good idea? What size? How many paintings? What am I going to do with it? Will anyone like it? What if it doesn't turn out good? Blah, blah, blah.......
I would really appreciate hearing from you...
How do you start your day? Do you have rituals or routines of preparation for starting your day or a new project or walking in to your office or studio and preparing to work? Do you do anything in particular to allow your creativity to flow? How do you tackle overcoming a new project, blank canvas or blank page?


Anonymous said...

wow, you are saying a mouthful there!!
I left my "real job" just 2 short years ago to be a full-time artist.
I started out with good intentions and a typed out schedule of my days. Then the laundry, cleaning and grocery shopping started calling out to me. And in the summer...well there are weeds to pull and lawn to mow...etc,etc,etc.
I really do try to make my days creative, but some days the "guilts" get a hold of me and I succomb to them.
On the days that I am disiplined enough to work on my art, I push my husband out the door, then shower, exercise for 1/2 hour, have a quick bowl of oatmeal and head for my studio(over the garage but connected to the house) with a hot cup of coffee. If I already have a painting(s) in progress, its easy enough to just pick up from the last time.
If I am starting on new pieces, I already have a list formed from thoughts of what I would like to paint, and then lay out my inspiration photos. I scuba dive and have tons of underwater photos I have taken, or I email my friend in Colorado to see if I have her permission to use one of hers for a painting. My subjects tell me if they want to be watercolor or oil paintings, so that is easy enough. I will then do a quick sketch for compositions sake, get out my limited "underwater" palette and if I am doing an oil painting, I will take out a blue and just make a mark on the canvas to get over the fear of the blank whiteness of it all. If i am doing a watercolor, then I have to think about my palette a bit more.
Somedays I find myself wandering away from my work too much to check email, Twitter and Facebook to see who left me messages. Other days I can get so completely absorbed that I will look up to find out its getting dark out and I better start dinner.
Like I said, not every day goes like this. There are the "guilty" days when I do housework first and then TRY to get into some sort of swing in the studio.
I save my errands so that I only do them one day a week.
All in all, I think my days are pretty creative and productive. Since I am terrible at blogging, an artist friend and I keep track of each other....my blogging, her data entries for sales, etc. She will let it go for months at a time. Having this extra "push" from her helps me in that department.
I could go on for days here about how I determine size, series, etc, but I can't type anymore. This is too left brained for me right now!!!

michael orwick said...

Thanks for bringing up such a great subject, one I think could have allot of attention paid to it.
Just this morning I have had to rethink my routine, because I start with my email...I try to quickly divide it up into 5 folders, “Junk/trash” (most of it) “Follow up/Action” for emails I need more than a minute or two to reply to. "Hold for a few days" for emails I'll be using soon and "Read when you have time" for articles that look good but not important enough or overly timely.
“Archive” for important things that I may need for later, this file is big but I don't care because I can browse and find what I need fairly easily.

This little email habit has been has helped time wise but this morning and yesterday I still found I spent over an hour...that is an hour not painting.

I work from home and deal with many of the same distractions, but I try to work 8:30-5:00 with a brake to walk the dog and for lunch.

I have worked very hard to get my "studio" space set up efficiently, with what I need close by. I'm a believer in the less is more rule trying to use as few colors as I can as few different mediums as possible. I now get all my canvases from the same supplier and most all my frames. I paint a fairly limited amount of sizes which helps with frames and canvases, and I can buy in bulk.

Routine is a hard thing to get into because some times the paint and time flies and boom 6 hours have gone by and my time is up, other days it is a real chore and my creativity is dulled. On the latter type of days I try to do the boring "business" stuff and clean. But I stay in the studio and am ready for when things get rolling again.

The biggest thing I learned was that I had to treat it like a job, with real hours, I remind myself that I'm lucky that this is what I get to do and that if I get lazy or begin to take it for granted my only other practical skill is a waiter (which I did for seven years) and I don't want to go back to that. Then I had to convince the people around me that painting is my "real" job and that it deserves respect and no I can't go out to lunch with you on your day off. I have paintings to get to and emails to ignore.

Honor Bradley said...

As Bonnielynn said, you hit the nail on the head. I find the most effective thing I can do is self talk. Just do something, Honor!!!! I so often get caught up with concerns about what to paint etc. that if I don't tell myself..NO EXCUSES ALLOWED, The house is Clean enough!!!!I doubt I would get anything done. Thanks for sharing you dilemmas and doubts. It's nice to hear others suffering the same problems. Honor

monajonescordell said...

safter alot o years it seems to remain the same: I say "hello" to the studio as if it it has been waiting for me. may even apologize if i am off schedule.
then i sit with hot tea and observe the day before. this helps me get perspective before diving in.

I keep a daily studio journal that closes my time there. In that journal are great great thoughts of wisdom>:) and my plan for the next day. that helps alot especially when i come in from an event or happening that could be still be on my mind.

the blank canvas? when i put a canvas on the easel I have already begun the composition in my head which is why i picked that particular canvas size. guide and discovery take from there.

Tara Reed said...


Great question! Although my days vary, I'd say I have a few "routines" that I follow in my art licensing business - here are a few that come to mind:

1. I roll out of bed, brush my teeth and check email and my 'to-do' list for the day while my son is getting ready for school. Then chat and breakfast with him.

2. At 7 am, I send him out the door and I go back to my to-do list, double check any appointments and prioritize. If I have marketing calls to make, or clients to follow-up with on the east coast, I do it right away. It is amazing how quickly 2 pm PST can come and then it is hard to reach people!

3. I often take a mid-morning break to go to the gym or run errands. I find it helps to give my brain a break and let it out of the studio -- fresh locations lead to fresh ideas.

The 'art creation' part is a little more fluid. While I work on different projects each day, my creative flow comes into play regarding how much of the art side and how much of the business side is done on a given day. Of course if there are deadlines or rush-projects looming, the creative flow needs to be flowing!

The main thing I try to do is SOMETHING each day, give myself down time when I need it and review my accomplishments each day and week. It is easy to forget just how much you get done if you don't acknowledge it!

Those are some of my habits-- off to read what others are doing!


Unknown said...

Michael directed me to your post on your blog. For some reason, your name is familiar to me. Maybe in passing.

I start with exercising/showering first! This makes me feel just plain relaxed. It's the endorphines I suppose!

Like Micheal, once in the studio, I start with my email, then research artists (blogs) and galleries. I see tons of wonderful art on the net. Some days, I spend way too much time on this part of my morning.

On the the easel! Creatively, there is always some challenge out there waiting to be put to canvas or paper. As the inspirations come, it is very easy to start. I don't always stare at a blank canvas, because I know what I'm going to paint even before I finish the prior piece. What's next? First with preparation of my paper (mounting) and on to the next step. The process is meditative and almost proceedure-like. The final outcome always surprises me...that's the risk and joy I get from creating.

Some days are just for working on my bookkeeping or marketing. Not one bit of creativity spent on that dry stuff at all. Like today, I calculated my yearly taxes...a daunting chore!

My day is short. With kids to pick up from school at around 2pm, and homework/chores/activities make up the rest of the day. Mornings are when I get to paint...and those are my cherished times.

Anonymous said...

Good question. Here are my sure fire ways I start a new project. 1. I get oxygen--open my head 2. I do alot of research online and otherwise--open my world. 3. I enlist the help of my focus group or friends for ideas, perspective and insights--open my network I give myself permission to receive what God is sending me--open my soul.
I gather, sort and process what I receive. My best place for great ideas--the shower. My greatest weapon for creativity--8 uninterrupted hours of sleep. My power song: 1000 Beautiful Things by annie Lenox My power meal: avocado on toast with french roast coffee. Most importantly I have come to believe that I possess a certain gift from God that no one else has--that has changed everything.

Torrie Smiley said...


My creative habit...now, everyone will know I am a nut~

I just need more hours in the day!

I have a full time "real" job that keeps me busy Tuesday through Friday. I paint nights and weekends. I joined the group "Daily Painter's Marketplace" to remind me of my commitment to myself to paint daily, if only for an hour.

I work from home as a medical transcriptionist sitting typing one report after another. I have the TV on in the background with painting videos playing. I think some of the technique and inspiration sinks into my subconscious while I am typing. I also place the reference photo of my current and next project near the computer screen in my visual field while I work. It may sound crazy, but when I go to actually paint the picture....it seems easier. I could be totally wrong, but I am convinced the brain absorbs your entire surroundings, even when you are not aware.

If an idea for a painting pops into my head, I immediately write it down or sketch it on any paper I can find.....sometimes the thought totally disappears 15 minutes later if I don't write it down. I know I have forgotten more paintings than I have painted.

So much of my inspiration is quite by accident. For instance, the other day I took all my leftover paint on my palette and mixed them altogether...really expecting to get a horrid brown. To my surprise, I have this beautiful teal blue. There are so many wonderful things to do with this beautiful color. My only problem now is I have no idea how to recreate my new favorite color.

If I feel there is nothing left for me to paint and my little bag of inspiration is empty....I paint my old familiar stand by, a pear. I love paintings pears. I paint a small pear to get back into the groove.....If the pear comes out ugly, oops :(


Anonymous said...

Hi Annie, thank you for creating an opportunity to comment on the creative process. We artists seem to be barometers for the energy of our environment, inspired by the promise of imaginative escape, or motivated by our senses to record the emotions we feel in the 'Now'. Gwen Stephani said recently that she spends most of her time gathering creative ingredients that are eventually brought together by some inspirational catalyst; like an artist with a sketch pad, or a writer with a journal. Personally, I spend so much time in the creative zone that it's hard to keep up with the 'real world'. My routine ? Shave/shower/coffee&food/paint till I get hungry/errands-email-food/paint till I get hungry/food-read-visit-entertain-meetings/sleep.
Never have the blank canvas problem because I take a canvas pad and cut it into 4x6 pieces - then sketch freely, knowing that sheer numbers will carry me over years of struggle with larger canvases. In one week I can paint 20 or more of them, leading to a couple of days on a big canvas that matters.
Old Asian proverb: A person cannot be called an artist until they have painted 10,000 paintings. When I read that, I decided to take it at face value . . .
At some point, you no longer think of what or how to paint as much as you can't believe how many things you want to paint, and how short life really seems to be. Oh, and finally . . . people buy passion and love, commitment and courage; bold honesty on canvas . . . tentative guessing won't hang. Find your voice and sing LOUDLY.
Cheers :) David

dorene said...

I agree with Bonnielynn, wow!!! That is saying a mouthful. I guess for me I have to have everything out and available for me to see and touch. If I keep things all neat and organized in little containers I tend to just look at the boxes and nothing comes to me.
Although I have a wonderful place to create, it seems most of my work is done in a comfy chair in the living room. I put a work tray in my lap, lay strands of beads all over the arms and back of the chair, a big fat basket of beads at my feet and other stuff everywhere! Pretty wild and messy.. I mostly work on the jewelry on the weekends and in the evenings, but during the week I get up, have coffee, pray, and read some sort of devotional book and my bible. If I am really on the ball I will do an excercise DVD. To keep some balance and keep my house from falling apart I will start laundry, do dishes or something so I am not drawn away in my mind to chores that are screaming out at me before I sit down.
I make myself another big fat cup of coffee and start pulling out all of the beads and everything else that goes with it, and rummage as if I am going through my grandmother's jewelry box. Something will usually come to me, but I have to tell you there have been plenty of times when I have sat there for a couple of hours and realized I haven't made a single thing. I have learned to just get up and go do something else. Sometimes it's just not flowing.
Then there is the computer business side of things that I have just started dealing with. This usually gets done late at night. Adding pictures and text to the blog, checking emails, orders, paypal, website, facebook...etc!! I also check these in the morning, forgot to say that earlier. Annie has been a great help and inspiration to get all that going. Thanks Annie!!
I also try to do errands only one day a week so I am not running around town and it helps keep some structure in my life.
I dont' know if this fits in the creative habit theory of things, but it' my life... thanks for asking, this was fun!

marctaro said...

lets see - this is a big question!
lemme try and organize some thoughts...

blogging: defiantly I feel the pressure to get posts up on my blog ever few days. going public with my personal art (outside of all the secret work-stuff) was one of the best things I've done vis-a-vis motivation. It's the monkey on my back - must make art! must post!

art 'clubs': I have a few drawing groups I hang out with - just friends that get together on sundays to do some sketching, or go plein air painting - so we have the group motivation that you can't let the others down! keeps you going out!

making it my job: not taking other good jobs, and being an artist was the single biggest step. I'm the 'breadwinner' in the family, just because of circumstance (work visas) - so now I have all the motivation I need! be good at what do, or starve!! That's a great way to keep focused :)

michael orwick said...


this is a great short video of Elizabeth Gilbert author of Eat Pray Love and it is about creativity and our job/place in it.

Carol Horzempa said...

My day starts different from day to day because I never in my life established a routine as hard as I tried too. I guess I should read Twyla Tharp’s “Creative Habit” and learn something about creating a routine.

I usually get my inspiration outside my studio. It can be when I’m walking along and see how the light is playing on an object and if I’m lucky enough to have my camera I will start shooting. Other times I find objects to paint under controlled light in my studio. I’m looking forward to working outdoors this spring with my new pochade box. I think my days are over for hauling my French easel around.

If I am excited and motivated about my subject that will keep my creative juices flowing. I do know what stops it though; if someone such as spouse, friends or relatives offers their unwanted opinion on a “painting in progress” and it is negative that really stops the creative flow dead in its tracks. I do much better working without any distractions.

I hate facing a white canvas. I like to tint mine with acrylic paint first. Sometimes I tint the canvas with a complimentary color of the subject I’m going to paint.

I can relate to what you go through as an artist such as: Is it a good idea, will anyone like it and what if it doesn't turn out good?

Now that I am retired from freelance work I only do what I want to do, I don’t have to please anyone but it’s really nice when I do. I think my work has improved since I don’t have the almighty dollar standing between my canvas and me. I will always consider myself a student and feel I still have a lot to learn.

I am terrible about the business end of my art. My daughter and son-in-law prompted me to create my own blog so I can share my work. Now a whole new world has opened up for me and I’m amazed at the response I’ve been having. I think the most motivating factor in my case is the feedback I get on my paintings. Now I’m even thinking eBay.

Annie Salness said...

Wow! Thank you to all who contributed! I just watched the video that Michael Orwick mentions, (it's wonderful)but the link from here doesn't seem to be active, so if you click his name and go to his blog, the video is posted there!
Great insight and information from all!

Anonymous said...

I know I am commenting on this a few days later, but I guess that's ok. I can relate to a lot of what you have said, and also to a lot of the comments others have made. I can definitely see the need for having good creative habits. I do tend to resist habits at times, but I also know they can help too.

My usual "routine" is that while having my morning coffee, I catch up on emails and Twitter, and lately Facebook comments or new friends. Then, I have breakfast and shower/dress.

I used to do Morning Pages, though have been skipping them lately. I do feel better when I am doing them, so every once in a while, I get back into writing them.

Since I also do not have an "outside" job right now, and have a very strong motivation to make my art my "real job", I have committed to getting into my studio to paint every day, even if it only works out that I spend an hour there.

I often just am getting into something interesting when I have to stop because my husband is home and it is time to fix dinner.

Sometimes if I am stuck on starting a new painting or new project, I do a meditation and ask spirit to pop some ideas or images into my head, and that usually works. If I can see it in my mind's eye, I can usually get it down on paper (or canvas - depending on whether I am using oils or watercolor). Even if I can get to do a quick sketch it helps, once I get out the paints.

In the middle of a painting, at times I have to walk away from what I am doing - for a few hours or for a day. It usually looks better after some time, when I have gotten some distance from it.

The idea of going into my studio and painting SOMETHING every day helps me a lot - gives me consistency and shows me I CAN do it.

This is great blog - glad I found it!

Anonymous said...

Wow, big subject! This could be a book for me, but I'll try and be brief. I started being a full-time "artist" over 26 years ago, so over the years have incorporated many stimulations to get myself into the studio, keeping on creating, and believing in myself. Lately my routine is to arise very early (before the sun), meditate and pray for about 1 hour. This helps me center and focus on just "being" and feeling connected to God. Then I shower, go to the computer checking on emails, now FB, and headlines to see what the latest "buzz" is. Then I start laundry, paying bills, doing art business tasks, making lists, setting Dr. appts., hair appts, lists for shopping, etc. After that I take my walk - approximately 1 mile. Just before leaving the house I go to the studio, open the blinds and give the latest work the "new eye quick glance" to see how I like it, if I like it, what I don't like about it, etc. If there's no painting in progress, I decide what to start, what materials to order, what I can do that day. Then I walk and think about my upcoming day in the studio, and also about the day to follow as I paint only in the mornings, as afternoons and evenings are taken up with my husband, friends, and life in general. Long ago I discovered that mornings are my best creative and also "thinking" times. My mind is clear, my spirit is strong and filled with hope. By afternoon, I'm overwhelmed by details and crud of the world, so am almost useless at thinking or creating. Anyway, in the studio after returning from my walk and checking emails, I get to try out all the ideas I played with on my walk. Oh yes, almost forgot - while painting I play very far out jazz or meditatve CD's. Horse series paintings I play a native American new age CD with drums and flutes, and florals I play another I've come to love or else switch on classical music. This music gets me into the dream world where I can be completely emerged with my painting. While in that state the "real" world goes away completely. After about one or two hours I'm exhausted and ready for lunch! Then I consider the rest of the day belongs to my husband and the world at large. But I've had my special time! That's about it. I'm so lucky to have this life where I can create and be recognized for what I do - I'm always feeling thankful for the life God is giving me.

Anonymous said...

I have just realized lately that I actually do have a creative habit. I get up usually after my husband leaves for work. He's a morning guy and I'm a night girl. I first have to feed my two dogs and one cat otherwise I won't get anything else done. I get my coffee, read my emails, turn off the phone ringer, get dressed and find that perfect movie. It's all about the movie. I have to listen to a movie that has great music. It has to be a movie I've already seen otherwise I'll sit there in front of my easel and watch the movie instead of paint. I didn't realize how important the music was to how the painting was going. When I did, I went out and actually bought the movies that inspired me to paint better.

This, of course, is a perfect day. They are rare, but I love to fantasize about them, anyway. I've decided I'm going to have one of those perfect days today. I'm thinking "Out of Africa" is just what I need.

Jana said...

Well, even after reading Creative Habit a few years ago, I'm sad to say I haven't created any daily creative habits myself! After parenting 2 daughters for over 20 years, I'm just starting to set goals, and make lists. I've thoroughly enjoyed reading everyone else's daily habits, creative and otherwise, and am inspired to try some of my own. I paint mostly when I have a deadline ahead of me---whether it's a juried show, or self imposed. From mid-May thru mid-Oct. I go paint plein air with a local group every Wed. morning when I can get away---pretty much my only scheduled creative habit! Thanks Annie for initiating this dialog between artists, and for the nudge to start some good artistic habits!

jennifer woodburn said...

Like many, a routine for me is key (however lousy I am at sticking to it!). I have found that I need to paint first thing in the morning (after coffee, breakfast, seeing my husband and son off to work/school, and having a nice brisk walk out in the woods with the dog). If I try to move painting to the afternoon and do errands/cleaning in the AM, I just don't manage get back to the easel!
I also have to watch blog surfing/emails, as I can waste a lot of time that way.

Ideally I have a project on the go, but if not I look through my stack of pictures to paint from(I keep them on flickr.com). I always underpaint my canvas, which gets rid of the fear (somewhat) of starting a new painting. I typically then use an artist drawing pastel to sketch out my picture on the canvas. I paint with acylics and can paint right overtop (and wipe off any remaining pastel at the end with a wet cloth once my paint has dried).

I am just beginning to explore painting in a series. I keep a little notebook in which I jog down whatever ideas I have for series inside. Whenever I am stuck for something to paint, quite often I can pull ideas out of this notebook (I usually come up with the ideas at 6 am in the morning while lying in bed, or while I'm out walking). As for whether the series is a good idea or not? That's a tough one. But usually by the time I have got to the third painting in a series, I know whether it is going to have longevity for me to continue and whether it may be an interesting subject to others or not. Questions I ask myself are: Am I still excited about it? How much more can I explore this?

I also keep a list of potential "opportunities" for displaying my work, which I am slowly wading my way through. This way I can decide what to pursue painting-wise (ie. any upcoming shows?), and which series may be best for each display opportunity.

As always, the toughest thing is to consistently get to easel and put time in on a regular basis. But I find that when I do - it's magic! Great subject choice Annie!

Wendee said...

Annie -
I wandered here from Michael Nobbs' blog and am really enjoying reading though the discussion here. I'm struggling with creating a routine, myself, and these comments are all very good food for thought! Thank you for sharing your post!

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