The Many Faces of Creativity

August 20th, 2008


I've noticed a lot of "Creative Every Day 2008" folks mentioning that they haven't been creative lately and they'll get back to making art soon. My guess is that they have been plenty creative, but maybe just didn't recognize it as such. Creativity isn't just about making art. We work in cycles, like the cycles of the seasons, the moon, life in general. And if we don't panic in the quieter phases of the cycle, we can actually enjoy the other faces of creativity.

Yesterday, I listened to the Craftcast podcast featuring Kathleen Carr, a photographer, author, and teacher. At some point in the talk, Kathleen mentioned a book about the "seven stages of creativity." I made a note about it because I felt like it would speak directly to this post that I had in my head about the many ways in which we are creative. The book is called, The Widening Stream: the Seven Stages of Creativity by David Ulrich. The author has a website where you can find an overview of the book as well as an outline of the seven stages as he sees them.

I consider the various stages of my own creative cycle to include times when I'm searching and collecting, when I'm soaking up inspiration, when I'm empty, when I'm bursting with ideas, when I'm in the flow, when I'm stuck, etc... I don't think they fall in a particular order for me, it's more like the rolling waves of the ocean. The waves may vary, but generally they are up and down and up again.

(Some of) My modes of creativity:

Walkwater Search and Gather: When I'm not creating, I'm often in search and gather mode. If I'm being self-critical, then I might see it as procrastinating, but it's all part of the process. Searching and gathering for me might be a walk with my camera, snapping pictures of what inspires me (like the river to the right), perusing blogs or online shops, reading a novel, organizing my art supplies, or wandering the aisles of the library and seeing what catches my interest. Letting your imagination roam can also be fabulously creative! Let yourself daydream from time to time. If I can let go and enjoy this stage, it's immensely fun for me. This is a great time for what Julia Cameron calls "artist dates" where you go out on your own to "fill the well" with inspiration. I enjoy going to greenhouses in the colder months.

Play: It is possible to get stuck in any stage and sometimes I need a push to the next. The super talented artist, Tammy Vitale, recently posted about how she uses playful art-making to get her going when she's struggling. For me it's the same way, play will always bring me back. Maybe not as quick as I'd like, but it always does the trick. I also liked that Tammy mentioned how these down periods don't bother her as much now because from past experience, she knows that they will pass. This is so important. The "dry spell" will pass. So why not enjoy it with some fun creating with no other purpose than to let loose? O.k., now that I think about it, I can see that I enjoy all the modes of creativity. Play, is by definition, a lot of fun. Drawing with crayons or markers like Tammy does is a great way to go. Sometimes, if I need help getting past my inner critic, I'll make art on the floor (see pic below.) This nifty little trick helps bring out my child-like adventurousness. Use whatever works for you, whether it be play-doh or coloring books. Inspiration often comes through play, no need to force it, just relax and enjoy.

Artpicnic Sketch/Write/Get it Out: When the inspiration does start to flow, it often comes in big bursts. If you have an incredible memory, then perhaps you'll be able to contain it all, but if you're like me, you may need to get these idea sparks down in some form. I keep multiple journals at the ready to capture ideas. I have a moleskine type notebook in my purse and various sketchbooks and journals (I've tried to consolidate in the past, but I'm o.k. with multiple journals now.) In these journals I capture dreams, quotes, lists, sketches, and free-form doodles (some sketches from a couple months ago are at the top of this post and below.) I also find myself doodling on junk mail, paper scraps, and receipts which can easily be taped into my journal later if necessary. Ideas often come to me in that lovely time between wakefulness and sleep, in the shower, while driving, on a walk, etc..., so it's good to have some paper and a writing utensil handy. It depends how you work, for you it maybe important to have a voice recorder handy or a portable camera (a camera phone can help capture inspirations when you're on the go!)Sketches1

Just Do It: A lot of people think that the creating stage is the only part that's creative, but it's not true! All the things that led you to this point are essential and immensely creative! Even when I think I've just jumped into creating without the previous stages, it's often things floating around in my subconscious from my times of searching, gathering, playing, daydreaming, and doodling that have led me to create what it is I've started, seemingly out of nowhere.

It's true that many of us get stuck just before the manifesting stage, myself included. Oftentimes, the hardest part is beginning. When I'm feeling resistance, sometimes it helps to jump back into the playing stage until I'm feeling more confident and ready to tackle something. Or I may simply give myself permission to fail or make gloriously bad art.

Next time you're feeling like you haven't been creative lately, take a look and see if you've been doing any of these things and recognize the creative acts your doing every day!

22 Responses

Thank you for including the “Search and Gather” cycle in this post. I think it’s often easily overlooked, but you’re right. It’s so important that we fill our creative wells when they start to run dry. Even in art classes our instructors teach us about the importance of taking time to take in the world, to gather inspirations, and to continuously be open to new ideas that we might be able to build on in the future.

thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on this today…I have been in a quiet, maybe depressed is a more precise word for it, mood lately…not “feeling” creative at all and can’t even string many words I took a blogging break, feeling “it” was putting too much pressure on me to produce SOMETHING! Now I see the reality of my mood, I am just in a quiet place right now, thinking about me and my life~next steps etc….your post helped me get some perspective on my process right now and I feel validated in that it’s OK to be here right now!

many thanks for helping me to step out of my head and into my life! :)

I agree, knowing that my mood right now could be considered search and gather is somehow very, very comforting! Why is it that we’re so relieved once we have a name for a mood/stage/process we’re in? For me, I find so much comfort and support in being able to recognize the strengths of a stage… Hmm, you’ve got me thinking, again! I really, really need to sit down with my journal and write about this! Thank you for this post, Leah! Thank you!

What a great post! I often feel so sorry for people who is “not very creative right now” because they feel so bad about it, saying the are sorry, that they are meaning to “go back to it” soon etc etc. my feeling is that it should be made when you want to make it, not otherwise at all. don’t push, enjoy! when I don’t feel creative I read books and I love love love those times so much too!

Hi Leah – thanks for the shout out! Want to click over and check out that book, too (although my bedside table is literally overflowing with books right now and I need to finish some of them!) I had in mind to draw today (drawing is good because it isn’t clay which is also how I’ve been making a living – I can separate drawing into play easier), but I took a long deep nap instead, with my littlest pug asleep on top of me (she likes to cuddle) after I did my exercise for the day. It felt great to let down and do that! Now I can happily say: Onward! And Great Post! (as always)

Search and gather… what my bff calls a feeding frenzy, a time for inner growth and renewal. Yes! You are so right about it being an oft overlooked phase of the cycle, not as obviously productive as being in the zone at the table. But, life demands fragment our attention into slivers. I am thankful for your thoughts, your blog and the reminder that creativity may not render a finished piece of art, but rather is a way of living and seeing and connecting.
Have a great, creative day!

I ditto what everyone else has said about the different phases of our creativity cycle. By simply putting a name on what we do, validates all of the processes as being not only normal but necessary steps in our creative rituals, and makes it seem like there is much more creativity in our days than we give ourselves credit for.

I’m so glad to hear you received your package yesterday and are happy with your new artwork from me :)

I have only just found your pages and would like to say congrats on all of the creative ideas..

I would like to be included in your creative every day 2008 blogs.

My address is

Thanks again for all your ideas.

Emma Outback

Leah, good ideas here for sure! My “Secret Numbers” painting I just did stemmed from a silly sketch I did while waiting for my daughter during her art class (and looks nothing like it other than the position of the girl with her hand out). My goofy altered books are also just plain old silly fun but a great way to explore color choices, trying to expand out of my realm of the same o’ color choices…also makes me realize I could spend some time working on my handwriting!!! There is even a book on drawing I borrowed from the library that says to work on “warm up” drawing and is nothing more than drawing lines, shapes, shading, etc. and paying attention to nothing more than where the pencil touches the paper.

what a wonderful post! love the hunting, gathering phase, the way you put it all into words. love your perspective. so true and very inspiring! xo

Hi Leah – Yes! This post is so right-on! It has taken me quite some time to acknowledge in my bones that there are cycles to creativity and each one is necessary nourishment. You broke your cycles down so well and in a way that really resonates with me. I especially think the search, gather & play parts are so important, although many of us often feel like they aren’t “real” creativity because there’s no immediate end product. Yet when you look at it as a process of taking in and feeding those creative cells… well, it’s as if the world’s yours to view through whatever lens you choose to use at any particular moment! I know that I grow so much by just gathering and playing… and much of what I gather and play with comes back as something beautiful. Great post, Leah!

Sometimes recognizing that cycles are okay and are normal can help so much…
I really should try playing more.

On a side note — do you know where i could find info on swaps? Thanks! Love your post!

Maybe part of the problem is our need to show results – I never feel like I have been creative unless I have something to show for it. And it has to be a finished product. And from reading the comments on your site, it seems like I am not the only one who feels that way.

The expectations we put on ourselves are sometimes just burdens that get in the way of being able to truly enjoy each day and the creative opportunities we do get.

What a valuable post, Leah. I remember the first time I heard that a blockage is part of the process I was so relieved!

i love the search & gather! i never had a name for it! brilliant

great post leah! i am only just realizing the cycle as i witness it in my own art. slowly i have learned to trust that each part is important.
thank you for your words and the great links.

hope your weekend is lovely!


I know I’ve been one of the “currently lost in the doldrums” artists who feels like I’m not in the swing of things lately. So of course this makes me feel a little better.
I know that I often get ideas and answers when I walk also. I’ve also noticed that when I go to marketing workshops or other seminar-type place I start to doodle and come up with new ideas for pieces. Sometimes the oddest things are inspiring!

Thanks for sharing your stages of art/creativity. I definitely do lots of search and gathering in thrift stores, garage sales, shops, kitchen drawers for fabrics, yarns, and other embellishments.

I have been very creative today: finished crocheting a second shawl using up yarn bought for the first one; finished knitting the bands on a grandson’s sweater and blocked it; finished with some last minute florishes at the sewing machine on GDs artwork now quilted by Grandma Lynn. I can see two other projects I could work on now and will choose one of them.
I am on a roll!!!

I get ideas looking at others art on blogs and in magazines and art shows!

I like the just letting it stew in my head a while too…lots of creating grows there first, simmers, then spills out onto the “canvas”, which for me is fabric and/or yarn and needles or hooks lately.

Hi Leah,
Oh yes, I totally agree that there are cycles and phases to our creative process. Great post, I really enjoyed reading it!
I’ve tagged you if you’d like to play “6 Random Things”. :-)

Wonderful, inspiring post, Leah.
Yep, searching and playing are just as fun – and just as important!

true .. .. i always felt iam not creative enuf though i do a good work with painting .. but my mind does not go farther enuf… and i feel i cannot really get going … i guess we are all creative and we need to sit with ourselves and be witn oneself for sometime .. which i cannot just do ..iam so restless……

I love your search and gather analogy. I’ve been searching and gathering for years and have enough art equipment to open a small shop but I procrastinate. Why? Maybe it’s fear of failure as I used to paint quite well but I stopped quite a few years ago. However my little granddaughter and I spend time on the beach and now and again we make sand sculptures, we call our ladies the ’beach babes,’ and as a while ago we made a sculpture of a nest in a tree with a with found materials so I will definitely join your March 2011 challenge.
On the nesting front, you are now doing the ultimate creative thing, so lots of love to you, hubster and your precious cargo. I really enjoyed my six pregnancies and the whole ‘mummy’ nurturing thing and now I enjoy my grandchildren just as much.

P.S. I turned to creative writing and poetry about 8 years and facilitate a creative writing group but I really feel the need to paint again. Thanks for your inspiration.

Post a Comment