Getting Playful

January 2nd, 2009

2yearsolddrawings When I think of play (the totally optional theme for January), I think of childhood. In a bit of synchronicity, my mom randomly sent me scans of some of my childhood drawings this week. These were from the month after I turned 2. I used to tell my parents that I loved to "drawf a wady" (draw a lady), so I'd say that some things never change!! In the top picture there I drew lots of people and in the bottom I drew some teeny items and then told my mom what they were (apparently, I pointed out a crib and a carraige.)

I think it's a fairly simple connection to make, play and youth. And while we can aim to never lose our child-like nature, there are lots of ways to include play in our creative adventures without returning to childhood.

In my experience, bringing the feeling of play into creating is essential in keeping the feeling of joy and fun in the process. Sometimes, I get too stiff. If I start feeling stingy with my materials, afraid of ruining that big canvas, or wasting that new art supply, I can get anxious. And that comes through in whatever I'm working on. So, how do you return to that playfulness, when you're feeling anything but? I want to explore this a bit throughout the month here and share what has worked for me.

Sketchbookswaprain One thing that helps when I'm feeling stiff, is to return to a place that I'm comfortable playing in. That might mean working in cheaper materials, in places that are less permanent, or in places that are private. That is one of the best things about sketchbooks. They are a place to experiment, make a mess, and when you're done, you can close the cover or turn the page and move on. I have many sketchbooks: one by my bed, a little one in my purse, and others that travel around with me. I use my sketchbooks to catch ideas as they pop into my head, but I don't just wait for ideas to come to me before I open the pages. I will also pull out my sketchbook and just see what comes.

I've found that you don't need to wait for inspiration, you can simply show up at the page and begin. You may be surprised what comes out! Sometimes, I just start to doodle and the doodle will suggest an image that will lead to an idea for a future painting. And sometimes it's just a doodle. Either way, it's a great release.

This year, I've also been participating in a sketchbook swap and I've been using it as a place to play. In the sketch on the right, I was just doodling a swirl, which suggested an umbrella to me, and then became this rainy scene.

So, how do you return to playfulness when your creations are getting stiff? I'd love to hear about it!

We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing. --George Bernard Shaw

28 Responses

Ohmygod, how wonderful that she still has those drawings! I’m a big believer that who we are (authentically) is pretty obvious by the time we’re 4…before we start getting it drummed out of us. ;) How telling your 2-year-old version of yourself was…of things to come… xo

I play with fabric and threads mostly. Like you, sometimes I just start and see what develops. I always enjoy doing that, even though I’m not always happy with the result. Mostly that doesn’t matter though, because I’ve learnt something along the way, I’ve relaxed, and there’s always some part of my creation which can be a “jumping off point” for something else. At the moment I’m playing with beads, buttons and fabrics.

What you say is so true Leah. Sometimes I get scared I will ruin something (especially when art supplies are so expensive), but a pencil and a bit of paper doesn’t cost much, getting back to being free and unconcerned about our creativity – afterall we don’t have to share it with anyone do we. Love your sketches from when you were little too, your potential was obvious even then.

Happy New Year, LEAH!!! My hope for 2009 is that we finally get to meet each other seeing how close it is we live . .heee

All the best to you and may the year ahead be filled with bright light and deep happiness.

Bisous, Elizabeth

That’s funny, about you “drawing ladies” when you were that little; when I was in elementary school and they passed out pictures for us to color, I would consistently change the boys to girls, by putting long hair and dresses on them, since the pictures were generally of boys (this was the 70’s; I hope it’s better by now). And here I am a feminist who draws Goddesses! Quelle surprise, as they say.

I’ve been so serious about my art and what I do with it for so long I am finding it very difficult to play. (This has been a theme in my life for some time; a few years back I even deliberately (and legally) changed my name to Thalia (Muse of Comedy) Took (ridiculous hobbit-name) to encourage laughter and silliness and play.)

So yes, your theme is perfect for me right now, but I’m finding it really hard. :)

As part of Creative Every Day I started a tumblr blog to keep a list of people, places, things that inspire me to be more creative. It’s called Frida First Aid (– thanks for helping motivate me.

Strangely I’ve just been doing this. I was working on my embellisher and got stuck so started taking photos of what I was doing, then played with them in photoshop, went totally down different routes and ended up back with a new perspective on the embellisher work. It’s on my blog. Also I love the idea of a creativity log. I have a calendar with pictures by a local artist I love. I will use that as my log.

I need to find some new ways to get playful. I’ve had several people suggest, over the years, that I throw paint around, and I’ve done that literally for play. Several pieces came from that – time for another. But I’m looking for some others.

Another, for me, is the piles of blind contour drawings I do to start some of my pieces.

Grenouille is another play device, for me. As is Virgil Tangelo.

Becky’s photoshop idea sounds enticing – like the clementine play I did recently.

Thalia’s name change sounds like a brilliantly bold move! I love it! I think that’s part of what I’ve done with Virgil Tangelo – inspired in part by my oldest’s creation of his alter ego Nigel Tangelo, of Hamjamser.

And Rhonda’s comment reminds me about cloth play – like the sock puppets I used to create (like Phaw and Nicker) – maybe it’s time for some of that. Yeah – I think that might be the best idea…

Even though I have been an artist for twenty years, somehow I was missing out on the play aspect. I started art journaling about 6 months ago – and that was how I started playing again.
It is just as you say, having that ‘private’ space I feel free to experiment and just play – not worrying about completing something worthy of hanging. The funny thing is, now I have a blog about the art journaling and even though strictly speaking, my art journal isn’t so private, it still feels like play.

I’d love to be involved in your project. I’m a writing-sort-of-lady but I love weaving poems around other peoples’ art-works,so I might qualify. Linking is a bit beyond me at the moment but I’ll get there.

Happy New Year.

I like the theme “play”
Of course, in my mind it’s toys, and I decided to make
some Amigurumi toys this month. I’m almost finished with the first one,
but got busy visiting a local yarn store, where I stayed most of the day.

I am playing with yarns, also, and making notes in my knitting journal.

I love your Ladies, Leah. It’s wonderful that you still have those early

Thanks for sharing your own creativity with us, Leah. At Sacred Ordinary I posted a SoulCollage card today and yesterday I posted the last page of my five year journal and the cover of the new journal.

Am I supposed to be downloading things directly to a site, or just cross referencing to my own? I have to go back and read the directions.

i love mixed media because for me that’s all play. unlike painting landscapes or animals, mm doesn’t HAVE to look like something.also for some reason it is easier for me to put aside if it just isn’t there. big thing about play is not expecting an outcome- just seeing how it goes. experimenting with new media is good. oilbar is always fun cuz it’s like finger painting. and i am loving doodling with sharpies.

no kids, but watching the animals who share my life (2 dogs, 1 cat) reminds my to play too. they’re really good at completely experiencing the moment- and it’s usually with eager anticipation.

To Funny! I have been hanging on to 2 felted sweaters for YEARS…I am so hung up on saving them for the right project.
I want to submitt some softies to a new mag…Stuffed..…and the magazine says the deadline is March 15th…in an effort to NOT use the felt I already have I went and bought 9 skeins of wool to knit up and felt! Obsessive, I know. The very next day I see that they have moved the deadline up to Feb. 15th. I need to start working on some now…so I drug out those sweaters and had a talk with myself…they had to sit out for 24 hours…another pep talk and finally I got the nerve to cut into one! It’s ON now! haha

hi leah!
i just signed up for an online doodle designs class for 6 weeks to keep me playing and to give me new ideas. You have so inspired me!

:) melissa

I have held on to so many dear supplies and tools so as not to “waste” them. I’ve been pretty good in the last few months of using them. Loosening up is key to playing. Music can put me in that playful mood. Pulling out three materials randomly and make something gets me pushed in a direction. Once I get past the initial bout with my critics I get in that playful zone.

I think it is very telling to see what we played as children. Revisiting these childhood interests is key I think to finding our inner child as adults. When I was little I loved to cut paper. My mother and older sister laugh to this day to see me as “Collage Diva” still cutting and gluing paper. I wish my mom had some of those paper dolls from my early childhood.

I found something to play with this morning that is reminiscent of childhood. I’ll be blogging about it tomorrow as I need more time to play, photograph, and write about it. Thanks for a super theme to kick off the year.

It is hard for some of us to play with something that we work so hard at. I am trying watercolor painting (again) after not attempting it for many years. I am telling myself to play with color rather than trying to paint “something”
It’s a different approach and I am enjoying it.

When I read about feeling stingy with your art supplies it really rang a bell for me. I buy things and then put them on a shelf to use “when I find the right project”….which usually never comes! Just a couple of days ago I decided to get out some rather expensive little pots of paint I had bought and stashed away. Well, they were beginning to dry out! My focus is going to be to play with all those supplies that are waiting on me. And if I create something….great!….but if I just end up using them to play around that’s great too. It’s recess and I’m going to play!!!

Hey it’s me again.
I know I’m new ’round here but I can already see that you are an awesome blog so I am awarding you…

i do the exact same thing! i have a bunch of notebooks and sketchpads, that i fiddle around in, and that helps move things around with my creativity. also i have three kids, all very creative, and we sit down and color and paint and for some reason that really helps me when i’m feeling stiff. you could also pick a word and illustrate that, or drop some clip art on a page and see what happens. my kids and like to sit and draw each other, with everyone drawing at the same time.

Actually, I bought a sketch book a couple of years ago – and very quickly put it in my bookcase…

I just dug it out to “play” with…

I tend to play with fabrics a lot – and am going to try some new things this next week with 9-patch blocks…not particular things…or plans … just play with the fabric and see what comes up…

There is some awesome work linked to all this.

I am new to this so have followed the advice and made a creativity record book – I had fun playing and making it. I have uploaded it to my blog.

I think having a log will help me focus

Leah, When you get a moment swing by to see how I was playful this morning – I discovered that I had some adult “blocks” to play with.

What a wonderful, beautiful drawing (the one w/the pinwheel/umbrella)! I just discovered your blog – what an exciting and inspiring place!

One of the things that helps me “play” with my art is finding other playful folks to hang around with, or who teach me to play again.

But also equally important is for me to consciously decide that what I’m doing with my art is not so much about “prettiness” or “perfection” – but in true childish fashion – TO HAVE FUN!! That has been crucial for me, and has made all the difference!

It means I don’t even have to be satisfied with the outcome, but just about the process. That’s been very important, and one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned over the past 6 mos. since I suddenly decided to “take up art”.

Today, in the spirit of play, I made a lavender winter scene. The question ‘why not’ popped into my head as I thought of it, in response to the internal critic that wanted me to be all stiff and keep it ‘realistic’. So I used my image afterward in an art journal session (my VERY FIRST!) in which I played with that question – “Why Not?” Why not a lavender winter? Why not a purple tree? Why not be happy with myself? Why not love who I am?

Thank you for this challenge and for the blessings it is bringing into my life.

It’s great to read about what other people do when they are getting stuck, and it comes at a perfect time for me, because that’s where I’ve been lately! You are completely right – I just needed a reminder to sit down and start working! Thank you!

My poetic entry based on the ‘Playful’ theme will be published on

on the 8th January.

I love play as a topic and I love what you did with it here! SWEET!

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