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Free Ways to Refill Your Creative Well

20+ ways to get inspired in your creative life and work, without spending or buying a thing

Some pressed plants and botanicals found on walks. The textures and shapes are inspiring. I had also not pressed plants since I was a little girl and it made for a joyful little creative project.

After many times pushing past the point of creative health and finding myself burnt out or with no ideas, I have learned to listen better to the warning signs. These are things that can help you to slow down, restore your energy and focus, and find new inspiration.

  1. Lie down and look up. Go to a park and lie down on your back in the grass, looking up at the branches of the trees. This different perspective can bring a sense of childhood wonder, or at least some relaxation, in just a couple of minutes.
  2. Visit a new neighbourhood or go out at an unusual time of day for you. Seeing new things, or familiar things in new light (think early morning, dusk, nighttime… or in the rain!) can often start up the whispers of inspiration.
  3. Get to the opposite of where you live. If you live downtown, go to the water; if rural, go to a bustling main street.
  4. Go to the library. Look up a topic of interest and browse the stacks in that area. Pull out whatever strikes you and curl up in a chair to look through them. If you want, borrow a new book to immerse yourself in.
  5. Cook or bake something with things you can find in the house. No buying anything!
  6. Do something methodical. Do a puzzle, garden, or do something that doesn’t require too much mental effort but that uses your body/hands – this works to clear your mind of noise and begin to connect dots or have new ideas.
  7. Visit a gallery or quirky space. Either a big one to see everything contemporary, an old one to see back in history, or a little strip of local and up-and-coming artists. We have a free museum here in Montreal that is in a beautiful historic building and contains archeological artifacts, it can feel quite magical to visit. As can a greenhouse or an aquarium.
  8. Listen to a favourite album all the way through. Preferably without doing anything else. Just you and it. Let the music wash over and through you.
  9. Wear a new combination of items from your closet. Even if you’re not a fashionista, it can be fun to wear a big pair of earrings or a scarf with a different top than you usually wear. It can feel like a mini-adventure into being someone different or maybe a slightly more daring version of yourself.
  10. Get out of your head and into your body. Go for a run, dance, go to a free yoga class – get your body moving, feel your heart rate and breathing pick up. Focus on your limbs and movements.
  11. I love walking through the Champ des Possibles (Field of Possibilities). It changes so much with each season, I never cease to find inspiration there. These white flowers seemed to appear overnight and made a beautiful sight.

    Go for a walk and really look around you. Try to look at one thing long enough to have a complete thought about it. Notice it in great detail. You are slowing down your mind.

  12. Create an internet-free challenge. Stay off the internet for an evening or a weekend day (or weekend!). Find something else to do, even if it’s a challenge.
  13. Organize a closet, a drawer, or your studio space. Feeling like things are where they should be, that the extra junk’s been tossed, donated, or at least tidied, can help. So can going through your supplies and all the art you’ve created already.
  14. Clean the house. It may sound out of place, but being in a clean, fresh space, can make you feel good and ready for anything.
  15. Feel inspired by other artists. Look through your art books and pull one out that looks fun that you haven’t looked at in a while. Make a cup of tea and take your time slowly leafing through it. Looking at ALL the pictures. (an online version of this exercise doesn’t usually work, it’s better to do it old-school)
  16. Set yourself a small creative challenge and play – for example: I am going to scribble twenty drawings of those flowers, or I’m going to come up with 10 colour palettes that are 3 colours or fewer each. Or, I am going to create a series of 20-brushstroke landscapes.
  17. Meet up with a friend and have a great conversation. Give care to paying full attention to each other. I love this one. It gives you feelings of support, companionship, and a new perspective on whatever ails you.
  18. Write in your journal, or start a daily journaling practice. A journal is a great way to clear your mind of worries and fears, organize your thoughts, or just doodle.
  19. A small creative project: Using scraps of paper from my watercolours, I made some simple and playful colour palettes. I then turned them into bookmarks which I now include with each of my Etsy shop orders. (I use them all the time, myself, too!)

    Do something small in a different medium than you usually work. It’s important that you keep it very small and not intimidating. It’s not the result you’re after, but the fun of making and the experience of a different material. If you’re at all like me, it can be difficult to put aside fear, inner critics.. but it’s well worth it, if you are able. Very, very small projects help a lot with getting around these barriers. For example: fold some origami, do some knitting, or stitching, make a few small collages…

  20. Add a little beauty to your surroundings. If you have a garden or live near a field/forest, compose a mini bouquet of finds. I sometimes make these with whatever I can find in our small balcony garden – a few marigolds, a stem of purple basil, and a few sprigs of thyme in a milk creamer  can form a beautiful little bouquet.

BONUS ITEM: Get some sleep. It may sound flippant, but it’s very restorative and often much-needed. With all the information and bustle online and in our day-to-day, it can be easy to not notice just how low on sleep we are. Sleep not only brings energy, it can reduce your anxiety and stress, help you problem solve, and have more ability to focus on the tasks at hand. All are essential to a healthy and sustainable creative practice.

I highly encourage you to pick just one thing from this list and go do it – either now or one day this week. Adding in small restorative actions will help you to keep your creative well healthy and clear and will help ignite a little creative spark in your life.

I have what I call a ‘low reservoir alarm’. I talk more about what that is and about maintaining a healthy creative well in my post Where Do Creative Ideas Come From? I have also talked about the all-important need for space in the creative process based on learnings from pushing my own creative productivity to its limits.

For less-free (but still affordable) ways to fuel your creativity go here.

Feeling all fuelled-up, but still not making? I wrote a post all about how to get out of your own way and start creating that shares what I’ve learned over years of building a sustainable creative practice for myself. Whether you’re an artist or not, it applies to all creative work.

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