Lots of people live brilliantly in their heads - scientists, writers, accountants, philosophers, and a host of other thinkers. And artists, of course. We feed on intuition, abstract ideas, and long stretches of time without out-loud words. We delve into silence to find solutions, inspiration, and peace.
With its seat firmly inside our heads, creative practice offers a rich pathway to tap into that seat of inspiration and peace. And anyone can do it, not just Artists with a capital "A." Once you're used to being creative regularly, your mind instantly relaxes when you pick up the pencil or pen, brush, clay, or fingerpaints. Solutions and ideas bubble up without prompting. Your perspective shifts. Your anxieties ease.
But where to start a creative practice, and more importantly, how to keep going? And how do you translate that practice into something resembling greater peace of mind? I find DIY projects and Pinterest how-to's too easily discarded to keep me consistent, so I turn to books. Here are 5 of my favorite books for anyone to begin and sustain a creative practice, no artistic experience necessary.
***You may need to adapt or postpone some of the exercises in these books until social distancing is in the rear-view mirror. Most of the content works beautifully from home, though, so this is the perfect time to give them a try.***
Maisel doesn't pull punches in this "Year's Worth of Inspiration and Guidance." He starts gently enough by asking you to name obstacles, make a ritual, and tell your story. Then his weekly exercises gradually pull you outside your comfort zone. Ultimately, this book does nothing for your artistic technique and everything for your creative thinking.
Some of the exercises make little sense out of context (Clean out your refrigerator? Study a blade of grass?). They can even feel faintly woo-woo, or trigger our judgiest selves. That's kind of the point. Maisel challenges us to think about everything differently, analyze our responses, and consider new ways of thinking and doing.
How this book gives you a hug: Maisel teaches us to stop judging ourselves and free our minds to solve problems and invent new ideas, through consistent, determined action every day.
Best for: Those with an analytical turn of mind, who want to add more creative thinking to their toolbox. And those who aren't afraid of doing things that seem silly in the moment, just to see what happens.
If Maisel is a Patient Guide Who Ignores Whining, Patti Digh is the Effervescent Friend Who Turns Whining into Songs. She, too, asks us to consider everything with different eyes, and specifically tells us to "always carry a pencil" to write your thoughts in all the margins.
Digh's approach uses lots (and lots) of words - stories to inspire us, stories we write, meaningful quotes, free-writing exercises, word challenges, and more. She also offers "movement challenges," which aren't dance-offs or crunches, but refer to your "inner movement." They're ideas to shift how you look at your daily activities and encourage new thinking. And she intersperses drawings, collages, and other simple projects that use materials you probably have on hand.
How this book gives you a hug: Through encouraging exercises and thought-provoking stories, Digh reminds us how to consistently focus on what matters and to put our energy into the things we want to care most about.
Best for: Word lovers, literary people, and those who see creativity as a path to self-improvement. Also, those seeking to add more mindfulness to their everyday actions.
Also consider: The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron
I find artist's journals both inspiring and a little awe-inspiring, but also pretty intimidating. Much of what I see published and online seems completely out of reach to my limited drawing and painting skills, so I've never felt like I could pull it off for myself. Enter Hannah Hinchman.
Unlike most other books about art journals, Hinchman's guide focuses less on what you draw and more on how you think. Her elegant, easy-to-love prose drifts across her own stories, life lessons she's picked up, and artistic techniques for you to try. She encourages you to explore memories, be mindful of what's around you, and be aware of your inner motion, with nothing more than a pencil and paper.
How this book gives you a hug: As much a pleasure to read as to implement, the exercises and stories inspire confidence and curiosity, along with a desire to live mindfully in every moment.
Best for: Artistically-inclined thinkers with or without drawing skills, who want to find more appreciation and mindfulness in the little things.
The most "artsy" of the books on this list, McDonald's book offers a wealth of instructions, exercises, and plain talk about being purely creative for its own sake. Every chapter explores another aspect of creativity, from found poetry and surprise haikus, to abstract line art, imagined landscapes, and breaking the rules on journal-making.
I find this book excellent for either building a long-term creativity practice or dipping into whenever you need a creative jolt. This is probably also the best book on the list for forcing you into a judgment-free zone, and just making stuff to make stuff.
How this book gives you a hug: Calmness of mind comes as a side-effect with this book, as you give yourself permission to explore, play, and get outside your comfort zone.
Best for: Anyone who wants to create more, with less self-judgment, especially if you enjoy collecting art supplies and crafty things.
Also consider: Art Before Breakfast by Danny Gregory
If Raw Art Journaling is my favorite artsy-craftsy book, The Artist's Rule holds sway as my most-valued artistic guidebook. Paintner draws on the wealth of monastic contemplative practice to draw out and nurture our daily creativity. At the end of the twelve lessons, we're left with an abiding sense of ourselves as creative beings, and a more direct connection to our inner guidance.
Exercises explore visual arts, poetry, and contemplative prayer, all in the context of tapping our most private selves. Paintner weaves Benedictine spirituality seamlessly into guided meditations, Lectio Divina, and movement exercises, with doses of Buddhist and Celtic traditions. I find that the exercises sometimes really stretch my comfort zone, but are also vastly rewarding when I permit myself to do them as written.
How this book gives you a hug: Contemplative practice begins and ends with centering and mindfulness, and Paintner directly addresses how to bring that inner peace into our active lives.
Best for: Those hungry for a richer contemplative and creative experience of life, who are comfortable with Western religion as a jumping-off point.
Also consider: Eyes of the Heart, also by Christine Valters Paintner
So there you have 5 (okay, 12) books to kick-start, inspire, and sustain a creative practice to give yourself a hug every day. I'd love to see what you create or hear what you think if you pick up one of these books. Drop a comment below, or tag @smallcompanyartworks on Instagram to share!