Whether you have kids, pets, a career, your own business or all of the above – there are never enough hours in the day. Time disappears like sand through our fingers. The long to-do lists and unfinished projects can leave us feeling exhausted and creatively unfulfilled. But, it doesn’t have to be this way. By making a few small adjustments to our daily routines, we can carve out some precious time for our personal projects and learn how to be more creative.
“Creatives of all industries are known to be quite sensitive souls by nature and sometimes the day-to-day grind of pleasing others and accepting criticism can take its toll,” says Carly Stalker, owner and creative director of homewares brand, Rootid. “It’s taken nine years working in the graphic design industry to truly appreciate and see the time I’ve spent on personal projects as creative freedom in its purest form.”
For Arounna Khounnoraj, owner and designer at Bookhou, personal projects are about fun and freedom: “When it’s only for me, I explore ideas in a different manner, which allows me to feel more free and to experiment without worrying where it goes. It’s a necessary part of a creative life.” For this Canadian-based creative, work, play and family life is blended. She and her husband John work in a shared studio. “We always thought of our work as multidisciplinary, so being able to organise my space and time is key. Part of that was to build a studio that had zones for different purposes.”
‘Zoning’ always works for Carly. She tells us about the ‘comfort hotspots’ around her house. Although she laughs that “None of [these] are glamorous areas!”, her ‘play’ spaces are where she spends time sketching and thinking. “One being the carpet beside the radiator in my bedroom, where all I can see is the sky and treetops as I lie beneath. Other areas include my rocking chair, the wonky step in the garden and the corner of our kitchen counter top as it’s the perfect nook to perch on.”
Seeking out the magic in the everyday and working with what you already have is important. It isn’t about wishing for a bigger house, a studio or ‘perfect’ conditions. To quote Arthur Ashe, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” And, like anything in life, time is of the essence.
“Catching creativity is like catching butterflies – fast-flying, bright-coloured sparks darting here and there. It requires quick wits, good eyes and desire to net them,” says author, artist and founder of Womancraft Publishing, Lucy H Pearce. “Grab your laptop, your pen and paper, your dictaphone, your sketch pad – whatever your mode of expression or recording, swoop and catch it wherever you are: parked outside the school gates, in the doctor’s waiting room, when you wake in the morning. And then create regular tracts of time where you can develop these sparks.”
Carly agrees, adding: “The actual creative element for the projects generally flows from my encounters during my day or week. I have endless notepads… if I see something that intrigues me, I just jot it down.”
Creating a visual journal is also something she recommends, collecting images and documenting nuggets of inspiration when you’re out and about. Having things to hand, for an opportune time, is an important part of the creative process. “I make sure to always have a project waiting for me whenever I have a moment,” says Arounna. “My husband bought an iPad Pro for his work and I was surprised how useful it became for me. The program enables me to add colour and try different brushes without having to set up all my tools, which allows me to work fast and be more playful.”
Working with little time is a realistic way of keeping threads of your own creative practice present in everyday life. For Carly, it was the only feasible way should could fit anything in. While working long hours in her previous day job she created what she calls “bubbles of time” to fit mixed-media activities in around work. “[I would] splat some paint, sew some bags, bake some buttons, make curtains, forage in the forest, take photos, make lampshades, learn to swim, draw my bunnies.”
For Lucy, making the transition to motherhood presented similar challenges when it came to finding time for herself and her work. “I always thought it was either/or. Either my creativity or my kids,” she tells us. “This is what I had learned from our culture. As a good mother, I should tuck away my own dreams and prioritise my children. This made me sick and crazy. I realised I had to choose both.” She decided to write a book about her experience, The Rainbow Way: Cultivating Creativity in the Midst of Motherhood, as a resource for other mothers in a similar position. It’s a practical, nurturing guide to rediscovering your true self. But the advice is universal. “Being a Creative Mother… is about the act of living authentically while honouring all parts of your soul: your mother self and creative self,” says Lucy.
One way of doing this is to integrate the two, as Arounna does with her shared home studio. “Creative projects always allow you to develop ideas that are important to you,” she tells us. “The question for many of us is how to keep it going as a family grows. We always believed that a creative environment and an arts education should be a part of everybody’s life, young and old.” She continues: “Keeping our studios at home has allowed us to blur the lines between work and the rest of life, so my kids and I work together in the studio. It’s nice to be sharing time in the studio with them. It allows us all to have a sense of wellbeing.”
Ultimately, nurturing your creative talent requires you to give yourself permission to play without the pressure of ‘Instagrammable’ results. Keeping your kit to hand, protecting your time – even if it’s ten minutes a day – to do what your heart desires is all part of the process. As is being brave. “Creativity takes courage,” says Lucy. “Not just once, but consistently. Without feeling fear at some point, we will not reach our creative potential. From first putting paint on paper through to selling our work, there is plenty to be scared of. But this is where creativity lives – on the edge of our comfort zones.”
5 creative routines and rituals
Take a closer look at the creative practises of five celebrated women and learn how to be more creative…
Vivian Maier was an American street photographer born in New York City in 1926. Yet, while she was alive, people knew her as a nanny and care-giver. No one had any idea about her vast body of work – said to comprise over 100,000 negatives, plus documentary films and audio recordings – until it was discovered in a thrift auction house in 2007, two years after her death. Learn more about this extraordinary women in the documentary, Finding Vivian Maier.
This American novelist and professor won the Pullitzer Prize in 1988 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993, but she had to adopt early-morning habits. In an interview with the Paris Review, in 1993, she explains: “Writing before dawn began as a necessity – I had small children when I began to write and I needed to use the time before they said, ‘Mama’ – and that was always around five in the morning.”
This influential American novelist, poet and playwright was born in 1874. She accomplished many great things throughout her lifetime, including writing one of the first ‘coming out’ books, Q.E.D., and the celebrated Autobiography of Alice B Toklas, as well as supporting fledgling artists such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse through her art collection. Yet, she actually only spent 30 minutes each day writing, “If you write a half hour a day, it makes a lot of writing year by year.”
Even if you’ve only read one of this incredible woman’s seven autobiographies, you’ll know this: her life was extraordinary. This author, poet and activist has inspired people across generations with her words. Yet she held down lots of jobs, including working as San Francisco’s first black female streetcar conductor, a dancer, fry cook, a prostitute and madam, singer, actress, editor and teacher. In her later years, her rituals included paying for a motel room in her hometown to write in.
For Canadian author and mother-of-three Alice Munro, teeny chunks of time were all she had. She utilised every scrap of her childrens’ naps, working in between feedings or as the dinner cooked to produce an impressive body of work. While it took nearly 20 years to put her first collection of short stories, Dance of the Happy Shades, together, she went on to write a further 13 short story collections, winning countless awards including the Nobel Prize for literature in 2013.
If you want to learn how to be more creative and are looking for more inspiration, learn how to bullet journal with our helpful guide, find the best bullet journal for your new hobby, start a new mindful practice with a January journal, or discover how start creative writing for your own enjoyment.
This article was first published in Project Calm issue 8. Featured image by Unsplash/Tetiana Shyshkina.