My grandma was a legend. She was never far away from a ball of yarn and a pair of needles. She always had something on the go, and our family were never short of jumpers, cardigans and tea cosies. The soundtrack to an afternoon at her bungalow was the Countdown theme and the gentle tak-tak sound of needles.
While I’ve been learning to get to grips with my depression and other health problems I’ve been thinking about Grandma a lot. How did she manage to stay so strong when raising four children (one with Down’s Syndrome) through the Second World War? What kept her going when she watched Alzheimer’s Disease gradually take her husband away from her? What about near the end of her life when she couldn’t get out and about? I think it might have been the knitting.
In a recent issue of Psychologies magazine, there was an article about the increased interest in crafts like knitting. This particular paragraph jumped out at me:
‘Crafts can be all-absorbing, helping us reach a state psychologists call ‘flow’,’ says psychologist Claudia Hammond. ‘You stop worrying about anything and the hours pass like fascinating, all-absorbing minutes. You get to decide on the level of difficulty of your task, and research has shown that it’s the goals you set yourself that can be most satisfying to achieve.’
The endless ‘tak-tak’ of knitting needles made sense. While Grandma was in the state of ‘flow’, she had a distraction from the mental chatter that can rip a mind to shreds. Inspired by this, I got myself kitted out with needles and yarn. Instead of Countdown, I watched The Killing. Knitting plus subtitles equals no room whatsoever for harmful mental chatter. It does, however, leave me with an urge to knit a jumper like Sarah Lund’s, which would have been a piece of cake for my Grandma, but quite a challenge for me. Maybe when I’ve finished my first scarf.
So to my Grandma, to Sarah Lund and to the good people at Psychologies Magazine, I bid a friendly ‘tak-tak’ from my needles and a grateful “Mange Tak” from me.
Latest Update: Removed final suggestion to follow PigPog – we don’t talk about creative stuff as often these days. Removed a few other things that aren’t relevant any more, so the total is a bit under 60 now.
Many of us want to be more creative in our day-to-day lives, so here are a few ideas to get you going – many of them very quick and easy…
Eleven Ways to be Creative with Art
- Check our Recent Posts about art, and make sure you’ve seen our Main Articles – you might get some ideas there.
- Find a way of sharing your drawings or sketches with other people – the feedback you get could really help. Try deviantART (see our review) – because it’s aimed at art more than photography, you’ll get more feedback than you would using a photo sharing site.
- Have a go at Tea Sketches (halfway down that page). You have to prepare when you drink tea, or splash some coffee, but you can build up a little stash of prepared cards. Turning one into a sketch doesn’t take long.
- Doodle more. All you need is a pen by the phone. Even at work you can doodle. Doesn’t matter if it’s any good or not, just doodle.
- Try out ArtRage – a paint simulator for Windows or Mac. The basic version is free (and the full version is pretty cheap if you get hooked and want the extra features), but it’s still plenty of fun. It’s even better if you have a graphics tablet or a Tablet PC.
- Try drawing something. Doesn’t matter what, or when. Just grab a sheet of A4 from your printer, and draw something nearby – maybe even the printer you just stole the paper from.
- If you do a bit of drawing already, try drawing with something different – if you usually use a pencil, try switching to a pen. Some people have found it gives new life to their art when they know they can’t keep erasing and correcting – it makes it more alive. If you usually use a pen, try pencil. Try charcoal. Try whatever you can find.
- Try this drawing upside down exercise – it tricks your brain and you’ll be amazed at the result!
- Learn to Draw or to Draw People
- Why not join The Drawing Club? You can join in with the Yahoo! Group and share your drawings with other people. (Update: the club is somewhat dormant these days.)
- Draw on something unusual – doodle on your food packaging, or whatever else comes to hand. A Sharpie is ideal for this.
Seven Ways to be Creative with Craft
- Try making a ‘sketch’ with Post-it notes and scissors. Cut the note into the shape of something, and stand it up by sticking it to your desk and folding just behind the glue.
- Get yourself to your local craft supplies shop, and pick up some card making stuff. Especially if it’s not the sort of thing you’d usually do. Make cards for people this year, instead of giving all your money to Hallmark.
- Explore craft supplies stores like Hobbycraft for all-in-one project sets. Gives you the chance to try out whatever you fancy without investing in large amounts of equipment.
- Bored? We’ve got a few papercraft projects for you to try.
- Keep an eye on Make: for plenty of unusual projects to inspire you.
- Get a few basics in that you can make anything with – Duct tape, some different types of glue, a craft knife, a metal ruler, string, and maybe a Swiss army knife or Leatherman.
Seven Ways to be Creative with Music
- Have a play with some of the toys listed in our Online Music page. Desktop Blues is great fun, and takes no musical skill whatsoever – even I can do it.
- Don’t have an instrument? Get one. It doesn’t need to cost too much – a cheap electric guitar or keyboard can be had for surprisingly little. If you’re in the UK, eBuyer have electric guitars for under £50, and you can get electric and acoustic guitars from Amazon in the US.
- Be brave. Go to a music shop and try out a few instruments. Most people who work there don’t bite, and if they do, it’s on their own time.
- Get everyone else out of the house. Lock the door. Take the phone off the hook. Put on your favourite album and rock out. It’s good for you.
- Sing along – the car is the best place. When you’re not stuck in traffic, it’s difficult for anyone else to see or hear your embarrassing wailing.
- Have a bang at the Virtual Drum Kit.
Eight Ways to be Creative with Photography
- Buy a photography magazine. In the UK, Practical Photography is my favourite. There are plenty of magazines out there full of ideas, though.
- If you’re not already signed up, give Flickr a go. You can share your photos there with other people, and see what other people are doing. Add tags to your pictures, then click the little ‘world’ icons next to them to see what other people have taken with that tag.
- Once you’ve tried Flickr out, try joining some Groups. There are groups for just about anything you can imagine, and if you can think of something that doesn’t exist, you can make a new group yourself. Groups can be really inspiring, as you start looking out for things that match the groups you have joined.
- Drool over toys at DP Review – they do the best reviews out there, and they get all the best toys.
- Think of a theme to take pictures of. Peter Bryenton has an ongoing theme of threes – anything that comes in threes. You’ll be surprised how much more you notice things, if you pick something good. I joined a group on Flickr for ‘Bright Colours on Gray’, and suddenly I was seeing bright things on gray backgrounds everywhere. Getting stuck in roadworks became a great photo opportunity.
- Try doing more of something you don’t do. If you normally shy away from photographing people, try snapping your family and friends. If you usually only do people, try pointing your camera at inanimate objects more often. Think of something you don’t do, and do it.
- Take 3 digital photos from your collection and turn them into a collage in Photoshop (or Paint Shop Pro, The GIMP, etc). Don’t try to join them invisibly, and feel free to use more than three. Have a look at my attempts.
Seven Ways to be Creative at Work
- If your job is sapping your creativity, it might be worth thinking about a change.
- Keep an eye on 43 Folders – Merlin is full of ideas for being more productive, and the people over at 43 Folders have a more creative take on the whole thing than most.
- Try a change. I change my whole ‘productivity system’ around three or four times a week, and I don’t recommend it, but if you’ve been using the same system for a while and it’s not getting the results, a change might do you some good. If nothing else, it forces a full review of what you’re up to, which can make a big difference in itself. If you’re all paper-based at the moment, why not try doing everything on a computer? If you’re using a computer now, why not try setting up a DIY Planner for yourself, and see how you get on with paper and pen?
- Suffer from the opposite problem? Like me, can’t you stop ‘playing’ with your system? Try forcing yourself to stick with something simple for a while. Just a few bits of paper, of a few text files, maybe. You might get some insights into more creative ways of using the simple tools, rather than just throwing more tools at the problem.
- Try mind mapping, if you don’t already. Just write the heading in the middle of the page instead of at the top, and start scribbling outwards from there. You can find this really frees up your more creative side, and can give you new insights.
- Keep something handy for making notes anywhere – never lose an idea. A folded index card in a pocket is enough.
Eight Ways to be Creative with Writing
- Have a look through some of the articles linked from our Improving your Writing page – there are lots of great ideas in there.
- Try switching methods. If you usually only write at your computer, try gabbing a pad and a pen, and sitting somewhere a bit more pleasant. If you normally use pen, try writing directly on your computer.
- Read more. Sounds obvious, but if you’re going to output, you need input. To write, it can help if you read. Sign up at Bloglines if you don’t already use an RSS reader, and find a few interesting blogs to subscribe to. Stick a book in the bathroom, and you’ll get at least some reading each day
- Why not start a blog of your own? It’s easy enough to get started somewhere like WordPress, Blogger or Vox, and it doesn’t have to cost anything. It can give you a bit of incentive to write regularly (though you’d be surprised how many blogs consist entirely of a post every three months saying “I should blog more”). If you hope to sell your writing, it can also serve as an easy way to keep contact with potential customers, and to make new contacts.
- Get a copy of Writing Down The Bones (Amazon UK, Amazon US) by Natalie Goldberg), and dip into it whenever you need a push.
- Set up a system for storing the little nuggets of information you happen on, and store them somewhere you can find them again. See my post on Storing Nuggets of Information for some ideas, but you probably don’t want to get too hung up on how – just stick them all in a folder for now (computer folder or cardboard), and work that out later.
- Keep a journal for the year. The only person you’re writing for is yourself, so you can just let go and get all your thoughts down on paper.
Twelve Ways to Mix ‘em Up!
Where the categories above meet…
- Write about your productivity system.
- Take photos of a musical instrument.
- Draw pictures on cards for people’s birthdays.
- Write about the day you took your favourite photo.
- Take a photo of a place you spent a happy day.
- Write a tune inspired by one of your photos.
- Make a musical instrument. Probably start with something percussive
- Take photos of your favourite productivity tools.
- Draw your camera.
- Make a case for carrying index cards. Clue: duct tape
- Draw something from your favourite fiction book.
- Buy a guitar magazine and draw your favourites.