Posts tagged creative restraints
What does it mean to be creative?

My friend Ruby recently wrote a blog post about reclaiming the word creativity and it got me thinking. To be honest, it fired me up. I love discussions like this. I love thinking about and talking about creativity. I wrote a response to Ruby on her blog and then I decided to craft my thoughts into a blog post of my own to extend the conversation.

So go give it a read and then come back and let’s talk.

Grab a cup of something hot and sit down and let's chat

I believe that EVERYONE is creative, or has the potential for creativity. It isn’t something to be hoarded. It isn’t something that one person can claim to have while dismissing another’s right to it.

Creativity is a natural state for every child but it often gets left behind as we grow up (Picasso certainly got that right)*. Some of us are able to hold onto it but most of us do not and often the ones leaving it behind do so because of criticism by adults.

It’s hard to ignore negative comments about your creative endeavors, whether you’re a child or an adult. Sometimes it’s more subtle than direct criticism. A lack of praise while the girl seated next to you is fawned over. Not being chosen for a part in the play… Each of those things hurts. I grieve for all the children (myself included) who grew up believing we weren’t good at art (or writing or music or dance…) just because of another person’s opinion. To discard something as beautiful and joyful and as ESSENTIAL as creativity is a terrible waste.

Along those lines if you haven’t seen this video from Creativebug, go give it a watch.

In her post Ruby says “Creativity has become a bit of a buzzword lately.” The word does seem to be everywhere, and as someone who gets excited about encouraging creativity in others I think that’s a good thing.

What isn’t as good is the never ending cast of “experts” claiming to know THE WAY to be creative. I’ve chatted with other artists about this, too. My friend Dana (from the 2x2 Sketchbook collaboration) just launched a new website for her art and we’d been chatting while she built it. There is so much advice about what artists need to do in order to succeed; sometimes that advice is conflicting and often it’s confusing. And I’ve noticed that much of it doesn’t resonate with me and the type of artist I want to be.

Watercolor Play in My Sketchbook Always Brings Me Joy

I agree with Ruby’s assertion that some of those experts seem more interested in making money for themselves than sharing creative practices with others. But who am I to judge? I decide where I put my money. Perhaps one offering is bad for me but ends up helping someone else move their life from darkness into light. Each of us has our own ability to choose what’s right for us.

Building a life around creativity is hard. Like Ruby, I’ve often looked to others for advice. Maybe you have, too. I’ve even taken advice that didn’t end up being just right for me. I recently re-wrote the About page for this website to better share who I am instead of following a prescription that an expert claimed was supposed to make me successful.

Aren’t many of these ideas true for all of life? There are as many ways to live a life as there are people. In the end we each have to navigate our own path. It’s not always clear which is the right one. We make mistakes. We learn. We grow. Life is hard.

But back to creativity and what is “true” creativity and what is not… I don’t think any of us can judge another’s creativity. And what is truly creative? What has honestly never been done before? Not a lot.

I’m a botanical watercolor painter. Botanical watercolors have been painted for centuries. I don’t think I’ll ever find a subject that hasn’t been painted before.

Ruby is a dancer. Is there truly a movement a dancer can make with her body that another person hasn’t made in the history of humanity? Probably not. But does that matter? Ruby is a unique person. Each moment she dances has never happened before she makes it happen. Her body, the music, the space in which she’s dancing… each aligns to create something that hasn’t been done before, even if the movement isn’t something “new”. Just so with my paintings. I make a momentary connection with a plant and celebrate its beauty on paper with paint.

a watercolor tulip recently painted by Anne Butera

Not everyone will like my paintings. Not everyone will like Ruby’s dance. Or your quilt. Or another person’s book…. But that is not the point. The point is the moment of my creative act (or yours) and what it means to me (or you).

I think everyone can benefit from bringing more creativity to their lives. In whatever form it might take and from whichever direction it may come.

I see Ruby’s post a challenge to herself. A challenge to break out of complacency (and cuteness – although I would argue that cuteness has its place, too). And I see it as a challenge to US. A challenge to truly be ourselves and follow our own creative paths without getting off the track onto someone else’s road.

Being our own true self, forging our own unique way, is probably one of the hardest things to do in life, though it is certainly the most valuable.

I am so grateful to Ruby for posing difficult questions. I am grateful to her for challenging herself (and us!) to be the best that we can be. I am grateful to her for continuing to add beauty and creativity to a world that always needs more of both. I hope that you will be undaunted in your own efforts of creativity. Please do not give up. Please keep shining your light.

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*”Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain one once he grows up.”

—Pablo Picasso

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The Lies We Tell Ourself and How to Break Free From Self-Imposed Limitations

Are there things you wish you could do, but “know” you can’t because you don’t have the talent?

Around ten or twelve years ago, before I got the rose tattoo on my ankle I studied images of roses and planned out a design. I even made a sketch and brought it and lots of photographs with me to my appointment. I clearly remember telling the tattoo artist “I want something like this sketch, but I can’t draw”.

A Sketch I Did for the Tattoo I Got On My Ankle Back Before I Believed I Could Be an Artist

For some reason I believed I couldn’t draw. Many other times I remember telling people, “I’m not an artist”. Worse, I said it to myself.

It would be a few more years before I started to question my belief. Maybe I began to realize drawing and art-making is something I could learn, not an innate ability. Or maybe it was just that my desire to make art outweighed my belief I couldn’t do it. My first paintings weren’t so great, but with determination and practice I got better.

“If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint’, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.” —Vincent Van Gogh

I think we probably all place limitations on ourselves based on lies. Maybe someone said something to us in the past and we’ve since adopted their beliefs as our own. Maybe personal experiences “taught” us lessons that simply are not true. Or maybe “expert” advice tells us that what we’re dreaming isn’t possible.

For a very long time I’ve wanted to try embroidery, to create my own designs and bring them to life. Again and again I would tell people (and myself) I’m not good at embroidery. I’m not good at hand sewing. I’ll just stick my fingers with the needle and bleed all over the fabric if I try to sew by hand. I imagined I could create designs but would need to find someone else to embroider them.

But recently I began to imagine I could try again to learn. Over the years I’d broken free from some of the other limitations I’d put on myself, why not this one too?

I have lots of fabric and I have lots of thread stored away in the closet in my studio. Last week I pulled out some of both and sat down to begin learning. With the help of Rebecca Ringquist’s class on Creativebug I tried my hand at some stitches. It was fun.

A Sampler of Embroidery Stitches I Created Recently

Now I’m completely hooked and my brain is exploding with possibilities.

Those stories I told myself about not being able to embroider weren’t true just as the stories I’d told myself about drawing and painting weren’t true.

My word for this year is GROW. I’ve been keeping it at the forefront of my thoughts. I’m trying new things. I’m experimenting. I’m setting aside my self-imposed limitations and it feels good.

Maybe nothing will come of my experiments. Maybe nothing will come of my dabbling with embroidery, but the act of breaking free from limitations, of overcoming fears, of questioning my beliefs… that is true growth.

So tell me, what is it that you would like to try and what’s been holding you back from trying it?




Making Do and Making Art

What are your barriers to creativity? What keeps you from making or doing on a regular basis? A lack of:

  • time?

  • space?

  • money?

  • materials?

  • tools?

  • knowledge?

  • skills?

  • inspiration?

  • energy?

  • confidence?

Or is it something else?

I think most of the things on this list challenge all of us at one point or another. I know I’ve struggled with them.

Sometimes we put limits on ourselves based on imaginary constraints. We even use language making our limits sound hopeful or dream-inspired instead of constraining. I caught myself thinking “when I have time to reorganize my studio, I’ll set up a permanent sewing table. And then I’ll be able to sew more regularly.” I even started fantasizing about the thrift-store table I’d find or repurpose. What I was really saying was “I can’t sew right now because I don’t have the right space to do it.”

Was it true? No. And I finally realized it. I brought a folding table up from the basement, shifted things a bit and brought my sewing machine out from the closet.

I set up my sewing machine on a folding table in my studio

It might not look pretty and the table bounces a little when the machine is going full steam, but it works. I even crossed a couple sewing projects off my list this week (although one was a bit of a fail as I shared on Instagram).

A pillow cover sewed with my fabric design in Spoonflower's Celosia Velvet

I love my new pillow* and wish I’d done this sooner.

I wonder about some of the other constraints I put on myself. Are they true?

I’ve been dragging my feet on a few projects, putting them off for various reasons. If I look closely at the reasons, I see there are ways around them. I can make do and then get on with the business of making art.

Don’t have enough time? Fit in a few minutes of making. I was able to fill a page in my sketchbook on a day when I only had about ten minutes to work.**

Don’t have the right space? Rethink the space you have.

Don’t have a lot of money for fancy supplies? Use what you have. (My blue roses fabric design was painted with one color of paint).

These sketchbook roses were painted with one color of paint and eventually became one of my favorite fabric designs

Many of our constraints can be overcome. We can shift our thinking. We can look at our situations creatively. We can listen to what we’re truly saying and combat our fears. We can make do and make art.

Lately I’ve been telling myself that winter is my uninspired season, that without my garden I can’t create any serious art. Yes, it’s true I often hit a slump during the winter, but it’s also true that I’ve created some pieces I love during the winter. (My blue roses were painted during the winter and all of these paintings were created during the winter, too).

these watercolor roses were painted without live flowers as models — one in the spring and the others more recently

these watercolor roses were painted without live flowers as models — one in the spring and the others more recently

Although I’m still working on overcoming my slump, I’ve been focusing on playing in my sketchbooks instead of creating “serious” art (whatever that is). Perhaps my art, like my garden needs a bit of rest in order to begin growing again.

from my second collaborative sketchbook with Dana Barbieri — my page is on the right

from my second collaborative sketchbook with Dana Barbieri — my page is on the right

It’s amazing what ideas come out of sketchbook play. Giving myself time and space to experiment and dream is just as important as other types of making.

Picasso said, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find your working.” Figuring out ways to rethink our restraints and restrictions, to pull apart the barriers to our creativity is important work.

What about you? Is there something holding you back from being creative? How might you reframe your situation so you can begin making?



*I sewed the pillow cover with my small scale Watercolor Rose Garden in Blue design in Spoonflower’s Celosia Velvet fabric. The fabric is vibrantly colored, so soft and was easy to work with. You can find it here and learn more about the fabric here.

**It’s also important to remember that we all have a lot of time each day and how we fill it is up to us. Prioritize what’s most important and leave the other stuff out. (Bonnie Christine shared some interesting thoughts about this on Instagram the other day).