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Get Messy Podcast

015 Finding joy and flow in your creativity with Hannah Fitzgibbon

Home » BLOG » Podcast » 015 Finding joy and flow in your creativity with Hannah Fitzgibbon

Oh, Messy artist, I have a treat for you this week on the podcast. Today I spoke with Hannah Fitzgibbon, and let me tell you… I feel like my whole world has changed. My creativity has been rocked, everything… You are going to love Hannah as much as I love her because she is amazing, articulate, and wise. The stuff that we spoke about today has revolutionised everything I know about creativity. All I’ve been doing for the past 6 years is creating, listening to people talk about creating, listening to people’s views on creating, helping others create, helping myself create more. And this is the first time that I’ve heard someone speak about creativity in this way.

In our episode, we talk about joy and flow in our creativity. There’s just so much more to it, and so much more depth to this conversation. We speak about a lot, we cover a lot, and a lot of new ideas or different ways of thinking, but I hope you spend time meditating on each point.

Play us, listen to us while you’re creating, but also write down Hannah’s words and spend some time reflecting on the way she sees things and the way she can help you things. I don’t know exactly what kind of creating you do but I know that Hannah is going to be great for it.

Hannah Fitzgibbon

Hannah left her corporate finance job to reconnect with her creativity. Her goal is to help people like you develop and trust your creativity to find more joy and flow in work you love. You can start now by checking out her blog.

Podcast Show Notes

In this episode, we discuss

  • being a curator of ideas
  • how Hannah is a recovering creative who kept coming back to creativity and finding creativity
  • how to elevate creativity with a new story
  • the scientific description of creativity and how it applies to your work even if you’re just “playing”
  • flow
  • joy
  • the intersection of flow and joy
  • how to lower the stakes in your creating
  • objective questions you can ask yourself when “editing” your work
  • how outcome is not “the thing”

Links mentioned

Hannah’s notes on her inner critic and inner champion:

Hannah’s notes on composition:

 

THE VIDEO VERSION OF THIS PODCAST IS AVAILABLE INSIDE OF Get Messy’s Library

Grab some supplies and create while you listen to Hannah talk about being a curator of ideas and following your curiosity.

Episode Transcript

Caylee:
Hannah, welcome to the Get Messy podcast.

Hannah:
Hi, Caylee. I’m so excited to be here. I’m a huge creative nerd, and I love talking creativity with anyone else who’s on my wavelength.

Caylee:
Well, let’s nerd up together. It’s going to be great.

Hannah:
Yay! So excited.

Hannah’s creative story

Caylee:
Yeah. Could you tell us a bit about who you are and how you got to where you are?

Hannah:
Sure. I am a recovering creative. I used to dream of having the most wildly creative life. I was just going to have so much color and glamor in my life. It was crazy. I believed nothing could stop me.

And then, I got to senior year of school and faced with real world choices. I was suddenly like, “Is creativity enough? Is this a real career? Maybe I should get a fallback.” You know, all those things that creep into your brain as soon as reality is there.

And, I made this compromise. If I can study graphic design, then I have my creativity, but it’s really practical. It’s communication. It’s used on products. This is a way to get paid for my creativity. It’s not as risky as being an artist.

So, I went down that route, and it did not pay off. I graduated just after the economic …

Caylee:
… recession.

Hannah:
… crisis-

Caylee:
Yeah.

Hannah:
… the global financial crisis. No one told me that impacts the amount of creative careers around. I just thought there was something wrong with me. So, I went to retail and finance and was like, “Well, that was a risk that didn’t pay off. I guess I’m not that person.” I totally denied my creativity for years, and then, had all this struggle as a result because I had no outlet. I had no language anymore.

And so, after I had my baby, I started thinking, what’s next? I’m not going to stay in this finance forever and a day. I want to do something, and I kept coming back to creativity, and also human development, and how we grow and how we learn, because that was always the only good bit of that corporate retail finance world, was the training days when you got to learn stuff and use colored markers and big sheets of paper, and have a play with people you hadn’t met before. I thought, that’s something here.

That, I guess, is the pivot I made. I went back to work for about six months at the bank, after my daughter was one. And then, I left there last year, and I’ve been on this wildly creative journey of being a creative coach, following my curiosity. And, now I consider myself a little bit of a curator of ideas.

Being a curator of ideas

Caylee:
Oh, I love it. Oh, my word … curator of ideas. Tell me more about that.

Hannah:
So, one thing that really did stick with me from that school was a terribly boring art history class lecture, one of those ones where you’re in the hole, and the more interesting thing is the animation student in front of you, drawing robots in their book. My teacher said one thing that really stuck with me. She had this picture of a woman washing clothes on a washer board like Snow White. And then, she said, “This picture … What does it mean?” We couldn’t really answer her.

And, she put it next to a guy, a cowboy on a horse, and another person milking a cow, and she said, “Now this is a commentary on colonialism and what it was like to live in that time.” And then, she took that same picture of the woman with the washer board, and she put it next to that power girl with the bandanna from the 1940s, and then Victoria Beckham in a suit or something. And, she said, “Now it’s a commentary on feminism over the last decade.”

By shifting the context that the same picture was in, it told a completely different story and drawing your attention to a completely different thing. So, I understood a lot better what a curator does and the importance of putting ideas in the context of other ideas that are going to amplify that message.

And so, I take creativity research, and I put it next to management and productivity ideas, or I put it next to personal development stuff or newer science. This gives it a new story. It elevates it.

Caylee:
Wow. Wow. Okay. Yeah. I’m so excited to talk to you. What an intro! Oh, my goodness.

What is creativity?

Caylee:
So, tell me, Hannah, then, what do you see creativity as?

Hannah:
To me, I really like the scientific definition of creativity. When they study creativity, they look for two elements that make it fit, and that is that it must be new or original. So, novel is one of the elements. Now, that doesn’t mean perfectly original, never been seen before. That is often standing on the shoulders of existing knowledge and building it into something new … mashups of different concepts, things like that, that create a new version rather than brand new.

The other element is that it must be useful. So, it needs to be applied in a way that is useful to others or useful to yourself. When these tick those two boxes, we’re being creative.

Is art useful when it’s “just pretty?

Caylee:

Okay. What is useful? Explain more to me about what could be useful because sometimes I just make things just because they’re pretty.

Hannah:
Yeah. But, that is also useful, right? You’re practicing the way you see things. You’re communicating a feeling, or you’re spending some time relaxing. You’re practicing your skill and moving towards something.

So, that wouldn’t necessarily be creative in the stricter sense of the term, but it’s moving towards what will become your full creative thing. Your existing creativity is built of your semantic knowledge, stuff that you know, stuff that you’ve read from books or learned in classes, and your experience and your skills.

And so, by doing creative play, there is somewhat … not necessarily useful for others. It’s useful for you in growing your skills. You’ll always learn something from a creative play. I bet there’s never a time that you haven’t gone, “This is really pretty, and now I know how those elements combine when I use them that way.” That makes it useful.

Caylee:
Do you think that there is an end goal, then? If you’re building your skills, what are you building it for?

Hannah:
It’s not like you only have one creative peak, and then it’s done. Usually, if it’s an internal use, it’s to explore emotion, or to process this idea that I had, or to maintain my habit. You’re showing up for a reason, right? That is the use that it serves.

When it’s for others, it needs to be useful and applicable for them. For example, a two-year-old scribbling with pens isn’t necessarily useful for anyone other than the parents, who are like, “Look at you go!” And so, that technically isn’t creative. It’s exploratory.

Whereas, if I’m driving to work, and there’s a roadblock on my usual route, and I have to think of a new route to get to work, that’s creativity. I’m applying a new route. It doesn’t mean that no one’s ever driven that way before. But, it’s solving my problem, right? And, if your problem is a blank page, then you have found a useful way to fill it.

Caylee:
I think that is my number one problem in life.

Hannah:
Yeah. I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive. Outcome isn’t always the thing. Creative play … You might never hang your pages of your journal on a gallery wall although a collection of that could be really interesting as well. 

Caylee:
Yeah. There’s a Get Messy artist, Ashley Rogers. She had a full gallery show with her journal pages. It was amazing.

Hannah:
Yes. Awesome. I’ve seen shows like that before, where artists have just their sketchbooks, sketching. It’s nice to see the process that goes into bigger pieces, too, their scribbles and their thought process.

I think the journey is often more fascinating than the result, you know?

The journey to art is beautiful in itself

Caylee:

Yeah. I know, with my journals, if I page through them, I feel like by themselves, each page isn’t necessarily spectacular or anything. But, looking through them and going through them as a whole, and seeing that whole journey that I’ve been on, and a physical manifestation of my hard work, and a physical manifestation of the uncomfortable and showing up every day … That is what I find impressive.

Hannah:
Yeah. That’s fascinating. It’s so interesting. I think one of the key elements of creativity in the search for something new is the transformation. And so, when we start somewhere, and we see progress to somewhere else, that transformation is so interesting to us. That’s so novel. It tells a story of its own. Whereas, one piece on its own, it doesn’t often carry that context or the transition that changes us.

This is one of the ways I teach how to have good ideas. There’s this graphic designer. He came up with this list called the Ruch’s List. His name is Ruchs. It’s basically a list of verbs that force some sort of change or progression from one idea to another. It’s a really simple way of going, “I have this thing, this starting point, and I want to make it interesting. I want to communicate something.” And, it animates it.

So, if we take a watermelon, and that’s our starting point, and we use one of the verbs like combine, and we combine it with other tropical fruit, maybe. Suddenly, we have a cocktail. Or, if we combine it, maybe, with a cloud, and we think, hmm, where’s the similarities? Where’s the differences? What if I use watermelon colors to paint a sunset? Or, we start to have these random ideas in the transition, in the change.

Or, maybe we go, “Maybe I don’t want to combine it. Maybe I want to personify it.” What does a watermelon slice look like to me? Maybe a smile. Maybe I could have some little watermelon seed teeth and purple rind lipstick, and who knows? I’m making this up as I go, a little bit. But, by applying some movement to an original concept, it can often spark tons of other ideas that we didn’t think of, or change our perspective to how we see that first static thing. I think your journal does that naturally by putting multiple things together. It creates some sort of movement propulsion.

Caylee:
I think that you’re very good at putting it to words, what I feel inside. But, you’re just so articulate and so wise.

Hannah:
Thanks.

What creativity is not

Caylee:
So, we’ve spoken about what creativity is. Tell me, Hannah, what is creativity not?

Hannah:
What is creativity not? Creativity is not automated sequences of yes and nos. Creativity is not following instructions. Creativity is not necessarily repeatable over and over and over again, in exactly the same way. And, it’s human.

Creativity is so human. Everything else is scaffolding. It’s helpful, but it’s not what we’re here for.

How Hannah is not a typical artist

Caylee:
Yeah. Tell me how you are not a typical artist.

Hannah:
How I am not a typical artist …

Caylee:
I love this question because I think we’ve all got this solid idea in our head. Artists sit in their studios the whole day. They’re covered in paint. All they do is create. They don’t eat. They don’t go to the loo. So, tell me how you are away from that stereotype.

Hannah:
They’re eternally inspired, aren’t they?

Caylee:
Oh, yes. Mm-hmm.

Hannah:
The artist we have in our mind, the inspired being …

Caylee:
Basically, we vomit paint onto the page.

Hannah:
Yeah … How am I not a typical artist? Well, I read a lot more than I create. I consume a lot more than I create. I create for experimentation and to enhance my own learning, not for anyone else. I don’t sell my work. I don’t create habitually in that I don’t show up every day for it anymore. But, I paint. I’m an artist.

I would say I’m more curious than an artist. I’m not restricted to any one medium. I’m not restricted to any one form of communication. I’m informed by many. That is what makes it interesting to me. It’s not for the label of being an artist.

Caylee:
I think you also have a beautiful way of being analytic about this, and I think that we think that artists are just people who are like airy, fairy, pie in the sky … That’s why I thought I could never be artist, because I am quite … I don’t know. This might be the wrong word, but realistic …

Hannah:
Yeah. This is a myth I have to bust, this idea that I am smart, and, therefore, I’m throwing it away to pursue art. That will waste my intellect. There’s this belief that people are afraid, that they don’t think they can have both, and that it isn’t in some way a disservice or a waste of their intellect if they pursue their creativity, which is so incredibly horrible. It breaks my heart because you can be both.

My intellect informs my work, and my work is better because of my intellect. I needed this.

It was one of the things that I struggled with most in design school. There was so much assumed knowledge, and most of it was in the aesthetic. I needed a language for that, and I hadn’t learned a language.

And so, they would give me feedback because we were always marked on the aesthetic, but we weren’t taught it. We were taught how to use the programs, how to use Photoshop, how to use InDesign, how to write an essay about the Bauhaus movement. We weren’t taught how to see art and how to see composition, at least in my graphic design school.

And so, I ended up moving to America and going to school as an exchange student. I did a whole year of creative writing, and I loved the language. I could suddenly understand that graphic design could also be described in pace and color and character and tone, and things that you could look at in sentence structure that had a language for these rules that I hadn’t learned. My design improved so much just by being able to see it through that lens.

I think from that learning is why I’m always trying to deconstruct artistic concepts and come up with a way to explain them so that I can understand, so that I can be methodical a little bit about how I’m going, because I distrust my intuition quite a lot. I know enough to know that my first idea is not always my best idea, even though it feels really good.

Slow down the process

My first idea comes with a lot of confidence because our brain doesn’t want to work harder. So, it’s like, “Trust me. This one’s good enough. Just go with it.” Learning to slow that process down and go, “Well, maybe it is good enough. But, why don’t we just try and look at it a couple of different ways. We can always come back to this first idea.” And, oh, my God. My ideas are so much better when I do.

Caylee:
I love that. I think … Yeah, because we are taught that artists are gifted with their art. They’re talented. They’re born with it. This the artsy person, and this is not. So, I love that idea, that you can take who you are as a person, and you can be an artist with that, not besides that.

Hannah:
Yeah. 

Caylee:

You take your own superpowers, and then you just amplify them with art, rather than hide them.

Hannah:
Totally. Yeah. Exactly. That’s what makes your art interesting. That’s what gives your art a voice and a perspective.

Caylee:

We’re the only person who’s able to make art the way that we make art, and so, it’s up to us to explore that avenue because no one is going to do it. You are literally the only human in the world who’s got your background, who’s got your preferences, who’s got … I don’t know … the techniques that you’re drawn to and all of that. If you can apply it to hard work and apply it to some basic principles, then you can make absolute magic.

Hannah:
Yeah. Everyone is creative. Everyone.

How to explore design principles in art

Caylee:
Tell me more about those design principles that you were speaking about. If you are not the type of person to go to art school, or you can’t go to art school, how would you explore them yourself?

Hannah:
Yeah. Oh, my goodness. I’ve been learning so much from just $10 Domestika courses online. They’re amazing, and because they’re five minute increments … So, you might do a whole course on watercolor portraits. That course will have tons of five or 10-minute sections. So, I started doing a ton of illustration ones … well, not a ton. Two. Two. I did two illustration ones because they had such amazing descriptions of composition.

My most recent sketchbook … I have it here. I can grab some of that information for you. Bear with me one moment, caller …

My sketchbooks are filled with all sorts of random things because I use art as a way to learn. It’s where I note take as well.

Caylee:
Oh, I love that. I’ve always wanted to do that, and I just-

Hannah:
I can send you some pictures of these, but-

Caylee:
Please.

Hannah:
… as an example, this is a composition page on visual weight. It talks about how when we have figures in on our page, that we’re telling a story based on which one we give the most weight to. So, our attention is naturally drawn to them, and then, we look at them in relation to everything else.

And, we can give things more weight and more presence and more importance by making them bigger, or by positioning them in different parts of the page, or by singling them out. If there’s a group, a crowd here and one person here, it’s like they’re on a stage. Or, we can use different texture to draw their attention to them, or contrast, or color, or shape. A simple thing like that can add so much purpose to your work.

So, if we go back to the watermelon example, and we’ve decided that we want to compare watermelon … We want to tell the story that watermelon is the best tropical fruit. What could we do to give that importance to the watermelon? So, maybe we might have a whole group of tropical fruit in a fruit ball, and we might have watermelon over here on his own Sunlander, and, suddenly he’s like groovy, chilled out fruit, and all the other ones are over here in this little fruit bowl bunched together, conforming.

So, we can use these compositional tools as just a little bit of pre-thought before we put pen to paper, to go, “What am I actually trying to say here? And, what tool is going to help me to say this best so that it’s understood by someone else, or it moves someone else?”

Caylee:
Oh, that’s good. That’s good. I like the idea of … As someone who’s very analytical and logical, I like that idea of planning a little bit.

Hannah:
Yeah, yeah. It doesn’t have to throw your whole sway off. And, abstract art still uses these rules. It still has composition, and there will be negative space and busyness. Or, it’s still trying to communicate something, even if that something is really conceptual. So, it doesn’t even matter.

If you’re just splattering paint on the page, you might pay attention to the colors you’re using. If you really want your splattered paint to be representative of your, maybe, serenity, or you’re just having a play, and it’s nothing really dramatic, you might use some pale blues and greens and maybe a pop of purple. That will communicate that message maybe better than an orange. So, I think that with just one or two questions before you start, it can give your work so much more direction and so much more purpose, which makes it more interesting, even if the technique is exactly the same when you apply it.

Making a shit-ton of art to figure out what you like vs. a hack

Caylee:
Yeah. And, it also … I mean, I always tout the phrase, you just have to make a shit-ton of art in order to figure out what you like. But, this idea is that if you put in the work with learning and stuff, you could easily make beautiful things.

Hannah:
Yeah. Of course. A tiny little shift can really elevate your piece. So, if you’re trying to tell that story that watermelon is the best tropical fruit, you could do that in so many ways. But, your instinct, if you’re a very beginner, and you’ve never really played with this concept before, is to draw a watermelon in the middle of your page. And, that’s normal, and you will do that again and again until you got bored of it. And then, you’d start to experiment, and then by looking at where you started and where you got to, you’d see the learning.

But, you can shortcut that by … Remember, we said new doesn’t mean completely original.

You can cut that by copying, by studying, by being mentored, by learning from other people who’ve already done that part of the journey. And then, that’s where your voice gets to come through because you’re not spending all this time learning the basics the long way.

Caylee:
Yeah. It’s like a hack.

Hannah:
Yeah.

Flow and joy in art and how to stop making it so hard

Caylee:
Artist’s hack. I love it. In our emails, we were talking about flow and joy.

I love that combination. So, tell me more about why you love talking about it.

Hannah:
Yeah.

I think flow and joy are natural byproducts of art and creativity. It’s one of the reasons why most of us are drawn to it in the first place. We feel it almost even just by looking at a piece of art. It’s pretty, and, suddenly, my brain is rewarding me for looking at beautiful things. But, we make it so hard.

When we start getting in our own head and judging that we’re not feeling flow, especially when we’re learning something new or when we’re showing up for our 50th day in a row for our habit, and we just really actually don’t have an idea today, and our child woke up three times last night, and I’m exhausted, and why am I not feeling flow and joy? This is creative. It’s supposed to be great, right? And, we slip into this judgment. I’m not feeling joy because I’m not good. If I was good, real artists feel joy all the time. They’re always in flow. I’m just not good enough yet.

But, that is the very thing that’s stopping the joy and the flow. So, flow … I guess the building blocks of flow is important to understand. Part of it is that you need to have a challenge, the right level of challenge. Two little, and it’s boring. Too much, and you’ll get frustrated and give up. So, assessing what level of challenge you’re exploring and making sure that, A, there is some challenge there and that it’s not too hard. It’s a little bit of a stretch.

The other element is using implicit memory. The easiest way to understand this is imagine you’re talking to a kid who’s fluent in another language. He’s prattling off French to you, and you’re like, “Man, that kid just … He’s not even thinking. He’s just …”

And then, you have been learning French for a month, and you’re like, “Bonjour … What’s that word again? The next one they say?” You think really hard about it, and then, finally, you can put together, “My name is …” But, it’s a lot more work, right?

So, the difference is you’re using external memory, like your scratchpad memory, which is the memory we hold information short-term in. We’re converting those memories into longterm memories. Our brain is wondering, do I need to put the energy in to keep this? Are you using this again? I don’t know … As opposed to that kid who has built it into his implicit memory … He doesn’t consciously think about it at all. It just comes out.

The only thing that takes something from longterm memory and puts it in implicit memory is a lot of practice.

So, you can start to see flow when you recognize what you already have in your implicit memory. So, for example, most of us as artists can hold a pencil. That’s something we don’t have to think about.

Caylee:
Most of us.

Hannah:
Most of us … Or, we can hold a paintbrush, and that’s a pretty easy transfer. Most of us can choose some colors pretty easily. The more you can do without thinking, almost like improvisation, the more flow you’ll access. The more often you practice, the more things you’ll have in your implicit memory to draw on. And, when we are doing that, our brain rewards are so much because it doesn’t have to work very hard. It’s like, “Yes! You’re drawing from the easy draw! Do that more.”

So, we get all these happy chemicals, and that’s why we feel flow. We don’t have to think about it. Our conscious brain is turned way down, and we’re just rolling with it. We’re improvising what’s coming out, and it feels really good because it’s really low energy for our brain, not energy for our body, necessarily.

So, joy comes into this because as a byproduct of dropping into flow, we feel joy. But, the confusion for many artists I find, is that they don’t feel joy during the process. And then, they think there’s something wrong with them. Most of us, when we’re in flow, we have no memory of it or very little memory. But, then, we finish it, and we go, “Where did all that time go?” And then, we feel stoked.

Often, the joy with creativity comes when you’ve just finished. It doesn’t come during. So, if you’re not feeling joy while you’re actually doing the work of the creating, you’re normal.

Caylee:
So, it’s like exercise then? Physical exercise?

Hannah:
Yeah. Yeah, yeah. You know how we feel afterward, but if you’re in the middle of a workout, and you’re like, “Why do I hate this? I’m obviously not built for exercising.” But, you are, and then you finish it, and you’re like, “I feel great. I’m going to get a smoothie.”

Yeah. Totally. It’s exactly like that. It’s work to create. We have to think. We have to apply our skills. There’s a lot going on. There’s a lot of learning and a lot of brain power, even if, on the surface, it doesn’t look like that. And so, we get huge rewards after that because our brain is like, “Yeah, that was great.” But, it doesn’t necessarily feel like that during the creative process.

How to find flow and why art journaling is so great for it

Caylee:
Yeah. So, then, how do we find it? How do we find flow? How do we find joy?

Hannah:

Well, a big part of it is not judging the process, not comparing yourself to others, not judging yourself as good enough or not good enough. Just showing up, creating a habit. That’s where your journaling stuff is so good, because there’s no expectation.

It’s like play. Learn to play. Build your implicit skills. You are on your way to flow if you’re not there already because we’re simplifying it. We’re taking away this high stakes of I bought a $100 canvas, and I don’t even want to tell you how much my brushes and paint cost, and now I’ve got to paint this, and I get one shot because I’m not buying other practice canvas.

Those stakes are too high to be able to drop into flow easily, if you don’t already have the skills and the practice to do that. So, yeah, lower the stakes.

Caylee:
I like that.

Hannah:
Experiment.

Caylee:
Lower the stakes.

Hannah:
Yeah. Then you’re going to build your implicit memory, your skills, and you’re not going to judge so much in the process.

How to judge your work the way a friend would

Hannah:
There comes a time when we do have to judge our work. We have to evaluate and say, “What did I learn here? What do I want to keep? What do I want to try again? What do I not want to do again?” But, that’s a very specific piece, and it shouldn’t happen during creating.

It should happen … maybe not even after every creation. It might be a reflection we do weekly or monthly or at the end of our sketchbook. Or, it might be something we do more often if we’ve got a deliberate thing we’re moving towards. But, it’s very important at that point to be like, “Okay, I’m putting on my judge hat or my editing hat. Now I’m looking at this through objective eyes, and I’m judging the work. I’m not judging myself.”

When you judge the work, it doesn’t mean anything about you as an artist. It doesn’t mean if you’ve made it, or if you’re not good enough, or if you’re good enough. It just means that there’s things you can learn about to improve your work in the future, or to make it easier, or to make it more interesting, or to grow to that next curiosity. That is the only time you should judge. And then, you take your hat off, and you put your creative hat on, and you drop back into that other part.

Caylee:
I like that idea of reflecting back on our art and being objective about it, and, like you say, judging the piece and judging the work and not judging yourself, because I was going to ask you what practical ways you could do it. But, I think if you move your own language away from, oh, you’re terrible, or you can never be an artist, that’s not constructive. But, going, “Hmm … Maybe that watercolour could do with some more finesse. Let’s practice that.” That is much more helpful and building and uplifting.

Hannah:
Yes. So, for more practicality, I would say the more objective you can be, the better the learning process. So, almost look at it as if you’re editing a friend’s work or giving some feedback on a friend’s work. You would never say, “Caylee, you are so bad.” You would never do that. You’d never talk to a friend like that.

You’d say, “Caylee, you really tried hard today. But, I can see there’s this or this that maybe aren’t there yet.” And so, if you treat it as if you’re talking to a friend’s work or critiquing someone else’s work, you’ll be more gentle and more objective.

Another thing is to take the emotion out of it by having some preexisting questions you ask. So, you might say, “What is my favourite part of this piece? What is the piece I wish that I could’ve done differently? What would I do more of or less of? How did I feel after finishing this piece?”

Those should feel like objective questions that aren’t about your worth or whether it succeeded or not. Just things that inform your learning, not inform the outcome. And, if they’re pre-written, you’re less likely to react and judge, just like, oh, what do I think of is? That’s so broad. It doesn’t direct the thought, and so, your thinking could easily drop into judgement at that point.

And then, the third thing you can do is leave some space between creating and evaluating. As an example, Austin Kleon, who wrote the books Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work, and another one that I can’t remember the name of … He’s great. They’re how-tos of creative thinking and creativity.

He says when he writes things, he puts them in a drawer for at least a week to let them become strange. And then, he edits them as a stranger. That is really a great way of distancing yourself from how you felt during the process of creating, or maybe with those joy lenses on, or maybe with the disappointment if it didn’t work out how you wanted. And then, giving it some space, and then looking at it with the purpose of learning from it, rather than with the purpose of judging it.

Caylee:
These are really, really good. These are really good.

Hannah’s inner critic

Caylee:
So, tell me more about the inner critic. Is she … or he. What do they look like for you? What are they telling you and your own personal inner critic, and how do you deal with him?

Hannah:
Yeah. This is another sketchbook one.

Caylee:
I love it.

Hannah:
I have my inner critic and my inner champion page, and I was sketch noting. So, I wrote down … I wanted to practice it. When I do these exercises, they’re often a way to implement my creative thinking research. So, I’m going to have to break this down a little bit. Whenever I do lists, I try to do at least 10 things so that I practice my divergent thinking, or a Connect Brainset is another way to call that.

There’s a newer scientist who has a lot of information about a creative process called Doctor Shelley Carson. She teaches at Harvard, and she’s written a book called Your Creative Brain. It’s amazing. One of the Brainsets … She breaks down the creative process into seven different ways that our brain lights up during different phases of what we’re doing. One of those is the Connect Brainset, and it helps us to light up the association part of our brain and draw lots of different connections.

So, when I’m trying to name something like my inner critic, I push myself to come up with more ideas than the first one or two, and I use exercises like this as a good way to practice that so that when I’m doing a project like my own project that I want to do, it’s easier for me to come up with lots of different options.

So, the ones that I came up with … And, with each one, I drew a little sketch note. I had the slug, the girl in the box on the shelf, the shortsighted, fear-ridden Hannah, Simon Says Hannah. My shadow. The danger radar, my backseat driver, my ostrich head in the sand, the prefect, or the judge. And, because I don’t like to be too negative, I also had my inner champion.

So, when I recognize my inner critic, and the one I chose was my backseat driver … So, when they’re telling me, “I said the other left, idiot!” I can call on my inner champion, my sparkly, I-can-do-anything-I-put-my-mind-to Hannah unicorn. And, she’s like, “It’s okay. Three lefts make a right.”

Caylee:
Oh, I love her. It’s so cute.

Hannah:
Yeah.

Caylee:
You see, I like that because I really like the idea of a slug. Like you were saying, “Don’t go for your first one,” and you’re right. Your backseat driver one is a much better analogy.

Hannah:
Yeah. But, I mean, sometimes your first is the right answer. It’s not about having more judgment. Oh, that’s just my first answer. It’s clearly wrong. I like to frame in a way of possibility. That could be the right answer. Let’s double check.

Optimism is learned

Caylee:
Are you ever not optimistic?

Hannah:
Yes.

Caylee:
Okay. Good.

Hannah:
Yeah. Optimism, for me, is very learned. I can fall really a lot into anxiety and into worry, and I’m very susceptible at looking at my environment and thinking things aren’t working.

This is part of the reason I love creativity, because when you’re in mild states of negative emotion, these sorts of things can really help get you out of it, this awareness that you build, these tools you have.

A lot of elements of creative thinking and creative play are rewarding for the brain. So, when you think of 10 ideas instead of one, that Connect Brainset also includes the rewards circuit in your brain. It puts you in a better mood just by doing it. And so, yeah … I think reframing and learning from things has been a really big gift for me because without that, I am not optimistic.

Caylee:
Yeah. And, it’s learned, right?

Hannah:
Yeah.

Three tips for new artists or seasoned artists wanting to explore flow and joy

Caylee:
So great. So great. You’re just bashing all the expectations out of the window. You are. Well, okay … I think I have a major crush on you, and I want to talk to you forever, but we need to wrap this up at some stage. And so, I’m going to ask you, what are your three tips for new artists or for people … Maybe they’re not new. Maybe they just want to explore this way of thinking to themselves … find that flow, find that joy …

Lower the stakes

Hannah:
Yeah. The first tip would be lower the stakes. It’s not about being Picasso or an artist or making it. It’s about expression, process. When we embrace the process and we seek opportunities to learn and grow, naturally, things fall into place. And so, lowering the stakes and taking it bit by bit helps you stick in it for the long haul.

Question your assumptions 

I would say question your assumptions about everything you thought you knew about what it means to be an artist, because they’re almost all wrong. It doesn’t need to be that hard or that glamorous or that unattainable.

Know and follow your curiosity

And, the third thing I would say is know your own curiosity, and follow it wherever it goes. It’s more reliable than intuition. It will never lead you wrong. And, by doing that, by learning about such wide and various things, you will always have unique connections to make, in a new, unique perspective.

Caylee:
That’s … Wow. That’s good. Okay.

For the person who’s listening who’s like me and just totally in awe of you, how can they spend more time with you?

Hannah:
Yeah. Cool. I’m relatively … well, quite new, to sharing myself in this way. And, I love, love, love meeting other artists and helping you recognize some of the blocks that are keeping you from your flow and joy, because they should happen. So, if you are interested and you want to have a chat with me, you can reach out to me through my website or my socials. I think Caylee will have those in show notes.

Caylee:
Yep.

Hannah:
And, we can set up a call. Otherwise, I blog about these kind of thoughts at least once a week, and I always have my own art there because I’m not a perfectionist anymore. And so, that’s a good place to learn about some of these ideas, too.

Caylee:
Okay. Great. Thank you so much for chatting today.

Hannah:
Oh, my pleasure. Thanks so much for having me.

Caylee:
Such a good start to my morning. Thank you.

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Your podcast host, Caylee Grey

I'm Caylee Grey. Creator of Get Messy, official fairy freaking artmother and your pro excuse-squashing ninja.

In the Get Messy podcast I’ll be chatting to a selection of amazing, real-life humans just like you are who are dealing with the very same barriers … but overcoming them to create their art.

Together, we’ll explore what it REALLY means to be an artist. Practically. Warts and all. So that you can be an artist, today, now, even if you work a day job, have a million and one commitments and own a cat that likes sitting on your art.

No more excuses. Okay? Okay.