My Rules for the Creative Sandbox have been a foundation of my full-color creative life over the past five years. The poster hangs on the wall of my studio, and I refer to it almost daily. My mini-course, Creative Sandbox 101, has helped over 1,000 people get their creative mojo working.
I figured the time was probably ripe to bring a summary of my Creative Sandbox Rules back to the top of my blog again.
I share them here in the form of a 7-minute presentation, delivered at Patti Digh’s Design Your Life Camp (now rebranded as Life is a Verb Camp) in 2013. Enjoy!
10 Rules that Kickstarted My Creativity: a Lyric Story of Heartbreak, Art and Healing (with Ukulele)
I made this piece at an art retreat in 2010, after that phrase popped into my head while I was taking a shower:
I had come to the conclusion just a few weeks before that I was not in love with my life. And that changing this was my responsibility.
I was burned out, I was broke, I hated my job. I was not living a creative life!
And it wasn’t supposed to be this way, because I was an artist! I had built up a business, over about fifteen years, as a ketubah artist, making Jewish marriage contracts.
But in building up my business, I’d completely lost touch with why I became an artist in the first place. Art had become “just a job.”
And when I finally did start making art for me again, these brush stroke women, it was really fun at first, but then I found myself avoiding my art table again. And I couldn’t figure out why!
Then it occurred to me: These pieces required meticulous planning and designing, just like my client work… but my creative spirit wanted to let loose, and make messes, and play, just like a 4-year old kid playing in a sandbox.
The metaphor of the Creative Sandbox was born.
But after years of making art for clients, I had forgotten how to play. So I developed a set of rules for myself, that helped me let go of perfectionism and make more art in 2011 than I had in the previous decade (probably my whole life, actually.)
I now present to you, my 10 Rules for the Creative Sandbox
Creative Sandbox Rules, Creative Sandbox Rules
1) There is no wrong.
2) Think process, not product.
When I’m in the creative sandbox, it doesn’t matter if I like what I create, or hate it. All that matters is that I’m having fun.
3) Think quantity, not quality.
There’s a story from the book Art and Fear about a ceramics teacher who divided his class into two groups at the start of the semester. The first group would be graded solely on quality; they needed one perfect pot to get an A. The second group would be graded solely on quantity – literally, by weight.
Guess which group made the better work?
The quantity group.
The quality group spent the whole semester agonizing over that perfect pot, while the quantity group was cranking out all this work and learning from their mistakes (and having fun!)
As long as you’re not being sloppy, if you take care of the quantity, the quality will take care of itself.
3b) Or don’t think quantity
That said, if the notion of quantity totally stresses you out, or just doesn’t work for your particular medium, then intentionally don’t think quantity.
4) Think tiny and daily. Ridiculously achievable.
It’s so easy to think that we need great, big chunks of time in order to create. But when I jumped in the Creative Sandbox, I committed to just fifteen minutes a day making art – that’s it.
It turns out that fifteen minutes is enough to get into state of flow. And just a little bit every day keeps my toe in the creative stream.
When I set a ridiculously achievable goal for myself like that, it’s so much more likely that I’ll be able to make it happen.
And if I do fall off the wagon, it’s so much easier to climb back on!
Remember, the most important practice is just getting back on the wagon, so it’s a very good thing to make it a very short wagon.
5) If you are stuck, just start. Anywhere.
Seriously. Stop thinking and just start. It’s magic.
6) When in doubt, ask “What if..?”
What if I drip the paint instead of brush it?
What if I sew on the canvas?
What if the character in my story goes left instead of right?
Creativity is not about perfection and technical mastery; it’s about finding solutions to problems, it’s about making discoveries and allowing them to pull you in a new direction.
7) Take the riskier path.
When I’m in the Creative Sandbox, working on a piece that I know needs something, but I’m afraid that if I add to it I’m gonna ruin it, this rule tells me to go ahead and ruin it, baby!
The worst thing that will happen is I’ll learn from it.
And because I’m thinking quantity, not quality, and tiny and daily, if I do ruin it, it doesn’t sting so much.
8) Dismiss all gremlins.
Those voices of self-doubt and self-criticism – gremlins — do not belong in the Creative Sandbox.
They will creep in, because gremlins exist to keep you inside your comfort zone. They’re trying to protect you.
But creativity always happens outside of your comfort zone, in uncertainty.
So put your gremlins on notice that they are not welcome inside your creative sandbox. And when they appear, as they will, send them off to get a pedicure.
9) Spring the comparison trap
I was at a workshop once, looking at my table partner’s work, thinking to myself, “God, her work is so cool and interesting. I wish my work was like hers.”
And then later in the workshop she turned to me and said, “Melissa, your work is so cool and interesting! I wish my work was like yours.”
I mean, WTF, right?
The thing is, someone else’s work will always feel on some level more cool and interesting than your own, not because it’s better, but because it comes from their unconscious – which is totally unknown and mysterious to you.
Plus remember this, other people see your work for what it is. YOU see your work for what it ISN’T.
Which brings me to…
10) And most of all treat yourself with compassion
You’re human. You WILL stumble.
This is NOT an excuse to beat yourself up, this is an opportunity to practice what I call my Golden Formula: Self-awareness + self-compassion = the key to everything good
Remember the Golden Formula, Self-Awareness + Self-Compassion = the Key to Everything Good.
There you have it, Creative Sandbox Rules!
And here they are in visual form (click to download your own printable poster):
Go get creating!
PS — Pssst! Know someone who might benefit from seeing this today? Pass it on!