Tuesday, September 8, 2015

September Morn – Nudging the Muse

Sea Grass, Long Boat Key

Tuesday Tips & Tricks:

It’s been a long time since I’ve gone to school or even had children in school, but to me September is still the beginning of the New Year. It signals not only the end of summer but a fresh start filled with growth and possibilities.

Here on the USk-Chicago blog September is the beginning of a new round of Tuesday Tips & Tricks, aka #TTT. We’ve added two new contributors to our Tuesday ranks. Welcome, Angie Hauch and Ted Gordon! If you were a participant in their workshops at our summer seminar you know why we’re excited to add them to our roster!

A September Ritual

For me, September is the time I examine my creative rituals and make sure they haven’t become just unproductive habits. Dancers have warm-up routines before taking the stage. A singer vocalizes before a performance. Athletes have rituals, too. Think of a golfer, getting ready, stepping up to the tee or batter to the plate. Each goes through a ritual and the swing follows. Why do I have rituals? (I mean besides keeping me from falling down the social media rabbit hole of FB, Instagram, Twitter, and email.) They act as warm-ups for the day or project and flip the creative switch to ON. Do they always work? No, just ask the golfer in the sand trap, but it’s good to have a familiar process to help face the blank page.

Nudging the Muse

Here's a ritual I've followed for a long time when sketching and painting on location. It’s a four-step process.
  1. Take a few minutes to look around the area, to walk around if possible.
  2. Focus and ask, “What jumps out at me?” “What’s the story of this place?”
  3. Scribble two or three quick thumbnails of step 2.
  4. Choose one of the thumbnails to be the basis of a larger sketch and begin.
Long Boat Key, thumbnails

Sometimes I don’t get to step 4. I don’t even think about it. The switch has
been flipped. The ritual has done its job. I’m lost in the process and enjoying the ride.

Long Boat Key, thumbnails


Research shows that performance and creative rituals have real benefits for those who practice them. They give us focus, create a positive mindset, and help win the procrastination war. If you don't have one give it a try. Do you remember something you did before a particularly fruitful creative session? That's a good place to start. It can be as simple as lighting a candle or listening to a particular piece of music.

In planning a creative ritual:
  1. Keep it simple and easy
  2. Make it unique to the action you want to trigger
  3. Use it. Repeated use reinforces the connection with your desired endeavor
  4. Enjoy the process

If you do have a creative habit that works for you, share it here! love reading about the creative habits of others. 

 Recommended Reads:

Anything by Danny Gregory           


  1. Great post as usual Barbara! One of my favorite creative rituals, because I work with markers, is to go through every single marker in my kit, my drawer and buckets and try them out to make sure that the ones I have in my possession still work and will work as expected when I go out on location. I often have to create graphic recordings of business meetings and, to me, there is no worse feeling than to find out that your favorite art tools fail you when you need them most.

  2. Another one I still do is to fill up pages and pages of circles, squares and triangles, trying out each pen, pencil and marker in my kit. This not only warms up my hand, it allows me to free up my mind and prepare for my more difficult sketching challenges of the day. Train rides and air flights are perfect for this activity.

  3. Thanks, Wes! I, too, have different rituals depending on the situation, one for on location sketching, another for starting the day in the studio etc. In her book, The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp says, "In order to be creative you have to know how to prepare to be creative."

  4. Good prompt for thought! I'm not sure I have any rituals as I'm always trying new things. Maybe my ritual is to mentally rehearse what I want to try (technique or material) before I set off.

    1. Thanks for sharing! I know athletes who mentally rehearse making plays etc. before a game. It's an important part of getting into game mode.