How To Live Like An Artist


I decided to go with another quote I love from Austin Kleon. I love this quote, and I think it beautifully sums up what it means to be human, what it means to be a unique individual among billions of the same species, and why there can never be two of the same exact person (genetics aside). You can come kinda sorta close, finding people with whom you connect on a multitude of levels, or you might have a LOT in common (sometimes so much it's a little creepy), but you'll never find anyone that is EXACTLY like you. That's what makes each and every person so awesome. You included. Think about it, there has never been, nor will ever be, anyone on this planet who is the same as you. I'll let that sink in for a moment. 

If you've been following me on my Facebook page, this past week I shared a few needle felting artists I find inspiring. I'm in the middle of working on a few projects which I can't share publicly just yet (though I cheated and shared one on IG since I don't have a huge following on there), so I thought I'd share some of the artists I like. My art teacher Marilyn Weinman gave me some great parting advice as I was getting ready to head off to college: Collect all the things that inspire you. This is why, as an artist, you cannot just shut out the world (even if there are times I wish I could). You risk your work becoming stagnant. You run out of inspiration. Nothing is original, everything is a mash up of things that we've collected, our experiences, our influences. We take it all in and digest it and work on it and rework it and make all these connections in our heads, then figure out a way to express what it is we're thinking, feeling, experiencing. Enough blabbering on, here are my tips on how to live like an artist (these are things that I do - I'm sure other artists have things they would add or take away from this list).

Go Out Into The World and Collect Things That Inspire You

Grab a sketchbook, small binder, notebook, folders (I used the construction books often used in school for some of my first inspiration books), pens/pencils, glue, scissors. Then grab photos, cool magazines, even junk mail that's visually interesting, cut out the things that you love and glue them all in. Go out and look for these things. Check out the magazine rack at a bookstore. Look for hidden treasures. My art teacher used to joke that her husband complained about her collecting habits, especially when they went on walks and she would look through other people's trash for still life subject matter. If still life's your thing but you're a bit self-conscious about trash-picking, you can also go check out the thrift store (just remember to be picky, don't fill your cart with junk or soon you'll be on the next episode of hoarders). Grab your camera or your phone and take pictures! Cracks on the ground, in the walls. Check out cool rock formations. Graffiti. Murals. Nature overcoming man-made obstacles. Mosaics. Shadows. Everything. (Even those cool thrift store finds - it'll help keep you from spending money.)

Always Carry A Notebook/Sketchbook

You don't have to stick to just one inspiration book. I like to keep the little pocket moleskine books on me at all times. I have one in my purse, diaper bag, car. Jot down thoughts, experiences, things people said, things to research, songs you hear on the radio (if you're in the car, please wait til you stop driving to write it down). If you keep a bullet journal you can use that for this purpose, which is another thing I do. I still keep the other little notebooks around just in case I don't have my journal with me.

Keep An Art Journal

An art journal is like a cross between a diary and a sketchbook where you work out your ideas. Though, honestly, it can be anything you want it to be. Embellish it as little or as much as you want. Sketch, paint, layer, stamp, add stickers, anything to make it personal. It can be filled with inspirational quotes, or to work out your deepest darkest emotions. You can have several going on at one time, one for more personal stuff, and one for more inspirational stuff. One of my favorite art journal artists is Tamara Laporte of Willowing Arts - if you love whimsical things and want to give it a try, she holds a year long Life Book course with weekly classes that you can complete at your leisure (some of which are led by fellow artists). There may be a few freebies on her site if you want to give it a shot. I started following her years ago when she just did YouTube videos of her art journals, and her work (and business) has really come a long way! Another great site for mini-courses, tips, tricks and support is the ArtJournaling community on Ning. Best thing about art journals is that they are not about perfection. In fact, nobody ever has to see them but you. They can be incredibly intimate. I choose to share mine with you (the quotes every Sunday are from my inspirational art journal), even if it's not what I'd consider my best work, like today. I was experimenting with a few things, trying to step out of my comfort zone, like using a reddish background instead of going for my typical cooler hues, and the monochrome portrait in the corner using just white to paint the highlights instead of a painting more detailed face. I use it to practice hand lettering with a brush. 

Hang An Inspiration Board

I have a big bulletin board hanging over my desk with a mishmash of things from my life: the license plate from my first car that I purchased on my own (I forgot to send it back in, oops), swatches from Spoonflower for when I start designing fabric prints, Japanese paper dolls from when a friend visited Japan, the coat of arms from the town where my mother was born and raised, a photo from the Rockies that won an award at a county fair when I was in high school, an index card hand lettered with the quote "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent" by Elanor Roosevelt, art dolls from an exchange, a charm from India (from another friend), swtches from Living Felt and a few other things I find inspiring. It's a visual reminder of where I come from, of my friends and their world travels, things that I find visually appealing and things I need to reference to do my work.

Surround Yourself With Art 

Don't just stick to an inspiration board. As Marie Kondo puts it, surround yourself with things that spark joy (no, her book isn't just about decluttering and getting rid of stuff, it's about turning your whole space into a personal sanctuary). So don't hoard stuff for the sake of hoarding, but find things that inspire you, make you happy, and find a place for them in your home. It's a balance. One of my goals in life is to surround myself with art, especially functional art (and DIY as much of it as possible). Oh, and don't forget to get rid of the stuff that isn't inspiring and just taking up space.

Utilize Pinterest

Pinterest isn't just for saving DIY projects, wish lists or articles you want to read/reread. I have several inspiration boards on mine, separated by subject, including art inspiration, felting projects, weaving, sewing, gardening, etc. You can look at other people's pins, but don't forget to pin things you find online that inspire you! Did you know you can pin videos as well? 

Create Inspiring Music Playlists

If you're like me and love listening to music, especially while you work, make playlists for music that is inspiring. Many artists enjoy a variety of music while they work, and not necessarily the same stuff they listen to during the other parts of their day. I've had a Spotify membership for quite a number of years at this point, since before it was available in the US (my brother was at the London College of Fashion in UK at the time, so he set one up for me and would log in every two weeks to keep the account working). I've recently discovered their public playlists, and especially enjoy listening to both Peaceful Piano and Creativity Boost.

Shop At Thrift Stores

I mentioned this earlier for collecting inspirational art objects, but this isn't just about frugality. At the risk of sounding like a hipster (meaning the stereotype, not hating on hipsters here), the biggest reason I love thrift stores, other than the cheap price tags, is finding some cool threads that are unique. It's especially helpful if you're crafty and know your way around a needle and thread. Look up tips on upcycling clothes to add a personal touch. Thanks to the cheap price tag, you won't cringe at the thought of cutting it up to try and make something new. This adds to the whole "joy sparking" thing.

DIY As Much As Possible

Creativity isn't a switch that you can just turn it off and on as needed. It's more like a muscle that needs constant exercise. So when you're not working on an art project, find other creative things to do. Check out Pinterest for ideas to get you started, but pretty soon you'll find you're coming up with ideas all on your own.


Anything you read will add to your knowledge and experiences. Read inspiring blogs, art books, graphic novels, etc. For me the more visually interesting the better. I've actually found great inspiration from reading children's books - there are some really awesome illustrators out there! I love works by Edward Gorey and Neil Gaiman (especially the Sandman books). For creative inspiration, I enjoy Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon and Inspiration Sandwich by Sark (though I find anything by her is inspiring). Also, learn about other artists, what they do, how they work, learn their techniques. Don't plagiarize, internalize them and use them to do your thing. The Art Documentaries channel on YouTube has lots of great videos on this topic.

Surround Yourself With Inspiring People

Like the quote says, "You are the sum of your influences." That includes people. If you need a creativity boost, it helps to surround yourself with creative people. Join communities of like-minded people. Make friends with people who enjoy working with the same medium as you. Try your hand at artist trading cards, and join some swaps on ATCsforall (I have a binder filled with cards I've received from people all over the world that I love to flip through from time to time). People say the art world is competitive, and while I'm sure there are a few out there who like to keep to themselves and don't want to share their knowledge, I've actually found the opposite to be true. I have made many friends in the creative world, and we often like to chat and share trade secrets. I've never turned away anyone who's asked me for help or for ideas on how to do something. After all, two people cannot create exactly the same thing. The art masters were often trained under someone else, and they often became mentors to students. I often say we all start at the beginning. At the same time, don't forget the old adage "garbage in, garbage out" - so if you're in constant contact with people who criticize you or bring you down, try to reduce contact as much as possible. While being around difficult people can help you learn more about yourself, at the same time they can really hinder your work and your creativity. Your inner critic is bad enough, am I right?

Ultimately, I'll leave you with this. Artists are true to themselves, regardless of what anyone else thinks. They are driven to do what makes them happy, to create, to express themselves. If you do that, you're already well on your way to living like an artist - these are just tips on boosting your creativity ;) If you're a fellow artist, did I get it all? Do you have any additional helpful tips you'd like to share?