Famed French composer Erik Satie woke up every morning at precisely 7:18 AM and ate lunch at 12:11. Novelist Honoré de Balzac is said to have drank 50 cups of coffee a day. Artist Georgia O’Keeffe created a mobile studio in the back of her Ford. “Creativity is a habit,” American choreographer Twyla Tharp famously wrote. “And the best creativity is the result of good work habits.”
Our habits help define who were are, but for creative people, the right routine can be something more: a source of inspiration and motivation. We spoke with ten artists and writers about the quick and easy habits they keep on a daily basis. Below, they outline eleven tips for structuring a productive day–without those 50 cups of coffee.
They have coffee al fresco.
It might sound small, but several of the artists we interviewed mentioned taking time for a relaxed morning. Adrienne Pitts, a travel photographer based in London, is one of them. “Heading to a local cafe, sitting down, and having a coffee in the morning does wonders for me,” she tells us.
“I’m surrounded by people and can watch these little vignettes unfold around me. It’s nice to have that time to recharge. When I am shooting, I work busy, sometimes 12-hour days, so those quiet mornings get me in the right frame of mind.”
They take long walks with the dog.
“My day always begins with a long dog walk,” Kinderhook, NY-based illustrator Chuck Groenink tells us. “It functions as my version of a commute, and it separates my day at home from my working day.
“It’s also a way to physically wake up before I drag my body in front of the screen/paper on my desk. Most importantly, it’s an hour to let my imagination run free or ponder a particular challenge with a piece. It gets me in my studio every day feeling creatively fresh.”
They spend time in nature…
“I live on the beautiful Lac Leman, nestled between the Jura Mountains and the Alps,” aerial photographer Magali Chesnel explains. “Nature is a source of happiness and inspiration, and photographing outdoors is extremely therapeutic and relaxing. When I walk my beloved dog Anubis, I let my instincts guide the way. Exploring new places pushes me outside my comfort zone.”
… Even if it’s just in their own backyard.
“Time with nature usually does not mean a hike up a mountain,” Brooklyn-based illustrator Brendan Wenzel explains. “A few breaks throughout the day to stare at the bird feeder or yank a few weeds out of the garden tend to recharge my batteries very effectively.” Research suggests that a visit to a local park can be enough to soothe the mind, alleviate stress, and inspire creative thinking.
They head to the library.
“I am most creative when I work at the library,” children’s book author Salina Yoon says. “Even though I have a home studio and a separate reading room, I like getting out of the house, packing up my bag, and heading to the library. This is where I can focus without the distractions of house chores and the lure of social media. I limit internet use when I’m at the library, so I spend most of my time reading books and getting work done.”
They create a routine.
Come up with a specific thing to do at a certain time each and every day. It doesn’t have to be related to your work. Any easy task can work as a daily reminder to stay inspired. Illustrator and painter Andrea Ipaktchi has one that’s particularly unique.
“Each time I enter my art studio, I turn on the teakettle, light a candle, and lay down twenty peanuts on my windowsill,” she says. “Last month, a blue-eyed, blond crow began to sit on my window sill and stare at me every day, starting at 1:30 PM.
“I think of him as a benevolent spirit who is there to help me in my creative pursuits just when I am feeling a lag. On the other hand, it could be that he’s just in it for the peanuts. In any case, laying out those peanuts has become a part of my practice. The repetition helps me to transition into a creative mode.”
They play an instrument…
Even though we only spoke with visual artists, a number of them emphasized the role of music in their lives. “Music plays a big role in my creativity and keeps me in the right mindset to draw,” illustrator Esther Garcia tells us. “I try to play the piano whenever I feel stuck or I have been working too long on a project, even if it’s only for five minutes.”
… Or listen to music.
“I start some days by picking an album to play on my turntable,” graphic novelist Matt Phelan explains. “There’s something about listening to the whole album in sequence–and getting up to flip it to side B–that centers me. Now that I think about it, I realize that maybe I should do that every day!”
They subscribe to podcasts.
“I have recently started listening to podcasts,” Phelan adds. “I specifically choose ones that interview creative people, like Marc Maron’s WTF, The Art of Process with Aimee Mann and Ted Leo, and Rhett Miller’s Wheels Off. Hearing people talk about their work and process tends to energize me creatively. More importantly, it reminds me of how fortunate I am to be able to do what I love for a living.”
They attend lectures.
Jessie Hartland is an artist, illustrator, and writer based in New York. During her downtime, you can find her at concerts and lectures around the city. It’s not necessarily the event itself that inspires her so much as the process of getting out in the world. “Some of the lectures are boring, some not,” she admits. “I sketch and daydream while there. It’s like being back in school and doodling.”
They exercise at night.
A number of the artists we spoke to squeeze in their exercise routine in the morning, but illustrator Dream Chen has a more unconventional approach. “I am a night runner, especially after a whole day at work spent facing the computer and drawing,” she tells us. “It is quite soothing, and I don’t get hot because the night breeze cools me down. It’s a good way to refresh your mind and get ready for the work you have to do the next day.”
Looking to start a daily creative habit of your own? Check out Skillshare’s class on drawing your day and the dozens of others that will help you unlock your creativity.
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