A friend asked me yesterday about ideas and creativity and basically how I sustain my work and keep coming up with ideas. She was really surprised when I said that I treat my work time like work, and when I sit down to work, I just work. She told me I was the only one she’s ever heard describe the creative process that way. She asked, “Don’t you sometimes just sit there and the ideas don’t come? Because that’s what it’s like a lot of the time, with writing.”

I told her I get ideas all the time; that’s what my sketchbooks are for — so when I sit down to work, I’m ready with all the ideas I want.

See these? (Note all the sticky notes marking pages…)

Some of my working sketchbooks... (Representing probably 20 years of work. Some artists use WAY more than this in that much time!)

Some of my working sketchbooks… (Representing probably 20 years of work. Some artists use WAY more than this in that much time!)

Honestly, ideas are a dime a dozen. I get ideas all the time — sometimes at the most inconvenient times! I keep a sketchbook with me (or a notebook, at least) so I’m ready when an idea comes. My husband will vouch for my jumping out of bed a half-hour after we turned the lights off now and then so I can jot an idea down that came to me as I was trying to go to sleep.

My sketchbooks are workbooks. Besides storing ideas in them, I use them to work through compositions for paintings and to practice drawing. So when I sit down to a canvas, I’ve already worked through the painting idea in multiple pages of sketchbooks. Hopefully, I’ve also done some detailed practice sketches and drawings of poses or objects that will appear on the canvas. I do a lot of the work before I go to the canvas, so by the time I’m actually painting, there’s no waiting for my creative muse to show up.

My muse is no rarefied deity descending when she pleases. She’s a secretary, who comes when she’s needed and helps get all the background work done, so when the paint’s against the wall, everything’s going as planned.

As a professional creative, you can’t wait for creativity to strike. You must actively create the conditions for you to do your best work.

That’s what I do, anyway.