The Creative Life

Muse Flash: Be the Verb

Marriage is not a noun; it’s a verb. It isn’t something you get. It’s something you do. It’s the way you love your partner every day. Barbara De Angelis

I know. This is an art blog, not a relationship blog.

Or is it?

Recently we watched “Big Eyes” on Netflix, a movie based on a true story. The motivations of the two lead characters fascinated me. The wife, artist Margaret Keane, allowed her husband Walter Keane to claim her work as his.

I won’t go into a lot of detail about the story itself but at one point I turned to my husband and said, “He wants the title, not the work.”

Like a good marriage, you first fall in love with your creativity. But you can’t be passive about it if you want a long term relationship. You must commit and work at it. And some days? It ain’t easy.

But it’s always worth it.

So to paraphrase Barbara De Angelis – “Creativity isn’t a noun; it’s a verb. It isn’t something you get. It’s something you do. It’s the way you love your muse every day.”

If you agree, why not “be a verb” and share this. Thanks!

Big Magic
The Creative Life

Book Review – Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

Today, I welcome Elizabeth Cottrell to the blog. She is a writer and creative friend who generously offered to share her review of “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear”.

Redefining creativity

From the book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert:

Q: What is creativity?
A: The relationship between a human being and the mysteries of inspiration”

There are a few books in my life that I want to buy several copies and share with my dearest family and friends. Brené Brown’s books are among them, and Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert is another. I was surprised how much I enjoyed this, because I didn’t jump on the bandwagon for the author’s famous book Eat, Pray Love, which took the world by storm many years ago ( some loved it, some hated it). I have recently started following Elizabeth Gilbert again — she has grown up; she’s a marvelous and engaging writer with a wicked sense of humor; and she is motivating and inspiring. I follow her Facebook page and enjoy her posts.

Who is this book for?

As with most books, timing is everything, and while I could blithely say this book is for everyone, it is probably going to resonate with you more at certain times than others. However, Elizabeth Gilbert is not so timid in her introduction:

I happen to believe we are all walking repositories of buried treasure…The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.

The hunt to uncover those jewels—that’s creative living.

The courage to go on that hunt in the first place—that’s what separates a mundane existence from a more enchanted one.

The often surprising results of that hunt—that’s what I call Big Magic.

So right from the beginning, she throws down the gauntlet with that challenge…because who wants to live just a mundane existence, right? And who isn’t tantalized by a good treasure hunt? With those words, I was hooked and ready for the adventure.

Creativity Myths Busted

While this book flows well and is an easy read, it can also be put down and picked up without losing continuity. It’s like a necklace of jewels strung together, each beautiful or interesting itself, but even more lovely as a necklace.

Myth-busting is an entertaining and enlightening part of Big Magic. Gilbert takes on some of the myths about creativity that hold us back or paralyze us.

  • We have to kill off our fear of our creativity. No, she says. It’s too likely that when you kill off your fear, you kill off your creativity too. She advocates acknowledging and leaning into your fear. “The less I fight my fear, the less it fights back.”
  • Our worth is measured by our successes or failures. No, our worth is measured by our dedication to our path.
  • Your muse is yours alone. Gilbert believes inspiration is energy seeking a human partner to be made manifest. So if one human refuses to embrace and cultivate it, it will move on elsewhere. She shares a fascinating personal story to demonstrate this.
  • There are creative geniuses. She would say there are people who embrace genius.
  • True creatives must do something original. Gilbert says, “Most things have already been done—but they have not yet been done by you.”
  • True creatives must suffer and starve. “There is no dishonor in having a job.”

Question the common wisdom

One of Gilbert’s gifts is taking common/trite sayings and turning them on their ear. A good example of this is the question often asked by motivational types in an attempt to help their students identify their true calling: “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” Gilbert sees this differently and asks instead, “What would you do even if you knew that you might very well fail?” That’s a question to test your passion, for sure.

One of the reasons I particularly enjoyed this book is because of my own conflicted feelings about creativity and how narrowly I used to define it. I’ve written about it before (See “Are You An Artist?”), but for years, I was sure I wasn’t the least bit creative. I was a science major with no obvious aptitude for drawing, painting, or thinking up fiction plots. My only skills were all about logic, productivity, business, or common sense.

Or so I thought.

Several years ago, I had the startling revelation that creativity manifests itself in lots of different ways, including business, marketing, networking. When I have a blank piece of paper and colored markers in front of me, I may not want to make a picture, but what I DO want to put on the paper is WORDS. So now that I’ve embraced the notion I’m creative after all, I can’t get enough of reading about creativity. Gilbert’s words on the back of this book’s dust jacket are compelling:

Creativity is sacred, 
and it is not sacred.
What we make matters enormously,
and it doesn’t matter at all.
We toil alone, and we are
accompanied by spirits.
We are terrified, and we are brave.
Art is a crushing chore and
a wonderful privilege.
The work wants to be made, and
it wants to be made through you.

Elizabeth Gilbert, through Big Magic, made me want to say YES to the adventure of uncovering the hidden treasures within me. What books have you read that motivate and inspire you to live your most creative, wholehearted life?


Elizabeth Gilbert has been a finalist for the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the PEN/Hemingway Award. Her latest novel, The Signature of All Things, was named a best book of 2013 by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and O: The Oprah Magazine.


Elizabeth Cottrell, Big Magic reviewElizabeth Cottrell, author of this review, hales from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. She is a freelance writer and blogger at Heartspoken.com.

“I’ve been lots of things in my life—from farm girl to leprosy researcher; from wife and mother to bank board chairman—but at my core, I’m a connector and encourager whose artistic tools of choice are fountain pen and paper and whose deepest desire is to be a channel for God’s light and love as long as I’m able.”
The Sketchbook

From the Studio: My Comfort Zone Challenge

My comfort zone felt safe but it also kept me from growing.

Recently I tried something that wasn’t really new. Just something I left behind years ago – painting with acrylics but it definitely moved me beyond my current comfort zone. 

Everything old is new again

I used to teach decorative painting using acrylics. You’ve seen stuff like it on Pinterest, I’m sure, decorating tables and other furniture using fluid brush strokes and simulating 3D. I loved it and still have a few of my pieces decorating my home.

The problem was I travelled (a lot) on business, which meant airplanes and luggage. I didn’t quite trust packing acrylic paints in with my business clothes so I switched to watercolours. They seemed less risky and cleaning my brushes in a hotel sink was easy.

This meant learning a whole new way of painting because, if you use both acrylics and watercolors, you know they require slightly different techniques. So I made the decision to focus on the watercolours and abandon the acrylics. I didn’t have time or budget to learn and practice both mediums.

I never worked with acrylics again – until recently. 

Stretching the comfort zone

Frankly, I was a little concerned about trying them again, afraid I might find it confusing to switch back and forth. Plus I spent a lot of time and money bringing my watercolour skills up to snuff. Did I really want to start back at the beginning again?

(I think perfectionism might have been running that train of thought.)

Road Block, Acrylics
Road Block

But my comfort zone felt stale. I wanted something with a different energy and vibe and acrylics kept calling to me. So when I dropped off my paintings at Roundhill Studio for their Wee Art show, I noticed her flyer for an acrylic class. I threw caution to the wind and registered on the spot. (That way I wouldn’t change my mind.)

When I showed up for class, I was pleasantly surprised how my watercolour skills crossed over. The brush didn’t change, only the medium. (Duh.)

I felt so excited and pleased with the painting of sheep I created that day, I went back to my own studio and started pumping out acrylic paintings. I’ve done a number of them since that workshop a few weeks back. More importantly, I’m outside my comfort zone, having a lot of fun!

What I learned

The Flirt, acrylics
The Flirt

I still paint with watercolour but in a completely different style. They tend to be much more detailed while the acrylic paint brings out my loose and playful side. I find it easy to move back and forth between both mediums and styles, which surprised and excites me.

All this time I’ve hesitated only to discover that each one informs and enriches the other. I might never have know this if I had continued to shy away.

Sometimes we just have to get out of our own way and leave the safety of the comfort zone. When stopped listening to that story holding me back, I learned a little more about what I was capable of.

What’s something new you’d like to try? Have you stretched your comfort zone lately? Share what you found there in the comments. I’d love to hear from you. 

Express your heart
The Creative Life

Muse Flash: Intuition

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. — Steve Jobs

I used to read that quote and only see the part about time and not wasting it. I have an inner clock that just keeps on ticking, reminding me that time is a-wastin’.

It was only recently I really took note of that last sentence in the quote. The one about trusting my heart and intuition.

When I make art from my head it’s almost always about technique and marketability. When I trust my heart, the art speaks. Maybe not to everyone but the ones who do hear it? They’re my peeps.

Besides, even if it only ever speaks to me, that’s enough because in committing to a creative life, art starts with exploring the inner self.

This week, before you sit down to create, take a moment to get out of your head and connect to your heart.

What changes?

Yes or No
The Creative Life

Why we need the word No

“Say no to everything, so you can say yes to the one thing.” —Richie Norton

I was talking one day to a young mother, overwhelmed by her responsibilities and commitments. I started to suggest that saying ‘no’ to some of those demands might help but before I could finish, she abruptly cut me off.

“‘No’ is negative and I don’t want any negativity in my life.”

Wait a minute. No is a negative? Really?

The positive side of No

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the word ‘No’ possesses some very positive aspects, including protecting personal boundaries and preserving precious creative time. Without the option to say ‘no’, everyone else’s needs, wants and agendas supersede our own.

Creative passion takes a back seat. Every. Time.

Consider this about No

We  seem to have overlooked that it’s the intention behind our words that are positive or negative. Not the word itself.

Do you answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ without taking a moment to think about results? Operating on autopilot can certainly create negative consequences.

Are you saying ‘no’ because a request oversteps a boundary?

How about saying ‘no’ in order to say ‘yes’ to something else – like time in your studio? Creating balance and honouring your dreams is a huge positive, reducing stress.

Are you responding ‘yes’ to a request simply to please someone else? (Or perhaps to please your own ego?) Again, this so-called positive reply usually carries negative consequences, like filling your schedule with no time left for your creative activities.

There are plenty of other scenarios but the bottom line is this – when we make up the rule that we can’t say ‘no’ we remove the freedom of choice, one of the most valuable freedoms we possess. The extreme end of this spectrum looks like a Stepford Wife!

We need choices

What will you say ‘no’ to so you can say ‘YES’ to some creative time?