There are a lot of books on creativity that combine art-making exercises with encouragement. (OK, so I wrote one of them.) All the more reason to love a new book that is wonderful, tempting, helpful and encouraging. When it turns out to do what it promises–help you become creatively stronger, more sure or your creativity, and more curious about the world around you–it’s a keeper. One you will want to read quickly, just to enjoy, then read more slowly to work through and use regularly.
Creative Strength Training: Prompts, Exercises and Personal Stories for Encouraging Artistic Genius by Jane Dunnewold is just that book. You will find yourself nodding your head in recognition. You might doubt that you can be creative, but Dunnewold encourages you to practice. That’s the secret here. Practice. Not sitting down to make something you can give away. Not using your creativity to teach, sell, and make perfect gifts–at least not as a starting point. But building creative stamina by practicing the creative work you love.
OK, I will be brutally truthful. By the time I landed on page 10 and saw the headline, “Writing As An Assist To Making,” I was hooked. Dunnewold calls writing (whether in a journal or keeping lists) “cross-training” to creativity. Taking notes about your art helps you know what to do next, what you like about it. Writing notes helps you get jump-started into new work or to continue deeper into your older work.
There are encouraging exercises all along the way. And options to those exercises. There are prompts for people who need to answer questions and prompts for those of us who need a small push till we start moving along on our own, picking up speed and confidence.
And sad but true, you could also be someone who’s been sailing right along on a glossy sea of great ideas, but one morning you wake up, the tide’s gone out and every worthy idea has gone with it. You’re stranded. That’s where a different kind of idea is valuable. –from page 11 of Creative Strength Training.
One of the joys of this book (for me, and I’m pretty sure for you) is the way Donnewold tests out her assumptions.
She gives her prompts, ideas, suggestions to different artists to try out. At the end of every chapter are the artists’ responses–each totally different and completely believable. Thirty-three different artists test her ideas, and you can enjoy the photographs, work, process, and thoughts of each artist, in detail.
This is a book that celebrates free-form thinking, for both rule-following and rule-breaking, and follows it up with proof that both work. You will find your head nodding in agreement–this has happened to me, this is where I have been stuck, I want to try this exercise just to see what happens when I try it. And when you do the exercise, you will grow stronger creatively.
The book encourages all creative souls–you’ll find fabric exercises and one for Notan lovers. Interested in chakras and their meaning? Page 34 is for you. Of course, you’ll be exploring your inner critic (which is called The Committee in Dunnewold’s book) and dealing with the problem The Committee unpacks in your studio.
Time passes. Thoughts ripen. While I’m convinced that working big or working obsessively builds an audience, consider this: Formula rarely works for long.–from page 60 of Creative Strength Training.
The book is realistic, not relentlessly cheerful. There is a whole chapter on The Power of Limitations, with an interesting exercise that shows that limits help you think more clearly. There is another chapter addressing the big artist dilemma of Learning to Make and Take Time.
The book is beautifully illustrated with inspirational photographs as well as art work in progress. There are also quotes, poems, and tips in boxes labeled “Check it Out.”
Here’s a small personal story about this book: The Cadence Group asked me to review the book and sent me the book for free. It’s my habit to give the book away. (This one, too. See below.) I thought the book sounded familiar, but I didn’t know The Cadence Group, so I assumed I was wrong.
When the book arrived, I recognized North Light, the publisher (and the one who published my two books on journaling). Even better, I knew why the book sounded familiar: Tonia Jenny, the talented editor and my friend, had edited the book.
I told Tonia how much I loved the book and hated giving it away, and she generously offered to contribute the book to the winner. That’s how creativity works–it grows as it gets passed along.
No artists’ studio should have a blank space in the bookcase that this book fits right into.
Number of pages: 144
Number of Chapters: 10
Number of Contributors: 33, from the U.S., Canada, England, and Australia, including Kathryn Belzer, Kerri Boase-Jelinek, Adrienne Buffington, Jeanette Davis, Pippa Drew, Clairan Ferrono, Ali George, and Chris Rodriques.
- Defining Creative Stamina
- Overcoming Stumbling Blocks, Parts I and II
- The Power of Limitations
- Learning to Make and Take Time
- What Does Alignment Look Like to You
- Making Work Distinctively Your Own
- Each of Us is Fascinating, Parts I and II
- Discovering Grace Through Acts of Making
The Giveaway Leave a note in the comments for this blog post (please, no emails) that you want to be included in the drawing. On Friday, October 28 (2016, my blogs don’t get scrapped), I will announce the winner in a blog post. The drawing is random. No test is required, just enthusiasm. Good luck!
Added on October 28, 2016: Congratulations to Mary at StickWithMary.com! She’s the winner of the book. My thanks to all of you who participated. Jane is all smiles, too!
—Quinn McDonald is a writer, creativity coach and collage artist, who combines words and papers in her art.