Permission to Play: Rediscovering Your Creative Spark - A Guide for Picture Book Illustrators

If you are feeling like you are stuck in a creative rut, then this is for you. We’ve all been there, haven’t we? The blank page staring back at us, the once-overflowing well of inspiration and ideas has run dry. 

How do I get through this you ask? 

Today we’re going to give ourselves the much-needed permission to play and reignite that artistic spark!

Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” talks about how the first step towards overcoming this block is to understand that it’s okay to feel this way. Yes, you heard me right—give yourself permission to feel stuck and know that it’s just a phase in your creative journey. Acknowledging that creativity has its ebbs and flows. So, if you’re feeling stuck, remember, it’s not a permanent state; it’s just a chapter in your creative story. Embrace it, learn from it, and trust that the tide will turn.

Now, let’s take a page out of Austin Kleon's “Steal Like an Artist” playbook. When you’re feeling creatively stagnant, don’t be afraid to borrow from others’ creativity. This doesn’t mean copying someone’s work; it means allowing yourself to be inspired by the artistry of others. Explore different styles, techniques, and themes. Immerse yourself in picture books, art galleries, and online illustration communities. Let the works of other illustrators spark your own ideas and make them uniquely yours.

Remember, it’s not about finding a carbon copy of someone else’s style, but rather about finding fresh perspectives and incorporating them into your own artistic voice. It’s the magic of creative cross-pollination!

Speaking of magic, Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic” teaches us to embrace creativity without fear. Fear is the ultimate creativity killer—it holds us back and locks our ideas away in a mental vault. But we’re going to break that lock and set our ideas free! How, you ask? By giving ourselves permission to play without judgment.

Try this exercise: Set aside a dedicated “playtime” each day. Grab a sketchbook and some colored pencils, paint, whatever you have on hand, and let your hand wander across the paper without any preconceived notions. Scribble, doodle, and draw whatever comes to mind. And if you can’t think of anything, get lost in the mark-making process. Think contrast—big, small; straight, swirly; up, down; dots, lines; press hard, press light… you see where I’m going. Don’t worry about perfection; this is your playground!

Approach your illustrations with a child-like curiosity, free from expectations. Remember how you used to draw as a child, where everything was pure fun and joy? And if you can’t remember that far back, think of what your children painted when they were young. Reconnect with that childlike wonder—the foundation of all creativity.

Another powerful tool from “Big Magic” is to make peace with your fears. Acknowledge that they exist, but don’t let them dictate your creative process. Give yourself permission to experiment and make mistakes, for it is through these playful experiments that new ideas are born.

And let’s not forget the value of collaboration. Reach out to fellow illustrators, authors, and creatives in your community or online. Engaging in collaborative projects can breathe fresh life into your work and inspire you in unexpected ways.

Above all, remember that this journey is yours and yours alone. There’s no right or wrong way to kick-start your illustration journey and bring a new sense of wonder and excitement back into the mix. So, give yourself permission to be authentic, vulnerable, and most importantly, to play.

Before we wrap up, a quick summary of things that you can do NOW to help you get unstuck:

  • Embrace the creative rut; it’s just a phase.
  • Be inspired by the works of others, but always find your unique voice.
  • Create a daily playtime to explore without judgment.
  • Reconnect with your inner child and approach illustrations with wonder.
  • Make peace with your fears and experiment fearlessly.
  • Collaborate with fellow creatives to gain fresh perspectives.

So, my friend, let’s give ourselves the ultimate gift—the permission to play, create, and grow. Here’s to childlike curiosity and play,

PS – If you know you have something special to offer the world of picture books and all you need is a supportive community and a guiding hand to help you bring your vision to life, make sure to join my Treehouse Membership waiting list. Doors are open September 1st, then closed until April 2024.

Books that I referred to in this blog;

  • Julia Cameron’s “The Artist's Way”
  • Austin Kleon’s “Steal Like an Artist”
  • Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic”

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