I’ve selected my top 6 books on creativity that I would recommend you to try!
I regularly get asked which books I turn to when it comes to sparking my own creativity.
Just as we learn academically, so too, do we need to flex our creative muscle and nurture the artist within us.
I love to read. A lot. And I love to draw and keep a sketchbook!
As many of you know I start each and every course I run with the belief system that the success of our creative potential rests on three core areas. Mindset. Motivation. Methodology. These three core areas have become my personal quest to understand how we might best incorporate them into a daily creative practice. I believe the three need to work together.
When I re-embarked on my own personal creative journey it was from a deeply troubled place.
Creativity to me was, initially, curative. I love this quote.
“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”
Can you relate? From a curative state I progressed quickly into a curious one. I wanted to learn “why creativity wags and what wags it.” More importantly I was intrigued as to my own personal journey of empowerment. To focus on learning all you can shifts your mind away from focusing on your depression, or judging how good you feel you are or…you fill in your creative angst blank… It detracts from our obsession with perfectionism thereby disempowering our procrastination. (Yes..the two are linked and you can read more about my thoughts on procrastination here!)
In short, getting curious propels you to want to learn. What if I got really good at drawing? What if there is no such thing as making mistakes? What if anyone and everyone can learn to draw?
The book list I have compiled consists of books pertinent to my own personal journey and ones which I think are relevant to the tone of this blog post. They are practical calls to action in themselves often providing templates and frameworks for people to work through in a bid to encourage you to be more creative and confident. I have lots more.
All the books I enjoy reading are always calls to action. They require a response to what they ask you to do. The below make no exception to this rule!
Table of Contents
The Artists Way. Julia Cameron. Penguin Random House
A cult classic. I have implemented this book into my creative practice. 12 weeks of exploring the hidden artist and delving through a variety of step by step exercises to support you unpick how you have found yourself in the position you have with your creativity. This book is a practical partner to books such as “Big Magic: How to Live a Creative Life and Let go Of Your Fear” by Elizabeth Gilbert.As a result of texts such as these I keep a set of morning pages – (writing my subconscious down first thing for a minimum of 3 pages) “The bedrock tool of a creative recovery is the daily practice of morning pages.” I have even been known to draw my morning pages as part of a daily journal practice.
The companion book once you have completed the Artists Way is Walking in This World. Penguin Random House.
Find Your Artistic Voice. Lisa Congdon. Chronicle Books.
This book is like a breath of fresh air blowing away the preconceived ideas we might hold about what constitutes creativity. It also points out some practical steps you can take to deepen your creative relationship. It tackles issues such as how we define our own personal creative voice. How to gather inspiration and be influenced in a healthy and creative way to motivate us. Plus, no getting away from the focus of practice and rolling up your sleeves.
The Power of Now. Eckhart Tolle
I read this book earlier this year and am currently re-reading it. A challenging read but a great one nonetheless that contributes to our mindset attitudes.
So many of the conversations I have with people focus on the negative experiences they have had in the past when it comes to affirming their creativity. Without us really realising it, one of the greatest mindset challenges is the fear of failure or not being good enough. All of our fears and misconceptions relate to things that have not happened yet in the future. Our baggage from the past, and fear of the future prevents us from living in our best “now.”The mindset challenge I constantly teach is to focus more on the process – where you are currently at, then at the future.
Learning to embrace the now is powerful. Focusing our emotional energy on the now supports us become more productive and accepting of our ability to make change.
Grit. Why Passion and Resilience Are The Secrets To Success. Angela Duckworth.
Do you ever hear yourself saying to yourself “I’m just not talented at this?” I’m abandoning this because I’m no good? Well, this book might be one for you to read through.
I have found myself questioning what has talent got to do with whether or not you are creative? Duckworth proves time and time again that it is resilience and grit, the determination and interest to want to succeed that sets the great leader of our time apart from others. They were not necessarily ever defined as talented at the thing they ultimately ended up doing! It was their unrelenting determination to succeed that enabled them to find a way.
I personally think we are too quick to dismiss our creativity as something we are either born to do or not. Unfortunately our culture is rigged that way too, all the way through our education system!
I want to say to you that it is enough to simply want to create. The will to want to do something is enough of a reason to simply start. You then use whatever tools and resources as well as practice and determination to carve out a way to success. Again, focus on the process and not the outcome! Duckworth’s book expands on the process to adopt in whichever determined quest of a journey you find yourselves on.
Leonardo Da Vinci. The Biography. Walter Isaacson.
You may find yourself wanting to interchange this book for one of your own choosing. Find an artist that appeals to you and go research them inside and out. You’ll be surprised how enlightening and uplifting this exercise will be.
I was first drawn to Leonardo via his sketchbooks. He may seem a little bit of a cliche but once you start delving into the life of this extraordinary character there is much to be said about his relatability. A known depressive, vegetarian, procrastinator who did not complete works of art consistently, profoundly creative but vain and diffuse in his prodigious creativity, we often forget that we read about him hundreds of years on as opposed to understanding the day to day reality in which the artist lived. I wonder what he would have made of what he eventually became across history.
This biography is meticulously written and researched with immense attention to detail. I agree with the Sunday Times that Isaacson has produced “an accomplished biography” of the artist. It was unputdownable.
I love to read about the biographical lives of great artists. We have idolised them for too long.
Within your chosen book collection exploring the domesticity and life of an artist brings great context to their work.
The Secret Lives of Colour. Kassia St Clair.
Colour is synonymous with creativity. I have been surprised at how often I reach for this book next to me. I believe that colour is one of those things you will always be curious or baffled about. It is the area of my creative life that I believe I will continue to keep learning about.
This book is akin to a fairytale story on how colour came to be and heads off in fantastic tangents of all we associate to the subject of colour. When I gaze upon my rows of bejewelled watercolour pots in my paint tin I can only imagine the potential of colours I will create.
Call me sentimental but loading colour with the historic meaning and allusion of how colour came to be is strangely motivational and has the ability to bring added depth to the work you produce. Added to this, gazing upon work of particular colour also imbibes it with meaning we perhaps wouldn’t otherwise be aware of.
The colour yellow for example, often associated with positivity in our day and age, has evolved across history as the polar opposite. St Clair goes on to expound how the colour yellow was synonymous with “yellow backed books” of “nineteenth century sensationalist literature.” It came to represent a “rejection of repressed Victorian values” by artists such as Van Gogh, whereas in India the colour symbolises peace and knowledge, cited by Goswamy as the “rich luminous colour (that) holds things together lifts the spirit and raises vision.
So the book rolls through a rainbow of colours. Dip into this book at will and find yourself absorbing colour knowledge!
Concluding (or ongoing) thoughts
At the risk of sounding too Arthurian or mythical, I am a firm believer that we MUST nurture and steer our creative practice. Whether you love to draw, fill sketchbooks, doodle or paint, start to ask questions and get curious about where you stand on your journey. Seek out the narrative texts that will support you at different parts of your journey. It could be the weekend supplements, local gallery reviews or chunky evening reads that you process in your down time. Learning from those that have gone before us and done a great (but flawed) job of it to pave the way for what we might ourselves discover is a great way to learn about our own creativity.
My top tip for you all, especially those of you curious to pursue an understanding of what can fuel and inspire you to be more creative is to start your own personal library. I will be sharing more of my monthly reads in the pages of this blog. My own personal library has expanded to over 100 books on the subject of creativity and art in the last year or so. All of which are starting to define my creative and artistic style.
In the words of Lisa Congdon “finding your creative voice is like uncovering your own superpower….having your own voice is the holy grail.” You must do all you can to find the resources to discover what your journey looks like to uncover that holy grail.”
Everything you read or come across should be feeding your super power further!