An Artist’s 7 Secrets to Stimulate Creativity

by equusnyder

“My mom was cool!” announced my brother to a group of a hundred who’d gathered to celebrate her life. Indeed she was. To say she was creative is like saying the Hope Diamond is shiny.

For example, I grew up in a sheep barn. (Yes, I’ve heard all the jokes.) She was the mastermind behind renovating a 100-year-old sheep barn on the family homestead into a 3-story work of art. She drew the floorplans, threw the moldy hay out of the loft, cleaned out the pigeon poop,

Handmade loomed sheep

“Louie” the sheep traveled with Mom and Dad as they moved from home to home. While living in the sheep barn, Mom made the frame, loomed the wool body, sewed the legs and head, and did the original embroidery on the face. Unfortunately, his face deteriorated and had to be replaced.

laid the tile, slate, and wood floors, designed the door to the secret staircase, laid the stone in the fireplace, painted, did all the interior decorating, etc. all while working as a marketing manager for a plastics company.

But it doesn’t end there. She was a master at cooking, drawing, painting, sculpture, wood carving, gardening, and landscaping.

However, to Mom, her own creativity was not nearly as important as cultivating creativity in others. As a child, I enjoyed coloring books, but more often, she would give me a blank sheet of paper (or two, or ten) and encourage me to create my own coloring book. To get me started, she would put four or five random dots on my page. That was the beginning of my masterpiece.

Wendy Severson Art

Artwork in multiple medium. By Wendy Severson. Copyright 2015. All rights reserved.

She inspired many who knew her. Here are seven tricks she used to foster her own creativity and encourage it in others.

Carved wooden Noah's Ark

Mom carved and painted this wooden ark, animals two-by-two, for her mother. By Wendy Severson.

1. Make a list.

Sometimes you just need a data dump. If you can clear your mind of clutter it makes way for creativity. In addition, seeing text (or images) on paper sometimes spurs a related thought or enables you to tie thoughts together.

2. Put down the computer and pick up a pen.

…when writers were using word processing alone, there was significantly less planning, significantly less planning before beginning to write, significantly less conceptual or high-level planning, and significantly more local or sequential planning than when they were using pen and paper.Christina Haas (1989) at Carnegie-Mellon University writes:

Does this mean more creativity? Many writers think so. Try it yourself and see what you think.

Wendy Severson pen and ink

A pen and ink book illustration by Wendy Severson. Copyright 2015. All rights reserved.

3. Draw it.

Sometimes sketching out thoughts can generate ideas that words can’t. In fact, in Human Brain Mapping (2007) Harrington et al write, “The comparison of drawing vs. writing revealed significant differences between the conditions in areas of the brain known for language processing.” After all, a picture is worth a thousand words.

4. Discuss it.

When I’m stuck, sometimes just saying it out loud to a listening ear is enough to straighten out the battles in my head. A creative partner can also help extract ideas with simple questions.

These hand-painted eggs are the story of our lives - a new one each Easter capturing a moment of the year. By Wendy Severson.

These hand-painted eggs are the story of our lives – a new one each Easter capturing a moment of the year. By Wendy Severson.

My husband writes a regular column in a trade publication. On occasion, he gets hung up on an idea and says, I just can’t get this on paper. I ask, “What do you want to say?” When he tells me I say, “Well, there you go. Now write that down.” Often, it prompts other ideas that may be better or clearer or set aside for use another day.

5. Sleep on it.

For years I kept a journal next to my bed. I find in the twilight of going to sleep or in the fuzzy state of waking I get some incredible thoughts. Often that’s where a blog post starts for me.

Victorian oil painting

This oil painting became the tile back-splash in her remodeled Victorian Painted Lady. By Wendy Severson. Copyright 2015. All rights reserved.

I need to bring the journal back next to my bed because now, when I’m struck with an idea, I launch out of bed to get to my computer before I lose the thought – which usually results in staying awake for a few more hours. Of course, the next morning it’s easier to read what I wrote on the computer than my hieroglyphics I scrawl out in the dark.

6. Turn it upside down.

Several years ago I took a drawing class based on the book The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain (Edwards, 1999). One of the exercises involved redrawing a picture that was turned upside down.

Wendy Severson pen and ink illustration

Another pen and ink book illustration by Wendy Severson. Copyright 2015. All rights reserved.

It helped me see the picture, not as the object, but as lines, shading, and color. The world looks different upside down. If you don’t believe me hang your head over the edge of your bed. It will give you a new perspective.

7. Don’t think about how it can’t be done – think about how it CAN be done.

Sometimes when we’re narrowing in on our creative success we hit a roadblock. That obstacle (sometimes a person) can bring us to a screeching halt, but it doesn’t have to. We need to just look beyond the obstacle to find a new means to the end. Mom taught me that what seems like failure doesn’t mean an overall idea is wrong, it just means I need to go at it from a different direction.

Mom wrote several yet to be published children's books. By Wendy Severson. Copyright 2015. All rights reserved.

Mom wrote several yet to be published children’s books. By Wendy Severson. Copyright 2015. All rights reserved.

My mom WAS cool. And inspiring. The lens through which I peer are a mix of her creativity, eclecticism, and ingenuity. Can you open your mind and be as cool as my mom?

Pen and ink calendar

A calendar for her shop in Albert Lea, MN. By Wendy Severson. Copyright 2015. All rights reserved.

Wendy Severson Cat WoodcarvingReferences:

Edwards, B. (1999). The new drawing on the right side of the brain. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam.

Haas, C. (May 1989). How the writing medium shapes the writing process: Effects of word processing on planning. Research in the Teaching of English, 23(2), pp. 181-207. Retrieved from

Harrington, G.S., Farias, D., Davis, C.H., Buonocore, M.H. (May 2007). Comparison of the neural basis for imagined writing and drawing. Human Braining Mapping, 28(5), pp. 450-459. Retrieved from