8 Ideas to Kick-Start Creativity in the New Year

8 Ideas to Kick-Start Creativity in the New Year | TinkerLab.com

Creative New Year’s Resolutions

As a maker, tinkerer, writer, and designer, every January my brain goes into creative mode with the question, how can I kick-start creativity in the new year? Because I know that I’m not alone in this quest, I dug through my notes and archives to raise eight ideas that can help add some creative flair to life.

Whether you’re already a die-hard artist or a dabbler who could use a little boost, these ideas should present a bit of inspiration for us all (me included!).

1. Start a Sketchbook

Since I’m a super visual person, a sketchbook is my go-to spot for recording ideas. If you like to set up daily rituals for yourself, try to set aside just ten minutes each day to draw, paint, stencil, etc. Don’t be harsh on yourself. To get started, simply start with a sketchbook. This one is a favorite (affiliate), and experiment in it.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  1. Fill a page with circles.
  2. Put some music on and draw to the beat.
  3. Fill a shallow bowl with paint and use it to stamp common materials such as a cork, straw, or fork.
  4. Draw clouds. See if you can come up with 15 different ways to draw them.
  5. Take a walk. Every time you reach a street corner, draw one thing that you see.
  6. Paint with leftover morning coffee

Read How to Use a Sketchbook to Boost Creativity for more ideas on this topic. You might also enjoy this simple sketchbook prompt and this post on why I carry a sketchbook.

One of the more inspiring daily sketchbook feeds that I’ve come across is by Jennifer Orkin Lewis who goes by August Wren on Instagram.

2. Keep a Journal

Similar to keeping a sketchbook, a journal is good way to document ideas, inspiration, and plans.

Some helpful posts in this category are Why you should keep a journal (Life Hacker) and Keeping a journal can change your life (The Change Blog), which includes 10-minute exercises with each suggestion.

3. Set up Mystery Trips

If you’ve never taken someone on a mystery trip, you are in for a huge treat.

Mystery trips first showed up in our family after my in-laws learned about them from their friend Joan. Joan and her husband, Larry, would take their kids on mystery trips to places that their children might otherwise moan and groan about. But when they added the element of surprise, and reframed a dreaded family outing with something like, “Hey kids, we’re taking you on a MYSTERY TRIP tomorrow!” the mood lifted and everyone jumped on the excited train.

Mystery trips can add spice to otherwise ho-hum events, or add extra flair to something truly spectacular. Many years ago, my husband-to-be bought plane tickets to a mystery location. Shortly before departure he revealed that Italy would be our destination, and then proposed to on a cliff in Cinque Terra. Talk about a great reveal!

We took a mystery trip with friends the other day to see a huge public light show, followed by dinner at a favorite Italian restaurant. While it wasn’t a trip to Italy, it turned out to be a night to remember. See #5 of this post for more on Mystery Trips.

4. Collaborate with a Friend

This is a creative new year’s resolution that I’m excited to try this year: Find a willing and interested soul to co-create with.

Sometimes making things with a partner can be the best way to find and nurture new ideas. Other people can inspire us with their unique outlook on the world and different way of doing things. If you’d like to start your own collaborative art-making night, there’s a project in San Francisco, headed up by Courtney Cerruti, called Social Sketch that you may find inspiring. And if you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area, the next Social Sketch will be held on January 7 from 7 pm – 10 pm at Mua Oakland.

Collaborative drawing exercise with one or more players:

Start with a sheet of paper and pens (the same or different colors – you choose). The first player draws in the middle of the paper. The second player adds to the first drawing and then passes it along to the next player. You can tun the paper, attach your drawing to another or have it hang apart. Make up your own rules. Continue until you decide it is done.

5. Take a Class

Whether you have an untapped interest in ceramics or have always wanted to learn how to make perfect pizza from scratch, a class will infuse you with energy and knowledge to tackle these new challenges.

If you have a child who’s old enough to take a class, consider signing up together. My mom signed us up for a pizza-making class when I was about eight years old, and it was such a fun and memorable experience for us both.

There might be a community center near you that offers affordable classes, or maybe you have a friend who could teach you how to make her show-stopping cioppino. I just signed up for an online course at Stanford University, and it’s free! There are plenty of classes online like those that my friend Jean has been taking with Craftsy. And in-person classes can be found in unexpected places, like the cooking class my husband and I took at Sur La Table.

6. Be Wrong

Most of us don’t want to be wrong. Am I right? 🙂

However, being wrong can be soooo liberating and fun. Which of these two scenarios sounds like more fun?

1. Building a perfect scale model of your home.

2. Building an interpretation of your home with toothpicks and play dough.

Hmmm. Unless you’re an architect who revels in the nuance of detailed elevations, I’m guessing you went with #2. And if I’m wrong (hooray!), you might really need this tip!

When we allow ourselves to be free of perfection, we give ourselves the opportunity to bounce into new territory and come to unexpected conclusions.

If you feel like perfectionism is keeping you from trying new things and stepping outside of your comfort zone, make this the year that you celebrate mistakes. Many of the world’s most successful innovators are not risk-averse, and would never have created their masterpieces or inventions without a ton of experimentation, testing, and iteration. There are some great links to failure-forward articles at the end of this article, and thoughts on the importance of nurturing a fail-forward mindset in kids over in this article. 

7. Give Yourself Time

“Complex cognitive processing takes time, and, without some reasonable time for that processing, creativity is almost impossible.”

This quote comes from a Harvard Business Review article, which makes a strong case that creativity requires time. If you really want to make this a year to make and create, be sure to carve out time for it. Here are some ideas:

  1. Set your alarm clock an hour earlier than usual. Use this quiet time to journal, draw, write, or exercise.
  2. Do you frequently wake up in the middle of the night? If you find yourself with the conundrum on what to do with broken sleep, this well-researched article suggests using that time for creative work.
  3. If you have a young child (who naps), put aside the housework and use this time to focus on a creative project.
  4. Get a wide range of inspiration on how artists work and organize their time in the new book, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work (affiliate)
  5. If you have children, work for an hour after they are in bed
  6. Give yourself a weekly artist date night. Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way (affiliate), first inspired me with this idea. More on artist dates here, and here’s a list of 99 Artist Date Ideas.

8. Invite Randomness Into Your Life

Surprises that come from randomness will boost you to look at old things in new ways, and can infuse your life with little bursts of inspiration. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Get lost in your own town. When I was little, my grandparents would drive me around Los Angeles and invite me to decide which direction the car would travel. At every intersection I would holler out, “left,” “right,” or “straight ahead,” and before you knew it we would be “lost.” So much fun! Invite a child to get “lost” with you, give yourselves a time limit (or not!), and see where you end up. Document the journey with photos of your destination.
  2. Give yourself a small amount of money to spend in a second-hand store, and then turn that trash into treasure. Will you make a skirt from a pillow case or a jewelry dish from cast-off china? The object/s that you find will determine what you make.
  3. Open up a cookbook at random. Make the dish that you see on that page.
  4. Close your eyes and pull three markers from a box. Color only with those markers for one week.
  5. Go to an art museum with a notepad. Look at art and come up with your own titles for the pieces. Create a running list of titles. When you get home, make doodles that represent each of these titles. The doodles do not have to replicate the original artwork.

9. What else would you add to this list?

I know, I promised you eight things, but of course there are more that I could have added. I had to stop somewhere since my window of free time to create was quickly closing. What would YOU add to this list?

More Articles for celebrating a Creative New Year

5 Resolutions for a Creative New Year

Family-friendly New Year’s Resolutions

My resolutions for 2014

The Best Art and Creativity Books for Kids


    • Thanks so much for your comment, Cait. I do the same thing (you’re not alone!). It’s so important to give ourselves some creative nourishment — the result can be that we feel better and our children will learn from our growth and happiness.

  1. Thanks for including my post here Rachelle – this is a lovely post with lots of great ideas. Wishing you a wonderful, creative 2015!

    • You’re so welcome Ellen. Bonus – I’m so glad to know about you and your inspiring blog 🙂 Happy new year!

  2. Such wonderful ideas! This year I am focusing more on my own art and creativity too. I started filling a page with circles and that is how I came up with my new project for 2015- 365 Paper Cuts Project, Daily intentions Visualized. I am on day 3, and so far so good! Thanks for sharing such inspirational ideas.

    • Hi Julia, I just popped over to your site…what an awesome idea! Wishing you a happy new year.

  3. My son and I tell each other stories whenever we are bored, waiting in line, having trouble sleeping, etc. We call them “once upon a times.” Sometimes they are awful, sometimes they are surprisingly good. And because we do it so often, there’s no pressure to come up with something magnificent every time, which has led to great creativity, and even great improvement over time!

    • That’s a wonderful idea, Janet! My kids and I do something similar with drawing collaborations. I’ll draw a simple line or shape, and then one of my daughters will add to it. I’m sure that this will inspire other parents to try their hand at story-telling on the fly.

  4. Thanks so much for including Social Sketch in this Roundup! Hope to see you at one of events! You can see more on Instagram under the hashtag #socialsketch. Cheers! – Courtney

    • Thanks for stopping by to leave a comment, Courtney. I hope to see you at one of your events — it’s on my to-do list for 2015. ~rachelle

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  6. […] For more creative ways to start the new year, we also share 5 New Year’s resolutions that fuel creativity and 8 ideas to kick-start creativity in the new year […]

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