How to boost your creativity

From time to time we all run out of creative steam, and artistic inspiration. Sometimes its a creative block, some times its just weariness.

So when that happens, how do you boost your creativity? Here are nine sure fire ways to do it.

1) Do something you’ve never done before.

If you’re a writer, paint something. If you’re a painter, sing something. If you’re a singer, stitch something. If you’re a stitcher… you get the idea. By doing something out of your usual routine, you open up new neural pathways, and literally expand your mind.

2) Go skateboarding.

I’m not a good skater, but I found that when I had a creative block, getting on a skateboard, or a bike come to that, and just tearing around for a few minutes, was really helpful in clearing my mind. If you’re not a natural skater – or can’t ride a bike, try getting out in the garden and enthusiastically digging for a bit, or do some press ups – anything which will absorb your mind on a physical challenge type task.

3) Take in some high quality creative nourishment.

Go and see an exhibition, go to a gig, read a really good book, watch a film, play a game, let yourself be inspired by other people’s good work, and learn from them. Steal ideas, change them, play with them, make them become your own.

4) Be really poor.

A sure fire way to become creative is to need it, badly. The more you have to be creative, the more you will make yourself become so. Witness the way people make musical instruments from junk because they can’t afford to buy them, the way writers pour out prose because they will starve if they don’t. Look at how people in very poor countries can recycle and reuse almost anything.

5) Be really rich.

The flip side to being poor, is that you are preoccupied with the stuff of life, how to make ends meet, how to feed the kids. In some ways, artistic creativity is the preserve of the idle rich, who can afford to faff about with paints and pencils because they already know food will be on the table tonight.

6) Sit down and shut up.

Taking time out helps the mind replenish its creative juices, and the act of not thinking about a problem or a project can let new inspiration and new solutions flow to the surface.

7) Go out and have a chat.

Bounce ideas off others, listen to their thoughts, explain your problems, and hear how they deal with theirs. Few ideas get worse through being exposed to the thoughts of other creative people, and sometimes they get an awful lot better.

8) Practice, practice, practice.

If you want to be good at anything, you need to keep doing it. The more you do it, the better you will be – so just keep practicing. The same is true of creative thinking, as it is of playing the piano – you need to exercise the creative muscles in your brain, build them up, and to do that you need to ‘be being’ (present continuous) creative.

9) Drink green tea.

No particular reason – but it seems to work for me.

Pyro Theology

One of the definite highlights of Greenbelt, for me, was the Ikon event – ‘Pyro Theology’. It was a great piece of theatre/performance/worship, and if you want to have a look at it, take a look at this video, which doesnt exactly do it justice, but gives just a taste.

HT: Pete Rollins (of course).

Comic recommendations

Garen Ewing’s Rainbow Orchid volume 1 has been out for a while, but I’m just about to buy it for my eldest daughter’s birthday.

Rainbow Orchid
Rainbow Orchid

I bought one of the original Rainbow Orchid comics from Garen at a comic con some years ago, it’s brilliant. If you like Tintin or similar stuff, this will be up your street.

For a look inside the book, and a preview of volume two, which is inked and ready, head over to Garen’s website.

My other recommendation is this nifty Conan Doyle reworking by Ian Edgington, The hound of the Baskervilles is a great tale, and it seems that its translation into Graphic Novel format has worked well.

Hound of the Baskervilles
Hound of the Baskervilles

Nice artwork by INJ Culbard, who has just finished working on Study in Scarlet, the second of four Holmes stories the pair have planned. Check out his website for some previews of the artwork, very nice indeed.

ways of looking at the world

I was alerted to this really interesting collection of pictures which show the ‘real world atlas’.

For instance, here is a map showing war deaths from 1945 – 2002: “The most deaths as a percentage of the population occured in Cambodia, followed by Timor-Leste, Angola, Rwanda, North Korea and Afghanistan.”


Also fascinating whilst also horrific are the maps showing wealth distribution, from 1AD, 1900 AD, and a projection for 2015, just look at the projection for the whole of Africa!


Michael Cross, bridge and beyond

Here’s quite a good article looking at my brother’s forthcoming exhibition over the US, including some video clips, which show him with a beard!  Yes, it was a surprise to me too.

Michael is best known for his Bridge installation, at Dalston grove, London, but he has done a lot of really interesting work besides that.  My favourite remains flood, his submerged lightbulbs piece, which features in this article.

He tells me that most of his work is very much like primary school, making models out of plasticine, and doing drawings and so on.  It’s just that every now and then he gets to make his models on a significantly larger scale!

excellent protest art from Greenpeace

I really like this simple but effective idea from Greenpeace.

They teamed up with sculptor Mark Jenkins to produce a series of these art works, but to be honest I feel like it’s not beyond most of us to come up with something similar – a good accessible model for protest art which could be replicated in high streets all around the country.  Anyone fancy having a go?

Introducing world music artists

I often get asked where I learn about World Music artists, and I usually point people to obscure (ish) radio programs, magazines, or the BBC world music awards cd’s.

But probably one of the most instantly accessible ways of getting exposed to some of the best world music artists about, is simply by going on to Last FM, and pressing Listen – putting in the tag ‘World’ will get you the usual suspects with some nice suprises thrown in.

Tonight I’ve had amongst others: Brian Eno; Manu Chao; Gogol Bordello; Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan; Cirque De Soleil; the Afro Celts; Ali Farka Toure… click below for pure musical pleasure.

just one of those things

The last few weeks have seemed both too fast, and too slow.

I have this strange sensation of stnading still, and yet things around me seem to be moving too fast for me to be able to hold on to.  Each day goes by and I am left bewildered at what has taken place, sometimes it seems momentous, sometimes it seems like nothing has happened, sometimes the very nothingness seems to be overwhelming.

Just one of those light and witty opening paragraphs that one weaves from the fine gossamer thought threads which spill out at this time of the evening.

I have been reflecting on how much my life has changed in a few short weeks – we have moved house, we no longer live in Llanelli, we no longer have a house of our own – we’re technically homeless.  As yet the kids have not started a new school, I’ve been ‘home educating’ for the best part of a fortnight.  Kel is overseas, she wont be back for another couple of weeks, so I’m stuck in this weird situation, no home, kids off school, no time to work, running around trying to look at houses, trying to face down estate agents who dont believe we can live on our meagre income, trying to find schools, looking at offices, looking at allotments…

Oh yeah, that is pretty good, allotments.  Man there are a lot of allotments available here.  Grimsby must have a good couple of hundred allotments unoccupied, perhaps more.  I’ve picked the one I want, to be honest I could get quite a few if I wanted them, but one lot of digging will do me for now.  I read that all over the country people are snapping up allotments like there is no tomorrow, well they dont seem to be doing that here! If you want an allotment, move to North East Lincolnshire, you’re quids in.

The weird thing about the house situation is that the place we want to live, a big old council estate called the Nunsthorpe estate, well nobody else is supposed to want to live there – but despite that we cant get a flipping house there!  I read recently that the council used to have to advertise its properties on the Nunsthorpe, because nobody wanted them.  Seems that has changed!  I’m told the waiting list position we’re on could see us housed by the local housing association in four years – yippee!

One things for sure, we need to find somewhere before then.

So in the meantime I’m pushing ahead in Kel’s absence, trying to get kids into school (even for that I have to appeal – come on guys, give me a break!) I have found home educating pretty hard work, I kind of like it, but its totally full time, the evening finds me worn out and pretty useless in work terms.  I do lesson plans on the back of envelopes, which I am told makes me pretty good for a home educator – LOL – I doubt that is true.

Today home school consisted of an extended trip to the library, then reading and memory games for a while in the afternoon, before swimming lessons kicked in (all I have to do is watch those!) tomorrow, I need to try and fit in a couple of trips out to see a house and an office – have to see if I can make them educational somehow 😉

Other homeschool days have included developing fact files on countries and animals, art projects, and watching a documentary about spectacled bears (genius!)

I reckon I’ll have one of them in school before long, the other may take up to a month I’m told…

One shaft of light has begun to shine, I went round to Mark’s house last night to talk about creative stuff.  There is a group of people here who are all involved in different creative arts, and they’ve formed themselves into a community of sorts.  As yet they’ve not done much together, but I am quite hopeful that we could do some pretty cool stuff in terms of alt worship gatherings and so on, we’ve begun the conversation, lets see where we go from here.  I’ve also been talking to some folk about a little cafe church type project which could start moving pretty soon.

But generally things have been fairly hard, I think the burden will be lighter when we have our own place again, and when Kel is back from North Africa (dont tell the kids, but she’s off again in November, to India this time!)  Those two things will certainly make a big difference.

In work terms, seems pretty clear that we need to earn more money, so I’ve been thinking of starting a little gardening type business, using my fairly basic gardening abilities, and combining some eco know how, to help people go greener, grow their own veg, that sort of thing.   I wouldnt be doing it all myself, I have a partner in grime, so as and when I get to developing that project, that may help change that situation.

I’ve also got an idea for a world music club night – I think I’ve found a good venue, I’ll no doubt rave on about it if it happens…

As I’m just about starting to get into a routine now, I may be able to get back into blogging again, and hopefully it wont be all long winded winges like this one, but hey you know, when your wife is away, who else do you have to waffle on to?

Anyway, as my default position at the moment is to gaze blankly at the screen as I vainly search ebay for a reasonably priced second hand waterproof, (I found one the other night, but I got sniped.  Darn!) it’s back to the search…

And yeah, Graeme, if you got this far and still hadnt worked it out, we moved to Grimsby – home to the busiest container port in the UK, and now a family of Crosses!  Well who would have thought it?

Jesus for president by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw

Those kind people at Zondervan sent me a copy of Jesus for President to review, so here goes…

I regard this as one of the best, most challenging and thought provoking books around at the moment. Despite it’s American target audience (we don’t have a president here – yet) this makes great reading for any reader, as its themes are universal.

This is unlikely to look like any book you have ever read before, it’s got nearly as much in common with a graphic novel as it has with a standard text book. The best comparison I can give, and it is quite inappropriate really given the anti consumerist approach of the authors, is with a Howies clothing catalogue. It has that same earthy, lived in, thoughtful, artistic and engaging feel, but thankfully without the pictures of models wearing expensive clothes.

Put simply, this has got to be one of the most beautifully designed books on the market – working with the writing, the design emphasises the creative, radical spirit of the text, and the provocative joy of the authors. Quite rightly the designers, Holly and Ryan Sharp, are credited at the end of the book along with the writers. The colour is full throughout the book, with design elements interacting with the text throughout, which adds immensely to the value of the content. If you liked the look of ‘Irresistible Revolution’ then this is a quantum leap forward, like as if the publishers suddenly realised what this thing was all about…

In some ways it reminds me of an illuminated manuscript, from back in the day of monkishness, when religious texts were coloured and illustrated by devoted scholars. This fits with the fact that the authors are part of the new monastic movement – and perhaps this could be seen as the contemporary equivalent.

But aside from a fantastic design job – what does the latest offering from our dreadlocked brother actually contain? Well first point to make, there are very clearly two voices audible in this book. Claiborne and Haw have coinciding views, but different emphases, or perhaps just different experiences, which while bringing occasional difficulties to the academic niceties of the text, actually helps lend weight to this book. Actually – if you count the design, then add in one or two more voices as well.

Written throughout in easily digestible chunks, the book begins as a dissection of a theme of radical God politics which the authors show running through the bible. It sidetracks through stories of friends, writings of early Christians and reflections on current affairs.

It’s a book of stories, parables, and prophecy, it is not supposed to be a tome, or a text book, or a prize winning essay – this is a work of love, an object of discussion, a catalyst (for want of a less clichéd term) for renewed engagement with the themes, and an encouragement to live a different way.

Rather than taking an easy option, such as a single standpoint, of a Christian anarchy for example, or an anti war vote, Claiborne and Haw manage to turn the whole idea around, arguing for a radical Christian engagement with politics and society in a way that is at once submissive and subversive. American voters wanting to know who the writers say they should vote for, will find themselves left with the same choices, but hopefully looking at them through new, or perhaps ancient lenses. I suspect also that this will help many bring a new creativity to their decision making.

Pacifism and anti (or non) consumerism are key themes, but they each form only part of the overall principal argument, which is to see God’s people as a people set apart by God, called to live another way, and to follow only one leader. It critiques the philosophy that one can serve God, and walk in the way of the world.

This clarion call to a subversive and renewed people of God is a creative and stimulating read – it’s not without its problems, one cant help thinking that if Claiborne authors another book, he will have come close to being part of the system which he so clearly wants to work against, but at the same time, I like many others would be happy to read anything he writes. One might also question how the authors can happily work with others such as Jim Wallis who argue for a more conventional approach to politics… clearly McLaren is not the only one with a generous orthodoxy these days.

Some readers may find biblical references to apocryphal books troubling or confusing, I don’t, in fact I like it. Some factual discrepancies may exist within the text, (numbers of dead in Iraq, or etc) but these are minor when looked at in context, and can be put down to the issue of dual authorship.

It’s a beautiful, peaceful, challenging, affirming, prophetic, subversive and creative book, well worth reading, sharing, mulling over… likely to become a classic.


Example spreads…

jesus for president website
sharp seven design

Paul Simonon

I was really annoyed this morning when the Today program did a piece on ‘ex punk rocker turned artist’ Paul Simonon.  I really like the Today program, but this was a really shallow piece, which portrayed Simonon as some kind of johnny come lately painter, moving from music to art.

The truth is, (and its not hard to find) that Simonon, who is a really great painter, has been painting for a long long time, and was an artist before he was ever a musician.

I dont suppose he is bothered, as it just means more people will come to the exhibition, but it annoyed me – poor research, very poor.

I know I’m a bit of a Clash fan-boy, but all the same, I think I would have been annoyed anyhow.  Grumble grumble.

There was a decent interview with Simonon in the Guardian the other week.  Here’s a link.