How to Build a Creative Habit in 20 Minutes a Day

Julia Laing creative process creativity how to

What creative pastime have you always wanted to try?

Whether it's drawing, photography, embroidery, designing your own clothes, planting a flower bed, designing cards, making patchwork quilts - whatever it might be...the best time to begin is today!

If you want to form a creative habit but haven't got around to it yet, it's likely you are putting obstacles in the way. I've certainly done that before.

Although I studied art for 4 years, leaving art college with an honours degree in painting, and eventually becoming a self-employed, designer/maker, I deeply regretted neglecting drawing and painting over the years. Every once in awhile I'd try drawing again and it made me feel increasingly anxious and frustrated. I was disheartened because I thought I should be 'better' and that my skills were irretrievably gone. So, I wouldn't try again for another few months and so it carried on... Until last year when I decided it was too important for me to give up on completely.

Does anything in my story resonate with you?

If it does, you are probably placing obstacles in your own creative path by making excuses for why you can't persue your creative dreams.

I'd love to help you break them down so I've compiled a list of my top ten excuses and how to combat them!

Top 10 Excuses

1. I don't have enough time.

It's true, we all live increasingly busy lives, but carving out a small amount of time just for yourself, can help you feel more relaxed and fulfilled, which actually helps to boost productivity in the rest of your busy day.

A lot can be achieved in just 20 minutes, and those small chunks of time add up to 140 minutes over a week and to a hefty 7280 minutes per year!

It's not so much the length of time but the commitment to showing up regularly that builds the habit. Typically, it can take between one to two months for a habit to really stick. 

I like to work in my sketchbook as soon as I'm dressed and had breakfast in the morning. It gives me a sense of achievement, which I don't get if I'd start the day with other chores and get distracted.

Work out a time that works best for you - if you regularly travel by bus or train, it can be a great time to make notes or sketch the backs of your fellow travelers' heads. On days you have more free time there's nothing stopping you spending more time building upon the foundation blocks of daily achievements.

2. No space to work.

Space can be expensive but you don't need a studio, or even a desk to begin with. Paintings don't have to be three metres square, try three inches instead and use a shoe box for storage.

If space is limited, try to think of a project that's portable, very often you can begin with just a notebook and pencil. If craft is your thing, think small - English Paper Piecing or crochet spring to mind.

beads and crochet materials

crayon doodles in sketchbook by Julia Laing

3. No money for materials.

Professional artists materials can be prohibitively expensive but you don't need them if you're a beginner. I like to use children's crayons and pencils in my sketchbook because they're much cheaper. It's just for my use so I don't need to worry about how permanent or light-fast the pigments are.

Start with the basics and use what you have. Build up your materials gradually as and when you need them. Sometimes having a huge collection of materials and tools gives you too many choices and leads to confusion.

Can you remember at Primary School, how exciting it was when you got to make robots, or monsters from toilet roll tubes, egg cartons, and milk bottle tops? You can recapture some of that magic by using recycled materials in your craft experiments - it's great fun, cheap and much better for the planet! 

4. What's The Point...? I'll Never Be As Good As....( Insert Name of Hero Artist Genius ).

Have you ever heard the following expression? "Comparison is the thief of joy". It's so true. Comparing yourself to anyone else is a completely pointless exercise - all it does is make you miserable and stops you from even trying. And we can't be content to compare ourselves with people with our own level of experience, oh no! It's got to be the very best work, from the most accomplished, and best-regarded artists, not just from our own time but from the entire history of the universe and everything...

Come on, we deserve better than that!

It takes time and practice to improve your skills and the only way that happens is by starting and making a commitment - the best time to do that is now!

5. I'm too old to learn something new.

There is no age limit, if you want to try something new it's never too late. There are so many examples of successful artists, actors, and writers who didn't begin their creative careers until much later in life. Think; Samuel L Jackson, who was 43 when he had his breakthrough role, Laura Ingalls Wilder didn't start publishing her Little House on the Prairie books until she was 63, Harrison Ford worked as a carpenter until he was 35. My personal favourite is Alfred Wallis who was a Cornish fisherman. He only began painting 'for company' aged 70, after the death of his wife. His work has been a massive influence on artists, from the time he was working in the 1920s, until the present day.

It's much better to try, no matter what age you are than to live with the regret of 'I should have'.

6. I don't have any ideas / my ideas aren't good enough.

These negative thoughts are also the result of comparison. Other people's ideas often seem bigger, better and more exciting but the notion that you're in competition with anyone else can seriously impede your creative progress.

Any ideas are valid and can form a starting point. Ask yourself, what you're really interested in? Think about what you love, what fascinates you, what you enjoy reading about or conversely, what repels you, and why. Make some notes, any idea, no matter how ordinary or insignificant is worth considering. You'll find that the more time you invest, the more you'll be rewarded. Ideas are a bit like buses that way - none for ages, then they all come at once. You just need to learn to listen to and trust your own instincts.

Handmade sketchbook open showing 2 pages of collage and hand stamps.

7. I don't know where to start.

Beginnings can be daunting. The first step is to think about what you'd like to achieve and how long you can spend a day. Are there any other ideas springing to mind? Make a commitment to yourself by writing it all down in a notebook. Choose a time to work that fits into your everyday life. Although it's not strictly necessary it can help to have a routine, so you know when and what you're supposed to be doing. If you miss a day, or even a week or a month, it's not the end of the world just start again, where you left off.

I've found it helpful to work on a series for a set amount of time e.g. daily collages, or line drawings for 4 weeks. That way there's time to try something out, explore and experiment within the parameters you've set but it's not long enough to feel bored or overwhelmed by a project that stretches too far into the future.

If you're stuck for ideas an online search will provide a vast array of free craft tutorials. Dozens of great books have been written on the subject and many can be borrowed for free, from the art and craft section, of your local public library. These three books are a good place to start:

The Artists Way

Drawing on The Right Side of The Brain

Crafting Creativity 

So start something, start anything and as you work listen to your internal monologue, if you notice any good ideas, write them down. It might be "I wonder what this would be like in black and white?", or  " I'd like to try this again but make it bigger / smaller / fluffier / spottier / sharper / brighter. One idea will lead to the next if you allow it.

 8. What if...being creative turns me into a crazy person.

So maybe you've seen Kirk Douglas's portrayal of Vincent Van Gogh in Lust For Life and you got the idea that all creative people live a chaotic life, struggle to make ends meet and need to suffer for their art. In fact, expressing yourself creatively is a great way to stay mentally healthy. as well as being a tool to learn about the world by recording what you see drawing has been shown to boost memory function, reduce stress and improve fine motor skills.

Coin purse with pound sign applique by Julia Laing

9. It's too frivolous and self-indulgent. 

Honestly, sometimes fun and frivolity are exactly what we need! Life can be tough. Everything from devastating world events, to coping with problems at work and closer to home can cause stress and feeling overwhelmed. Time spent on our own creative interests helps focus and calm the mind as well as the pleasure of producing tangible 'stuff'. 

Some of the benefits of taking part in, or experiencing creative activity are hard to quantify, in a society which, prioritises financial rewards. Sadly, arts education is being reduced and even removed from school curriculums in favour of science and technology, but, it's worth noting that the creative industries in the UK brought in over 100 billion pounds to the UK economy in 2017 and has grown at nearly twice the rate of the economy since 2010, according to figures from the Department for Digital, Media, Culture, and Sport (DCMS). This includes but isn't limited to film, TV, radio, photography, music, advertising, museums, galleries and digital creative industries. The UK creative economy also provides 3.12m jobs or 1 in 11 of all UK jobs! Admittedly some of these figures will have changed since the coronavirus came on the scene but it's still true that starting a creative habit now might lead you to a new career!

10. People will think I'm weird.

Some people might think you're weird, and that's OK. But sorry to burst your bubble...they might already think you're weird for any number of reasons, that you have no knowledge of nor control over! Don't waste your energy on these thoughts, instead focus your  thoughts on whatever it is you want to create. Until you're ready, you don't need to share your creative output with anyone else. When you do share your work some people might love it and others might hate it - you can't please all of the people all of the time. For every person who hates what you do there will be another who loves your creativity, admires your skill and wishes they could do what you do! You won't find that out until you give yourself permission to try.

 I really hope these suggestions help you lay your fears to rest. Have a happy and creative day.

Julia Laing Studio



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  • Julia on

    I’m really glad you enjoyed reading my tips Dorothy! Enjoy exploring your creative potential 😊

  • Dorothy Burr on

    Thank you so much Julia. This is full of wonderful advice.
    I’m not guilty of no.s 3, 6 or 10 as we all know I’m a little crazy and quite a lot weird and I have a vast array of materials “for my old age”. I’ll be 70 in March 🤭
    Some people save money or invest in pensions but I just kept buying colour in every form. My wool collection is becoming embarrassing 😳and fabrics and paint and crayons and paper and so on.
    But all the other excuses are true by the bucket load.
    My older sister is a talented artist, graceful and pretty and it was a horrible shock finding I was never going to be like her. I’m awkward, plain and an accountant. But we get on brilliantly and love all the same things so it’s fine.
    I’ve just always had this overwhelming urge to be creative in a life which demanded hard work above all else.
    Anyway I’m rambling. I’m going to try the 20 minutes a day and by the time I retire I might have got the hang of it.
    867 days and counting. Thanks again and I love your work.


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