I’ve been doing a lot of talks around the country over the past year and I thought it would be fun (and informative) to share some of them with you here. Today I’m sharing an abridged/updated version of the talk I originally gave at Alt Summit. They asked me to speak on the topic of creativity. I hope you enjoy:
Hi! I’m Justina. I am a designer, artist and the blogger behind the blog The Jungalow, and I’m here today to talk with you about creativity. When I was first invited to speak here and asked to discuss the topic of creativity I put it off for moths and then finally, about four days ago when I started to freak out because this thing was in just a few days, and I still had no real idea of what I wanted to talk about, I tried to take a moment and think about why I had been avoiding working on this.
I was ecstatic to be attending ALT for the first time, I had secretly been aching to come here for years and finally was here, invited to speak on a topic fun topic, for a 45 minute slot, which I’ve heard is fancy. Why was this so difficult? I could give a talk about how to grow your Instagram audience with my eyes shut. I could give you tips about how to get a book deal, how to market a book, how to grow a blog audience or get paid to create content — because those are tangible goals that I had built strategies for, and I implemented those strategies to achieve my goals.
But creativity, creativity was not a goal that I had set (or met) in my mind. It’s enigmatic. It’s like magic. So I tried to dig a little deeper. Who are the most creative people that I know? My dear friend and often creative partner, Dabito. He’s a photographer, a stylist, an interior designer, and a graphic designer and he’s ridiculously good at all of those professions. There are creative geniuses like Frida Kahlo, Bjork, Tina Fey, Erykah Badu, Toni Morrison, Zadie Smith and Coco Chanel… But if I were to really dig deep, the person who astounds me the most when it comes to creativity and imaginative thinking, is this next person. She effortlessly sports the most eccentric outfits I’ve ever seen, she has invented her own languages, she writes music and she is a very avant-garde photographer and artist.
The is my daughter Ida. She’s three years old and she’s one of the most creative people I know. And while of course I have the mommy bias that assumes that my child is a creative genius, It’s not just my kid. Children don’t yet have the box that adults are always trying to think outside of. And so if all children are creative, and we were all once children, is that evidence that everyone is creative?
And that’s when in hit me. I now understood why I was having such a hard time with this topic. It’s because I have conflicting feelings about creativity. On the one hand, I feel that everyone is creative, creativity is inside all of us and for some people, tapping into that creativity is easy, and for others, it’s a real struggle. And my second feeling, my second feeling is actually the opposite notion. My second feeling is that no one is truly creative, that we all spend our lives gleaning ideas, images and “inspiration” from others and then regurgitate it in our own styles. Is that truly creativity? Sounds harsh I know, but ultimately there are lessons and takeaways in thinking about both approaches— and that is what I’ve decided to share with you all today.
PART 1: EVERYONE IS CREATIVE
The first portion of this discussion, I’d like to run with the theory that EVERYONE IS CREATIVE. and working under that theory, share with you all my strategy for tapping into my creativity. —- So now I’m going to rewind to 2009 when I had just come out with my 4th craft book and I was trying to pitch a fifth book. My literary agent at the time told me that the last book that we had made wasn’t selling well, and that it would probably be hard to get another book deal unless I had a “built-in-audience” for the project. I was like what’s that? How do I get one? Yikes. Never one to wallow in my own failures, so instead of trying to pitch a new book, I decided to listen. I decided to take her advice. At the time I had no idea that it would take me five years to build that audience. At the time, I had no idea that building that audience would lead to me totally changing the trajectory of my career, becoming a professional blogger, a product designer, and ultimately lead me to writing a book that I’m super proud of. But it was that first, small action, of signing up for Blogger and making a commitment to blog 5-days a week — it was that small action, that was the catalyst to getting where I am today. I’m going to repeat that word one more time.
ACTION. I’d like you to write down and underlined and put little starts around. And action is what I really want to talk about today because after thinking about it, I’ve realized that it’s not creativity that’s the magic. It’s action. You can be the most creative individual on the planet, but if you don’t act on this creativity, then are you truly creative?
When trying to tap into your most creative self: TAKE ACTION — just start doing something. What does that mean? Today I want to give you some concrete ideas. I want you to be able to go home after this and put a plan into action. I don’t want you to just be inspired and invigorated and then have no idea how to get from point A to point B. So I’d like to discuss the idea of a creative warm-up. It shouldn’t be a revolutionary idea, but I think often times creatives are seen as people who are struck with bolt of creativity like lightening and then stay up all night and create masterpieces—and that’s just not how it always works. But sometimes, you can’t just jump into making your best drawing ever or cooking your most amazing meal. Do athletes jump into a game if they’re not warmed up? Do singers perform concerts cold? It is my belief that creatives need warm ups too, so I like to start out my days with creative warm up so that I can be agile, quick and limber as I face the creative challenges of the day. It’s funny, sometimes when people walk into the studio and see me playing with blocks, or working in a coloring book, they’re like “I can see you guys work really hard around here!” But no one would ever say that to an athlete that was stretching before a game.
Creative warm-ups are not a luxury, they are a key element to being a successful entrepreneur. Play and experimentation are so important to the creative process and something that is not practiced enough in the workplace (be that your home, or an office). What does a creative warm-up look like?
Some creative warm-ups that I like to do are:
1. Single line drawings (do a drawing without ever lifting your pen off of the page) The one pictured above is one I did of my parents.
2. Play with clay
3. Play with building blocks
4. Color in coloring books
6. 30-Second-Sketches (Do timed sketches that last 30 seconds)
7. Organize Nature. (Go outside and forage some natural objects, then organize them into a still life).
Let’s talk about that last one. Organizing Nature.
The idea is that once you’re warmed up, you can find an idea in anything. One morning, while I was raking on my patio, I looked down at these leaves and that big one looked as though it was smiling up at me. So I stopped what I was doing and I took action. I indulged in my moment of inspiration. I put down my rake and I started to pay attention to this moment. If you don’t capture a moment of inspiration then it may disappear forever. So if you do feel that little rush of excitement of a new idea, you see something unexpected, you put two things together that you hadn’t put together before— a new thought–honor it, indulge it. Pull a notepad out of your bag and write it down, draw it, take voice notes, take a picture whatever it is that helps you to flesh out the idea, to come back to that idea, to water it and nourish it, do that.
Now it may be that nothing ever comes from that idea, and that it’s one of the thousands of notes you have jotted down on a raggedy notebook — but you never know which of those jotted down ideas will be the one that goes viral on Pinterest, gets you featured on Instagram or turns into your first New York Times Bestseller. To go back to the patio for a moment— I let myself indulge in that spark, in that moment. And I started to play. And I made portraits from leaves:
And this got me excited. I captured the moment, snapped a photo, shared a few of the images on my blog and, even though at the time I had a relatively small audience, I could see that other people saw the spark in the face too. This was something that made me smile, that lit me up. And there on the patio floor I found the second key ingredient to tapping into my most creative self. I found passion.
I started to see faces in plants everywhere. I started to keep little zip lock bags with me everywhere I went I foraged little bits and pieces of seeds, foliage, leaves, and flowers. And I made faces out of foliage every single day. And I learned passion is the fertilizer. Plants can grow without it, but it’s so much faster and so much healthier and easier if passion is involved. Which brings me to my third for tapping into your most creative self: be prolific. And I think that this guideline is especially important for bloggers. Blogging and social media is fast paced. You have to be prolific. You have to be able to create new content every day. And if you’re stuck in your head, and your’e thinking more than your doing and sharing, your voice will be drowned out. This is not a book we’re writing. This is a slice of life. It doesn’t have to be perfect, and in some cases, and I think social media may be one of them, the time-old saying “quality over quantity” gets flipped on its head. Sometimes it’s all about quantity. Now I’m not saying to do shitty work it’s just that sometimes volume counts. Will you succeed in social media if you post one amazing thing every six months? not unless you’re already famous. Get out of your head. Practice, Practice, Practice. Because the more you practice, the better you get. And I’m not just talking about doodling. I’m actually talking about creating complete works of art. And I think that this is really important. It really important to be able to say “this is done” Often times saying things are work in progress can be a bit of a cop out. Create something that’s COMPLETE every single day, you start to get used to your own version of perfect. Don’t tear up the works that you aren’t happy with. Keep them. Learn from them. Grow from them.
So I gave these faces made from leaves and flowers an name. I called them “Face The Foliage”. I made face the foliage portraits every single day, for about a year. I shared them, and others shared them, and I gave my community an open invitation to make and share their own under the #FaceTheFoliage hashtag. And Face the foliage spread like wild fire. My faces were published on sites and magazines all over the world including Elle Decor India and Green Living Magazine, and I was commissioned to make custom pieces for brands like Tommy Hilfiger, Tom’s Shoes, Moda Operandi, and Glamour Magazine.
And lastly, let’s talk about BYOB. In this case, BYOB does not mean bring your own booze, (although that works for some creatives too!) it stands for be your own bestie. And I can’t stress the importance of this one enough. I encounter SO many creative people everyday who are really, really hard on themselves. They spend a lot of time being self-critical. They pick themselves apart and nothing is ever good enough. I’m sure you have friends like this. They are the ones who contemplate posting an Instagram for six weeks before sharing it with their 42 followers. It’s not that serious. Be your own bestie. Encourage yourself. Energize yourself. Count on yourself. Challenge yourself. Push Yourself. Inspire yourself. My father once said to me, You can be your own best friend or your own worst enemy, and it’s up to you to decide.
So to recap, I believe the steps to take to tap into your creativity are:
INDULGE IN MOMENTS OF INSPIRATION
UNCOVER YOUR PASSION
PART 2: NO ONE IS CREATIVE.
And that concludes the first portion of my talk, and now we’re moving into the idea that, wait for it… NO ONE IS CREATIVE.
Why would I say that? Why would I say that no one is creative? I mean, look around at this room, at these cities, at the technological advances, at this world, and look what we have created? Well, the definitions of creativity, in all the dictionaries that I’ve looked at contain words like originality and newness. “Original Ideas” “the ability to make new things or think of new ideas” “ innovative or different approaches” According to Google, creativity is: cre·a·tiv·i·ty ˌkrēāˈtivədē/ noun the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.
So let me all ask you something. How many of you have ever had, what felt like an original idea and then googled it only to discover that at least one other person had already had that exact same idea as you? It happens to me about once a week. Nothing is original I think it’s important to discuss this topic because the idea of originality can be is paralyzing: coming up with new ideas every day for the blog, generating new content for brands, snapping original photography– Imagine, for a moment, that the day I was out on my patio and arranged the leaves into a face, that I had stopped to do a little computer research and see if anyone had ever made a face out of leaves and flowers before. Had I done that, I would have found this:
The work of Markus Raetz, from 1982. I was three years old when a leaf smiled (or maybe frowned) at Markus Reatz. Had I discovered Markus’ works, the fear of being unoriginal may have stopped me from sharing my foliage faces, may have stopped me from this practice that shaped my career and my life, and brought so much joy to me and many other people involved in the project. But I didn’t. I didn’t find out about Markus Raetz until just last year. We are all, consciously and unconsciously, taking, remixing, imitating, re-layering, repurposing reimagining and building upon others’ ideas. It is unimportant (and perhaps impossible) to be totally original. But YOU are an original and I am an original, so the best way to produce creative work is to inject as much of yourself, your personal style, your experiences into it as possible. So while my first foliage portraits were remarkably similar to Reatzs’, the journey that I went on, where I took the project was quite distinct.
You can’t be afraid to try something that someone else has already done for fear of being unoriginal, the key is to inject yourself into it.
And then last year I launched my very first product collections for my new Justina Blakeney Home line, and I’ve been designing everything from rugs and pillows with Loloi Rugs, to Wallpaper with Hygge and West, I’ll be launching furniture in just a few months as well, and I’ve been knee deep in working on that for the past few months. And it’s funny because most of the time, I feel less like Kelly Wearstler or Particia Urquoila and more like Frankenstein. I create so-called “new” pieces by ‘frankenstein-ing’ all kinds of different things together.
For example, I’ll take a legs of a mid-century stool I saw on Etsy, a the back from a rattan sofa I screens-shotted of of Instagram, and add a cushion with a custom print made inspired by a leaf that’s in my back yard and then by the time the chair comes out on the other end it looks totally original, but it’s actually just been artfully remixed and remastered. I am a design DJ.
While setting out to write my book, the first thing that I did was buy the top 10 design books on Amazon. I read them all, took notes about what I liked and didn’t like about them. And then, I went through on Amazon and read all the reviews, positive an negative to see what other people thought of the books. Over and over again books got similar negative feedback across the board.
1.) Pictures are pretty but there’s not enough information.
2.) This book is not what I expected. (The title and cover should be a fair representation of what’s inside).
3.) Not enough stylistic variation. (People want to find themselves in the book, and if all the images are too similar, it does’t allow for that.)
So when I wrote my book, I put in as much information as possible, and tips. I made sure that the cover and title represented my style and what was inside the book. And even though the whole book was about Boho style, I included a ton of stylistic variation so that lots of different people could find themselves among these pages.
“It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.” Said Jon-Luc Godard. In today’s age of internet, with product reviews on every product under the sun, with everything getting measured in double taps and hearts, there isn’t too much guessing that needs to be done. The numbers are out there, it’s just a matter of applying that data to your creative projects. So where does this leave us, or where does it take us?
Originality is paralyzing, authenticity is liberating. For a long time, I resented the Instagram accounts that simply regrammed other peoples’ work — and i’m not talking about those that weren’t giving credit to the photographers. I had a chip on my shoulder about originality and that ‘all images on this page were taken by me.’ I felt that I had something to prove. It was important to me that the world know me as a creative individual. And then I took a step back and tried to remove ego from the equation. I thought to myself — which instagrams are the most inspiring to me? Which accounts do I go to again and again?
And the answer was simple. I liked two types of accounts: 1.) The accounts where I was following the personal journey of someone that inspired me. A place where I could see what they’re up to, follow their story, get a little behind-the scenes maybe. And then the other types of accounts are the kind that are sheer inspiration, collections of eye candy, a visual feast — the #IhaveThisThingWithFloors of the world. And it was with this that I started my Instagram account for @TheJungalow which is all about eye candy and building a Jungalow community. we share both original content and content created by our community on that channel and while it took me over four years to build a following of 160,000 on my personal instagram, we have grown to over 330,000 followers in less than one year on @TheJungalow — where we share original images but also images from our community. Now, please don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating for imitation nor am I advocating for curation over creation, BUT I am suggesting that the very best works, the works that effectuate the most change, that inspire the most people, that spread the fastest are collective works. I assert that No ONE is creative because We are not one. We are the sum of our ideas and all that we have absorbed from inception to today. We are always building upon the works of others and leaning on the ideas of others to create so-called new ideas. The act of creating is always a collaborative process. One cannot draw, write, create music, or write a blog in isolation. You will always be drawing upon inspiration and the works of those around you and those who came for you.
So what are the takeaways here?
1) Surround yourself with people who are doers and who are positive. If you’re going to be influenced by people, both consciously and subconsciously, it may as well be people that are smart, talented and fun to be around.
2) Don’t let ego get in the way of building community. Celebrate good ideas, and respect and honor where the ideas came from.
3) To create the most original works, inject as much of yourself as possible into your art, because you are the most original thing that exists. Authenticity will liberate you.
I’d like to close with this thought.
The etymology for the word “Create” comes from the Latin “Creatus” which is closely related to the Latin word Crescere, which means to arise, or to grow. Which should be, everyday, our ultimate goal for (not just every creative entrepreneur) but everyone, everyday.