How to Channel Emotion for True Creative Expression

A Workshop in Creativity, à la Mark Rothko

Today’s topic is a fun one — less of an article, more of a digital workshop.

I’ve shared this will small groups of people in creative workshops IRL, and in direct messages, and have gotten the coolest photos returned to me of those that have implemented the following strategy.

The author-artist in her home studio, Sturdevant Studios.

Creativity Comes from Humans

I could talk for an entire blog (not a single article, but a whole blog, creating new content every. single. week), about the benefit of emotional expression and release for our health overall. For example, the act of crying is cathartic — “providing psychological relief through the open expression of strong emotions; causing catharsis.” Another definition likens it to: “a purgative drug.”

Emotional Evocation, According to Mark Rothko

Mark Rothko, one of my favorite painters of all time, said this: “I’m not an abstractionist. I’m not interested in the relationship of color or form or anything else [although he was brilliant with color]. I’m interested only in expressing basic human emotions: tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on.”

Here’s What This Means for You

I sincerely hope with all my heart that you are not reading this and thinking, “Oh great. I have to be driven completely insane before I can ever begin to create.”

Now Grab a Pen

I mean it. Go get a pen. It matters. We miss so much of what’s actually happening in us when we talk it out to ourselves…because we get distracted. We forget. Our minds begin to wander, remembering that thing we didn’t do, the appointment we need to make tomorrow, whether we’‘ll have time to make it to the grocery store tonight…

  1. Sit with yourself, in silence, for 10 minutes. Put on a timer (if you’re using your phone, turn it to airplane mode).
  2. Let what’s coming up come up. (Do you feel like crying? Are you sorrowful? Are you frustrated? Do you feel exasperated? Exhausted? Tired? Bored? Do you feel excited? Are you getting butterflies?
  3. Don’t accuse yourself of anything, of talking yourself into feeling something. Just let it be, for 10 minutes.
  4. At the timer’s beep, write it down. Whatever emotions came to the surface, get ’em out onto your paper.
  5. Take some time to organize and categorize. If some emotions can be grouped together, combine them (like, if you have “angry” and “mad,” partner them).
  6. With the emotions listed, assign them an identifying color. For example, maybe today you feel irritated. And “irritating” to you, today, is the color orange. There’s no right or wrong (on another day, “excited” might be the color orange).
  7. When all your emotions have been assigned a color, pick two that you’d like to express to someone else. Maybe today, you want to express to someone that you’re afraid, but hopeful. These emotions can be similar (like “overwhelmed” and “frustrated” or they can be complete opposites. There’s no right or wrong here.)
  8. Don’t worry about choosing any two that should or shouldn’t go together. Only pick which emotions you want to evoke, to draw out of another, or to express yourself for emotional relief (catharsis!).
  9. Get a new piece of paper and some colored pencils, or crayons, or chalk. If you have them (or you’d like to get fancy), buy a small canvas and some acrylic paint colors from the store. Or oil. Or watercolor. Go where you feel led; I’m just the pretend guide.
  10. Scribble, collage, paint — or however you choose — express those two colors, one on top of the other. Don’t worry about making them perfect, or “acceptable.” Again, like your emotional self-reflection, just get them down on paper.
  11. Once you feel like it’s finished, ponder it. Does it express what you’d like it to express? What more would you say? GO ahead and add in another layer of color, if that’s what you feel would make this complete.
  12. Keep layering until you’re finished. Remember, there’s no right or wrong. Only expression.
  13. Share with the world. Because congratulations! You’ve just made a Rothko. And therefore, probably a lot of money. (Send some my way if you remember me.)

Chicago-based artist-writer, talking about creativity as our greatest responsibility. Expert in copywriting for multi-million dollar brand launches.