10 Creative Tips for Tough Times

cate prato

vegetable stamp
A cut celery stem makes a free, and beautiful, stamp.

Times are tough for a lot of people right now, and lately, the world seems more unpredictable than ever.

But rather than abandon artistic pursuits, it seems to me that creative people are more passionate than ever about their art. Even if it's not a livelihood, it's a lifeline; the thing that keeps us sane in a turbulent world.

Still, you can't eat paint and canvas. And if you have limited resources and your car breaks down, your art budget will most likely be spent at the mechanic's instead.

This was brought home to me last week after I blogged about going "back to school" to pursue my recently found passion for encaustic. I received a very kind email from a reader who asked, "What about all the people who have been negatively affected by the economy?" and can't afford the kinds of supplies I was planning to purchase.

It got me thinking about all the free and economical ways we can improve our skills, expand our artistic repertoire, and score some no- or low-cost supplies.

And that means it's time for a list.

1. Share your knowledge. Quilt guilds have been doing this forever: get together with like-minded artists once a month and each person take turns teaching a skill, sharing resources, and critiquing each other's artwork.

2. Share your supplies. For every person who has tried and loved, say, paper making, there is another who did it once and went, "Meh." Find her and offer to swap your never-opened needlepoint kits for her paper-making stuff. Or, maybe someone you know has glass-cutting tools they'll let you borrow for a project to see if you like it.

3. Work with what you have. Maybe you should give paper making another try, or use the supplies in another way. Lots of artists I know challenge themselves to create with just what they have on hand. It forces them to use their materials differently to "make it work."

4. Use the force…I mean the Internet community. For example, if you're reading this, the Cloth Paper Scissors Community forums are just a click away. People ask for help (and give advice) on everything from what kind of glue to use to where to find inspiration for their next project.

5. Shop for free stuff online. Speaking of the Internet, craigslist.org, freecycle.org, and many other sites often list art and craft supplies that are free to a good home-like yours.

6. Visit a recycling center. No Internet? No problem! Many communities now have recycling centers where you can find papers, wallpaper, found objects, art and craft supplies, and all sorts of other goodies, and you can take away a reasonable amount for free. Check with your town hall or better yet, ask a teacher; they know where all the good free supplies are stashed.

7. Look to nature. Mother Nature provides supplies, tools, and learning opportunities all the time. You can print and dye with leaves, flowers, and vegetables; learn about color theory by viewing a garden; learn about patterns from bark and leaves.

8. Sketch and doodle. You can learn a lot just by putting pencil or pen to paper, and it's free. Sketching and drawing help you see objects with an artist's eye (e.g. I thought that mug had straight sides, but actually, they're curved) and doodling helps you see and develop patterns. Experiment with different kinds of pens and pencils to see how the thickness or substance changes the effect.

9. Watch how-to videos. You can find many short how-to videos on the Internet, via artists' websites, etc. But did you know we have a video gallery here on the Cloth Paper Scissors Community where you can view short (usually 2-3 minute) how-tos from our editors, readers, and our WorkshopTM videos? Viewing these videos is a great way to preview a technique or a longer video to see if you want to pursue it.

10. Learn and do in small bites. OK, so maybe you can't stock up on all the supplies you were inspired to buy from that wire assemblage article you read in Cloth Paper Scissors. But perhaps you can afford a small starter kit. Or even lay your hands on some old wire and a pair of pliers in your garage to experiment with.

And maybe you'd love to learn more about art quilting techniques, but an entire season of "Quilting Arts TV" on DVD isn't in your budget. Now you can download select episodes of "QATV" for less than the price of a used paperback.

Yes, tough times will always come, and they will go. But artists can always make do when they make and do. After all, we're creative!

P.S. What are your cost-saving learning and supply gathering ideas. Please share them!

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