Creativity Inspiration

How to Paint with the Creative Side of the Brain

How to Paint with the Creative Side of the Brain


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7 Ways to Energize Your Creative Side

Artist Nancy Reyner, author of Create Perfect Paintings, believes that painting with the creative side of the brain means keeping yourself engaged. Once boredom sets in, your focus and intent take a hike. You are left with ho-hum artistic results. Adding variety to your process is the cure for boredom for so many of the things we face in life — and in art. Nancy gives us seven ways to add variety to any creative endeavor we pursue!

RECLINING WITH CAT / Gigi Mills / Oil on panel / 9″ × 13″ (23cm × 33cm)

Variety Is the Right Way to Go

Variety can be obtained using a range of tools and materials, yet our brain is also a tool that can be trained to maximize variety. Paint with the creative side of the brain (the right side) dominant as much as possible since painting with your left brain will usually reduce variety.

Here are seven helpful suggestions to maintain right brain dominance while painting. Our brain naturally switches back and forth between both sides during activities. Being able to recognize when we switch and having methods to control the switching can be advantageous. That way you’ll paint with the creative side of the brain often!

Rule #1: Stay Playful

Remain in your play phase as long as possible. When your left brain starts to take over with its usual ploys of fear and judgment, take a moment to stop and change your thoughts to more positive ones.

Sometimes we think that the only road to creativity is through suffering, or even martyrdom, overworking ourselves in order to produce. The “no pain, no gain” philosophy has its place but is absolutely not helpful for the play phase. Liz Gilbert, author of Big Magic, suggests staying playful and not reverting to seriousness. Gilbert advises to switch from being the martyr to being the trickster, suggesting that we dance with the trickster and not let seriousness burden our experience.

Put your ideas out there and see what happens. A painter’s play phase is not about guilt, burden or fear, but about releasing. Instead of trying to conquer fear, invite it along to play in the creative act.

ADRIFT / Pat Bailey / Oil on canvas / 40″ × 30″ (102cm × 76cm)

Rule #2: Avoid Autopilot

Autopilot is our left brain’s favorite mode. While painting, try to be aware when the act of painting starts to feel repetitious and automatic. That means the creative side of the brain is no longer engaged. Notice if and when you start repeating anything—brushstrokes, direction, size, color. As soon as possible, stop actions that repeat painting the same thing three times in a row, do something the same all over, or cover exactly half your painting surface area.

Once you notice any repetition, immediately fix it. Evenly applied patterns or too much symmetry will decrease the work’s attention-getting power.

Keep changing color, movement, brushwork, dilutions and shapes. Avoid bringing attention to corners, edges and sides, and the dead center. Don’t hold your breath or tighten your jaw, and try to maintain a loose grip on your tools.

TETON AUTUMN / Bruce Cody / Oil on linen / 26″ × 56″ (66cm × 142cm) / Private collection

Notice the depth of space and viewing interest in this landscape. Compare the distant mountains in the finished painting (above) with the mountain segment that has been photographically altered (below), simulating what might happen when painting with the left brain on autopilot. Even realism can turn into pattern when on autopilot, producing a quick viewing exit.

Rule #3: Alternate Eye Focus

As an exercise while painting, become aware of how your eye moves around your image. Are you looking at the whole image and the big picture or smaller sections of detail?

Practice alternating your focus between the big picture and small detail by allowing your eyes to focus broadly, then narrowing in on detail, going back and forth several times during a standard painting session.

This movement from big to small and its reverse keeps your right brain active. It also helps integrate parts of your image to the whole.

THE TALISMAN, CA 1888 / Paul Sérusier / Oil on wood / 69″ × 55″ (175cm × 140cm) / Collection of the Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Rule #4: Exercise Your Brain

The original Brain Gym book was written for teachers to improve learning with youth in classrooms. It contains exercises for activating the creative side of the brain or our right brain. The book has since been revised with several versions, but all contain great information and exercises regarding the right brain. Although the book was originally meant for children, I have used it in adult workshops with great results.

TABLEAU I, CA 1921 / Piet Mondrian / Oil on canvas / 41″ × 39″ (104cm × 99cm)

Hard-edge abstraction is a painting style used by artists such as Piet Mondrian, Josef Albers, Agnes Martin, Kasimir Malevich and Frank Stella. This style is known for flat or shallow spatial depth, and geometric forms with distinct boundaries or edges. Hard-edge abstraction often contains pattern-like qualities, yet successful paintings in this genre will still contain enough variations in design and color to create interesting eye movement, as seen here.

Rule #5: Frequently Restock Your Setup

Keep variety readily available by continuing to check your setup of tools and materials. Refresh, resupply or reorganize as needed to keep the creative side of the brain excited about what it/you are doing. Inadequate setups result when we take the lazy route and use whatever is left over, resulting in muddy colors among other issues. If variety isn’t readily available in your setup, it usually won’t get into your painting.

Rule #6: Imagine Expansive Space

Try imagining that the image you plan to paint represents a very small fragment of a much larger space that exists outside the surface. This is similar to a snapshot photo taken from a more expansive landscape.

Practice the following exercise on an inexpensive surface to help you envision expansive space. Load your brush with paint, then place it well outside (at least 5″ [13cm] or more) the edge of your surface.

Position the brush loosely in your hand and angle it so both the brush head and handle are parallel to the surface.

Begin moving the brush toward the surface as if you are applying paint in the air, continuing onto your surface where the paint is now visible, moving slowly while varying the line as much as possible.

Avoid moving too quickly across in a straight line, into corners or riding along edges. Finish your stroke well outside the edges of the surface, again painting air.

SIRENS SONG 5 / Willy Bo Richardson / Watercolor and gouache on paper / 21″ × 26″ (53cm × 66cm) / Photo by Kim Richardson

In this abstract comparison both paintings make use of vertical stripes as an overall compositional theme. The top image has little variation in that each uniform stripe differs only in color from its neighbor. This overly repetitive quality is a common consequence when left brain dominates.

One might argue that by simply changing each stripe’s color, one can create interest and a sense of space. Yet when it is compared to Richardson’s bottom painting, we can see the difference that abundant variety can make. Here colors not only change with each stripe, but shift within the stripe itself. Edges overlap each other in great variety. The work readily reveals the artist’s use of the creative side of the brain. With the right brain dominant, the artist produces a painting that has better attracting power and more intriguing spatial effects.

Rule #7: Love Your Whole Brain

It isn’t about the creative side of the brain alone. Make friends with your left brain by including it in your painting session. Learn how to work with your left and right sides together as a team. Our left brain can sometimes act like a spoiled child. It whines, judges, comes up with criticism and negativity, anything to get you to stop painting.

Once you establish a good working relationship between your left and right sides, you will dramatically improve the level of ease and flow in your work. The goal is to feel like you are the observer (a term used in many meditation techniques) instead of identifying fully with the right or left sides. Being in observer mode is the most powerful tool you have.

Find more moving insights and creative strategies (and inspiring artwork and techniques too!) with Nancy Reyner’s instructional video downloads:


Watch the video: Creativity: The science behind the madness. Rainn Wilson, David Eagleman u0026 more. Big Think (May 2022).