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Five Creativity Questions for Danielle Krysa

Nov 8, 2016

by Valerie Rains

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Danielle Krysa has made a career of overcoming obstacles — both external setbacks and the internal kind that can sometimes be even tougher to rise above. A painter who gave up painting after an especially harsh critique at the end of art school, Danielle rerouted her path toward a career in design and creative direction. Years later, when she was ready to return to fine art, she found herself stymied again, overwhelmed by the sheer volume of quality work that was being produced by her peers.

Then something kind of miraculous happened: Danielle willed her envy into admiration. After launching the Jealous Curator, a daily blog spotlighting art she loved, she began delving into other artists’ stories and found that neuroses and negativity afflict multitudes of creative people — not just her. (She also found her way into collage making, which turned out to be a far better fit for her creative yen than painting ever was.) Since then, Danielle has made it her mission to find and share strategies for breaking through creative blocks.

In Your Inner Critic is a Big Jerk, and Other Truths About Being Creative (a follow-up to her also-awesome 2014 book Creative Block), Danielle dispenses hard-won wisdom and hands-on exercises for taming the discouraging inner voice that stops so many new endeavors in their tracks — whether you’re an artist or a bank teller or an astronaut. “Any time you hear that little voice telling you, ‘don’t bother’, ‘this is going to be too hard’, ‘you’re going to fail anyway’… of course you should learn to tune that out,” she says. “So many people get stopped before they even start, thanks to that jerk. You have to show up every day and just keep working on whatever it is you’re trying to get better at, whether that’s art or not. If you keep showing up and proving that voice wrong, eventually it’s going to quiet down.”

Read on for more of Danielle Krysa’s insights into nurturing a creative life and pick up a copy of her book, available now anywhere books are sold.
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The first chapter of your book is titled “Everyone is Creative,” but…are you sure about that?

Absolutely! Creativity can take on so many forms — it can happen in an art studio, in a writing notebook, in the kitchen, in the garden or in the way you dress. The reason I wrote this as the first chapter is because I cannot even count how many people have told me, “Oh no… I’m not creative. I’d love to be, but I’m just not.” That sounds like an inner critic if you ask me!

What are the benefits of inviting creativity into your life no matter who you are?

Well first, it’s fun. Remember being a kid? We all made stuff for the sole purpose of having fun and getting messy. Creativity is also a really great excuse to socialize! Host a “bad art night” with a group of friends, with the goal of making the ugliest thing you possibly can. Add pizza and wine and you’re in for a night full of glitter glue and laughing.

In your book, you share so many great practical, hands-on ideas for shaking off your inner critic and letting your creativity loose. What are some of the ideas you think are best suited for absolute beginners to try?

My favorite would probably be the Instagram-a-day project. You take one photo every day for a month, but each day has a theme. In the book there’s a list of 30 (so you don’t even have an excuse not to do this!), or you can just get a friend to jot down 30 random things. For example: Day 1 = white; Day 2 = symmetrical; Day 3 = pattern; and so on. It seems so simple, well, because it is. What I love about this is that it instantly adds a bit of creativity to your everyday life. It also makes you so much more present. On your usual walk to work you’re suddenly keeping an eye out for “pattern.” Once those 30 days are over, I’ll bet you $10 that you’ll want to keep going!

There’s sometimes a perception that art and creativity are all about being whimsical, but many of the tips in your book involve things like constraints and rules and habits. How does that work?

Being whimsical, loose and free is wonderful, but if you don’t have some kind of plan, you can end up feeling like a whimsical deer in headlights. So many professional artists give themselves a set of rules, and then they let loose within that box. It’s like getting an assignment at school — these rules just give you a starting place. Otherwise, you may find yourself staring wide-eyed at a very blank page.

You’ve pulled great advice from lots of working artists for your books. What’s the best piece of creative advice you’ve ever gotten from someone who wouldn’t call him or herself an artist?

I’ve spoken to so many professional artists who’ve given me all sorts of advice, but I’ve also spent countless hours talking to people who’ve come out to my signings and other events. One of my favorite nuggets of wisdom came from a 17-year-old high school student who told me he calls his inner critic Arlo. I loved that! Suddenly that nasty “inner critic” was just a guy named Arlo that I could kick out of my studio if he was being rude. Since that day, I always tell other people to give that mean voice a name — something nonthreatening like Gordon, Elaine, Mr. Bunnykins, whatever works! It’s a really great way to make that little voice even littler.

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Image courtesy Your Inner Critic Is a Big Jerk by Danielle Krysa, illustrated by Martha Rich and published by Chronicle Books in 2016

How do you silence your inner critic? Tell us in the comments. 

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34 comments

  • IsabellaDiSclafani

    Isabella Di Sclafani from IsabellaDiSclafani said 2 years ago

    I'm too busy making art and thinking about my next projects to spend any time listening to an "inner-critic" or any other critic for that matter.

  • GTDesigns

    renee and gerardo from GTDesigns said 2 years ago

    A need and love for curating JJ kits certainly outmaneuvers my inner critic. The thrill that some bookmaking artist will re-love what I've found is all-consuming most of the time. Thinking about the next item that goes into my kits is an exciting feeling and leaves very little room for negativity, even though I am a firm believer that tough 'inner criticism' has its place and can be just as useful in terms of balance. What a great philosophy this featured artist has on the creative process... and yes, sometimes, getting back to a bit of rules and plan makes all the difference in denouement. Great post! Congrats on the feature!

  • wjw1912

    Whitney W. said 2 years ago

    There was once a woman who became an art teacher. No one knows or cares why. Probably, she would have given you the usual cliches. Many years into her career, she was given a student to teach. This student had talent, the woman thought. But, why oh why is she just sitting there? Why on earth is she not drawing? The teacher decided that the answer to her questions was simple. This child is simply not an artist. I shall tell her and anyone who will listen was this student is not. I will declare to the other art teachers that this student has no right to be taught. She is taking the space away from deserving students. Well, like, duh. I'm the kid. The story is real. It happened early on in high school, so I got to be traumatized by it while still freshly hatched. For a long, long time I totally believed her. I didn't take into consideration the fact that I was deep into a major depression and it was often hard for me to move. Often, I would just sit. Or stand. Don't think I ever had the opportunity to lay on the floor. But I remember wanting to. Oh, and I was also dead inside. Not conducive to creativity or thought or whatever the hell everyone wanted from me. So without knowing what she had done, or probably even caring, this teacher taught me that I was not an artist. Thus, Not-An-Artist was added to my sense of identity. It was a long time, a decade or so, before I called bull on that. Finally, I reclaimed my creativity, found nothing there, and started moving in some metaphorical furniture. The End

  • frighten

    mari from frighten said 2 years ago

    I've seen Danielle's art. It's great and her titles are awesome. One of the things I struggle with as well is comparing myself to other artists. The amount of incredibly talented artists out there, especially now with websites like Instagram, can make it a bit overwhelming. Sometimes you just want to give up and crawl under a rock when you see how talented and creative some people are. I think it's important to be realistic about what you're working with but still always challenge yourself and try new things. As long as you're always learning and doing you, that should help when self-doubt starts to creep in.

  • DesignADollhouse

    Kimberly from DESIGNADOLLHOUSE said 2 years ago

    What a helpful article for creative people! I love the "Instagram-a-day Project." For my inner-critic... ACTION. When I begin creating my soul gets fed and I am in a pretty authentic space. When that is happening, the inner-critic quiets down pretty quick. :)

  • loribethclark4

    Loribeth from MomentsOfArt said 2 years ago

    I find that I have to be disciplined in order to be creative. I am naturally creative and artistic, but I'm also very easily distracted by other things that also come naturally.

  • bedouin

    Nicole from Crackerjackarma said 2 years ago

    Great feel good feature ~ Too bad the member curated treasury feature was discontinued. It showed off unique combinations and was a positive way to boost one another up a bit. Life is too short to be critical especially when it comes to art ~ Don't hate Create !

  • suemako

    Sue from SuesAkornShop said 2 years ago

    Thanks for sharing this great article. Congrats on the feature.

  • deardearArt

    deardear from deardearArt said 2 years ago

    So good~~ thanks for share~~

  • canvaspics

    Tara Daavettila from CanvasPics said 2 years ago

    I am finally getting this book tonight at B&N ~ can't wait. No critique should be harsh, it's a critique, but especially an inner one. Show up every day, E V E R Y day. Yes.

  • Prettycasesshop

    Prettycasesshop from Prettycasesshop said 2 years ago

    Great, thanks for the share!

  • babsfsu

    Barbara Gable from CrazyLovely said 2 years ago

    Great article! It's true that everyone is creative even though so many think they're not. Focusing on my strengths and successes keeps my inner critic away.

  • embellishedlife

    sharon from EmbellishedLife said 2 years ago

    I think off all the things and situations I've pulled through. Then I go find my sketch book, order supplies and go make some more stuff.

  • ArtisanSoapInVegas

    Cristy Ramos from ArtisanBathandBody said 2 years ago

    Danielle, I want and need your book! Thank you very much for this article and insights. My inner critic is super quiet at times but I must say that when it happens I have to be prepared for a storm of ideas.

  • bennaandhanna

    benna and hanna from bennaandhanna said 2 years ago

    Either I don't listen to the inner critic if i can't fight it or i turn it positively by making it into a challenge and still keep my design principles. Thanks for sharing.

  • allwood1

    allwood1 from AllWoodToo said 2 years ago

    Thanks so much for sharing...I can't even imagine telling do to a child, what was done to you. I now have the opportunity to let me grandson be creative. Boy, do I take every advantage of my time with him. I will continue to do so with the rest of my grandchildren coming up.....I want to encourage them, not discourage them. I hope no one ever does to them, what I am reading has been done to you and some of the readers..... Glad you found your happy place!

  • simpledream2

    Lisa S. from simpledream2 said 2 years ago

    I do believe that everyone is creative, a maker, a crafter, an artisan. Whatever the medium we choose, we all create every day. We have to break away from the nay-sayers, those who say they "can't" and not listen to them. I like to hear those who acknowledge their creative side introduce themselves by saying something like "Hi I'm Lisa, I make quilts", etc. When we hear ourselves state that we are creative we begin to believe it and forge ahead. Creating is joy, it's theraputic, it is contagious. I am an empty nester, I never get bored because I create...........I make quilts.

  • DivineOrders

    DivineOrders from DivineOrders said 2 years ago

    GLORIOUS! Thank you Danielle - from ALL of us creative-wanna-bees. Giving that argumentative inner voice a name and booting it out the door is a SUPER plan. You have provided a most valuable asset - HOPE. - Peace.

  • dominna

    Katrina Dzerkale from Dominna said 2 years ago

    I do believe that this article should be saved and read by all the creative people out there !!!

  • ekra

    Emily Kircher from ekra said 2 years ago

    One way I try to silence my inner critic is to tell myself it is okay to fail. In fact, I prepare myself to fail. When developing a new product, it almost never turns out right the first time you make it. I have to be prepared to fail, and then to work to fix the things that went wrong. Understanding that success comes usually only after failing (ie. practicing) makes it easier to try new things.

  • donnaKpickens

    Donna Pick said 2 years ago

    How do i go back and edit my page after i have placed my order?

  • zizolabel

    zizolabel from zizolabel said 2 years ago

    I struggle with my inner critic for some time, then I pull myself together and go painting just because of the joy of doing it! And sometimes you have to avoid people who criticize you to the ground... because it can really take you down and paralyze you in making. Reading blogs from creative people also helps me to find the joy of making again.

  • DelilahsAttic

    Madeleine Keller from ThoseGoodVibrations said 2 years ago

    this book seems like a great read :)

  • emaxtees

    emaxtees from EmaxTees said 2 years ago

    That a good "How to" article ;)

  • carolsburns

    Carol Burns from ArtIsbyCarolBurns said 2 years ago

    I had an art teacher who told me I wasn't good enough to get into art school. I believed him and he became the Chair of, what I call, my 'shit committee'. Over the years the Board has expanded to include Mrs 'But they are so much better than you', Mr 'You charge HOW MUCH?' and Mrs 'My 5 year old could do better' amongst others. I didn't draw or paint anything for years and then one day I did a drawing for my hubby and that was it...the flood gates opened and I couldn't stop. When I am challenging them I imagine turning down the heat in their comfortable Board Room, swapping their plush chairs for wobbly wooden ones and then I give them instant coffee and soggy biscuits. In my head that keeps them occupied while I give myself permission to learn and play. Also, surrounding yourself with people who understand the creative process really helps.

  • FeltHappiness

    Juliane Gorman from FeltHappiness said 2 years ago

    I like to listen to Neil Gaiman's commencement speech to 2012 University of the Arts Graduates - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ikAb-NYkseI Make Good Art!

  • windseedstudio

    Windseed from WINDSEEDstudio said 2 years ago

    I'm going through this myself. I'm starting to create again, and I can't move past various obstacles which I seem to be using as excuses for not moving forward. I became ill the last couple of years, and my creativity waned significantly. I put my vintage shop on a semi-permanent holiday. Recently as I feel a bit better, I'm trying to create again, with hopes of reinventing my shop. But fears and my inner critic are powerful foes. I may need to read to this book to help defeat them.

  • mburruss

    Mary Burruss from GetAllWiredUp said 2 years ago

    Thank you for that recommendation to chase those nasty thoughts away! So true you just have to show up and keep plugging away every day. Thank you so much for the encouragement.

  • mariahfoxart

    Mariah Fox from italart said 2 years ago

    This is so important ton realize as an artist, that our own worst enemy is sometimes ourselves! Well done in exposing that. I have also written about this: http://www.pyragraph.com/2013/10/fear-and-art/

  • FreshRetroGallery

    Elizabeth Knaus from FreshRetroGallery said 2 years ago

    Hey, Danielle Krysa, Martha Rich, Valerie Rains, or someone at Chronicle Books: I hate to be an outer-critic; on the link http://www.chroniclebooks.com/your-inner-critic-is-a-big-jerk.html, I noticed Size: 2 x 2 x 6 in. I'm not seeing those dimensions in the picture, so I wonder if that might be a typo. Is it correct somehow I can't see? Back to the question… My inner critic helps me in many ways; when it gets out of hand, I go for a walk and let it rest.

  • ButterflyFeetShop

    Sherri from ButterflyFeetDigital said 2 years ago

    This is a very good read, thanks for sharing! I believe that if someone thinks they are not creative it means they simply have not yet found their own creativity.

  • IndependentReign

    Janine from IndependentReign said 2 years ago

    I think I need this book. Always fighting my inner critic....so far I think I'm winning. But man; he really is a jerk and a downer! ;) Glad to see that it is a common feeling.

  • nestandfeathers13

    Nancy from Soapbirds said 2 years ago

    Love this! Especially want to encourage my friends. So I'm planning a "bad art night" soon with little paper crown, crayons, milk and cookies (just like we had in kindgergarten!) Can't wait to see the men in crowns, etc; Truly believe we all need a little loosening up to find that inner creativity again. (Better add some pizza and beer for the guys on second thought) Thank you!

  • bellecaprice

    Anna from bellecaprice said 2 years ago

    Neurosis and negativity? Sounds familiar. I was reading about my kindred spirit. Thank you for your insights.

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