Top Five Exercises To Get Your Creative Juices Flowing

Something that students often ask me is “Where do you get your ideas?” which is generally part of a larger conversation that begins with “What do you do when you’re totally uninspired?” This is often referred to as writer’s block, creative apathy, and “the blahs”. Throughout the years, I’ve been fortunate to have met a handful of truly creative people. The type of people you envy as they seem to burst at the seams with endless creativity. I have found that to be the remarkable exception, not the norm. For the rest of us—myself included—that Earth shattering idea or creative impulse takes a bit more nurturing, and a lot more effort. Yes, that’s right, despite what you may think—given the prolific amount of content I generate—even I have those moments where the creative energies seem absent. Here are some of the things I do to spark ideas:

1. Mix up your creative energy.
If I’m focused on writing, I’ll take a break to listen to some music or watch unrelated video content. I prefer to write with little distractions, but sometimes I’ll put on talk radio as background chatter to get my mind wandering. Other times I pump high-energy beats just to get the foot a tappin’. My goal is to get into a creative flow without forcing my hand or my brain.

2. Give yourself assignments.
I’m horrible when it comes to routine practice, but I’ve found having an assigment gives me a focused creative project. Lately, I’ve been focused on my writing so I use pictures as a creative exercise. The idea is to select a photo, then write something about it. Could be a phrase, simple poem, or expanded story, but it’s drawn from the photo. Photographers have been giving themselves photo assignments for years. Google+ is a great haven for such photo-themed posts. Try it, pick a subject then use your creative talents to execute an idea from that subject.

3. Practice Practice Practice.
You read #2 right? How does practice spark creative energy? It’s simple. The less you have to think about the mechanics of the task, the less you’ll think period. And thinking is what got you here in the first place. Thinking about how you don’t have any ideas. If you’re constantly having to think about your camera controls or how to light a scene, you’ll quickly become frustrated and lose that creative moment. If you can’t remember the shortcut key to Deselect in Photoshop or how to duplicate a layer, it quickly becomes like spellchecking a document in the middle of writing every sentence. Michael Jordan wasn’t good simply from inherent DNA. He practiced, and worked on his weaknesses in the off-season.

4. Take a break.
OK, now you probably think I’m just messing with you. I just told you to create regular assignments as a means to get you to practice, and now I’m telling you a take a break? Yeah. The fact is if you’ve been staring at that blank piece of paper for a while, or clicking off a number of photographs that you just don’t like, it’s time to step back and take a break. Sometimes I need to completely disengage from the creative activity. That’s a really good time to find something else productive or relaxing. Get some house chores done, or spend some time playing in the yard with your kids, or take a nap. Yes, there will be real moments where you are not creative at all. Accept it, and move on.

5. Nobody has to see your mistakes. Just finish it.
I’ve experienced this quite a bit, but I see it the most in my colleagues and the students I teach. You’re in the middle of creating something, and it’s not your best work so you drop it. In fact, you have a collection piling up of hundreds of started ideas, but nothing finished. If you wait around for that “perfect moment” you’ll miss out on creating anything at all. So just finish it. There will be time to critique the idea later.

I’ll admit, I don’t always perfectly execute my game plan. But then nobody does. Whether you write, paint, take photos, draw, sing, act, etc., just know that creative energy will beat inside you until you use it. So use it. Make mistakes, learn from them, practice, it’s an endless cycle that has the potential to enrich not only your life but those around you.

What about you? What do you do to get the creative juices flowing?

To Maximize Your Talents You Have To Recognize & Acknowledge Where You Suck

Last week I mentioned that I had recorded new video tutorials for Layers Magazine & Psdtuts+. I have been creating videos for Layers Magazine for a while, and I was excited to have met Grant Friedman at Photoshop World. Our conversation at PSW Vegas led to the opportunity to create videos for Psdtuts+. My first tutorial Use Curves Adjustment to Turn Day to Night was posted last Friday and sent shockwaves throughout the community. Never before in the history of Psdtuts+ had such a horrendous-putrid-God-awful-stink of a tutorial ever been posted. At least, not until Saturday when my second tutorial Create a Planet Using Photoshop’s 3D Capabilities went live on the site…


I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t disappointed with the outcome. No one wants to hear that their work isn’t acceptable. How could this happen you ask? Simple. I clearly didn’t know my audience before creating the tutorials. I have never claimed to be an artist, anyone who follows my work knows I’m more artisan & engineer. My talent lies not in what I create, but my ability to communicate & teach. I could argue the merits of both tutorials, but that would be like telling an Apple fanboy why they should by a PC. Bottom line, I missed the mark. I failed. I laid a big fat goose egg. Twice.

To Maximize Your Talents You Have To Recognize & Acknowledge Where You Suck

A colleague recently suggested I was living in a bubble of positive feedback where everyone kissed my ass and told me how wonderful I am. I can assure you, THAT is not the case. It would be easy to pass on creating future tutorials for Psdtuts+, but I’m not one to shy away from a challenge. The shortcomings in the videos I created were the final images. Can I create better images? ABSOLUTELY. Will all the readers on Psdtuts+ love my work? Probably not, but I’m willing to bet the positives results outweigh any negative reviews.

NAPP Giveaway Contest

CONTEST IS CLOSEDRead the Winner Announcement


Thanks for joining me on the blog. Are you excited? I’m excited. As your newest NAPP Evangelist, I’m happy to be kicking things off with a DVD giveaway contest. Just who is NAPP you ask? Simply stated, “It’s where EVERYONE goes to learn Photoshop.” You can join the NAPP Nation right now and get a discount when you use my promo code “ajwood”.

Alright, one lucky person will win their choice of ONE of the DVDs listed in this blog post. Available DVDs include:

Live Wedding Shoot: From Start to Finish – David Ziser

Here’s your opportunity to be David’s “virtual assistant” during a live wedding shoot. Learn from a master photographer with over 25 years of experience in the industry. David is one of the best, and even non-wedding shooters stand to learn something new about lighting, composition & other applicable skills.

Lightroom 3 Power Session – Matt Kloskowski

If you already have experience using Lightroom and just want to know what’s improved in Lightroom 3 this is your DVD. Matt walks you through all the changes including importing photos, tethered shooting, slideshow movies & more.

Mastering Selections – Dave Cross

You won’t become a Photoshop Power User until you master the art of making selections. In this DVD Dave walks you through various selection techniques which are sure to make you a pro.

Channels & Masks – Corey Barker

Are you pretty good with Photoshop and looking to take that next step? Have you used Layer Masks, but just don’t feel comfortable yet? Corey walks you through the ins & outs of using Channels & Masks in this DVD.

Mastering HDR – Matt Kloskowski

HDR. Folks either love it or hate it. You just want to learn more about it and make your own decision on the technique. Let Matt K give you all the tools you need to be an HDR visionary.

To enter the contest simply do the following:

1. Leave a comment to this specific post stating which DVD you want & why.

2. Only one contest comment per person. Duplicate IP addresses will be void your entry. (Feel free to leave non-contest related comments or questions)

3. Use a valid email address, preferably one that you check so I can contact you if you are the winner.

4. You must be at least 18 to participate. (Kids have your parents enter for you)

5. This contest is global, there are no location restrictions.

6. Entries are also being accepted on my Facebook page. You DO NOT need to enter in both places, and only one entry will be counted.

Contest is open until Monday, November 15th at midnight CST. I will use to draw a winner who will be announced in a separate blog post next Tuesday, November 16th. Winner will be contacted by me via email with instructions on how to claim their prize.

NOTICE – FTC law requires me to state I am not offered any similar prizes for hosting this giveaway.

If you have any questions about the contest send an email to “contact” @ this domain, with the subject “NAPP Giveaway”. You can also message me on Twitter or leave a comment. And don’t forget, anyone can take advantage of NAPP membership to improve their Photoshop experience.

CONTEST IS CLOSED – Read the Winner Announcement

Launch of the Designer Roundtable Podcast

Today marks the first official episode of the Designer Roundtable Podcast. This project is the brainchild of Firgs, with some tomfoolery by Erik Bernskiold, a pinch of Landailyn for Photoshop Guru credibility & yours truly to make us an even number. (OK, the kids needed a chaperon–LOL) While the first few episodes are prerecorded, our hope is to eventually run a live interactive show. That means we need your input. Follow @DRTpodcast on Twitter or “like” the official DRTPodcast page on Facebook. (You can also subscribe via iTunes once the show is approved) After you’ve done that, send us your questions & feedback. That is what will make this a GREAT show.

Alrighty, I’ve rambled on enough this morning. Go checkout Episode 1 of the DRTpodcast.

Friday Recap – Where’s A.J.?

Happy Friday everyone!

For those that are wondering about this week’s Tip Tuesday, my apologies as I’m still having some hardware/tech issues. I’m working to resolve them as quickly as possible amongst my other daily duties. Don’t worry though, I managed to post a quick Lightroom 3 tuning guide over at TipSquirrel this morning.

Imagine my surprise when I sat down to catch up on this morning, and I received a shout-out from Cali Lewis! I’m mentioned in the same breadth as Trey Ratcliff, which is a huge honor because HE is simply incredible. Thanks to all the folks who dropped in on the blog this week, and THANK YOU CALI! for including me in Episode #14 on Monday.

If you haven’t already registered, you need to checkout OpenCamp scheduled next month August 27-29. It will be the best open source developer/media conference of its kind anywhere, not just here in the metroplex. There’s something for everyone who creates web content. Seriously, just look at the list of speakers and you’ll agree it’s going to be the event of the summer.