Can Your Computer Drain Your Creativity?

South Downs nr Fulking, Sussex photo: A.K.Andrew

South Downs nr Fulking, Sussex
photo: A.K.Andrew

Creativity and computers have been trying to blend together for some time now. Photoshop, painting apps, word processing freeing up writing time by throwing out the tipex and carbon paper. And yet how many of you feel that the time spent in front of your computer actually drains your creativity?

I recently read an article in the Pacific Standard that did a field test about creativity and nature. Here’s the opening paragraph:

“Have you been staring cow-eyed at a computer all morning? Fiddling with your iPhone in line at Starbucks? Checking Twitter and ESPN every four minutes on your tablet?

Good. Here’s a little quiz. What one word ties these three ideas together: water + tobacco + stove? How about widow + bite + monkey? Or, envy + golf + beans?

Psychologists call such wordplay the “remote associates test,” or RAT, and use it to study creativity and intuition. The idea is that it requires a nimble, open mind to find the connection between seemingly unrelated ideas—in this case pipe, spider, and green.”

The study goes on to compare responses after people have been hiking in nature. Of course the results improve. But is this really to do with nature itself, or simply having relaxation time away from the computer? For some people a hike in the woods would be torture, and they might achieve the same rejuvenating effect with a walk around an art gallery, or even a shopping mall.

Do Computers Free Your Time for Creativity?

On one level, our computers free up time for creativity by making certain practical tasks easier e.g. editing and printing. Computers also give us the means to express ourselves in ways that were previously impossible . However, do you ever question whether the practical benefits outweigh the time we lose in the myriad of things we now do with our technology? Think Facebook. Think looking up a factoid and not returning to your original project until an hour and a half later as one “interesting article” distracted you and one website led to another.

Without doubt we can network with others more easily. We might link up with creatively like minded individuals, or pursue online learning opportunities. But in terms of encouraging or tapping into our creativity, is our time better served in other pursuits?

 How well do you manage your computer time with your creative life? Does it complement or detract from your creativity? If the latter, what things would you like to change?

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Computer screen garden (2)

Computer screen garden (2) (Photo credit: 4nitsirk)




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Changing #Procrastination Creatively

Beachy Head by A.K. Andrew
Gouache on Card

Procrastination is the master of endless lists, even for things we supposedly want to do – I don’t have time, my artwork sucks, not enough room, too busy to focus, too tired, too________. You name it. They’re all valid reasons. Work, children, ill-health and a myriad of other things stop us from doing what we love. But if we love it so much why do we self-sabotage? Fear of failure? Fear of success? Anticipation creates as many reasons to stop as to start.  If you want to change procrastination, sometimes changing the way we do things creatively can provide a  solution to why we find it hard to pick up the tools of the trade. Shake things up and see what falls out. If you can’t do one thing do another.

I didn’t come to this conclusion by choice, but through developing Lupus, an auto-immune condition. I’ve been a visual artist for over twenty years, but  health problems started overnight almost thirteen years ago. My mobility was severely affected by joint and muscle pain, as well as fatigue. Creatively, it became a learning process of changing how to do things in order to continue doing what I loved.

Painting large canvases standing at an easel, now out of the question, became small works sitting down. Stretching my own canvases was impossible and pre-stretched canvases were initially traded in for flat canvas or paper. Oils became acrylics or watercolors, and long sessions switched to short ones.

Pacing myself is everything. At first I hated it. All of it. But I was determined not to give up. Then I found the challenge of being forced into new ways of working affected the creative process. The change became a source of creativity itself and I produced work I’d never otherwise have done. Procrastination was booted out.

More importantly, I also started writing. At first it was just a journal, but I read so much, I thought why not write? Illness jumpstarted my creative writing, but writing helped me through the process of dealing with my illness.  Synchronicity at it’s best. Writing can be a problem because of joint pain, but it’s something I can do in short bursts, more easily than getting out painting materials. I also use voice activated software when I need to.

Cat Doodle by A.K.Andrew
drawn in SketchbookX on iPhone

I’ve recently been re-introduced to computer art   by Susan Cooper* This has been SO fantastic and I’ve been painting on my iPhone. Now that’s a pretty small canvas! And the non-existent cleanup, leaves more energy for painting. Remember how much fun drawing and painting were when you were  child? Well it can be now. Right now. Whatever age you are. It doesn’t matter what it looks like – no-one’s  going to see it unless you want them to. It’s just fun to doodle. Instead of being bored on your train commute home, or waiting for a dental appointment, why not doodle on your phone or ipad?

For a  ‘painterly’ app, I’d recommend either ‘Brushes’, which is the app David Hockney uses, or ‘ArtRage’ which is a live simulation of the properties of real paint. Both are good for drawing too. At £1.59 for the app, you can’t beat it.  There are also lots of free apps to choose from. (SketchbookX & iDraw are two I’ve used)


City Summer Rain by A.K.Andrew
Painted  in ArtRage on iPhone

Blue Mountains by A.K.Andrew
Painted in ‘ArtRage’ on iPhone

We all have things holding us back from what we want to do, but I say if you can’t be a full time artist,  find ten minutes at lunch to write a few lines about a character, or make a sketch for your next painting. After the kids are in bed and you’re tired, jot down a few ideas, knit a few rows , think about what glaze to use in your next ceramic project. If you can’t do one thing do another – keep it small, think ‘different’ and you’ll be able to toss procrastination out with the garbage.

Illness has been a great teacher – I’ve learned to embrace change instead of fighting it, which leaves me open to try new things creatively, or use new tools. When procrastination comes knocking I look for different options. Are you ready to join me?

What draws you away from your creativity? Are there ways you can think of to break things down so that you can take smaller, more manageable steps?

Let me know. I’m always looking for new ways to do things.


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Flood by A.K.Andrew
Painted on iphone in ArtRage

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