• Abby Joy Conrad

5 Tips on Creativity from Austin Kleon's Show Your Work!


Earlier this month I read Austin Kleon's book Show Your Work! I sat on my patio sofa nodding, chuckling, and scribbling down notes the whole way through. The content is impactful yet Kleon writes very conversationally and breaks things up into easily digestible sections within each chapter. I feel a little nerdy doing a "book report" of sorts for my first blog post, but this book was super creatively motivating for me and I hope it will be for you too! Even if you don't consider yourself to be particularly creative, which I would argue everyone is, I still find some of these tips to be applicable to just generally finding more joy in life. And we could all use more joy these days. So without further ado, here are five tips on creativity from Austin Kleon’s book Show Your Work! Enjoy!

1. Own your guilty pleasures Your guilty pleasures are what make you unique; they inform and inspire your creativity. Don’t hide them away! Embracing the things you like will set you and your creativity free. Back off haters because no one can combine pizza and watercolor painting quite like you can! Or cats and pottery. (I'm imagining furry bowls. Ha!) Your guilty pleasures will help you stand out from the crowd and connect you with other pizza painting loving fans just like you. As Dave Grohl says on the first page of this chapter, (and pardon the French) "if you f---ing like something, like it!"

2. Conduct the vampire test Speaking of haters, boost creativity by saying buh-bye to the things that are sucking your life force! Creative inspiration doesn’t come easily when you are burnt out or beat down. If you're feeling sucked dry, you may have some vampires in your life. Vampires can be more than just people (or internet trolls); places, hobbies, or unhealthy habits can just as easily leave you feeling empty. Grab your garlic and banish those things from your life! Or maybe just change things up, avoid the vampires where you can, and make sure to take breaks to refuel. You got this!

3. Go creative dumpster diving* You are allowed to look to other artists for creative inspiration. This is the second time I’ve heard this creative "dumpster diving" advice. The first time was on an episode of the Creative Pep Talk podcast with Andy J. Pizza – which I highly recommend. Going creative dumpster diving looks like studying the work of other artists to find golden nuggets of possibility that may have been left behind. A color palette, a pattern, a facial expression, a lyric, a dance move – to some, these details may go unnoticed, but to you they are the bits of “trash" that can become your treasure. If you are creatively stuck, see if you can expand upon where other artists left off. *Disclaimer: What creative dumpster diving does not look like is stealing. I’m sure this point is talked about in much greater detail in Kleon’s other book, Steal like an Artist, but it was checked out at my library, soooo... it’s next on my reading list. :)

4. Find your fellow knuckleballers Creativity doesn't happen in a vacuum. Collaboration is key to all things creative. Kleon describes this point in his chapter about finding your “scenius" (as opposed to being a lone genius), and in the story of a band of knuckleball pitchers. Unlike other pitchers who hold their trade secrets tight to their chest, knuckleballers share freely with each other because they are untied by a common goal: the survival of the knuckleball pitch. Some creatives can be just as reserved as non-knuckleballers, but work hard to surround yourself with generous creative folks. Be good to your people and they'll be good to you.

5. Sometimes it’s best to begin again Like with pasta or standup, there's a point where things can get just too overworked. Sometimes the best creative choice is to start fresh and begin again. Kleon points out that when you throw out old work, you make room for new work. Maybe that’s a tiny bit scary, but starting again can be really creatively freeing. Throwing out doesn't mean starting back at zero. Look around you! You are knee-deep in knowledge and experience from all your hard work. Take a breath and go back to the beginning. Begin again by digging deeper into your creativity and unearth those new creative treasures just waiting to be discovered!


Well, those are your five tips. I hope they left you feeling a little more creatively inspired and uplifted. For more of Austin Kleon's work, check out his website or grab one of his books at your local library or bookstore. You can follow me over on instagram. Thanks for reading, friends. Let's do this again! Happy weekend and be kind out there. - Abby