Embracing The White Space: How To Learn To Let Your Creativity Breathe

Feather Angel
image: jtstrathdee

When was the last time you felt your creativity truly, fully breathing from the depth of its mighty open lungs?

Rather than sputtering, wheezing and choking with a sandpaper dry throat, as it struggled to find any kind of calm, rhythm or peace?

When did you last feel, creatively, as if you were in the middle of a field of soft swaying grass, eyes to the sunlight, with a warm breeze at your back, gently urging you to create your heart out?

Rather than feeling buried up to your neck and sinking in a junk metal compressor in a forgotten ghost of a town in a dark November rainstorm?

Yeh, those feelings of space and freedom were just way too long ago, weren’t they?

Unfortunately, most of us are obsessed with cramming every last moment with some “important” task, because we feel we must be productive, we must use every spare minute to do something, we must achieve, and we mustn’t let down all these people that are counting on us.

But if you’re forever zooming around in a state of high anxiety, you’re not actually being very productive at all. And you’re not helping anyone, least of all yourself.

Trying to do too many things always results in doing them all poorly, or at least not doing any of them anywhere near as well as you could do if you gave them your full focus and energy.

So we end up with that sick, choking feeling, drowning in junk metal, utterly exhausted, wondering how we can possibly be expected to create anything of any worth – or of any beauty – amongst all this chaos and disorder and strain.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

What we’re in need of is a little white space.

White Space is a term that derives from graphic design, and it simply means all the white background space in between the letters, shapes and symbols.

Without white space, a page would be a mess of indecipherable colours without edges or definition.

Try for example, to imagine what this blog, or just this article would look like if all the white space was removed.

Similarly, in music, it’s the silence – the space and the pauses between notes – that allows the notes themselves to have meaning and to excite, move or relax us.

So it follows that in the rest of our lives, whatever artforms we create in, we need a little white space to let our creativity breathe, to express itself fully, and to grow.

It is possible, and like most things, it’s best done a little step at a time, introducing it into your life slowly, almost imperceptibly, then gradually turning up the dial as it becomes a solid, indestructible habit.

Here then are some of the best ways you can embrace the white space in your creative life, and start learning to breathe again:

1. Allow your creative mind time to mull over, to bubble away, to percolate your ideas.

Rather than feel the need to develop an idea immediately it comes to you. The best ideas will keep returning anyway, you can’t ignore them, so be patient and let them form in their own good time, rather than rushing or forcing them. Sometimes the most important creating is not with your hands, but in your mind, maybe without you even knowing. This is a crucial yet so often neglected part of the creative process.

2. Let your creative materials and the places you create in have enough space for you to be able to work freely.

You can have the most spacious studio in the world but if it’s crammed to the rafters with art materials you rarely use and you feel nothing but utterly overwhelmed by, it’s next to useless. Create calm, and space, start with the minimum of materials and the maximum space, and add more only when you really need them.

3. Give yourself time in your schedule to do absolutely nothing.

Actually block out 30 or 60 (or even just 15) minutes and don’t make any plans to do anything with it. When the times comes, meditate, take a walk, read a book, or just lay on your back in the grass and count the clouds. By having this white space blocked out, you give yourself the chance to practice just being, instead of always doing.

4. Create space in your mind for positive thoughts.

You know that constant negative chatter in your mind, that voice telling you’re not good enough, not talented enough, not a “proper” artist? If we allow these kind of thoughts to dominate our minds, there’s no space for any good ones! Learn to tame your inner critic, notice when negative thinking creeps in and nip it in the bud. In time, and with practice, the space these banished thoughts leave behind is ready to allow more positive and empowering ones to enter.

5. Disconnect from being constantly wired up and in touch with everyone.

Have regular digital sabbaticals, the rest of the world will keep turning without you, the internet will not implode if you’re not online for a couple of days. You don’t need to read just one more article on how to be more creative before you start. Not even this one! If you’re feeling really adventurous try a night camping or in a cabin with no means of contacting the outside world. Retreat, relax, replenish.

6. Create opportunities for better new relationships.

Is your life crammed with social engagements with people you only meet out of habit or obligation, and really you’d much rather be meeting with someone else, or you’d rather be on your own? Hey, maybe these people are feeling the same thing? Purge your diary, meet only with the people who inspire and support you, and who you inspire and support. The sooner you get rid of those ugly chairs, the sooner the right ones will turn up.

7. Practice creating without, expectations, plans or a big idea.

Just daydream or doodle, take as few materials as possible and just let your creativity flow in whatever way it wishes. Forget about the outcome or end “product”, give your creativity space to experiment like a three year old with a bucket of crayons and a huge pad of paper. Actually, why not get yourself a bucket of crayons and a pad of paper! Give yourself space from expectation and perfectionism, and just create.

These are just a few ideas on making a little white space for your creativity, there are of course dozens, if not hundreds of others.

The point of them all is to give yourself a break from relentless surface level activity that mostly results only in anxiety and producing even more surface level, actually pretty meaningless activity.

We’re human beings, so let’s give ourselves more time and space to be human beings, not in a constant state of human doing.

Let your creativity breathe.

Let it roam with abandon in fields far from home.

Let it plunge headfirst and dive deep into oceans you never knew were within you.

If you don’t, you’ll never know the full wonders of what you really are capable of creating.


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10 thoughts on “Embracing The White Space: How To Learn To Let Your Creativity Breathe”

  1. Great article, Dan! In spooky synchronicity, I dreamt the other night that my art needed more “white space around it” and I thought of it literally but now you’ve given me dozens of possible layers of interpretation to ponder on…Thanks!


    1. I think there are plenty more interpretations too! I think the more we strip away, the more we find what’s important. Keeping busy is a way of avoiding the truth, avoiding who we really are and who we can be.


  2. Wonderful ideas and so true! I was fortunate to go on a morning retreat yesterday to make Soul Collage cards. When I came home, I realized that one of the things that made it so special was the LARGE workspace area. There were only two of us sitting at one long worktable. Ahhhhhh….

    Also, there was auditory space. A peaceful, meditative CD was playing in the background, with very little talking going on during our “creating” time. Both the physical space and the “head” space combined allowed me to focus on the creating. And I returned renewed and refreshed!

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom, Dan!
    Jean 🙂


  3. Thanks Jean, great example to share.

    Amazing how many of us are surrounded by the chaos and noise of “stuff” we don’t need or want, and wonder why we can’t find that space and stillness to create…


  4. I am so very glad you addressed this vital issue.
    One of my concerns about flagging Procrastination as a serious issue for many or all creative people (or even to some degree the Readiness/Unreadiness issue) is that it could sometimes make people second-guess their craving for that white space or their actual need to reflect consciously or unconconsciously on a matter pertinent to the project at hand before they proceed.
    One needs to develop an intuition for what is focus and what is forcing something, what is procrastination and what is a need for white space.


    1. Thanks for such a thoughtful comment Fritzie, yes it’s finding that balance between being productive and not “wasting” time doing things that are meaningless, and making enough space in life for ourselves and our creativity to breathe and thrive. Like you say, we need to (and soon do learn to) develop an intuition for the difference between them and the balance that works for us and our artwork.


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