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You don’t have to be an artist to go through a creative rut. Maybe you’ve completely run out of dinner ideas or you feel exhausted just at the thought of picking out an outfit in the morning—or possibly you do want to make something with your hands, but you simply don’t know where to start. Ashley Mary, a Minneapolis-based artist who seemingly never stops creating paintings, murals, and pom-pom earrings, understands the struggle.

“Creative blocks can breed insecurities, and insecurities are exhausting,” she says. “It’s energy spent worrying.” That’s precisely why she founded Curiosity Studio—a creative learning studio for adults who want to learn how to make things, mess up, and remember how to play—alongside friend and art therapist Lauren Callis Erickson

Mary views creativity as something that everyone should tap into. “Just like eating healthy and exercising, variety is the spice of life and no one thing will be a solution for all,” she says. So different people may require different activities to best tap into the artistic right side of their brain.

The most important thing is to make sure whatever project you take on doesn’t become yet another source of stress. “At Curiosity Studio we have a saying: ‘Treat your art how you want to be treated.’ Be gentle, don’t be judgmental, be kind,” Mary says. Here, she recommends a few strategies to give you that out-of-the-box-thinking boost you need. 

Reuse Something You Already Own to Give It New Life 

Old jeans? Rip ’em up and paint them. Bad drawing? Cut it up and collage with it. We are needlessly wasteful creatures, and there’s so much that can be done with things we already have. A good DIY project is always fun, but by upcycling items, you can save money and do the planet a favor, too.

Trade a Skill With a Friend or Connection

I love reaching out to other makers, artists, or folks who have a skill I’m interested in learning. My friend Chelsea Lovett of Modehaus Bridal taught me a few years ago how to use a sewing machine so I could make little bags and pillows. In return, I painted her something. I love using trade as currency. Some other skills and goods that are easy to trade for: photography, graphic design, knitting, screen printing, cooking, carpentry, jewelry, ceramics, artwork, painting, and learning an instrument. My friend gave me a ukelele last year and it’s been my goal to teach myself a few songs. There’s no doubt you have something to teach, so find a friend who you can skill-swap with.

Collaborate on a Group Project

If you have a long-distance pal, a fun way to stay connected is to work on a project that you mail back and forth, physically or digitally. It can be a journal you collaborate on, a quilt you add to, a story or poem you both work on, or a series of photos you exchange. Connecting with someone else doesn’t always have to be verbal or by text— it can be through making art together.

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