The Freedom of Play

Empower Yourself with Creativity

By Shelley Klammer | Posted 1/19/13 | Updated 11/15/23

In my early twenties, I took out a library book and discovered a handwritten page. I read it with guilty curiosity. It was a tumbling of a personal truth onto paper, while at the same time an attempt to match the literary writing style in the book. The writing felt unsure and awkward and self-conscious — and I loved it. I too, was grasping for creative expression. I felt a similar awkwardness in my own writing. I felt a kinship with the beginnings of the human heart trying to express itself in that unknown writer.

I always feel deeply honored when I see people tenderly beginning to allow themselves to express something true. So often, we build a life around what is expected of us. Then, slowly but surely, it dawns on us that something is missing in our lives. At some point in our journey each one of us wonders if we are creative, if perhaps there is more to us than we know. How do we express our unique truth? Do we even have one? How do we sort out what is real, and what is false within us?

Planned Creativity

When I began to create in earnest in my early 20's, I wondered how to begin. I felt awkward and unsure, and I did not trust my artistic ability. So my approach to creativity was rational and linear. I did most of my learning from the outside in. I took art classes that taught technique. I read lots of books. I copied other artists. At that time I was more concerned with an end product than with the actual process of creating.

I carefully planned each of my drawings, paintings and collages to make sure they were perfect. I was proud to show people a finished piece that I had labored over, to prove to myself and to them that I was an artist. I developed a careful, pre-planned style of creating to such an extent that it led to art gallery representation and the sale of my work. Yet something was not living in me. It took me a month of detailed planning and painstakingly careful execution to finish a piece for gallery sale, and the process was tedious.

This outer-directed way of creating mirrored my emotional state at the time. I was living my life looking for knowledge and feedback from the outside. My assumption was that anything worthwhile required a struggle. A simple, natural expression of my own heart seemed out of range to me. My emotional expression was mostly limited, to mostly just "allowable" pleasant emotions. Messy, unacceptable feelings such as anger, fear, sadness, and loneliness were carefully tucked out of range of my awareness most of the time. I lived a careful, self-conscious life with much going under the surface.

Unplanned Creativity

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I became impatient with the narrow range of feeling I was expressing, and I began to allow more feelings to be safely expressed. Within my private notebook, I wanted to draw from the "inside" of myself. I was beginning to lose interest in what others thought of me. I was tired of feeling unknown to myself.

I started to doodle and draw cartoon-like faces that in no way mirrored my art gallery-caliber paintings, but were more primitive and innate. Those beginning intuitive drawings of faces, with clouded eyes and covered-up-mouths seemed to have no real aesthetic value to anyone but me. Yet they were alive with my truth, and beautiful in a way that made me vibrate with excitement.

So I began to explore expressing my authentic feelings in my art over the next many years, and was amazed to discover through my doodling that I had my own unique style. Pulling my work out of the art gallery, I began an in-depth creative study of my inner world through spontaneous art journaling.

My drawings became alive with color and patterned with feeling. It was as though I was meeting myself for the first time. So enshrouded had I been by the expectations of the world around me that I was surprised at strong emotional expressions that I did not know I had. I felt that my art wanted to be totally spontaneous.

Discovery 2

Try This: Discovering Play

Our ability to play is innate. We arrive in this world wired to know how to play. Play, however, gets lost the moment we focus on the end results rather than the process of creating. If at any moment creating becomes tedious, we know we have stopped allowing play to flow and discover us. Spontaneous art journaling is like creating our own personal puzzle without knowing what the picture will look like ahead of time.

Can you allow yourself to do this? Can you let go for a moment of what you might think you need or want to create? Could you choose random images and put them together in a playful way? This might sound simple, but we live in a society that does not encourage us to choose from our inner wisdom. We are taught to plan everything. First, we are taught to envision the perfect scenario, and then we are advised to go about trying to achieve it. This knowing where we are going before we arrive keeps us disconnected from our inner wisdom and our unique path. To create an authentic life or an authentic collage, there can be no planning!

It is actually impossible to plan for an authentic life. You must be vibrantly ready for the truth of your life to reveal itself to you from moment to moment. You can choose to taste the freedom of not knowing ahead of time what will be created today. So it is the same for this collage process. Art mirrors life and your capacity to open up to life is related to how willing you are to freely express yourself spontaneously and follow your inner urges. Your truth is built on a succession of impulses that express your life force a little more each day.

Spontaneous Magazine Collage

In this day and age there is an amazing array of images to cut up for spontaneous collage. The wonderful thing about opening up a magazine is that like life, you are never truly certain what you will find. So approach the opening of a magazine like a mystery and begin to search for images and words that stand out vividly to you. If you find anything interesting, intriguing, disturbing, or eye-catching, tear it out. It does not matter if the elements you choose make sense or fit together logically.

Trust that as you cut out the images, you are piecing together a waking dream that you might not understand at the moment, but which will gradually make deep sense within your being. Immerse yourself in a sense of deep play. Remember when you were a child and you allowed each moment to unfold. Similarly, don't just rush into achievement with your collage. Play with the arrangement of your images before you cover the back of your images with a glue stick and place them in your journal. Allow your first spontaneous collage to be quite rough and playful. For now, it is important to just begin.

This Week

Daily Practice: Cultivating Loose Play

The daily practice this week is to simply and playfully paste together random images without thought on one page of your journal each day. Try to fill the whole page with imagery and words but do not feel pressured if your choices for the day are simple and spare. If you feel the need for empty spaces, allow that. I recommend pasting your collage on the right page of your journal and writing insights and intuitions on the opposite page.

The simple act of pasting random images together, with an open, quiet mind allows new connections to arise into your awareness. Insights may come unexpectedly and spontaneously after the collage is finished. Progressively, I will offer some directed methods to help you deepen your connection to your collage. Until then it is helpful to loosely play and paste down anything that attracts your attention. Let yourself lose track of time. Do not strive for meaning or engage your logical mind as you create. It is important that you reflect on your collage after it is finished rather than during the process.

Owning Your Collage With Writing

After you have finished your collage you may wish to gain a deeper understanding of it. A simple way to connect to your collage more deeply is to envision it as yourself. Some part of your mind chose your images and placed them in your journal. It might not be the entirety of you but it is the part of your mind that wants to express itself right now.

collage journal pageA simple writing exercise is all that is required for this part of you to speak. Just begin with the words "I am… " From these beginning words you can begin to describe every color, picture, and word as if it is you. Here is an example based on one of my collage journal pages.

"I am a great stairway, climbing up. I believe in all possibilities. I embrace all parts of myself. I am dark and light. I am of the earth and I embrace the imagination of many colors. I worship the wisdom of the body and I see that I am unlimited. I feel safe to invite new growth."

When I write like this, I just allow whatever wants to spill out onto the page. What emerges is a kind of expressive poetry that is really the beginnings of a language of the soul. This is spontaneous expression. To regularly express your intuitive creative expression builds trust in your effortless originality, and invites new wisdom into your life.

A Visual Meditation

After you have completed your collage for the day, you might like to view it as a form of daily meditation. You can find a comfortable place to sit and then place it in front of you. Take a few moments to soften your eyes and get quiet and then move your attention to your heart. Try meditating on your collage for 10 minutes without thinking about it too much. Just feel into what you have created. You might like to enjoy a long slow cup of tea and gaze upon your journal page. It is a gift to yourself to take time to honor your inner life, and honor what wants to unfold next in the creation that is your life.

You can also meditate on your collage throughout your day. If you carry your journal with you through the day or place it in a prominent place where you can see it, you can allow yourself to steep in the mystery of the perfect images you have chosen to illustrate your inner life for today. As you sense deeply into your imagery you might realize that you have the power to dream while you are awake. You might suddenly see that life is more magical than you might have otherwise allowed yourself to believe.


Do one spontaneous collage in your journal each day of the week and on one of the days this week try Discovery 2. Try cultivating a sense of play in your collage and try adding some doodling, or splashes of color to your journal page. Start owning your collage through writing "I am… " to describe your imagery. Try meditating on one of your collages for an entire day and allow it's imagery and meaning deepen for you.

Next: The Art of Writing a Book

Copyright ©2013 Shelley Klammer. All rights reserved.