Professional Learning

Build a Creative Practice That Sticks By Harnessing the 4 Laws of Atomic Habits

misc art materials

Albert Einstein knew what he was talking about when he said, “Creativity is contagious. Pass it on.” One of the best ways to teach is to model something and apply it to your own life. Students love it when we sit alongside them and make art with them. However, staying creative can be tricky, especially in the summer. After a busy year of teaching and dreaming of long summer days to make art, all you want to do now is lounge, travel, and think about anything but art education. 

The Four Laws of Atomic Habits, outlined by James Clear in his book Atomic Habits, offers a blueprint for transforming intentions into actions. Let’s take a look at how you can make creativity manageable and deeply fulfilling this summer without a daunting amount of effort. Plus, by the end of the summer, you’ll establish strong habits so you can practice what you preach in your art room. 

Get your creative practice to stick by making it obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying!

painting on easel

1. Make creating obvious.

The first step in making your creative habit stick is to set up a space of your own with obvious visual reminders to make art. When you make desired behaviors visible and accessible, it helps maintain focus and consistency—especially when there are distractions. Create a dedicated art space that is inviting and flexible, adorned with visual cues like inspiring artwork or quotes. Tools like color-coded schedules and daily checklists make creative intentions more tangible.

studio space

Here are five ways to make creating more obvious for you and your students:

  1. Intentionally set up your creative space.
    Hang inspiring artwork and objects that spark joy to transform your zone into a creative sanctuary where you love to spend time. Bring the same energy to your classroom by displaying student artwork and allowing students to personalize their sketchbooks, folders, and portfolios.
  2. Establish pre-creative rituals.
    Make a cup of tea or play a specific song to signal your brain that it’s time to enter a creative mindset. In the classroom, a mantra is a great way to prepare students.
  3. Keep a visible calendar nearby.
    Mark off days when you engage in a creative activity so you can see your consistency. Hang a collective creativity calendar to check off in your art room or display a record of artmaking days to keep students motivated on a “making streak!”
  4. Make a daily checklist of creative tasks.
    Think about what you want to accomplish and prominently post your goals. Check off items as you complete them to track your progress. In your art room, display your learning targets, standards, and instructions.
  5. Display works-in-progress.
    Seeing things you’re working on will motivate you to continue working on them. Apply this in your art room by reserving a bulletin board for in-progress projects. Students will be proud to see their budding works on display and it will show other students possibilities for their own pieces.

2. Make creating attractive.

Make the journey attractive by associating artmaking with positive experiences and emotions. Carve out time to nurture enjoyable things like play, experimentation, and social interaction. Explore new mediums and techniques and invite others to sit and make art with you. When you have fun with the process, you’ll look forward to your newfound habit, making you more likely to engage with it regularly! 

printmaking supplies

Here are five ways to make creating more attractive for you and your students:

  1. Invest in learning a new technique.
    We all have a list of techniques we are curious to try, from acrylic masking to tie dye! Set aside 15 minutes each day to research and watch videos about it. PRO Learning has teacher-facing videos and resources that cover a variety of mediums and artistic processes. 
  2. Make your own art supplies from scratch.
    Gain a new appreciation for your materials and jumpstart your creativity. Use egg yolk, water, and dry pigment to mix up a batch of tempera paint. Repeat this activity with your students or repurpose the extra supplies in your art room for an engaging experience.
  3. Take on art challenges and play games.
    Loosen up and incorporate some fun! Give yourself a daily drawing prompt or add an element of spontaneity to inject imagination into your practice. Play Where’s Whaledo? or Art Heist with your students to gamify your art room and get them invested in all things art.
  4. Collaborate on a project.
    Invite other artist or teacher friends to create a stop-motion animation or a picture book. Tackling a creative project together gives you feedback and accountability to follow through. Collaborative paper mache sculptures and rainbow origami installations offer your students this same opportunity.
  5. Register for the next NOW Conference.
    Learn from and create art with over 2,500 like-minded art educators. Glean inspiration, motivation, and in-classroom strategies while you connect with other art teachers who understand what it means to teach in today’s art room. 

3. Make creating easy.

Habits need to be easy to adopt and maintain so simplify the process to increase your likelihood of success. Break down creative projects into smaller, manageable steps and redirect your mental energy to tasks that truly matter. This allows you to have more bandwidth on your calendar and in your brain to sustain an artmaking practice over the long term. 

misc art materials

Here are five ways to make creating easier for you and your students:

  1. Prep materials in advance.
    Set out your paints, water, brushes, and other tools to minimize time searching for materials and maximize productivity. Upgrade your classroom by
    adding art supply caddies or a system for supply storage and distribution to promote independence and ownership.
  2. Set a specific, process-based goal.
    Define clear and achievable goals for each creative session. Focus your goals on your process and the habit you’re building instead of “finishing” an artwork. For example, your goal can be, “Spend three minutes doodling illustrations to fill one page.” Ask your students to come up with a non-product-based goal for one class period using FLEX Curriculum’s Goal Setting Self-Assessment resource.
  3. Explore digital tools.
    Streamline the creative process with programs like Procreate, Pxlr, or ChatGPT. Start small with one app or interface and build from there. For more ideas, refer to the Packs, Infusing Technology into Your Practice or Enhancing Artworks With Digital Integration, in PRO Learning.
  4. Focus on one or two priorities.
    It can be overwhelming to think about all of the steps it will take to complete a project. Harness your executive functions to help you divide larger projects into smaller, manageable tasks to maintain momentum. Provide daily must-dos to keep students on track in their artmaking during open studio time.
  5. Participate in guided art workshops.
    Take the heavy thinking out of creating. Select a Make Art With Me episode to try this week and simply follow along. These 100 Sketchbook Prompts are an excellent way to structure and guide your students’ artmaking and can be adapted for many mediums. 

4. Make creating satisfying.

Deriving satisfaction from making art is the final piece to making your creative habit stick. Establish meaningful markers of success, reflect on personal growth, and share achievements with others. Celebrating your progress, whether it’s completing a new artwork, mastering a challenging technique, or receiving constructive feedback, reinforces gratification and propels you to keep going! Satisfaction also leaves you with joy, fulfillment, and intrinsic motivation for lifelong learning.

paint pens

Here are five ways to make creating more satisfying for you and your students:

  1. Buy a new art supply on your wishlist.
    Reward yourself for achieving one of your goals or making art daily for a week. Highlighting even the smallest of achievements reinforces positive habits. Recognize your students with a free choice day or a giant art supply for their classroom to encourage continued effort and dedication.
  2. Keep a visual journal or online portfolio.
    Document your progress and track your growth over time. Dedicate a few minutes each week to look back and delight in your victories and revelations to build confidence. Make visual journaling a standard in your art room to foster this reflective mindset.
  3. Share your creative work with others.
    Social media can be a fun outlet when used in a healthy and helpful way. Inviting others to witness your creative journey enhances feelings of connection and validation while providing satisfying opportunities for advocacy. Help your students develop responsible relationships with their online presence as well. 
  4. Ask for constructive feedback.
    Peers, mentors, or online communities can provide new insights and perspectives on your work. Embrace others’ opinions as an opportunity for growth and improvement. Try a Pair-Share or Gallery Walk with your students to establish a culture of open and honest feedback.
  5. Lean into what you love!
    Being a passionate art teacher is an artform in itself! Find your reason for creating and teaching, and you’ll discover that having a strong motivation will make habit-building easier when things get tough. Incorporate choice-based art to afford your students the same opportunity to integrate what they love. 

Use this summer to establish a creative and grounding habit that will not only get you making art but also set you up for success once another fast-paced school year gears up. Apply the Four Laws of Atomic Habits to make creating obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying. Then, bring your creative habit to your students! Set a strong example of what it looks like to be a working artist and inspire them with your artmaking habit. Implement the strategies above to get your students to build their own creative habit and foster a lifelong passion for art. Get ready to pass on your creativity and tackle one small step today!

Which of the four laws will you apply to your artmaking practice first?

How do you cultivate a habit of creativity in your personal practice and daily routines?

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.


Mariana VanDerMolen

Mariana VanDerMolen, an elementary art educator, is a former AOEU Writer. She enjoys teaching for creativity, with a focus on ELL and therapy in a process-based art room.

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