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The ADHD Artist’s Way

Untitled, ©Elaine Doy, 2012; The ADHD Artist's Way
Untitled, ©Elaine Doy, 2012

Having just revisited Julia Cameron’s excellent book, The Artist’s Way (I’ve chosen it as my Book-of-the-Month Pick for August), I’ve been thinking a lot about ADHD and creativity lately.

This weekend, I attended an art show in the countryside. A number of local artists from seasoned professionals to those at the beginning stages of their careers participated in the weekend’s juried show. I wandered through the room, enjoying the many styles of painting.

Each artist was given four panels upon which to display their work. I watched as one patron approached my friend Elaine’s artwork. As he came round a corner, Elaine’s art caught his attention. “Wow,” he said.

It could very well be that the “Wow” was because of the incredible diversity displayed in Elaine’s little corner of the exhibit. Every other artist displayed work that was easily identifiable through its consistency, as that artist’s work. You’d think Elaine had invited her cousin, her mom, and her best friend to join her in her display.

Not so: Elaine prefers to paint in many different styles, all at once. And did I mention? Elaine happens to have ADHD.

The ADHD way?

This got me thinking: do people with ADHD approach creativity differently than others?

Reflections Series #3
Reflections Series #3, ©Elaine Doy, 2012

Like me, Elaine enjoys constantly learning new things. She’s always testing out new styles, new approaches. As a writer, that’s why journalism appeals; I can explore any topic I’m interested in.

For Elaine, who’s only been painting professionally for a year and half, it’s not a matter of finding her style, it’s that one style won’t say all she has to say.

Elaine explained to me that to have her paintings represented by a gallery, she’d have to have a body of work that was consistent, that is, recognizable as having been painted by her.

When I think about my favorite artists, their work has gone through different styles, but it seems to me that they stick with one style for a period of time, and then adopt a different style and stick with that for a while. Elaine doubts she’ll never stick with one style of painting.

The ADHD factor

Elaine’s explanation of her approach to art fascinated me. She was the only one in the show with such variety, and why not? I thought. Our approach to everything else is different.

For many of us with ADHD, constant change is like manna from the Gods. Wouldn’t it make sense that if we were, for example, painters, that we’d paint the way Elaine does, embracing different styles because we’d get bored sticking with one?

This begs the question: does an artist with ADHD have to sublimate their natural inclinations in order to be commercially viable? I’m always fascinated at the balance we need to keep between following The ADHD Way and having to repress our natural tendencies to fit into the mainstream flow, no matter what our career path.

Choose wisely

Some of us have chosen careers that allow us, to the greatest degree, to have unpredictability built into our jobs. Emergency medical workers, ambulance attendants, race car drivers, journalists, artists;  the excitement of waking up in the morning is looking forward to the stimulating thrill of surprise.

Perhaps the way Elaine approaches her painting, keeping true to her artistic inclinations, in spite of conventional dictates, is a great reminder for all of us to find, and follow, the path of least resistance for us as creative people with ADHD, whether or not we actually work in the arts.

Elaine is keeping true to her path, showing integrity and authenticity in her work. Is she at a disadvantage because of her approach? Not necessarily.

Will it take more work for her to enter the mainstream, to be represented by a gallery? Probably. She’d first need to create a large enough body of work in a consistent style, so that the patrons can “recognize,” an Elaine Doy painting.

Is there such a thing as an ADHD artist sub-type?

Sauble River Sunset, ©Elaine Doy, 2012
Sauble River Sunset, ©Elaine Doy, 2012

I began to think about other artistic fields. I’m pretty sure I’d recognize, for example, a Nora Ephron (may she rest in peace) film anywhere. Or a Coen brothers film (if at some point, someone’s brains aren’t splattered, it’s probably not theirs).

I wonder if a film maker with ADHD would mix it up between political documentary, followed by a historical romance, then perhaps an animated short, all in the same year?

Do artists with ADHD follow The ADHD Artist’s Way?  It would be fascinating to know.

So what about you? Is your approach different than your non-ADHD artist friends? Do have to mix it up to express all you want to say? (whether it’s in dance, painting, writing, singing, film or whatever?)

I’d love to hear from you to test out my hypothesis that there is The Artist’s Way, and then there’s The ADHD Artist’s Way.

Please feel free to send in your experiences or thoughts on this topic.

To learn more about Elaine, click here.


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The ADHD Artist’s Way

Zoë Kessler, BA, B.Ed.

Zoë Kessler is an award-winning author, journalist, and speaker specializing in women and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD / ADD).

A frequent contributor to ADDitude Magazine, Kessler has also created video, standup comedy, and guest blogs on ADHD and Marriage covering ADHD-related topics.

Zoë, an internationally recognized ADHD expert, has been interviewed on radio and featured in magazine articles, documentaries, and books on the topic of women and ADHD across North America.

Her newly-released memoir ADHD According to Zoë - The Real Deal on relationships, Finding Your Focus & Finding Your Keys (New Harbinger Publications, 2013) about life with ADHD is now available.

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APA Reference
Kessler, Z. (2013). The ADHD Artist’s Way. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 19, 2020, from


Last updated: 26 May 2013
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