34 thoughts on “The ADHD Artist’s Way

  • August 7, 2012 at 10:18 pm

    i’m an artist and i am add(no h, lethargic if you must know. yaaa Ritalin) but i do not do many different styles. that would take way to much energy besides i am more about the color and the image. for me its about the emotional responce i get from the viewer. i tell you this because your friends adhd may have absulutly nothing to do with her differant stlyes. genralising and romantasising add or adhd makes no more sence than doing that with any thing else. especially cause it makes life so much more difficlt. any way just sayin…

    Reply
    • August 7, 2012 at 10:30 pm

      Thanks for your comment, scout63.

      I’m not trying to romanticize or generalize; I’m hypothesizing. That’s why I wanted to hear about other people’s experiences. I’m personally not a painter, but found it interesting to ponder how I might approach it if I were. As a journalist, I love that I can write about anything I’m interested in, and get paid to learn, and to talk to people who are passionate about and have a deep knowledge in topics I don’t.

      Thanks for sharing your experience as an artist.

      Zoë

      Reply
      • August 7, 2012 at 10:46 pm

        as a journalist you paint with words i paint with oils but we are both artists.

        Reply
      • August 7, 2012 at 11:29 pm

        Yes, indeed!
        Take care,
        Z.

        Reply
    • December 3, 2014 at 6:29 am

      Having recently have the coin drop on myself and ADD
      (didn´t know the meaning of it until a few months ago- will start evaluation next week), I have little revelations every day googling and finding things like this article and its comments. Thank you!! I recognize it all. Damn!, seems I found my bunch, something I never thought would happen;)…

      I am an artist, drawing, painting, with enough skill and inspiration that I would be able to make a living of it (Have done at times but it´s been very halting). That is, with some basic ability to focus and the self-confidence and the energy…

      For me also, the issue of not being able to stick to a style has always been there. Or content or material etc., etc. Maybe now I don´t have to beat myself up for all this so much, and only end up whining in a corner. But instead use this certain way of being human in ways that are benifiting to and makes better use of the beautiful capacity of inspiration that I find also goes with it.

      Reply
      • December 4, 2014 at 11:14 am

        Welcome to the tribe!
        I’m so glad you found the piece and, as you say, a like-minded artist like yourself.

        And by all means, I do hope you embrace your unique approach – it’s working wonders for the subject of this article who is selling consistently and continues to experiment, learn, and paint wherever the wind blows her style-wise.

        Enjoy and all the best with settling into your new identity of ADHD awesomeness!

        Cheers,
        Z.

        Reply
  • August 7, 2012 at 11:19 pm

    This article has been very helpful to me. I am an artist with ADD and bipolar. My symptoms are managed through medications. I miss the art I could make and the things I could write while in the dark place. The meds don’t allow me to go there anymore, witch is a good thing. Artistically,my creative self, is sooo scattered. I have so many ideas. I enjoy it all. I want to paint orchids right now : D

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    • August 7, 2012 at 11:32 pm

      Lolo,
      Thank you so much for your comment. I hope you’re keeping your ideas in a journal or sketchbook or something. You never know when you’ll want to pursue one or many of them!
      Orchids sound lovely!
      Take care,
      and happy creativity!
      Z.
      P.S. – have you read The Artist’s Way? You might find it interesting. I should do a follow-up post on it, there are some interesting parallels between Cameron’s description of artists and many aspects of experiences with ADHD, etc. Think I’ll go a little further with this exploration.
      Anyway, thanks again!

      Reply
  • August 9, 2012 at 10:54 am

    I’m Blog hopping to all my Fav blogger here at Psych Central see: http://psych.ly/MR1Awr

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

    I think you could exchange the “ADHD” with bipolar or even “mental Illness” and you would get the same answer. When you live life thinking “outside the box” of normal you have to be creative. It the creativity that is different not the illness… the illness is just the catalyst for our artistic expression.

    PS – I’m Retweeting your Blog and Pinning it too 🙂 Feel free to share the love…Come join me in Blog hopping this month.

    Reply
    • August 10, 2012 at 12:35 pm

      Hi Chato!

      Great point. Thanks for stopping by, reading my post, and adding your two cents’ worth!

      Cheers,
      Zoë

      Reply
  • August 16, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    I just graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. Primarily in Painting. I am interested in many different styles of painting and art. I consider myself an innovator. I like to try new things and different styles. So much so that it is hard to even pick one to do. (working on that) I paint, collage, sculpt a little, craft, draw. In school we were, toward the end at least, required to focus in on one theme for a thesis project (16 paintings). Now, freed from that, and with the nonscheduleness of summer I feel like the rubber band that has come unwound. Hoping to pursue ADD treatment (finally gathered paperwork to get an appt for an eval) and also the scheduling boost that I get from my son’s school year.
    Long story longer, yes I think I operate as your friend does as an artist. In something of a ping pong fashion.

    Reply
    • August 16, 2012 at 5:15 pm

      Hi Brook!

      Thanks for taking the time to read my post and share your experiences with us. It’s fascinating to hear about others’ relationships to their art.

      Take care, and all the best in your pursuit of a diagnosis and effective ADD treatment.
      Hang in there (You’re on the right track by learning all you can!)

      Zoë

      Reply
  • August 26, 2012 at 2:38 am

    Hi!

    I think it’s a really interesting question! For me, personally, I think my different styles in writing and photographing have more of an indirect connection with my ADHD. My ADHD makes me feel very different one from time to another.

    Sometimes I’m in a really good place and my writing becomes full of humour and my photographs show people the world how I see it at that piont; bright and fun. When I have had the worst times my writing was really dark and the same goes for my pictures. So it’s not that I get bored, but all my creativity comes from how I’m feeling at that time. And how I feel can because of the ADHD shift drastically, fast and often and I think that is why my work is inconsistent.

    Since I’ve got my medication in May this year I have felt more good about my self and more productive in the creative areas than I ever had. So now I’ve been kind of conistent for some time!

    Reply
    • August 26, 2012 at 9:59 pm

      Thanks for your comment Josephine, and for sharing your experience and process with us.

      I’m glad to hear that things are going better for you now; what a wonderful positive note to end on in your comment. I’m sure, like me, others will relate to your story and feel encouraged and validated.

      Thanks again, and take care.

      Zoë

      Reply
  • August 29, 2012 at 1:03 pm

    I have never been “officially” diagnosed with adhd but years ago when I first heard the symptoms I relaxed realizing that a) I was not crazy and b) I was not alone…
    However, as an jewelry artist it rears its ugly head and as Elaine found out you need a body of work that represents your overall style. Just as a magpie I am distracted by shiny bits and then the emo side takes over and I find my place in dark strange things. Adding to that I have well wishers who say “You know if you made_____(fill in the blank) you could sell a lot of that.” And THAT further fractures me. I mean yes I do want to sell but my vision and someone elses’ do not always mesh. I suppose the one thing I have in my favor is that I am getting old and can always claim senility!

    Reply
    • August 29, 2012 at 1:32 pm

      Thanks for your comment.

      I really relate to what you’re saying. It’s such a balancing act for us to create from our own inner urgings, versus heeding the suggestions (and requests / commissions) of others. Such a tough balance also to juggle commerce and creativity: does it always have to be a choice? The most beautiful moments are those when the two collide, and our work is valued both monetarily and artistically. That’s when I feel my creative life is really humming along…

      All the best to you on your creative path!

      Cheers,
      Zoë

      Reply
  • December 4, 2012 at 7:55 pm

    Yeah, I think ADHD makes you think differently and so, logically it would effect your art, too. I read about one ADHD art student that said “When you see a peach, you see a piece of fruit. I see the color, the texture, and the vineyard in which the peach grew.” They did studies and found that ADHDers are more creative than most people, in fact they scored higher in every way.

    I own a small business, I’m mainly a jeweler, and I also like to dabble in art, clothes design, and writing. I never realized until I started researching ADHD that my lifestyle and tendencies towards these things had been so shaped by the differences in how I think… for example if you have ADHD, you are 300% more likely to start your own business, you are more creative, and get more ideas. I wrote about it recently in my blog, and discussed those studies and my own experience. At first I felt like a failure, but then I realized it actually helped me to succeed. mtgrl.wordpress.com

    Reply
  • March 14, 2016 at 10:24 pm

    Glad to see other scatterbrained artists out there. One of my college art professors once said the style of my work was “schizophrenic.”
    Many of the other students seemed to fall so naturally into their own personal techniques.
    I eventually developed my own technique but my subject matter is still all over the place. I recently started working more intuitively and abstractly, taking a break from realism.
    Occasionaly I like to try different things like studying how classical techniques of grisaile and glazing might have been done as I paint in that style- which is starkly different from my own.
    I know an artist’s body of work is supposed to have unity, but I would rather see where my impulses lead me than become so impartial to the stagnation of my work.
    As Elaine de Kooning once wrote, “Every painting should be a reminder of what not to do again.”
    She also said that a painting without black was like food without salt, but I prefer to treat both with reserved enthusiasm.

    Reply
  • July 5, 2016 at 3:08 pm

    I am an artist from Peterborough, UK with ADHD. I use my ADHD to guide my creative process…So it is undeniably unpredictable. Subject matter, medium and technique are all subject to my intuitive choices. I refuse to stick to one way of working or subject matter…as that would soon get boring. I have a gallery who understand me, it took a while. They are excited when I have something new to show them as they have no idea what I’m going to do next. I have my own standards on quality and my work has an usual aesthetic. I always look at Damian Hirst as an example of an Artist who refuses to conform, he does what ever he pleases….he remains creative throughout. I found your blog interesting. I couldn’t find a website on Elaine Day, which is a shame. One day, I’d like to curate an exhibition of ADHD artists.

    Reply
    • February 14, 2017 at 8:04 am

      Hi Jacki Cairns, the day you do that exhibit you can contact me, I ll be glad to present some of my work in your show. I ve been ADHD all my life wihtout knowing it, but now that i know those things i couldn t focus on , the lost time, lost mind, was all due to this thing, now i am embracing it. check out my site although it s not up to date. http://www.myriamhammaniart.blogspot.fr

      Reply
  • July 28, 2016 at 12:29 pm

    Hello,

    so I’ve been diagnosed pretty much today,26, still looking for vocation, and yeah I am sort of artistic but also interested in psychology, biology, education, I like writing, sports, etc. and currently trying to do something like graphic design and related stuff, but yeah it was always so me. I could never find a style and it greatly hurt my self-esteem I’ve always felt like fraud because of it and I think it’s one of the reasons I never really pursued arts professionally until now, although I went to many art classes as a kid. I wonder what the meds will do to me in this area… either way I’d like to have a feeling like there is a vibe that represents me rather than being kind of everything but really nothing has really made a mark on my self- confidence and faith in myself.

    Reply
  • February 14, 2017 at 7:58 am

    dear Elaine

    i beleive that i am adhd and have just realized it now at the age of almost 43 years old. All my life i wondered why i could understand deep concepts and yet could not somehow as much passion as i had get deep into technical knowledge in programming, chemistry or music although i am an artist who sings and managed to learn computer softwares. Even if I loved a subject and felt very close to it such as interactive film and interactive music, i had so much trouble grasping and following the programming skills and music theory skills to get to the level i wanted.
    i have been making films, paintings, drawings, singing songs of others and my own, composed electronic music and made sculptures, interactive film installations, writing stories, illustrating for children’s stories and making sound art and video art courses workshops with people….interactive installations also and photos….
    the art is always lovely but i never can get to a high level of technology, there are many visions i have had that i could not accomplish because i could never get to concentrate long enough to do to even with filmmaking, i loved filmming with 16mm but i had trouble with some of the technical chemical stuff and often made mistakes developping it by hand. i m not a lazy person, i love life and discovering people and techniques of communication, even in writing i have a limited way of writing , i tried for years to get into a doctorat programm for my visions but my writing always got in the way cuz it s not academically technical enough although my concepts of doing interactive film with voice for neuro plasticity are not that far fetched , the universities always recquire that i am a programming wiz. And that always gets me . I am not again attempting to do the vision of my interactive film , amking visual paintings that move and film for it, and learning pure data, but now it is nto as hard because i am with Jesus, and getting help from the Divine creator. But i must tell you that this is my story. ADHD is a reality for me, and i now know tahat I have always had it. Especially now that I am starting to work with autistic people using interactive art group creation for them to learn to communicate without verball stuff, so they can express all of their wild tholughts with visuals and soudn 😉 hahahha yeah i hope i will hear from you. Keeping jobs has always been tough for me also, because i always forgot parts of the instructions , but i always cought up with my good humour and ideas and willingness to stay extra hours. hope to hear from you Elaine, please give me feedback on how i can manage academic writing so i can acutally get a higher degree and be a teacher in unviersity and teach interactive art for healing people with communication disabilities and also just people who want to make art. thankx,

    Reply
  • December 19, 2017 at 8:20 am

    I know I’m late to the game here, but I found this article and had to comment. I was diagnosed with ADHD about 20 years ago. The doc at the time really messed me up, basically turning me into a zombie for months. Anyhow, I refused to address the issue for years after that experience. I’m an artist, I was able to quit my day job within a month-ish of putting my work out for people to see and buy.

    The main thing that has kept things fresh and interesting (for close to 8 years) has been the fact that my style changes. I am incredibly curious and love to learn new things as soon as they catch my eye.

    I’ve been medicated (correctly) now for over a year. It’s been a game changer for me! I am able to finish items, instead of immediately moving on to the next explosion of ideas.

    I know the fact that I offer so many styles has helped with my success. It draws people In, they are curious to see what comes next. 🙂 I have many repeat buyers who buy items that are all very different!

    I think people should stay true to who they are.

    S.

    Reply
  • January 12, 2018 at 12:13 pm

    Hi
    This is amazing to find this as I am at University studying part time on a Fine Art degree in the uk newly diagnosed age 53, with 3 specific learning difficulties. I prefer the word Neurodiversity ..:) I followed TAW for a few years but now I know I have ADHD I totally get why I couldnt stick to writing pages – so I do them if my concentration returns well enough and try not to “sweat it” otherwise. I have a TON of ideas whizzing round my head like wasps round a jam pot ( now there’s an idea…) and I am aiming my practice right now at championing my own feelings at diagnosis and also eventually linking with other Neurodivergant Artists, possibly worldwide. I also wish to champion the oft ignored Artists with disabilities of the physical sort as well as those with mental differences. Comorbidiities abound amongst these groups, as they do in the general population, and I already have a few friends ,one with a spinal inury who is adhd, another with ehlers danlos syndrome who is on the aspergic spectrum. The current bad attitudes toward people with disabilities in the U.K has been fostered by our unsympathetic Government, who love to build an entirely false in 99% of cases – a disabled person as a lazy person . At this time further negativity and a semi return to darker times when people with disabilities were publically shunned, insulted in the street , jeered at and regarded as “faking scroungers wasting the taxpayers money” is again an issue. I know this to be the case because my beloved partner encounters this EVERY time he leaves our flat in his chair. He is a science Phd, who helped develop eye gaze technology for people with high level disabilities like motor neurone disease ,parkinsons cerebral palsy and so on. He has 12 published papers, and yet he cannot emerge into society without being sexually harassed and molested by women (treated like a pet he calls it) having snide comments made about his chair/his disability- and more recently run off the rd by a young arrogant boy in a BMW when he was perfectly legally going down the road on his power chair. Once he was attacked and left severely shaken but luckily not injured as such. So much as I digress (hahaha typically!) you can see that I wish to express my own art and aspire to champion very deserving people, summarily dismissed as worthless in so many ways,(disabled evil “baddie” in a film anyone?) and be activist in my expression through my art practice. My media will definitely be incredibly mixed too as I will not feel fulfilled otherwise – Neurotypical people may or may not find this hard to grasp..A very good supporter of the Neurodivergent Artist is Jon Adams, (Neurodivergent polymath and artist) I was lucky enough to meet him at my University following a talk he gave, lovely man.
    Thanks for writing this interesting piece it means a lot and I will add you on twitter!

    Reply
  • January 17, 2018 at 10:12 am

    I am a producer/beat maker with ADHD and I agree w/ your hypothesis 100%. When I come out with a new song my fans are always excited to see whats next. You never know what genre or fusion of genres your going to get. Sometimes my style even changes within one song. It’s really just depends on where I am mentally at any given time.

    Reply
  • February 27, 2018 at 9:43 am

    Yours is an old post and I don’t know if you’re still monitoring it, but I came to the computer to search for how artists might deal with their ADD. I’m 66, diagnosed at 48, achieved a Masters with honors from Duke after that and now retired have turned to learning watercolor with a passion. I am aware that with ADD I am enthralled by the challenge of learning and that keeps me focused. Hyper focused on whatever I’m trying to learn. But options for how to structure my current learning and practice in art brings lots of anxiety. I go to sleep and awaken with so many things I want to learn and structuring that rather than jumping from one picture/book/video to another brings anxiety. I’m a meditator so I’m aware of the mental and muscle tension and but when so many options for learning present themselves, the ADD monitor/screen simply goes to static. It’s like a multiple choice test. More than 2 options and the brain blurs and the body avoids any action. I have worked The Artist Way. Great, but there’s no resistance in my ability to create, it’s setting up the structure – which I need – to create/paint. I’m doing it but the effort it takes to build such compensatory skills takes on a life of its own. Adderral helps, but creating structure in the learning process does even more. I have to make a list of the art practice that needs to be done to accomplish the finished painting. I have to put art on my calendar – daily – and unless the box is checked, other less important things don’t get done. I keep searching for the right teacher who can bring structure to the learning process but all artists can’t teach, so I must become my own teacher. Fortunately I have that experience in my background so I almost set up lesson plans for myself. All of this is to simply say, the brain gets exhausted, the chest can stay clinched with anxiety and yet, once I’m at the art I’m hyperfocused and relaxed. Getting there is the challenge.

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  • March 31, 2018 at 12:03 pm

    I have adhd and I’ve never been happy just doing one form of art. I always felt that there must be something wrong with me if I couldn’t find a consistent style of work. I have tried special effects makeup for Halloween events or makeup competitions, Decorative card making, painting, henna, digital art, illustration, pixel art, animation, sculpting, writing, I’ve published one of my pieces of writing in a school competition, but still I never feel satisfied with just doing one thing. I get anxious if I don’t use up my creative energy and It has gotten worse the more things I take interest in. I can’t split my time evenly doing these things and I feel like I will never improve If I don’t have the time to practice them. It’s hard to explain this to others sometimes.

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  • June 26, 2018 at 8:26 am

    Oh, my goodness, another scatterbrain artist here. I have been diagnosed with ADHD predominately inattentive presentation. I was originally diagnosed as slightly impulsive years ago. Focus and being consistent I always felt was boring. I have been this way as long as I can remember, I am a visual artist, right now my interest is in painting (acrylic, watercolor, and oil)), sculpting and ceramics are my first love. I love learning to do new things. My issue is completing projects. It is really nice to know I am not alone. I am 52 and I feel like this is a phase, I should have completed years ago, but I know it is not a phase.

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  • August 23, 2018 at 1:14 pm

    As an artist with ADHD, I find I do best when I can “mix it up.” I started my career trying to paint contemporary figurative work, and had some success at the local Co-op I was in selling works. I found early on however I needed to explore and try other styles and mediums or there was no way I was going to keep up pursuing art. It really goes against all the advise you hear about sticking to a medium, style and subject, but I really had no choice in the matter. In order for my ADHD brain to stay interested in art, I absolutely have to explore ALL THE TIME. That isn’t to say I can’t do a series of about 12-20 works (if I have to). I also still love doing figurative work. I feel like all the exploring I’ve done has really only reinforced and strengthened my skills as an artist.
    Really, every artist should play and not get too comfortable in one style. With ADHD, for me, it’s really the only option. I would say also if you have ADHD and are creative, art is an excellent self-esteem builder and an area where you can really shine!

    if you are curious, check me out on instagram: Shawn_Pagels.art

    Reply
    • February 13, 2019 at 11:05 pm

      Hey I will check out your Art! 40 year old major scatter brained ADHD predominantly inattentive artist here. At most I can say I have “style groups” I usually do sort of abstracted semi-realism, but have done some “sort of” realistic work and portraiture…..other time pouring, dripping, scraping and seeing what comes up. Check me out on Instagram : ferazzi8. My name is Gianna. By the way, sticking to one style would feel like creative death to me……almost defeating the point of being a creative person/artist.

      Reply
  • March 22, 2019 at 10:08 am

    I was just diagnosed yesterday. Been doing my research on and off for about a year after my “very together” sister came home with a diagnoses. It’s clear one of my brothers as well as my mother are rampantly ADHD as well. I realized pretty quickly that I probably had it but it took me a year to get evaluated. I work in multiple art forms and one of my great struggles at 30 is trying to freakin’ “just pick a path” for my career. Do I only dance? Only do theater? Only do music? Just write? But I also love sewing and visual arts and social sciences… Come to think of it, I want to try sculpture. For awhile I pursued medicine… My primary struggle in this situation is that it’s hard to make a living piecemealing along like I do. I really want to be able to pick a path and run headlong down it but I can’t seem to do just one thing! It’s incredibly frustrating in terms of finances on the one hand but my brain undeniably craves a constantly expanding horizon.

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  • April 30, 2019 at 11:15 am

    Wow this really hits home for me. I can’t even settle on one or two mediums, let alone one style! So far I’ve dabbled in writing, filmmaking (narrative and documentary), acting, singing in punk and folk bands, dancing, clowning, and the ideas won’t stop coming! (now that i’m off adderall again.) I am actually working through the Artist’s Way right now, and i love so much of what it has to say, but I do keep wondering – is there a version of this for ADHD people? Because some of the exercises are like “well yeah i do this 80 times a day” and others don’t really make sense for the way my brain/life works.
    Anyway if anyone reading this knows of a book that’s basically The Artist’s Way if you have ADHD, please let me know! Or maybe Zoë will write one. 🙂

    Reply
  • September 2, 2019 at 5:48 pm

    Old geezer who managed a life on the run..aka hyper stressy jobs which require multi tasking , ad hoc solutions and “saving the day” sort of…
    Very good artist, peer group opinion, and Jerwood Drawing Prize finalist,with many other interests and wanting to progress them, but all at the same time???
    Retirement = stuck…angry, procrastinating, fizzizle with no where to go, and constantly tripping up over things which are obvious to other peeps, like a bit of tidy, less impulsivity, organisation and planning so that carpe diem can create space and time for me to get my obvious talents out.
    I thought AD/ HD was something else.
    Nope ..looking back I’ve been circumnavigating my own self created sea of shit for years and years..
    Thanks for letting me borrow that title Julian (Schnabel)
    Heres a life thoughtful solution AD/HD mateys ..
    .I’m trying to create an art form of tidy and clean and organise me rented gaff with its array of inspiring objets d’art for next weeks inspection…
    No its not housework or admin, its a creative solution and I’m living in it.

    Reply
  • October 21, 2019 at 2:22 pm

    wow am glad I have ADHD I have been drawing all my life since I was 5 or 1-year old I forget very easily but I draw in school when I get bored in class I know am not suppose to do that but hey I can’t handle it. it is who I am. I have many drawings in my backpack like 2 or 1 inch of it!
    and am female 13 yr old.

    Reply
 

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