Book Review – Creative Strength Training


In recent months I have been attempting to extend my creative reach by working on more mixed media projects with a particular emphasis on textiles and fibre. This is a very new field to me and I quickly discovered that there are a huge range of techniques and styles to be investigated and understood so I’ve spent quite a bit of time researching books to help me on my Journey. During this research I came across Creative Strength Training by Jane Dunnewold, ‘A mixed media artist with a passion for surface design, patterning and printing processes employed on textile surfaces’. This is not the knowledge and  technique type book I was looking for and to be honest I’m not usually drawn to self-help type books but something stopped me in my tracks and made me dig a little deeper and I’m glad I did.

The premise of the book is that whilst we are not all born to be creative geniuses we all can, with commitment and focus develop and improve our knowledge and stamina to produce better works of art in much the same way as we would develop athletic prowess. This struck a chord with me as I do have a tendency to abandon creative pursuits that I connect with immediately. Whilst I don’t expect to produce masterpieces from day one I do seem to expect a level of competency of myself from early on and if it’s not there, chances are I will  move on but why this is I don’t know. If I decided I was going to run a marathon or learn to play the piano, I would never expect myself to achieve anything without a lot of hard work so, if I accept there is a need for training in these areas why not for my art too?

The book is set out over 10 chapters which provide activities designed to be as the basis of a 10 week programme that builds on previous weeks learnings as it progresses briefly summarised as:

  1. Defining Creative Stamina – Writing as an assist to making.
  2. Overcoming Stumbling Blocks 1 Obstacles to working.
  3. Overcoming Stumbling Blocks 2 Conquering you inner critics.
  4. The Power of Limitations – Using what you already have.
  5. Learning to Make and Take Time  Making your art a priority.
  6. What Does Alignment Look Like to You – Balancing creative activities
  7. Making Your work Distinctively Your Own – Focusing on what matters.
  8. Each Of Us is Fascinating 1 – Who, what, when, where & why.
  9. Each Of Us is Fascinating 2 – Distilling and editing your story.
  10. Discovering Grace through Acts of Making – Recognising the ability within you.

One of the things I really like about this book is the 3 part structure of the chapters. Each begins with the authors essay on the subject matter and is followed by what she calls a cross training exercise. Writing as a support for creativity features heavily and many of the exercises are written, along with other practical creative exercises. The final part of each chapter is an ‘Artists Respond’ section which uses examples of the exercises as done by artists who have completed the course. I found this section particularly useful since I do tend to worry that I’ve got the wrong end of the stick and seeing how other people tackle it gives some peace of mind and of course it provides a valuable insight into the work of other artists.

I have to admit here that because I was reviewing the book I read it all the way through and haven’t yet completed all the exercises but I will be going back and doing so. Because so many things leapt out at me for personal reasons I ended up with an awful lot of page markers that I need to go back and address. 

Chapter 3 addresses the critics that we subconsciously use to block our work – all of our own making and individual to each one of us. No matter how well a creative project is going for me there is a good chance that I will at some point second guess myself by invoking my critics panel. These people have never given me cause to do this – they are simply people that I admire and respect and have an innate desire to please and to know that this is a common issue that can be overcome is very comforting.

I love this Artists visualisation of her own critics committee…

Chapter 4 could also have been written with me in mind when it discusses creating focus by limiting yourself to materials you already have rather than downing tools while you rush out to the shops to buy that must have widget that’s going to make all the difference. Yes – I have done that numerous times…and as for online shopping – if I spent as much time actively creating as I do shopping I would be way more productive and have way more space in my studio! Time Management is of course something many of us could use some help with and I’m no exception.

The book itself is very easy to work through since the essays are fairly succinct and the exercises can be tailored to your own requirements. From the Artist Responses you can see that some people abbreviate them to suit while others expand and even develop them into larger pieces of work. There are plenty of illustrations to help clarify the ideas and a liberal sprinkling of aspirational and inspirational quotes add an extra element of support.

If you are a trained artist you will no doubt have studied similar theories as part of your education but I think the book will still be valuable as a reassessment tool to reboot your creativity. If you are new to art or developing new directions as I am I think it’s a great tool to help you focus and create a self awareness and confidence that will have positive repercussions on your creative activities. It’s difficult to address all the content in detail without rewriting the book here so if you can get your hands on a copy and flick through it I would recommend it.

Amazon UK – Creative Strength Training by Jane Dunnewold

Amazon US – Creative Strength Training by Jane Dunnewold

I have also just noticed that Jane is also running  a 10 month expanded online course…it begins today but you may still be able to get on it if you’re interested:


Lesley Watt

Lesley Watt started making jewellery in 2009 with a handful of hobby store beads but quickly discovered art beads and became completely smitten. Taking courses in metal clay, metal smithing, enamelling and etching she began making her own components in 2011 and has never looked back. Always looking to try new things she has branched out into ceramics, bead embroidery, mixed media and textiles.
  1. Reply

    Wonderful review Lesley. I am taking the 10 month CST course and am enjoying everything about it!. I was fortunate to take a workshop in Louisville, Ky through LAFTA (Louisville Area Fiber and Textile Artists) a group I belong to, back in 2011. She is a wonderful instructor as well as person. I love the book as well!
    be well,
    Judy Goodwin

    • Kimberly Cleveland
    • June 26, 2017

    Stumbled upon your review and this is exactly what I’ve been looking for. Thank you so much! Your review was great and so helpful that I’m ordering the book now in fact! God bless!

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