The 3 Buckets of Creative Cultivation

I recently met with an artist facing a creative challenge. She wanted to take creative risks with her painting and she shared a familiar story. It’s a story I hear from many artists who want to take their creative work to a next level, but wrestle with confusion about how to make that leap.

As we talked spoke, three themes began to emerge. They’re what I call “The 3 Buckets of Creative Cultivation.” Each bucket is a part of the creative process. Understanding how these buckets relate to one another makes all the difference from staying stuck to breaking through to new levels of creativity and productivity. Read on…


If you want a deeper sense of peace and satisfaction in your work, understanding how these three buckets relate to one another can help move you in the direction you want to go.

Bucket #1: Your Inner Life

Bucket #1 is the most important bucket. Get this one right and you open up amazing opportunities for Bucket #2 and Bucket #3.

Bucket #1 is all about the integration of your heart, mind, body and spirit. Bucket #1 is who you are as a person…your personality, your temperament, your spiritual life, and your emotions. It is where you cultivate your BIG IDEAS for what you want to create. It is the place in the deepest part of you from which flows your imagination, inspiration, and intuition.

Bucket #1 is what makes you an artist. It is the way God has wired you. You don’t have to apologize for it, but you do need to pay careful attention to it.

If you don’t take care of Bucket #1, everything that flows out of it will suffer.

Bucket #1 is YOU. It’s the place where you cultivate your inner life so what you produce reflects originality, thoughtfulness and creativity.

Bucket #1 is who you are on the inside and how that inside relates to everyone on the outside. From Bucket #1 flows our beliefs and values. Our priorities. And our choices. In Bucket #1 resides our dreams and our fears. Our victories and our wounds. Our deepest held convictions and the thoughts we tell ourselves.

Bucket #1 is where there is an on-going conversation between our head and our heart.

For my artist friend, it was in Bucket #1 where she experience confusion about where to go and what to do next with her painting.

For the artist who feels blocked, stuck, angry, embittered, anxious, depressed or creatively dry, there’s usually some kind of blockage in Bucket #1.

Bucket #1, your inner life of what is being cultivated in your heart and mind, is where God wants to do His deepest work.

Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

By cultivating your inner life in Bucket #1, you put yourself in the best possible position to do your finest work in Bucket #2.

Bucket #2: Your Work

Bucket #2 is all about cultivating your creative gifts and how you put them to work. You may be the world’s next jazz great. Or the next prima ballerina. Or a future award-winning architect.

Maybe. Only if you cultivate your gifts by putting them to work.

Bucket #2 is the disciplined practice of actually doing your art. It’s practicing your music. Painting in your studio. Getting off Facebook and eliminating all distracting to write. Bucket #2 is where you face your creative challenges of what to film, what to sing, what to play, or what to produce.

Bucket #2 involves exploring what you need to do to improve and excel at your craft. It is where you take classes, go to workshops, read books or meet with master artists to critique your work.

In Bucket #2, you create…and it’s one fun bucket to play in! Depending on your craft, you may produce in isolation or in community like a play, orchestra or film production. Bucket #2 is where the imago dei comes out. Where we reflect the creative nature of God making the invisible visible.

Artists (and people in general) who are disconnected from their head and heart in Bucket #1 often experience trouble in Bucket #2. But, they think the problem is Bucket #2! The fears and lies we tell ourselves in Bucket #1 are actually what keep us from taking that next class, doing the work or bringing our artwork to completion in Bucket #2.

I recently wrote about the Bucket #1 problem of procrastination and how it is the ultimate creativity killer.

Bucket #2 is the place where you cultivate your gifts in order to excel and do the very best work you were created to do.

The content and quality of your work in Bucket #2 will always reflect what’s going on in Bucket #1.

Bucket #3: Your Community

Bucket #3 is all about letting it fly as you unleash your work to the world. You bring what you just created into community. You offer your gifts, your voice, your talent, and your work to the world. Bucket #3 is not only the world who sees, touches or experiences your work. It’s also your creative community, your circle of artist friends, and where you get valuable feedback about your work.

Bucket #3 is about cultivating deep, burden-bearing relationships that can help you sort out the stuff in Bucket’s 1 & 2.

And Bucket #3 is also were our worst fears are realized. When we release our work to the world, we circle back to Bucket #1 and think, “Oh crap, what have I just done.” And why? The world is not a very friendly place. Bucket #3 is where we’ve had our work shredded, critiqued, and rejected. (In some, not all cases…).

Bucket #3 is where we experience success and failure. It’s where our work is tested. Where the tough lessons are learned.

Does this sound familiar?

What if no one likes my music?

What if no one buys my paintings?

What if the critics shred my movie?

What if my book doesn’t become a bestseller?

Bucket #3 can overwhelm us with worry, fret, and catastrophizing. It is the creative Pandora’s Box we open when we release our work to the fickle opinions of the world. Bucket #3 is a place of great risk, but also great opportunity and reward.

Fears aside, maybe someone might honestly like our work?

But you and I will never know unless we stand on the high dive of Bucket #3 and jump into the hungering world below that is waiting for something fresh, original and truly satisfying.

I know I’m just scratching at the surface here. A few final thoughts about The 3 Buckets of Creative Cultivation: How can you be who God has made you to be? To do what God has gifted you to do? To make your unique contribution to a lost and hurting world?

All three of these buckets are related and to be a successful, productive artist, you need to pay attention to all three.

Questions: What bucket do you pay the most attention to? Why?

I’d love your thoughts and comments.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive, snarky or off-topic.

  • Sherilyn Rivera

    When I was in second grade I preferred to stay inside the classroom and draw instead of going to recess. I had nothing at all against my classmates. It was just that really I enjoyed making pictures. My teacher wrote a note home to my parents about the importance of socialization, so alas, I was forced out onto the playground. But Bucket # 1 was full of imagination, dreams and sounds that would continue to erupt and overflow from time to time “just because”. I was distracted by how pebbles looked under the water, the patterns of foam on the waves and the texture of an oyster’s shell. I was fascinated by the wooden whorls on the coffee table and would dust them with reverence and awe until my mother interrupted my reverie.
    Frugality and practicality were esteemed in our home and becoming an artist was not really an option financially or otherwise, so No.2 Pencils and ruled paper became my medium of choice!For me, an artist was a tremendously talented somebody who trained at a famous institute, was awarded scholarships and held exhibitions, or was signed by a recording company. I drew pictures and wrote songs because they just oozed out of my pores. Receiving little encouragement, I would fervently vow to abstain from all creative activity, but these little bouts of melancholia only resulted in further outpourings of artistic expression.

    I finally realized that God had given me the ability to experience His creation in my own unique way; a way that would lead me into His presence and inspire His praise. The approval of others could no longer be my idol. 

    All my heavenly Father was asking of me was to just be myself, to be amazed at the sight of a squirrel launching itself off the rooftop towards a distant branch and grasping it, to enjoy the camaraderie of a flock of Canadian Geese, to appreciate a choir of neighborhood dogs at 4:30 am. and to draw… closer to Him. 

    • Joey O’Connor

      Hi Sherilyn, I apologize for the delay in responding. (I was having problems with my commenting system.)

      Oh my, your descriptions are so powerful. What a reminder of how potent our words are as adults in cultivating or suffocating the creativity of a child. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I am grateful that God’s grace burst through the melancholia and freed you to express who He made you to be.

      Your words encourage me (and I hope others who read this) to press on. Thank you so much for sharing.

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