What started as a project she was “practicing” for retirement turned into a full-time creative enterprise for former aerospace engineer Mary Jo Hoffman. The daily images she shares on her STILL blog attract people from all over the world to her website, Instagram account and Pinterest page.

But it’s not just about beautiful images for Mary Jo. She hopes to provide a little inspiration along the way, too. She says, “Anyone can be creative. I believe creativity is a muscle that you exercise. If you exercise it, you get better and better.”

The key, she says, is finding the right creative outlet for YOU. A photographer since college, Mary Jo added journaling to her creative repertoire in 2000, after she saw an exhibit of artist journals at MCBA. “It was an aha moment for me,” she says. “I had tried journaling, but I’m not a writer. When I saw these artist journals, it was a visual feast for the eyes and I just loved it. I thought ‘I know I can do that.'”

Mary Jo’s journal collection began in January 2000.

Mary Jo says, “I fill two to three journals a year. My creative journey is documented in these journals. It’s where I experiment, where I gather bits and pieces of art and bits and pieces of ideas, and it all gets stored and documented here.

“For me, they’re not precious, they’re little libraries of material I can refer to,” she says. “The journals allow me to be creatively experimental with materials. I’ll try out new markers, pens and brushes. I don’t care if last night’s doodle is right next to a really great collage. It’s a safe place because it’s bound and closed. I can be as experimental and bad as I want. It doesn’t have to be good. And they usually aren’t. It’s usually 10 pages that look like an eight-year-old did it before you get to one that looks really good. I can’t imagine living without my journals. I love them.”

For Mary Jo, the key to finding time for her creative pursuits is to focus on activities that are what she calls “chunkable.” She says, “I do think STILL blog has been successful because I scoped it from the beginning to be portable, and it had to be doable in chunks. I can do it in little chunks throughout the day. Its completely chunkable.”

What are some other chunkable creative ideas? Mary Jo suggests, “If you’re going to do something, watercolors would be chunkable, not oil. Collage could be chunkable. You could have all your pieces in a folder and it could go with you [and] with a glue stick.” Ultimately, she says, find something that can be done at different times of the day. That will be the least disruptive and the most productive.

The reward for making a commitment to creativity? That nagging, task-oriented clock in your mind disappears, and you sink into a rhythm, an experience Mary Jo calls “deep play.” She explains, “Deep play is what happens when people get into the zone. You get so absorbed you lose sense of time. A lot of people feel like that’s the purest expression of living. You’re being used to your fullest and it’s the fullest expression of you. I get there through creativity. It’s why so many people say that, once you have the desire to be an artist, you can’t not.”

Minnesota Music: Paul Metzger, Charlie Parr, Pennyroyal
Production Team: Amy Melin, Brennan Vance, Carrie Clark, Ezra Gold, Joe Demko 

This story is made possible by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and the citizens of Minnesota.