Archive for the ‘creative process’ Category

When One Door Closes, Another Opens…

After two years of writing the Tapping into Creativity newsletter (this is issue 24!), I have come to a fork in the road. I’ve had less and less time to write each month, and it’s finally become time to close this door in order to follow other opportunities.

Thanks to each one of you for your support – those who have only joined recently, as well as my longstanding subscribers, who have been here from the early days. I hope that your journey with me has been as rewarding and enriching as mine has been.

Departing Thoughts On Creativity
I have loved writing these newsletters; they have given me the opportunity to focus deeply on the nature of creativity universally – not just as it applies to me. I have always believed that we are all innately creative beings. What I have learnt is that while we think of creativity as an individual expression, there are fundamental basics and truths we can all use to find that which is unique to us. And that doing so is both a daunting commitment and an extremely exciting journey of discovery.

I’d like to leave you with some words that have been influential in my life for some years:

“We each have an infinite supply of love and happiness within us. We have been accustomed to thinking that we have to get something from outside us in order to be happy, but in truth it works the other way: we must learn to contact our inner source of happiness and satisfaction and flow it outward to share with others – not because it is virtuous to do so, but because it feels really good! Once we tune into it we just naturally want to share it because that is the essential nature of love, and we are all loving beings.” Shakti Gawain, “Creative Visualization”

When we get our creative juices flowing, they nourish not only our inner worlds, but our interactions with the rest of the world as well. Discovering, using and experiencing our creativity – through words, images, music, cooking, dancing or whatever expression comes naturally – is a step towards a richer lives for ourselves. By increasing our inner wealth, we naturally have more to share, and our outer worlds become richer, too.

Taking ownership of our challenges and opportunities, and knowing that we can face them creatively, turns our lives into what I think of as an interactive game. Knowing that we have choices, and that allowing ourselves to fail also allows us to grow, gives us the freedom we need to experiment with life. And a sense of humour is a great defense against all the things we just don’t have control over J

Wishing you all experimental, entertaining and enriching lives, and the ability to spot open doors when they appear!

Spring And The Art Of Creativity

September is Spring in the southern hemisphere, a time when we celebrate life in all its richness. Since my best friend also announced her pregnancy recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the cycles of creation in life.

Creativity Quotes:
Oh, Spring! I want to go out and feel you and get inspiration. My old things seem dead. I want fresh contacts, more vital searching – Emily Carr

It’s important to do the work that leads to our renewal, clarity and inspiration and then remember to taste it, experience it and let it flow – Linda Saccoccio

Spring And The Art Of Creativity
Spring is nature’s ultimate expression of creativity, and nature’s cycle from seed to flower holds powerful lessons for our own creative process.

Seed – The incubating period
New ideas are precious and need to be protected and nurtured gently in order to be able to grow. While you’re still gaining clarity on an idea, don’t undermine its chances of success by exposing it too soon. You do want to plant it in rich soil though, and feed it vital nutrients for gestation. You don’t need to fuss over it too much – just know that it’s there and keep coming back to check on it. Instead, nurture your idea by nourishing yourself – indulge in your favourite activities, follow your curiosity and intuitions, and leave lots of quiet reflective time for the idea to grow.

Seedling – Giving your idea form
Once an idea has taken root, it’s still in a very sensitive phase. It needs lots of attention with regular watering. Strengthen it with research and experimentation, feeding it ‘titbits’ from a variety of influences to spark off new possibilities. It’s vital to avoid all criticism at this point – this is the stage where one harsh word will destroy any chance of survival. Rather try out a variety of forms and expressions without expectation, to see where they lead you.
 
Flower – Taking on a life of its own
All that gentle attention pays off in this phase, as your idea becomes more robust, able to accommodate the unexpected, and where it starts to incorporate input from the rest of the world. As artists we are often surprised at the way our ideas turn out, expressing the sentiment ‘It wasn’t really me, I just let it happen”. This experience of creativity is one of the most powerful we can have. Your creations now have a life of their own, shaped by others’ input, unexpected influences, and even strengthened by criticism.

They are still yours though, and you have every right to be proud of the precious new addition you have brought into the world for all to share.

May your creations have the time and attention to become beautiful, strong and independent.

Spring and the Creative Process

Capture the magic of Spring in your own life, by focusing on what is new or budding in your life, and bringing nature’s cycles into your creative process.

Seed stage: Take time to reflect and get in touch with yourself, delve into new interests, pursue your passions, and soak up new influences.

Seedling: Have fun experimenting with variety – if you’re decorating, start by swatching; for painting, give your idea form with style and colour; and find rich synonyms for your written ideas.

Flower: Put on the finishing touches, display your artwork for others to see – even if it’s just in your kitchen; record and play back your music, print and bind your own book, or even publish your work online.

Appreciate and respect the feedback you receive, and then move on to planning your next creative project… in tune with your own creative cycle.

When Work Gets in the Way

Since my fabulous holiday project last month, I’ve been thrown into the deep end of a late project, with long hours and stressful deadlines, which has unfortunately also eaten into my personal time. Although I love my ‘daily grind’, it’s easy to forget how valuable creative exercise is in refreshing and revitalizing us.

Creativity Quote
I quite enjoy the email signature of one of my colleagues: “One of the signs of work addiction is believing that everything you do is important”. At some point we need to be able to break off and get back into our groove – and this is before a project wears you to the bone 🙂

When Work Gets in the Way
Whatever work we do, when our thoughts are consumed by the demands of tasks, processes and planning, it’s easy to switch off to our inner needs, and leave them for ‘later, when I’m less busy’. However, our creativity is actually one of our most effective tools for regenerating depleted energy reserves, and can be a lot more effective than a nap or vegging in front of the telly / YouTube. When we spend time focusing on a ‘creative outlet’, we slip into a space where we can hear our own thoughts again.
While I don’t necessarily want to be learning anything new, and I’m too exhausted to think up something exceptionally creative (we do enough hard thinking under deadline), I am able to follow the ‘mechanical’ steps of familiar exercises, and these exercises usually provide a ‘hook’ that leads to new creative considerations.
I find it’s important to keep it fun, and not to use the time to try to achieve anything I’ve been planning for a while, because the pressure of ‘delivering’ is already great enough at work. This space is purely for exploring, discovering and unwinding, and there are no ‘results’ other than the experience itself.
How are we rejuvenated?

As we work through the exercise, we find ourselves asking questions that are in part technical but are really about ourselves – should the lines be heavy or light; should I include the cat; do I really want it to rhyme, or is meter more important, and so on. Solving these ‘problems’ leads to new questions and ponderings, which stir the imagination, and because the solutions we decide on are simply one possibility from a range we could have chosen, our awareness of our options and choices expands, and our curiosity about other directions is peaked. These exercises give us a focus beyond the here and now, making us want to engage with the world, not just as a recipient but in an interactive way.
Our creativity comes from our soul, and staying in tune with it helps us keep perspective on our lives, rejuvenates us, and provides us with the inspiration to continue exploring our world.
Wishing you balance and self-discovery through your demanding times…

Lessons Learned from Indulging my Passion

In these newsletters I usually discuss different ways to explore creativity, but since I’ve recently completed a focused creative project, I thought I’d take a more experiential approach and share some of the things I learnt from the process. I’ve also attached a photo of the finished work, for the curious among you 🙂

Creativity Quotes
I find working with glass meditative, almost therapeutic. I can leave the world behind, and focus… The simplicity of form, the drama of rich, intense colour, the joy of challenge, and the challenge of endurance… The piece, when it is over, is not what is made, but how it is made – Andrew Kuntz

I know what I’m doing with my work, and that’s really a nice feeling, that I’ve created something that wasn’t there before, that’s mine – Tracey Emin

Lessons learned from indulging my passion
Although I’m now in a desk job, metalwork art – and specifically the modern aspects of blacksmithing – remains one of my abiding passions. Every now and again I indulge in a trip to a local studio with a project in mind. After a two year break, I was beginning to feel a bit bored and restless at work, and took leave to get back into my groove.

Part of being out of the creative loop is the lack of project occupying my imagination. I can think of many things I could make, but none has instilled a burning desire to get going. That was resolved one morning looking out of my (quite suburban) windows, and wishing I had a bay ‘window box’ to sit snuggled up at the window – a literary fantasy I’ve always nurtured. Then it struck me that a bench under the window would provide the same effect, and that making one would be an excellent studio project. Enter all-consuming desire…

I soon had a design drawn up for a set of matching benches to go under each window. A bit more planning (sourcing material, confirming available studio space, and taking leave) saw me back in the studio with a somewhat ambitious plan for four days. But again, a burning desire to complete it drove me along.

The first couple of days were less than spectacular. I cursed myself for: ● not being as fit as once I’d been; ● not ‘keeping my eye in’ as the stock I’d bought seemed too heavy; ● trying to do too much in too little time; ● feeling out of control with some of the heavier work.

Strangely, these negative thoughts seemed utterly familiar – even when I’d been smithing full time, these doubts were a constant companion. Since I didn’t have time to give in to worry, I just had to keep pushing through. Fortunately I was working with a group of highly experienced and helpful people who saved me hours of work by showing me some useful alternatives.

By the end of day three I felt okay, thinking all the individual pieces were complete and ready to weld together, but on the last morning I realised I’d left off a piece. And another. And I’d changed the design ‘on the fly’, which hadn’t worked, so had to redo the backrest. This all felt like a blow to the stomach, but… I wanted my benches.

Recut and now ready to assemble, finally the magic started to kick in – the pieces fell nicely into place and the last afternoon passed in a glorious zone as I watched the benches come to life.

I had overestimated the task – cleaning and sealing required another full day that I had to go back for a week later, and being out of practice, I’d forgotten to accommodate the cushion height so they’ll need adjusting. Nevertheless, by the end of a four-day week I was sitting (and bouncing) on my very own pair of elegant window benches.

Window benches 

Lessons learned:
• It’s easy to be too ambitious – in fact, you’re likely to be, so make sure you have a back-up time plan.
• Work with supportive people who know more than you do – access to knowledge and experience is invaluable.
• Those negative thoughts will probably be there forever. Learn to ignore them instead of succumbing. Each time you succeed at your plans, they become a little less convincing.
• Sometimes your materials will be wrong, and there will be design changes along the way, but there are always alternative plans to be made, so being flexible about it helps.
• A burning desire to get something done is a huge contributing factor for success. Also doing things that others don’t expect of you is immensely satisfying – and gives you more fuel to counter that negative voice in your head.
• Immersing yourself in a creative endeavour does wonders for your sense of self. Hearing only your own thoughts, and avoiding email and cell communication for a few days can be wonderfully liberating, knowing the world will be there when you get back.
• It’s true that a change is as good as a holiday. Four days of hard labour might not sound like a rest, but the refreshed feeling with which I returned to my desk job could not have been greater if I’d spent a week sipping cocktails in a beach cabana.

Some more general observations:
• Sometimes ‘creating’ feels more like ‘making’ – creative endeavours are still just projects, with start and end times, tasks for planning and executing, and constraints that help to shape the outcome. Without demystifying the creative process, knowing this helps to gain some control over an otherwise elusive process.
• Technical experience is one of the cornerstones of the creative process. If you don’t have a lot of experience, instead of letting this be another negative message to repeat at yourself, book yourself on a course. This way you’ll have access to the knowledge you need, be surrounded by supportive people, and be able to immerse yourself in a pre-organised space. You can let go of the details and focus solely on learning and creating.
• We learn about ourselves in everything we do. Different arts have different ‘outcomes’ or products, but whatever you do will leave a lasting ‘memento’ of the whole experiences, both in the work produced and the deeper, less tangible personal discoveries you make, which will be with you forever.

Wishing you the opportunity to delve into your own world of making and creating.

Giving Constructive Criticism

In the post above we discuss dealing with criticism. This exercise follows a process for giving others positive, affirmative feedback…

Take an objective piece of work (a photo from a magazine, a song, a new fashion, etc.) and pretend it was made by a friend.

  1. List what you like about it, and what has been done well – the colours / range of sounds / emotiveness / daring / etc. Say as much as you can here. We tend to forget that while we’re talking about particulars, others can’t hear the context of the rest of the thoughts in our head. On the whole I think we should spend more time praising each other’s efforts, as it really does foster creative energy. 
  2. Think about the objectives that the work sets out to achieve, as far as you can see. Ask yourself how well you think it meets them, and how it does that. 
  3. List what you don’t like about it, what jars or disturbs you, and what you would do differently. Ask yourself whether this is a difference in personal symbols, or if you genuinely think it hasn’t been handled well. Personal tastes are a big influence – if you don’t like rap music, you probably aren’t in a position to evaluate its merits  If your tastes differ, say so while acknowledging the good. 
  4. Then ask what you really think could be improved, and how that will change your experience of the work. I firmly believe that “weaknesses” are areas of opportunity for us – once we know what we do well, we can choose areas we’d like to improve on for ourselves – but it’s a whole lot easier if we receive this input in a friendly fashion. 
  5. Respect the fact that the recipient can take or leave your feedback as they choose – which will allow you to do the same…

When we’re able to give truly constructive ‘criticism’, we also become able to evaluate feedback others give us. Over time, this exercise will not only strengthen our hit-taking muscles, but also influence our own work as we learn more about our own preferences, interests and strengths.

The benefits of working with limitations

In most of our ‘everyday’ projects we are forced to work within constraints of time, materials, skills and budgets, as well as a range of highly specific client needs, giving very little room for experimentation – the focus is on delivery. When we’re experimenting creatively we don’t need to be anywhere near as rigid, but working within constraints is an excellent way to channel and focus our creative efforts.

 

Creativity Quotes

Creativity arises out of the tension between spontaneity and limitations, the latter (like the river banks) forcing the spontaneity into the various forms which are essential to the work of art or poem. – Rollo May

 

Shakespeare wrote his sonnets within a strict discipline, fourteen lines of iambic pentameter, rhyming in three quatrains and a couplet. Were his sonnets dull? Mozart wrote his sonatas within an equally rigid discipline – exposition, development, and recapitulation. Were they dull? – David Ogilvy

 

The benefits of working with limitations

Working within a set plan is as critical to developing our creative experience as the aimless doodling we’ve discussed in previous newsletters (Relaxing into Creativity). It offers us the opportunity to put into practice the abstract discoveries captured from our non-focused contemplations, and stretches our responses, ironically forcing us to be more innovative, rather than less.

 

If we don’t have specific imposed constraints, one nice approach is to copy the way children make up rules for their games. These ‘rules’ generally take a reasonably simple exercise which offers little sense of accomplishment in itself but by adding daring elements and time limits, turn it into a series of challenges to pit their wits against. 

 

In a creative project, these rules create a kind of lens, temporarily distorting the way we view the world, focusing our attention to ‘draw out’ our creativity as we rise to the challenge of examining and representing our world from a new perspective. 

 

We also feel invigorated by overcoming challenges, and as we go along, set ourselves new and more stimulating ‘rules’ that allow us to grow from strength to strength. 

 

By forcing us to go beyond our comfort zone, these imposed ‘strictures’ allow us to experiment, push ourselves a little bit further, develop confidence in our ability to meet challenges, and develop whole new lines of interest.  

 

Wishing you all a stimulating and invigorating May.

Working Creatively with Dream Images

This month’s theme was inspired by a strange image in a dream I had recently. Our dream images are layered with information from every aspect of our lives, and when we’re stuck for inspiration, catching even a fragment of a dream can lead us down a whole new path of self discovery.

Creativity Quotes
Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning – Gloria Steinem

They say dreams are the windows of the soul – take a peek and you can see the inner workings, the nuts and bolts – Henry Bromel

Working Creatively with Dream Images
We use our dream images to make sense of our daily lives, to bring important issues to our attention, and remind ourselves of directions that are valuable to us. We do this by using highly personalized symbols, the products of our education, our experiences, and our most fleeting conscious perceptions, all mingling to form symbols that have meaning for us uniquely.

As the creative products of our psyche making sense of the world around us, these images are goldmines for accessing our creativity. But because they’re so dense, it’s often hard to access their meanings. Similarly, if we try to define a single “message”, the richness of the image can be lost.

So how do we make use of our dream symbols?
I particularly like the term “mining” images for meaning. Here are some questions that will help dig out some significance:

  • What is the image?
  • What feeling does it create?
  • What associations spring to mind?
  • Does the image have any universal symbolism?
  • What’s unusual about it, and what could this mean?

Picking out common threads can bring awareness to themes that are hidden below the surface of our consciousness. Focusing on small details and specific images can heighten our awareness of their meaning in our lives.

Dream images take us beyond logic, and allow for very open ended interpretations. Sometimes we can clearly identify a particular theme, but it’s important to avoid tritely pinning down a single explanation. Once we’ve identified a set of elements as a composite image, we give it the chance to build up meaning, becoming a complete symbol in itself, which can recur for future insight. And loosed from the realm of the dream, dream symbols can take on meaning in our conscious lives as well.

Our dreams are a window on the more mysterious aspects of our soul. When we pay attention to them, they provide us with an endless supply of inspiration for creative and personal growth.

Wishing you all a dreamy, insightful April.

Creative Exercises for Dreams

The more we think about the symbols we create, the deeper our insights become.
Use these ideas to draw out your dream image:

Visual: Draw, paint or collage the image. This cathartic process allows your creative mind to run free while your logical side focuses on getting the details right – colours, textures, relative sizes etc.

Writing: See the image in context – What characters would surround/ use/accompany it? What setting does it occupy? What happens, what does it do, what effect does it have?

Musical: What sounds would your subject make? Light and graceful, threatening, soulful? What sounds would harmonise with it, and what would clash?

Why making mistakes is good

We’re often told, correctly, that one of the ways to free our creativity is to stop being afraid of making mistakes. It’s easy enough to say, but even if you can get your head around the idea that perfectionism is a barrier to creativity, how do we go about accommodating them?

Creativity Quotes:
“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” Albert Einstein

“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” Scott Adams

Why making mistakes is good
Mistakes, errors, blunders, faults, imperfections – call them what you will; all our training has been to remove any reference to them – to erase if we’re drawing, delete if we’re typing; restart if we’re singing or playing an instrument.

We see mistakes as interruptions to our plan, even if we didn’t think we had one – they’re not what we intended, and therefore not good. But what mistakes do is offer us the opportunity to explore beyond where we thought we were going – they introduce that rare element of ‘chance’ into our work.

When we find ourselves with a slip-up, a really creative alternative is to leave it just as it is, and try to work it in.

It’s not always going to produce a beautiful result, so I don’t recommend doing this on anything you’re under pressure to deliver – it will simply undermine your confidence. Rather, set aside some “mistake making” time, a time in which you give yourself absolute permission to err, to make a mess, to stuff things up. If you’re musical, bang away without rhyme or reason for a while. Visual artists can scribble, draw, dribble paint and randomly combine images. Allow words to flow unselfconsciously if you’re writing – and if you’re cooking, it helps to find an equally creative audience J

The human mind is wired to find patterns, to look for logic, to find a repeatable path. This is to our detriment when we’re stuck in a rut of “proven methods”, but when we’ve silenced our critical voice for a while and given ourselves creative freedom, our logical mind will soon start to find new meanings and patterns from the seemingly random combinations we come up with. New sound combinations will resonate with different emotions, and new visual and literal images will create fresh associations, containing the seeds of new directions ready for you to explore.

Practicing making mistakes also makes it easier to be gentle with ourselves when we do make that colossal oops – when that off note can be left as it was without kicking ourselves; where the line out of place just doesn’t matter that much, and the wrong mix of herbs can be smoothed over with ice-cream. See the post below for some more ideas to get started with…

As we learn to be less critical of ourselves, we become more open to new possibilities that unplanned events might hold.

Wishing you a gentle and accepting month of discovery.