Archive for the ‘discovery’ 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!

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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.

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.

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.

Gift Ideas – 6 Great Creativity Books

Whether you’re treating yourself or a friend, if you’re looking for a good creative gift, here are some of the books that I have found inspiring in focusing and developing creativity and originality:

The Artist’s Way – Julia Cameron 1992 – A timeless classic, now republished in workbook format
The Vein of Gold – Julia Cameron 1996 – An excellent follow-on from The Artist’s Way
Keys to Drawing with Imagination – Bert Dodson 2007 – Brilliant ideas for bringing imagination to drawing
The New Creative Artist – Nita Leland 2006 – Experiments with themes in paint and drawing media
The 10 Faces of Innovation – Tom Kelly 2006 – Excellent introduction to recognizing and developing innovation in a business environment
Purple Cow – Seth Godin 2002 Marketing focused book on finding your distinctive, “remarkable” identity

Finding Your Shining Light

As we wind down to the end of the year, many schools and universities have their final exhibitions of the year’s work. I had the fortune of visiting the False Bay College exhibition recently, and learnt something new for myself.

Creativity Quotes
A sense of curiosity is nature’s original school of education – Smiley Blanton, Psychiatrist and Author

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep – Scott Adams, Cartoonist

Finding your Shining Light
The joy of student exhibitions is the variety of technique, style and skill on display. Particularly in high school or early university years, the number of techniques covered is vast; I saw painting, drawing, graphic design, ceramic and wire sculpture, beading, fabric design and even journalism.

While there were a few students who produced fine work in most of the media, what was most interesting to me was how different individuals fared. Across the board there was strong and weak work, and the same within each individual exhibition. There was not a single display that didn’t have at least one ‘shining light’ – a work where the artist clearly felt comfortable with the medium, and was able to used it to tell a story – from a stern and foreboding self portrait, to a fantastical cat, to a still-life alive with colour.

The thought struck me that without trying all the different media, these artists-to-be would never have found the one medium or style that really resonated with them. Rather than being under pressure to excel every time, being allowed to ‘fail’ in some areas allowed them to produce work that helped them learn about their skills, and hone their natural talents.

From cooking to performance to music, literature, film and the visual arts, or any other form of expression, we all have at least one natural talent, but if we give up the first time we try something creative, we stop ourselves from finding that hidden treasure. Not only that, but when you experiment with different media and styles, you also discover which ones come easily to you, and which ones you struggle with – giving you a point of comparison that draws from experience rather than hopes and fears.

Creative activities
I’ve recently been experimenting with repetition, which as an exercise also allows you to compare differences and discover your preferences. I’ve made a few suggestions below for some of the media, but please adjust to suit your needs, materials and passions…I recommend trying as many of these as possible – who knows what new talents you might discover J

  ·  Drawing: start with a single mark and repeat it on a page until a form starts to develop. Fill in the details to create an image.
     [This exercise comes from Keys to Drawing from the Imagination – a highly recommendable book for anyone wanting to tap into their imagination.]
   ·  Writing: see how many different descriptions or settings you can have for one symbol
   ·  Cooking: try using a core set of ingredients in a variety of cooking methods
   ·  Music: take a chord or scale and try repeating it at different tempos
   ·  Photography: shoot the same subject in different locations
   ·  Theatre: tell the same story for different audiences

I’d love to see what you come up with! If you’re keen to share, please mail me your images or text, or better still – load them up as a comment here…

May you discover new perspectives and talents as you go.

Thoughts on Innovation

One of the aspects of creativity that can be taken into the workplace is innovation – a huge topic that I’ll be delving into from time to time. Although it is bandied about in intimidating terms, innovation is simply creativity seen in an applied context, and in fact we all do it all the time, in the work-arounds we develop to deal with our daily challenges. 

Creativity Quotes
There is no doubt that creativity is the most important human resource of all. Without creativity, there would be no progress, and we would be forever repeating the same patterns – Edward de Bono  

When you get a result that you expect, you have another result; but when you get a result that you don’t expect, you have a discovery – Frank Westheimer 

Thoughts on Innovation
Change is often forced on us, when we run into problems with the set methods or tools we use to get something done. Often we find we need a different result from a process, or need to incorporate new methods, materials and even people with different skills. The more comfortable we are with our creativity, the simpler we find it to experiment with finding new solutions. 

Creative exercise forms the basis of innovation. Taking the process of experimenting with different materials and techniques for different effect, creativity makes the leap to “innovation” when we find something that really improves our activity or product in a way that we can apply consistently.  

Because our society seems to believe that only gurus can innovate, we often overlook opportunities to use our own creative abilities. Areas where we are stumped, or experience ongoing frustration are a great place to start – there’s nothing to lose, and if you succeed you not only ease your day, you also grow in confidence to tackle new challenges. While there are no hard-and-fast rules, these questions will set you firmly on the road to innovation: 

  • What can’t be changed? Once you know this, it frees you up to focus elsewhere J 
  • What can be changed? Innovation is typically an adaptation of processes, tools, or both. 
  • Tools & Materials: Are there better / other materials I could be using? 
  • Process: How do other people do similar things? What happens if I change the order around? What steps could I incorporate? What can I leave out? 
  • What impact will the changes I make have? The only way to answer this is to try it out in practice. 

As with all creative exercise, it’s important to leave room for unexpected results. It’s easy to call these ‘flaws’ but often this is where the magic is lying. Asking whether these new developments can be utilized in any way is often the key to unlocking truly new results. And making a note of what works and what doesn’t builds your knowledge for future reference, making the process simpler and more familiar with time. 

Developing an innovative approach is about being comfortable enough with our creativity to accommodate change as it comes, and even be able to initiate it through our creative discoveries, at each stage discovering a little bit more of our creative power. 

Exploration and Play

Here in the Western Cape May started with a sudden cold snap, heralding the onset of winter. As a topic on everyone’s lips, it works perfectly as a theme to explore creatively. So this month we have a short discussion section, with the focus on ideas for creative exercise.

Creativity Quotes
The great composer does not set to work because he is inspired, but becomes inspired because he is working – Ernest Newman

Creative work is play. It is free speculation using materials of one’s chosen form – Stephen Nachmanovitch

Creativity – Exploration and Play
Creative exercises are a lot like play, and rewarding for their own sake. When focused around one subject or theme, they can also form the basis for creative exploration. Try out these ideas to stretch your mind and imagination… 

  1. See the difference: Collect three leaves from the same tree and examine them closely. How are they different, and which one appeals to you most? Why?
  2. Associations: How do you feel about winter? Do you like it, hate it, love it? Choose five words that describe how you feel in the cold. Ask your friends to do the same and discover the variety of ways we view and describe the world.
  3. Patterns: Grab a handful of stones and arrange them into patterns. Not only for winter, this semi-meditative exercise gets us thinking about the placement of each element as we go.
    Also look for changing patterns around you – in plants, streets, paint, everywhere that’s affected by the weather.
  4. Sounds: list the sounds that tell you it’s winter. If you’re musically inclined, you can also try imagining what sounds you’d use to describe the weather (rain, wind, hail, etc.).
  5. Look at colour, line and shade: choose a magazine photo depicting your theme and re-interpret it using small pieces of magazine paper. You’ll be amazed at how much more detail you see.

These simple exercises give us a fresh perspective on the idea or theme we’re working on, stimulating our curiosity and bringing our creative awareness into our daily lives. And by examining what really engages us about our theme, the discoveries we make also give us invaluable insight into ourselves. 

May you have the opportunity to bring creative play into your lives a little bit more each day.

Inspiration from Others

At the start of a creative project we often have a vague idea what we want to do, but don’t really know where to go from there. Which leads to the question: how do we stimulate ideas? Often our best ideas come from our interaction with the world around us.

Creativity Quotes
Creativity often consists of merely turning up what is already there. Did you know that right and left shoes were thought up only a little more than a century ago? Bernice Fitz-Gibbon 

Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun – Mary Lou Cook 

Inspiration from others
Once we’ve set a direction for a project, the next step – working out what exactly it is we want to do – can be very daunting. At this point we usually can’t think much beyond the ‘standard’ functionality and form – a website looks like this, a short story is composed of that. So how do we generate our own ideas and get to the unique solution that only we are able to create?  

Part of any creative project is study and research. This allows us to differentiate, to know by contrast what our own vision is. Exposing ourselves to the variety of techniques, processes and aesthetics that others have used, sharpens our own focus, clarifying our particular needs and wants. 

Compare & Contrast
It helps to have some kind of design idea in mind to start off with; try to define at least one aspect you want to achieve – it may be a particular set of system criteria, or a basic character development. 

Then, go out on a focused Look and Learn mission:

  • Internet sites and libraries are always good starting points
  • Attend expos and events in any field that interests you
  • Dip into ideas from other countries and cultures
  • Specialist shops are a rich source of inspiration
  • Investigate procedures and innovations outside your field

Bear in mind that inspiration doesn’t only lie in the aesthetics of an item – often tiny technical details can completely shift the way we’ve been thinking. As part of your looking, make a mental note of how different forms and functions address different needs. You don’t need to get too detailed here, but do make a note of things that really appeal to you. And then head back to your drawing board. What did you see that inspired you? What didn’t work, and why? Was there anything you thought you could improve? 

Once you’ve garnered a wealth of new perspectives, applying them to your own set of requirements has the effect of an automatic idea-generating exercise. The only thing now is to avoid limiting yourself upfront. List as many possible approaches and different combinations as you can before trying to narrow them down to a final design. 

Wishing you an exciting process of discovery and design.