Archive for the ‘exploration’ Category

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.


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.

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?

Being Creative Through the Silly Season

My festive season tends to be quite hectic, balancing work, family and general year-end celebrations. Even on holiday, we tend to rush around, but fortunately the ‘Silly Season’ gives us a bit of license to experiment creatively in a spirit of goodwill. And if you’re looking for a good creative gift, I’ve also included a list of inspiring books to bump up your Christmas wishlist…

Creative Quotes
Never ask whether you can do something. Say instead that you are going to do it, then fasten your seat belt – Julia Cameron, Author and International Creativity Coach

Life is “trying things to see if they work.” – Ray Bradbury, Novelist

Being Creative Through the Silly Season
We are increasingly beginning to value the truly authentic feel of handmade items over commercial, and appreciating the imperfections that tell us an item is indeed hand crafted – an indication that we are sharing in each others’ creative journeys. But we often struggle to find opportunities where we feel comfortable “risking” a result that isn’t of the highest quality.

Whether or not you celebrate Christmas, or are spending this time with a group, alone, or away from home, the year-end festivities give us an abundance of opportunities to put our creative intentions into practice – it’s one time when pretty much anyone can find a place to try out something new.

Creative Activities
Here are some ideas to get you going…

· Drawing & Collage: Handmade cards and decorations provide lots of opportunity to experiment; or frame your work as a gift for a friend…
· Photography: Play with portraits of family and friends, try out innovative subject matter themes, and document your holiday story.
· Cooking: Cooking, baking, savoury and sweet, this is a great foodie time to experiment with recipes.
· Music: Drag out your guitar, sing along or dance your appreciation.
· Writing: communicate your festive wishes in your own words – I have a friend who writes all but an essay in her handmade cards (fronted with her 2½ yr old daughter’s paintings), making each card not only beautiful, but a truly personal and memorable message.
· Events: take in a play, some live music or an art exhibition, and soak in the creative vibe J

Wishing everyone an adventurous silly season… whatever happens, you can always blame it on the festive spirit J

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.

Working Collaboratively on Creative Projects

Thank you to everyone for the wedding wishes – they are much appreciated. As many of you pointed out, weddings are in fact large creative projects, and form a good starting point for looking at collaborative projects.

Creativity Quotes
Clearly no group can as an entity create ideas. Only individuals can do this. A group of individuals may, however, stimulate one another in the creation of ideas – Estill I. Green, Vice President Bell Labs Innovation Research Company

Throughout history, we have pulled off amazing feats as a result of our ability to collaborate and build upon our collective efforts. As a species, when we coordinate and play to our higher purpose, we are pretty amazing – Stephen James Joyce, Collaboration Consultant & Author

Working Collaboratively on Creative Projects
Collaborative creative projects differ from most of our other projects in a few important ways. Above all, a creative project has a personal touch. Even if it’s a functional work, as most projects are, it’s not utilitarian – and that gives it a very special uniqueness.

Another key difference is ownership. Usually when we work on projects, there is one ‘project leader’ whose vision and plan we follow, and we add our own skills as and when needed. But when we’re working on a creative project, each person’s expression must be represented in the final outcome, without being diminished by other contributions or alternately dominating the final picture. It’s a challenge of balance and respect.

Whether you’re decorating your reception area or making an album for a family member, collaborative projects succeed best when a clear goal is agreed on at the outset. This is not the ‘final blue print’ but an idea of what you aim to achieve, what emotions or concepts you want to communicate, and, significantly, what characteristics bind you as a team.

For example, you may be scrapbooking “holiday memories” as a family, or defining your company motto of “great service”. When you identify your team characteristics, it becomes easier to see your own unique expression, what makes you part of the team, and the role you play inside the group – allowing you to express yourself in harmony with everyone else.

And lastly, an important difference between collaborative projects and individual creative work is that collaborative projects are more public, and tend to be created for an audience – even if it’s just one person in the form of a gift.

Unlike personal poems or a musical experiment we may be working on, these projects must be looked at with an end product in mind, but at the same time provide a public space for each person’s unique expression. In this way, they are an excellent means for promoting both idea sharing and teamwork, and innovating new solutions to creative challenges.

The discussions that arise as we work on these projects allow us to get to know each other in a much more meaningful way, spur us on to reach new levels of achievement, and ultimately help us define ourselves and our strengths and talents – without competing against each other.

Ideas for collaborative projects:
· Making an album for a family member
· Decorating your reception area, or play / recreation area
· Making a commemorative art work such as a quilt or mosaic
· Starting a musical project or band
· Planning an event – such as a Wedding J

May working with others stimulate you to discover more about yourself.

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.

Relaxing into Creativity

We’ve talked a lot lately about things you can do to stimulate your creativity. One of the hardest things about creativity is to let it come naturally – but encourage it to do so! 

Creative Quotes
So you see, imagination needs moodling – long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering. Brenda Ueland  

Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things. Ray Douglas Bradbury      

Relaxing into Creativity
Once we’ve started thinking creatively, we need to find a way to get those ideas and expressions going – but often find it very hard to make time to do. 

The secret is often to stop doing just for a little while, either once a week, or daily if you can. We tend to be so busy these days that it’s really difficult to make time for extra activities; this is part of the trick in surprising our creativity. Instead of scheduling a specific time, try to become conscious of when you’re doing something just to fill time. You may find that you do the same kinds of activities here – things that should be fun but really aren’t that rewarding.We always have plenty of things we tell ourselves we should do, but when we’re filling time we’re looking for a break from all that. This is really special time for us, when we’re receptive to something new and our imaginations are actually humming. When you catch yourself in these moments, instead of reaching for the remote, try stopping everything and staring out the window instead, allowing yourself the space to relax and daydream.  

If you have a creative activity on the go, it helps to have your materials close at hand, because after about 5 minutes of daydreaming, I find I remember the ideas I wanted to try out and experiment with, and start wondering how things will turn out if I use orange instead of red, or a high angle instead of a low angle, and so on. Without forcing it, eventually curiosity overcomes daydreaming, and it’s easy to get to work. 

If you’re stuck on how to prompt your creative musing, try focusing on something you’ve recently discovered you’re curious about, or pick an image from the day and think about why it’s important to you. As you float from image to image, you may begin to pick up a story. 

The trick then is to follow it up, so whether you’ve been ruminating over the different kinds of packaging soup comes in, or how your song would sound with a trumpet, go and have a look at the shelves (if you have a camera, take pics!) or spend some time listening to different trumpet sounds and styles. 

This research step fills our imagination with a myriad of new possibilities, all of which we process while we’re busy with the rest of our routine activities. As we digest them, the next unplanned ‘quiet’ time will give us the opportunity to expand and take the next step.  

It’s not a logical, planned process with a clear beginning and end, it’s a route to our intuitive and creative selves, and taking the ‘zen’ step of non-doing is one of the most effective means of getting there.  May your creative musing lead to fascinating new places.