Archive for the ‘ideas’ 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.


Creative Ideas for Unwinding

When you find your mind stuck on a work-related issue, getting started on a the technical aspects of a creative exercise can quickly shift your focus.
Here are some ideas for simple creative exercises, as well of a couple of my favourite ‘quick’n’effective’ ways to get in touch with Me…

  • Drawing exercises – even if it’s just the couch, or what’s outside the window
  • Rewrite a communication in rhyming meter
  • Make up a song – silly or serious
  • Create a pebble mandala or draw in the sand (arranging stones in a balanced pattern always soothes my mind)
  • Singing at the top of my voice (very effective when I’m sitting in traffic :-))
  • Any craft activity – beading, decoupage, model-building, etc.
  • Cooking – trying out a new recipe, or adding a new ingredient to a recipe

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.

Ideas for Creative Challenges

Aside from time and budget, creative challenges can be applied to style, content and technique. Here are some ideas:


Visual Arts: Make a collage all in one colour, or using only one motif / Focus only on one of the formal elements at a time (line, colour, form, texture, light, space, shape) / Build up form using one shape only

Writing: Write in metred prose / Write in haikus / Use opposites to describe an image

Music: Work a piece from another song into yours / Create a handmade instrument & work this sound into your music / speed up the rhythm, or slow it down.

Cooking: Explore the use of specific spices / Create recipes with substitutes for wheat or sugar

Fashion: Incorporate contrasting textiles / Design the same garment for different markets.


These exercises expand our abilities and provide us with new insights into how we can recreate and represent the world around us, in the process revealing something of our personal style. Over time this builds easily into a body of work that bears our own personal ‘stamp’.

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.

Creative activities for exploring the unexpected

Following from the post above, here are some activities that are good for exploring the unexpected…

  • Drawing: try random marks on paper; take rubbings off different surfaces and see if you can find shapes and images in them
  • Collage: randomly stick cut and torn images alongside each other – surprise yourself with graphic possibilities
  • Writing: pick 20 – 30 random words from books, dictionaries, articles etc. then play around to create new meanings
  • Photography: point and shoot without framing the pictures. Lay out your pictures and see what you’ve got that you don’t normally see
  • Music: try different instruments, keys, beats and random sounds for new emotive possibilities

What to do when the lights go out

It’s been a month of frustration for most of us with power outages interrupting work and leisure plans alike, and causing a fair amount of damage. While I firmly believe this crisis should be resolved with the utmost urgency, once we find ourselves with the power out, there isn’t much we can do but sit it out. This month’s newsletter takes a look at some creative activities to help pass the time.

Creativity Quotes:
I really enjoyed these excerpts from last weekend’s Sunday Times:

“What we often call happiness is a ‘flow state’ of unselfconsciousness, the sort of thing that happens when you’re so engrossed in a hobby that you don’t notice time passing”
followed later by:
“Absorption in a single activity such as learning a hobby or skill, instead of wildly multi-tasking, creates a ‘flow’ state of unself-consciousness that helps to develop our higher-functioning cerebral cortexes, and to stem the nagging idea that ‘fun’ is always somewhere else, needing pursuing.”

John Naish, The Ignorance of Bliss, Sunday Times Lifestyle 27 Jan 08

What to do when the lights go out…
Okay, so it’s 12:00 and you’re in the middle of an important document / production cycle when *bam* – the lights, power and aircon go down. Very soon you’re hot, sweaty and bored…
Or you’re sitting with friends or family, watching TV and cooking a meal, when all comes to a sticky end, and you might actually have to make conversation…

What to do? Well, to avoid the trap of getting sucked into another round of heated discussions, here are a few things that should help pass the time in a really enjoyable way…

In last month’s newsletter I talked about being prepared for unscheduled time. If you’re carrying a notebook around, this is Planning and Doing time.

At work:
The funniest thing at work is that we’re now talking to each other! In a world of business-outcome driven communication, email and short phone-calls are our modus operandi. Spending half an hour or more chatting with our colleagues can be surprisingly enlightening, adding a nice social dimension to project teams. This won’t kill all your time though, and maybe your colleagues aren’t the kind you socialize with, or you’re on a pressured deadline. Informal planning and brainstorming sessions can be really beneficial instead – with no time deadline you can really talk things through, and pen and paper still work when our screens are blank J

If you can get out, it’s a great time to clear your head, and since I’ve taken to carrying my sketchbook with me, I’ve discovered it’s also a magic time to get stuck into a creative project. Wordsmiths, artists, crafters, musicians and anyone who doesn’t need powertools can pull out their projects and give them some quality attention… and become an object of fascination amongst your colleagues, who suddenly become inspired to take up their own hobbies…

At home:
If you’re in or responsible for a group of people, this can be trying time indeed. Again, the arts and crafts are all great activities if you can pull everyone together. Alone or in a group, collage is a great use of time – it’s amazing how quickly time passes when we’re collecting images and arranging them meaningfully on a page.

And when the lights are out, and it really is dark, huddled around candles we should steer away from eye-intensive activities (although I confess I often write by candle-light).
Music is a great night-time bonder – if you play, this is good practice time or the chance to show off your own ‘Unplugged’ sound. If you don’t, it’s a good time to bug your friends who do – or make it up as you go along…

Story-telling is also a good imagination stretcher if your group is good for it: I like the “And then…” game, where each person tells a quick ‘chapter’ following from previous ideas, and can have some hilarious results.

Personally I’m not that fond of being alone in the dark, so if you’re on your own, I recommend phoning a bunch of friends, or heading off to a restaurant to do some brainstorming, or have a new food experience, or going to see that movie you’ve been thinking about for a while.

If you have other creative ways of dealing with your power-free time, please let me know, and let’s share with the other readers out there…

And of course, all these can be done with the power up, so don’t feel you have to wait if inspiration strikes…

Wishing you all a peaceful and inwardly illuminating month.

Two Websites Worth Visiting

Great news for the Tapping Into Creativity newsletter is that we’ve been featured on a fantastic site – Creativity Portal. This is a Portal in the true sense, bringing together a huge variety of creative resources, and also features a great monthly newsletter that’s worth subscribing to.
You’ll find the link to our newsletter here, and we’ve already had some traffic – Hello to all our international readers!

And another great idea is Dream Big. It’s an O-Magazine initiative, giving South Africans a chance to put our most inspiring dreams into action – for ourselves, people we know, or our communities. A little assistance like this goes a long way, and I’ll certainly be submitting my big idea…