Archive for the ‘project’ Category

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.

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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.

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’.