Apr 25 2016

The Creative Habit By Twyla Tharp (Condensed Notes)

 

1. Starting with nothing and working towards creating something satisfying is terrifying. Some people cannot deal with it; they procrastinate. Being creative is a full-time job with its own daily routines, which is as much a part of the process as the lightning bolt of inspiration. Hard work & perseverance. Discipline morphs into habit. Prepare to be creative. No one can give you your subject matter or it would be their creation. It takes skill to bring something you’ve imagined into reality, developed through exercise, practice, learning & reflection. Everything is raw material, relevant, usable, feeds into your creativity. But without proper preparation, you cannot see it, retain it and use it.

2. At the beginning of the creative process, when you are most likely to give up or go the wrong way, it’s vital to establish some rituals, automatic but decisive patterns of behaviour. You need to find a working environment or state, that’s habit forming and select the start-up ritual that pushes you forward.

(Ex 1) What is your pencil? What is the one essential tool that feeds your creativity? Do not leave home without it. Keep vital art materials accessible.
 
(Ex 2) Listen to your wandering thoughts for a minute. See if a word or goal materialises, something interesting. Seeking ideas from the unconscious. Try longer periods.
 
(Ex 3) What fears are holding you back? Are your creative efforts worth it?
“I’m not sure how to do it. I cannot do it. I lack the skill.” Concern, frustration.
“Once executed, the idea will never be as good as in my mind.” Remember doing it badly is better than not at all.
“Someone has done it before” but we all have something unique to say.
Having to let go of drawings & paintings, part of your heart & soul. “If I didn’t like it, I didn’t want anyone else to have it. And if I loved it, I wanted to keep it.”
“What if the painting I just finished may be my last?” “What if this is it and the creative well has run dry?” “What if that was the best I can do?” The fear that subsequent efforts couldn’t possibly live up to previous work.
 
(Ex 4) Avoid distractions for a week – subtracting, cutting off, retreating. Take a break from social media. Stop looking in the mirror, find your identity in other ways; what you do rather than how you appear. Most difficult, even impossible is not to check the clock. Try to stay engaged in what you are doing so time does not matter. A self-imposed silence, don’t speak. A reminder of what is and isn’t worth saying. You could limit background noise – peace & quiet. Avoid multi-tasking.
 
3. You have creative DNA / identity that governs what forms you work in & how you view the world, common threads in your artwork. You take mundane material & run it through your imagination. Involvement vs detachment. Immerse yourself, master the details but step back to see if the artwork scans to the audience. Don’t get so absorbed you lose what you’re trying to say. Dive In. Step Back. Zoe = general life without characterisation – Biology = a specific life, distinguishing features. Which do you tend toward? Where are you strong / positive? Where are you weak / self-destructive? Are you more suited to being a writer than an artist? Based on instinct / self-knowledge.
 
(Ex 6) What name would you choose if you could change it? Would it belong to someone you admire? Would it make a statement about what you believe or how you want the world to view you? Can it be shortened? There is power in names. If your name is original, it makes you strive for originality. A change in one’s name seems like a betrayal of one’s birthright or identity but the author disagrees. It’s a commitment to a higher calling, not uncommon amongst creative souls. Japanese masters were allowed to change their name once, when they felt they had become the artist they aspired to be. It was a sign of artistic maturity. It can be a rebirth or self-fulfilling prophecy, owners taking possession of heroes or heroines.
 
4. Mine your memory for inspiration. Connect with something old so it becomes new. Creativity = taking thoughts & finding new ways to connect them. Metaphor transforms the strange into the familiar. Genius is the act of perceiving similarity among disparate things. You are linking A to B to C to come up with H. You do not have a workable idea until you combine two. Copy / recreate great artists to imprint skill through muscle memory. Shadowing.
 
(Ex 9) Photograph. What do you see in the picture that is indisputably similar to your life today, to the person you’ve become? Why? What is vaguely similar? What bears no resemblance or suggests nothing memorable? What ended up the opposite of what you see? Why? Emotions? What artwork could you produce from this?
 
5. Any archive / storage system works as long as it lets you store & retrieve your ideas to use as a spark for invention e.g. Evernote, lever arch files. It contains your inspirations without confining creativity because it is unedited, unfiltered. Start each project with a stated goal & write it down. But don’t get stuck in the comfort zone of research as opposed to the hard work of creating. Procrastination.
 
(Ex 10) Where to begin? There’s a difference between a work’s beginning & starting to work. Start writing about a important point in the story & trust you will find the beginning eventually.
 
6. You need a tangible idea. It turns you on & keeps generating & improving. Scratching / digging through everything to find something. When you cannot wait for the thunderbolt. They come upon you mysteriously but there is always an ulterior motive behind them e.g. you want to catch people’s attention. Sometimes, you cannot imagine the artwork, you can only generate ideas when you put pencil to paper, brush to canvas. You improvise, no gap between impulse and action. Stop your mental filters from blocking your creative urges. Analyse / edit / fix later. After dreaming, write down whatever idea is in your head without your conscious mind censoring it. With reading you’re literally filling your head with ideas & letting your imagination sift them for something useful. Art is not about minimising risks or controversy. If you want inspiration from art, look at the masters; you will automatically raise the bar.
 
Read archaeologically. (Ex 12) Take an author or subject & begin with the most recent text, then work backwards. Start where the author ended & finish where he started. Transform the author’s book into your own! With a painting, it is useful to see what the artist produced before & after. Use a dictionary; digging into a word’s multiple definitions is useful too.
 
(Ex 14) Give yourself a little challenge like paint something based on a phrase in the first book you come across or only in shades of green. Having a handicap to overcome will force you to think in a new and slightly different way.
 
7. Planning is important but you have to allow for accidents & strokes of luck too. This is a skill. You have to be prepared to see it; something holds meaning only for the person whose mind is ready to draw an inference. 80% of success is showing up. Another trap is the belief that everything has to be perfect before you take the next step. This equals procrastination. Limits are a blessing and bounty can be a curse. Whom the gods wish to destroy, they give unlimited resources. Deadlines are useful if they get us moving with urgency & passion.
 
(Ex 16) Creativity is an act of defiance. You’re challenging accepted truths, principles & conventions in order to find your own voice. Pick a fight with the system, your routines / rituals. For one day, be contrary with anything & everything you do. Do the opposite to get your brain humming & rewire your circuitry.
 
(Ex 17) What are the conditions of your perfect world? Which of them are essential & which can you work around?
 
(Ex 19) New collaborators bring new energy / chemistry. If you’re a painter, it may be a model who inspires you, fellow artists or a gallery owner who eagerly shows your artwork. Somewhere along the line, you’re going to need the contributions and judgement of other people. Work with the best.
 
8. Every work of art needs a spine, an underlying theme, a motive for coming into existence. Discover it by recalling your original intentions and clarifying your goals. Try explaining it to yourself as if you are 10 years old. What was the first thing you dropped into your box for the project? Remember how you started.
 
(Ex 21) Pick a favourite work of art and try to determine what spine, if any, the artist built into it. Entering into the convolutions of an artist’s mind can be as bewildering as trying to explain a dream.
 
(Ex 22) The process by which we transform the meaning of one thing into something different is an essential part of human intelligence. Everything you create is a representation of something else and hence, enriched by metaphor. In creativity, MQ (metaphor quotient) is as valuable as IQ. Comparing drives metaphor. a) How many objects can you see in 3 minutes of cloud gazing? Visual translation. e) Study a word’s linguistic roots. Where does it take you? f) Find two works of art you can connect to each other. What is the connection? Is this what the creators intended or are you seeing something they could not? Find parallels between painters. You are making them your own by putting them together in new and interesting ways. This is curating.
 
9. Know the nuts & bolts of your craft. Skill allows you to execute your ideas, double your intensity, otherwise you are just full of unfulfilled ideas. It’s how you close the gap between what you visualise & produce. Craft comes before creativity. Network. Practice. Inexperience erases fear. You do not know what is not possible, therefore everything is. Unknowingness lets you to take risks. Rotating mediums & subject matter keeps things fresh. Analyse to see where you need improvement & tackle that 1st. Passion is important.
 
(Ex 23) Take inventory of your skills. What do you have, need & can do to develop it?
 
(Ex 24) Before you approach a piece of artwork, write down 20 questions. Learn as much as you can before putting paint to canvas etc to aid your imagination.
 
(Ex 25) Think what you want to accomplish in the next few months. How much do they overlap / conflict? Draw big & little circles depending on importance of task, with deadlines around. Use this method to prioritise your time.
 
(Ex 26) Remove a vital skill from your inventory. How would you overcome / compensate for this loss? What’s left? What artwork can you accomplish without it?
 
10. Ask yourself, “Am I in a rut or a groove?” If you are blocked, do something, anything. Maybe you feel frustration or relief when you finish instead of anticipatory pleasure of returning the next day. Perhaps it is due to a bad idea, timing, luck or sticking to tried & tested methods that don’t account for change. When a habit or ritual loses its potency, adapt. Review your efforts, where you have been, are now & if you are still heading in the right direction. If not, find a solution. Notice when optimism turns to pessimism. Has something happened in your personal life to trigger the shift? Change your environment or do something uplifting. Set yourself an aggressive quota for ideas; it stirs your juices, forces you to put your internal critic on hold. Discard bad ideas & identify good ones. Grooves are usually preceded by a break-through / epiphany so a leap forward in ability & vision occurs. It also happens in congenial material, a favourite character or comfortable subject matter.
 
(Ex 28) Build yourself a bridge to the next day. Leave yourself wanting more. Keep something in reserve. Your tired brain regroups & refreshes overnight. For maintaining a routine, some give themselves a creative quota like filling up a measurable section of canvas or clocking off at 5pm.
 
(Ex 29) Know when to stop tinkering. Exhibition deadlines help but otherwise trust your intuition. To let go & find closure, name the artwork, photograph & post.
 
(Ex 30) Turn ruts into grooves. Pick a bad habit & do something to make it good, even just viewing it in a positive light. Don’t eliminate, moderate.
 
11. “If you’re not failing, you’re not taking enough risks.” Private failures are great, the 1st drafts that lead to the one that clicks. The creative act is editing, exercising your judgement & removing all the lame ideas. Whereas failing in public teaches you to survive. You do your best work after your biggest disasters. The only way is up. It compels you to change. You can learn more from failure than success. It is easier to move on from something unsuccessful than acclaimed. Maybe you have a failure of skill (your reach exceeds your grasp), or concept, or judgement (you made a mistake), or nerve (you lack guts). Repetition of what worked may inhibit us from trying something bold & new. Denial is when you refuse to deal with something not working. Adapt to fix it. Tweak, cut & add, replace and reposition.
 
(Ex 31) At some point you will present your artwork & it will be found wanting but you always get a 2nd chance. Not every art form is forgiving & offers you the ability to rework. You must just absorb any criticism & do better next time. We could give ourselves a second chance by asking friends their opinion before it’s published.
 
(Ex 32) We all seek approval to assure us we are not wasting our time but that neediness fades as we get older & more confident. We become a better judge of our own artwork. Build your own validation squad. Pick people who a) have talents you admire greatly (so they have judgement), b) happen to be your friends (so they care), c) don’t feel they are competing (so they have no agenda) and d) have hammered your work in the past (so they are capable of brutal honesty).
 

12. Be in it for the long run. You can see continuity in all you do, everything is linked, connected, part of one giant piece of artwork. If ideas you lacked room for a particular time lingered and arose later, you are coming close to an ideal creative state, one where creativity becomes a self-perpetuating habit. Everything in your life feeds into your artwork. You can go into a bubble, eliminate every distraction, avoid the temptation of anything other than the 5 essentials: food, art, exercise, sleep & solitude. It does not have to mean exiling yourself but more a state of mind, a willingness to subtract anything that disconnects you from creating. You never know when you have achieved mastery & it may not help to feel you have attained it. Even in the worst of times, art sustains, protects & uplifts us, which is the most compelling reason to foster the creative habit.


Apr 24 2016

The Creative Habit By Twyla Tharp

 

1 I Walk into a White Room
 
The task of starting with nothing and working towards creating something satisfying is terrifying. It’s no different for a writer firing up the blank screen on his computer, a painter confronting a virginal canvas or a sculptor staring at a raw chunk of clay. Some people find this moment before creativity begins so painful that they cannot deal with it. They procrastinate, walk away, take a nap, fix lunch or do household chores. Being creative is a full-time job with its own daily patterns and established routines. The most productive writers get started early in the morning, when the world is quiet and they are rested and alert. They might set a goal like 500 words or to stay at their desk until noon but the real secret is they do this every day. As daily routines become second nature, discipline morphs into habit. It’s the same for any creative individual, whether it’s a painter finding his way each morning to the easel etc. The routine is as much a part of the creative process as the lightning bolt of inspiration, maybe more. There is a debate, born in the romantic era, between the beliefs that all creative acts are born of a) some transcendent, inexplicable Dionysian (spontaneous, irrational) act of inspiration, a kiss from God on your brow or b) hard work & perseverance. Twyla Tharp obviously ascribes to the latter.
 
You have to know how to prepare to be creative. No one can give you your subject matter and content or it would be their creation, not yours. We think of creativity as keeping everything fresh & new, while habit implies routine & repetition. That intriguing paradox occupies the place where creativity & skill rub up against each other. It takes skill to bring something you’ve imagined into the world. It is developed through exercise, practice, a blend of learning & reflection that’s both painstaking & rewarding and it takes time. If art is the bridge between what you see in your mind & what the world sees, then skill is how you build that bridge. Everything that happens is a transaction between the external world and your internal world. Everything is raw material, relevant, usable, feeds into your creativity. But without proper preparation, you cannot see it, retain it and use it. Without the effort invested in getting ready to create, you can be hit by the thunderbolt and it’ll just leave you stunned.

 

2 Rituals of Preparation
 
At the beginning of the creative process, when you are most likely to give up or go the wrong way, it’s vital to establish some rituals, automatic but decisive patterns of behaviour. A pragmatist without a spiritual bone in his body practices yoga every morning. He starts each session by ceremonially lighting a candle. It is unnecessary but it implies he is taking it seriously, he is committed. Candle – Click – Yoga. When he is done, he blows out the candle & goes on with the rest of his day. A painter cannot do anything in her studio without propulsive music pounding out of the speakers. Turning it on turns on a switch inside her. There is no one ideal condition for creativity; what works for one person is useless for another. Just make it easy on yourself. You need to find a working environment or state, that’s habit forming. It should make you want to be there. No matter how eccentric, when you enter into it, you are impelled to get started e.g. the simple act of carrying a cup of tea to a table.
 
Distraction & fear are demons that invade the launch of every project. No one starts a creative endeavour without a certain amount of fear; the key is to learn how to keep it from paralysing you before you’ve begun. Fears include: “Someone has done it before” (it’s all been done before; nothing’s really original; get over yourself), “I have nothing to say” (we all have something to say) and “Once executed, the idea will never be as good as it is in my mind” (better an imperfect dome in Florence than cathedrals in the clouds). A certain writer cleans when the words are not forthcoming. He feels stale and stalled, everything around him looks grimy and caked with dust so he grabs a rag and when everything is clean & shiny, the words flow. He believes he wipes away his self-doubt whereas the author thinks getting up and moving stimulates our brains as our minds & bodies are connected.
 
There are people who can assimilate incoming data from all angles, from newspapers & magazines, films, TV, music, friends, the internet and turn it into something wonderful. They thrive on a multitude of stimuli but others are not hard-wired that way. They don’t expand contact with the world; they cut it off, retreat to a bubble where they are fully absorbed in the task at hand. Subtracting rather than adding things. The irony of multi-tasking is that it’s exhausting; when you’re doing 2 or 3 things simultaneously, you use more energy than to do each task independently and you are not doing anything excellently. Without it, you have increased focus & awareness. Some artists use background music to block out everything else. They aren’t listening to it, it’s a form of companionship. I seem to do this with films & TV. But how much brainpower & intuition is it draining? Twyla says, “If I started watching movies for pleasure, I’d become addicted. I’d watch all day and never get anything done.” Lessening your dependence is liberating, forcing you to rely on your own ability rather than your crutches. When you have selected the environment, the start-up ritual that pushes you forward, faced your fears & avoided distractions, you have cleared the 1st hurdle.
 
Exercises
 
1. What is your pencil? What is the one tool that feeds your creativity and is so essential that without it you feel naked and unprepared? Do not leave home without it. Always have coloured pencils & a sketchpad to hand? Camera phone for taking photos of graffiti etc for Instagram. Capture an object to draw later?
 
2. Sit alone in a room & let your thoughts go wherever they will. Do this for one minute & work up to 10 mins of mindless mental wandering. Start paying attention to your thoughts to see if a word or goal materialises. Extend the time until something interesting arises. The Gaelic phrase for this state is “quietness without loneliness.” It is the opposite of meditation, you are not trying to empty your mind, you are seeking ideas from the unconscious. You are not alone anymore, your goal is your companion. You’re never lonely when your mind is engaged. What do you like to do by yourself? Solitude is an unavoidable part of creativity. Self-reliance is a happy by-product.
 
3. Putting a name to your fears helps cut them down to size. After you started drawing in that sketchbook, why did you stop? Fears include: “I’m not sure how to do it” (if you try & it doesn’t work, you’ll try a different way next time. Doing is better than not & if you do something badly, you’ll learn to do it better). “It may take too much time.” Every day you don’t practice you’re one day further from being good. Are your creative efforts worth it to you? Is it something you really want to do? Then make it your priority. If you examine your concerns closely, you should be able to identify & break down what is holding you back.
 
4. Try to do without distractions for a week. Go on a diet for your creative health. See what happens to your sense of self if you stop looking in the mirror. Instead of relying on the image you see reflected in a glass, find your identity in other ways, what you do rather than how you look. It also forces you to focus on others instead. Without numbers, looking at the clock or scales. If you are engaged in what you’re doing, time doesn’t matter. It passes swiftly without notice. Self-imposed silence, don’t speak. A reminder of what is and isn’t worth saying. Other distractions include social media / computer / phone etc.

 

3 Your Creative DNA
 
Like DNA, we all have strands of creative code imprinted in us. They govern our creative impulses, which forms we work in, the stories we tell and how we tell them. Think of it as your creative hard-wiring, identity or personality. All of us find comfort in seeing the world either from a great distance, at arm’s length or close-up. Some people like to wander through an art museum standing back from the paintings, taking in the effect the artist was trying to achieve, while others get closer because they are interested in the details. We want artists to take the mundane materials of our lives, run it through their imaginations and surprise us. If you are by nature a loner, crusader, outsider, jester, romantic or melancholic, that quality will shine through in your artwork. There is a dichotomy of involvement vs detachment. Immerse yourself in the details, commit to mastering every aspect but step back to see if the artwork scans, if it’s intelligible to the audience. Don’t get so absorbed that you lose what you’re trying to say. Dive In. Step Back. Dive In. Step Back. 
 
The Greek Zoe (zoology) means “life in general, without characterisation.” Bios (biology) characterises a specific life, the outlines that distinguish one living thing from another. Which do you tend toward? Many people take their urges, biases, work habits for granted but a little self-knowledge goes a long way. If you understand the strands of your creative DNA, you can see how they mutate into common threads in your artwork. You can see the story you’re trying to tell, why you do the things you do (both positive & self-destructive), where you are strong & weak (to prevent false starts) and how you see the world & function in it. Sometimes you can be in DNA denial. An art student was given a painterly exercise involving assigning colour to movement but he gave a text-heavy response which suggested he ought to a writer. How many people get sidetracked from their true calling by the fact they excel at more than one artistic medium? This is a curse rather than a blessing. Your choice should be based on pure instinct and self-knowledge.
 
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Exercises
 
5. Choose a man & woman together and write down everything they do until you reach 20 items. Come up with a story about them. Then pick another couple & note only things that happen between them you find interesting, that please you aesthetically or emotionally. It will take longer as you are applying judgement to observation. You become selective, edit, filter. What appealed to you in the 2nd? Moments of friction or tenderness? Physical gestures or gazes away? Varying distances? What you included & what you left out speaks volume about how you see the word. Patterns emerge and you will be revealed.
 
6. What name would you choose if you could change it? Would it belong to someone you admire? Would it make a statement about what you believe or how you want the world to view you? Can it be shortened? There is power in names. If your name is original, it makes you strive for originality. A change in one’s name seems like a betrayal of one’s birthright or identity but the author disagrees. It’s a commitment to a higher calling, not uncommon amongst creative souls. Japanese masters were allowed to change their name once, when they felt they had become the artist they aspired to be. It was a sign of artistic maturity. It can be a rebirth or self-fulfilling prophecy, owners taking possession of heroes or heroines.

 

4 Harness Your Memory
 
The memory is worth mining for inspiration. Creativity is about taking facts, fictions & feelings we store away and finding new ways to connect them. Metaphor is the lifeblood of art. It is our vocabulary for connecting what we’re experiencing now with what we’ve experienced before. It’s not only how we express what we remember but how we interpret it for ourselves and others. Genius is the act of perceiving similarity among disparate things. You are linking A to B to C to come up with H. You do not have a workable idea until you combine two. Metaphor “transforms the strange into the familiar.” If all art is metaphor, then all art begins with memory. Muscle memory has its uses in the creative process, perhaps more for acquiring skill than developing inspiration. Skill gets imprinted through action such as a young person with a drawing pad in a museum copying a great artist. So get busy copying. That’s not a popular notion when we are instructed to find our own voice but it’s sound advice.
 
Traveling the paths of greatness, even in someone else’s footprints is a vital means to acquiring skill. It’s similar to shadowing, following around a mentor and learning from them. Muscle memory gives you a path toward genuine creation through simple recreation. Other examples are virtual memory, which is the ability to project yourself into feelings and emotions from your past and to let them manifest themselves physically and sensual memory, where the sudden appearance of a smell, taste, sound or colour instantly floods the imagination with images from memory. Most people think they have to be constantly looking forward to be edgy and creative but the secret of creativity is to go back and remember.
 
Exercises
 
9. You can gain much information and meaning from a poorly composed photograph of a child. It reminds you how every young person grows up with an overwhelming sense of possibility & how life is just a series of incidents in which it is either enlarged or eroded. How you adapt is your choice. Take a family picture & study it. What do you see that is indisputably similar to your life today, to the person you’ve become? What is vaguely similar? What bears no resemblance or suggests nothing memorable? What ended up the opposite? Why? Note the people, events & emotions that come to mind e.g. nostalgia, regret, isolation, pleasure. The goal is to connect with something old so it becomes new.

 

5 Start with a Box
 
Some people rely on simple file boxes or carefully arranged index cards. The more technological put it all on computer like Evernote. You could use a huge unit with flat pullout drawers to keep sketches, reference materials, notes, articles. If working on several projects at once, keep the overlapping materials out of sight when tackling one of them. There’s no single correct storage system. Anything can work so long as it lets you store and retrieve your ideas, those intriguing little tickles at the corners of your brain that tell you when something is interesting without quite knowing why. A perfect archive gives you material to call on, to use as a spark for invention. It contains your inspirations without confining creativity because it’s unedited, unfiltered.
 
The author believes in starting each project with a stated goal. Maybe nothing more than a personal mantra such as “keep it simple” to remind you what you were thinking at the beginning. Write it down & put it in the box. However, the archive is not a substitute for creating. It does not compose, write a poem or create a dance step. It is the raw index of your preparation. It is the repository of your creative potential but it is not the potential realised. Sadly, some people never get beyond the box stage. Maybe they like the comfort zone of research as opposed to the hard work of creating. Maybe they are looking in the wrong places or taking procrastination to extremes. They are trapped in the box. Learn to respect your file’s strange and disorderly ways. A collection of half-baked inspirations & unformed aids, it can seem like a haphazard tool while you’re filing it but the order emerges in hindsight.
 
Exercises
 
10. Where to begin? There’s a difference between a work’s beginning & starting to work. Start writing about a important point in the story & trust you will find the beginning eventually.

 

6 Scratching
 
You cannot just dance, paint, write or sculpt; you need a tangible idea. Twyla calls it scratching, digging through everything to find something. It can appear like borrowing or appropriating but it is an essential part of creativity. Everything we need already resides within us in our experience, memories, taste, judgement, critical demeanour, humanity, purpose & humour. When people ask “Where do you get your ideas?” They are actually asking, “How do you get them?” Ideas are everywhere and a good one turns you on rather than shuts you off. It keeps generating more ideas and they improve on one another. A bad idea closes doors instead of opening them; it is confining & restrictive. Big ideas come upon you mysteriously, unbidden, sometimes unwelcome but there is always an ulterior motive behind them e.g. you want to catch people’s attention, to create something enduring & immortalise yourself or make a pile of money. Scratching is what you do when you cannot wait for the thunderbolt. Freud said, “When inspiration does not come to me, I go halfway to meet it.”
 
1st you must generate an idea, usually from memory, experience or activity. Then you have to retain it, keep it from disappearing, inspect and transform or alter it to suit your purposes. Sometimes, you cannot imagine the artwork, you can only generate ideas when you put pencil to paper, brush to canvas, when you actually do something physical. You improvise, maybe dashing off sketches right and left until one pleases the eye. No gap between impulse and action. Stop your mental filters from blocking your creative urges. Just do it and consider the results, consequences or truth later. Another suggestion is, somewhere between consciousness & dreaming, wake up & write down whatever idea is in your head without your conscious mind censoring it.
 
With reading you’re literally filling your head with ideas & letting your imagination sift them for something useful. If you stop reading, you stop thinking. You can scratch for ideas in a museum, theatre or exhibition or by following in the footsteps of your mentors using their paradigms or patterns as a starting point. But it is a dangerous habit if it turns you into an imitator rather than a creator. Art is not about minimising risk & delivering work that is guaranteed to please. Artists have bigger goals. If you read for inspiration, read the top-drawer writers & their masterworks first. If you want inspiration from art, look at the masters. Scratch amongst the best and you will automatically raise the quality of the ideas you uncover. You do not need to think ahead, you have to trust the unconscious rush & let it hurtle forward unedited & unencumbered. Let it be awful, awkward & wrong. Don’t rein it in; you can fix it later.
 
Exercises
 
11. Gathering chaos into a satisfying order is a challenge. Take a handful of coins, paperclips or any everyday item and toss them onto the desk. Sometimes they fall into a random pattern that is pleasing. If not, move them around into strange or familiar geometries, lines, stacks, shapes until you find a suitable arrangement. There in a nutshell is the essence of creativity: There are a number of possibilities but only one solution looks inevitable. It’s a useful mental warm-up to feel more optimistic about resolving disorder.
 
12. Read archaeologically. Take an author or subject & begin with the most recent text, then work backwards. Start where the author ended & finish where he started. It reveals how the writer developed their recurring themes, philosophy & style. The surest method for finding the path through the maze is to start at the end and work your way back to the beginning. With a painting, it is useful to see what the artist produced before & after. You are not reading for pleasure but for inspiration & growth. Own it, scribble in the margins, circle sentences & connect them with arrows. Transform the author’s book into your own. You can also read fat (related texts by the writer’s contemporaries, commentaries or biographies). Use a dictionary; digging into a word’s multiple definitions is useful too.
 
13. Sit on the floor, bring your knees to your chest, curl your head down like an egg. In this minimalised, shrunken, fetal state, you have nowhere to go; you cannot become smaller, you can only expand & grow. Stick with it as long as it remains interesting. Naming positions is optional. The starting egg position is your base and you are following your impulses to see how far you can travel from home. It is an exercise that teaches you how to accomplish the most difficult task in any creative endeavour: begin.
 
14. Give yourself a little challenge like paint something based on a phrase in the first book you come across or only in shades of green. Having a handicap to overcome will force you to think in a new and slightly different way.
 
15. When scratching turns into frustration, take a walk but have a goal. It’s easy to lose and exhaust yourself in rich resources like art galleries & museums so visit with purpose. You can turn any venue or destination into a valuable field trip. It’s your world, own it.

 

7 Accidents Will Happen
 
The most productive artists have a plan in mind. They know what they want to accomplish, how to do it and what to do if the process falls off track. But you never want the planning to inhibit the natural evolution of your artwork. A plan is like the scaffolding around a building. It is vital for putting up the exterior shell but when you start on the interior, it disappears. It has to be sufficiently thoughtful & solid to get you up & running but it cannot take over. Transforming your ideas rarely goes according to plan. The most interesting paradox of creativity is in order to be habitually creative, you have to know how to prepare but planning alone won’t make your efforts successful; you have to know when to let go. Your creative endeavours can never be thoroughly mapped out ahead of time. You have to allow for the change in plan, the accidental spark, the stroke of luck.
 
Some people resent the concept, accepting the role of chance suggests that our creations & triumphs are not entirely our own and that we are undeserving of our success but luck is a skill. You have to be prepared to see it; something holds meaning only for the person whose mind is ready to draw an inference. A generous spirit contributes to good luck. Give & you shall receive. 80% of success is showing up. It’s tempting to rein in the unruliness of the creative process, especially at the start. Planning lets you impose order on the chaotic process of making something new but when it’s taken too far, you get locked into a status quo and creative thinking is about breaking free so it’s vital not to overplan. Another trap is the belief that everything has to be perfect before you take the next step. It’s important to be prepared but at the start, perfectionism is more like procrastination. You’ve got to get in there and do.
 
Limits are a blessing and bounty can be a curse. No matter how limited your resources, they’re enough to get you started. Deadlines are useful if they get us moving with urgency & passion. It’s tempting to believe that the quantity & quality of our creative productivity would increase if only we could afford everything we’ve imagined but many artists dry up the moment they have enough money. For every artist who it empowers & inspires, there is another who gets lazy & self-satisfied. Whom the gods wish to destroy, they give unlimited resources. Necessity will continue to be the mother of invention. You have to choose the right medium; the portrait whose lines fascinate but in which colour is a distraction might have a sculpture inside it dying to come out. Mistakes such as relying too much on others, waiting for the perfect set-up, over thinking structure, feeling obligated to finish what you’ve started and working with the wrong materials are deadly.
 
Exercises
 
16. Creativity is an act of defiance. You’re challenging accepted truths, principles & conventions. You are asking “Why do I have to obey the rules?” “Why can’t I be different and do it my way?” Every act of creation is also an act of destruction or abandonment. Something has to be cast aside to make way for the new. You often see this with students who challenge teachers; they know that to find their own voice, they must defy, even mock their artistic mentors. Pick a fight with the system, your routines. For one day, be contrary with anything & everything you do. Turn things upside down. Ask yourself why you need this ritual, what solace & protection does it bring, what state of mind, what good does it produce? Do the opposite to get your brain humming & rewire your circuitry.
 
17. What are the conditions of your perfect world? Which of them are essential & which can you work around?
 
19. Think about who you invite into your creative life. New collaborators bring new energy into your static world. You have chemistry. It does not matter what genre you work in, you need to rub up against other people. If you’re a painter, it may be a model who inspires you, fellow artists or a gallery owner who eagerly shows your artwork. Somewhere along the line, you’re going to need the contributions and judgement of other people. Work with the best partners you can find.

 

8 Spine
 
Every work of art needs a spine, an underlying theme, a motive for coming into existence. It does not have to be apparent to the audience but you need it at the start to guide you and keep you going. You might think you don’t need a supporting mechanism for the art you’re constructing, a controlling image, a collateral idea. You might think getting lost is a big part of the adventure but you’d be wrong. Try explaining it to yourself as if you are 10 years old again, a simple instruction that gets you talking with clarity & purpose. You can also discover the spine by recalling your original intentions and clarifying your goals. What was the first thing you dropped into your box for the project? Remember how you started. The spine will remind you this is the story you’re trying to tell, this is the effect you’re trying to achieve. One of the great rewards of being creative is that you get to do it; like the artist who spends all day in the studio because he loves the mechanical act of applying paint onto canvas. But there’s a danger. The sheer pleasure introduces the temptation to linger, to fall in love with the creative process rather than driving toward the end product. Take this to extremes and you’ll never finish anything.
 
Exercises
 
20. There are affinities between seemingly different objects that we comprehend pictorially but cannot verbalise. Create a gesture or movement that would need many words to convey its meaning. Make a picture that’s worth 10,000 words.
 
21. Pick a favourite work of art and try to determine what spine, if any, the artist built into it. Entering into the convolutions of an artist’s mind can be as bewildering as trying to explain a dream. Based on the Faust legend, Doctor Faustus by Mann is about a composer who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for 14 years of unbridled creativity. Seek out the hidden architecture or infrastructure if you want to understand how a work of art gathers substance & integrity.
 
22. The process by which we transform the meaning of one thing into something different is an essential part of human intelligence. Everything you create is a representation of something else and hence, enriched by metaphor. In creativity, MQ (metaphor quotient) is as valuable as IQ. IQ tests involve your ability to see patterns and comparing which object does not belong or completes a sequence. Comparing drives metaphor. a) How many objects can you see in 3 minutes of cloud gazing? This is visual translation. b) While doing a mindless chore like washing the dishes, try to become the rhythm, hum it, give it a name e.g. scrub or rinse. What other tasks have a matching rhythm? c) Hear a mechanical sound e.g. car alarm / signalling. Lock the tempo and mimic it when you speak. See how the world begins to move to your beat. What does it make you think of? This is aural and visual stimulus. d) Focus on a superstition like knocking on wood to bring yourself luck or tossing salt over your shoulder. What image springs to mind? Follow your thoughts wherever they lead. e) Study a word’s linguistic roots. Where does it take you? f) Find two works of art you can connect to each other. What is the connection? Is this what the creators intended or are you seeing something they could not? Find parallels between painters. You are making them your own by putting them together in new and interesting ways. This is curating. g) Imagine your life if you had another person’s wealth (or looks, tastes or biases) or that person had yours. This is empathy.

 

9 Skill
 
The better you know the nuts and bolts of your craft, the more fully you can express your talents. Skill gives you the wherewithal to execute whatever occurs to you; without it, you are just a font of unfulfilled ideas. Skill is how you close the gap between what you see in your mind’s eye and what you produce; the more skill you have, the more sophisticated and accomplished your ideas. Craft comes before creativity. You should never worry that basic exercises aimed at developing skills will suffocate creativity but it’s also important to recognise that demonstrating great technique is not the same as being creative. Odd as it may sound, personality is a skill. You can develop traits that will draw people & make them want to help you learn & improve. Confidence has to be earned & refreshed constantly. You have to work as hard to protect your skills as develop them. The one thing that creative souls have in common is that they all have to practice to maintain their skills. Art is a vast democracy of habit or conditioning. Practice without purpose is nothing more than exercise and too many people practice what they’re already good at, neglecting the skills that need more work.
 
Experience sometimes closes the door; you tend to stick with what has worked before rather than try anything new. Inexperience erases fear, it provides us with a childlike fearlessness. A sense of innocence, naiveté, denial, where you don’t know you can fail. You do not know what is and is not possible and therefore everything is. Hemingway said, “The thing is to become a master and in your old age to acquire the courage to do what children did when they knew nothing.” This brand of unknowingness lets you take incredible risks without appearing to consider the consequences. Switching or rotating genres is a way to maintain inexperience & hence, enlarge your art. Analyse your own skill set. See where you’re strong and where you need dramatic improvement and tackle that 1st. You double your intensity with skill. Leonardo’s breadth of interests was remarkable; so was his ability to bounce from one area of study to another and find relationships between them. This refreshed him, kept his passion for the new alive. Without passion, all the skill in the world will not lift you above craft. Without skill, all the passion in the world will leave you eager but floundering.
 
Exercises
 
23. Before you can appreciate your skills and where you might need improvement, you need to take inventory. How would you assemble your own skill set? What do you have, what do you need and what can you do to develop it?
 
24. Thoroughness, like discipline is one of the most valuable skills. The patience to accumulate detail keeps you grounded and sharp. Before you approach a topic, write down 20 things you want to know about it. Let’s say you decide to paint a landscape. A portrait will lead to an entirely different set, so will a sculpture, a short story etc. Asking questions tasks you with learning as much as you can before putting paint to canvas, chisel to stone, finger to keyboard. The more you know, the better you can imagine.
 
IMG_3996
 
25. There’s no deadline on a painting; it’s done when it’s done. “The most important thing is not what the author or artist had in mind to begin with but at what point he decided to stop.” Most creative endeavours don’t allow precise planning but it’s vital to have some sense of how long a project is going to take. Think of all the things you want to accomplish in the next few months. How much do they overlap? Do they conflict? Draw big and little circles depending on the importance of the task. Deadlines scrawled within the borders of each. Use this method for prioritising your time.
 
26. Take away a skill, a vital one. Would you still be able to create? How would you overcome the loss? How would you compensate? What skill would come to the fore to rescue your artwork? Matisse was bedridden with only the use of his arms & imagination in his final years. So he came up with a new way of working: paper cut-outs. They are the essence of his art. It’s doubtful he would have ever made them if some of his other skills had not been taken away. Pick one of the skills from your inventory & remove it. What’s left? What can you accomplish without it? What does it say about your work habits, your art, your potential?

 

10 Ruts and Grooves
 
Monitor your momentum by asking, “Is this piece moving forward or staying in place? Am I in a rut or a groove?” Being blocked is often a failure of nerve with only one solution: Do something – anything. A rut is more like a false start. You know you’re in a rut when you are bored, have deja vu, fail to challenge yourself and feel like the world is moving on while you’re standing still. Perhaps, you feel frustration & relief when you’re done rather than anticipatory pleasure (I can’t wait to get back here tomorrow). It can be the consequence of a bad idea, bad timing, bad luck or sticking to tried and tested methods that don’t take into account how you or the world has changed. “We’ve always done it this way” is not a good enough reason to keep doing it if it isn’t working. When an otherwise smart habit or ritual loses its potency and you continue doing it, you’re in a rut. Dealing with ruts is a 3-step process of seeing, believing & repairing. You have to make a habit of reviewing your efforts along the way, seeing where you’ve been & where you are to ensure you’re still heading in the right direction, if any. Admit you’ve made a mistake and find a solution.
 
When optimism turns to pessimism during the creative process, you are in a serious rut. Often it’s not the work alone that triggers the shift but something else. What’s happened? Trouble with a partner, money, health? What’s making you hate the material you’re producing? Change your environment, scenery, do something uplifting like take a hot bath or call it a day. Set yourself an aggressive quota for ideas; it stirs your competitive juices. Instead of panicking, people focus & have an increased fluency & agility. They are forced to suspend critical thinking, put their internal critic on hold & let everything out; they’re no longer choking off good impulses. We get into ruts when we run with the 1st idea that pops into our head, not the last one. Sometimes, you can’t identify a good idea until you’ve considered & discarded the bad ones. This method is no different from a painter running through sketches until he gets something he likes. His studio floor is littered with crumpled sheets of rejected drawings. In effect, the artist is running through his quota of 60 ideas. If you’re in a creative rut, a) Identify the concept that isn’t working b) Write down your assumptions about it c) Challenge the assumptions d) Act on the challenge.
 
Grooves come in all shapes & sizes and they’re usually preceded by a breakthrough idea. Many creative thinkers have had an epiphanic moment where they make a quantum leap forward in ability & vision. It may not be obvious to the untrained eye but you yourself know and it shows in your artwork. You can find your groove via a breakthrough in your craft but you can also find it through other means, in congenial material, in a perfect partner, in a favourite character or comfortable subject matter. Rembrandt found his best subject in himself. Throughout his career, he painted, etched & sketched self-portraits. It was comfortable & convenient; after all, he was always available when he needed a model. The call to creative life is not supposed to be torture. Yes, it is hard work and you have to make sacrifices. Yes, it’s noble, you’re volunteering in an army of sorts, alongside a phalanx of artists who have preceded you, many of whom are your mentors & guides, upon whose work you build & re-fashion but it’s also supposed to be fun.
 
Exercises
 
27. Pick a verb and act it out physically. Movement can stimulate anyone to think differently, generate ideas & creative momentum that takes you to unpredictable places. An exercise must be doable, not frustrating, if you want it to yield productivity. It must tax you enough that your creative muscles adapt and get stronger but not enough that you abandon the effort.
 
28. There’s no guarantee we can repeat a creative day tomorrow. Hemingway had the nifty trick of always calling it a day when he knew what came next. He built himself a bridge to the next day. There is no better creative organisational tool. Extend your mini-groove. Leave yourself begging for more. Don’t drive yourself to the point of being totally spent. Some people, if only for sanity and maintaining a routine, give themselves a creative quota. Painters stop when they fill up a measurable section of canvas or the clock chimes 5pm. After generating ideas, your tired brain regroups & refreshes itself overnight. What your consciousness can’t handle, your subconscious can. If you’ve been following a don’t-stop-till-you-drop routine, rethink it, keep something in reserve. Ask yourself, exactly what is it? Is it raw energy or desire? Is it a few more ideas left unexplored? Is it something you meant to say to someone? Write a note, put it away and start the next day by looking at it in order to tap into the day before. John Updike said, “Each day, we wake slightly altered and the person we were yesterday is dead,” so you approach the task as a new person & improve it.
 
29. Know when to stop tinkering. Some people are lucky in having artificial and arbitrary stop signs that put an end to their fussing. Painters and sculptors have gallery exhibitions. Knowing when to stop is almost as critical as knowing how to start. It’s trickier when you are working on your own, for your own reasons. When it’s time to stop, you get the feeling there are no loose ends, no clutter and all parts are in their proper places. There are no more problems & the solution feels elegant & inevitable. According to Twyla, in order to force herself to let her creations go and find satisfying closure, she ends by naming the piece.
 
30. Turn ruts into grooves. Pick a bad habit e.g. drinking coffee and do something to make it good, even just viewing it in a positive light. You do not need elimination, just moderation.

 

11 An “A” in Failure
 
Every creative person has to learn to deal with failure because like death and taxes, it is inescapable. “If you’re not failing, you’re not taking enough risks.” Failure cleanses & humbles, it helps you put aside who you are not and reminds you who you are. Private failures are great, the ones you commit in the confines of your room, alone, with no strangers watching. They are the 1st drafts, the not-so-good ideas you reject en route to finding the one that clicks. The more you fail in private, the less you will fail in public. In many ways, the creative act is editing, exercising your judgement and removing all the lame ideas. When you fail in public, you are forcing yourself to learn a whole new set of skills that have nothing to do with creating and everything to do with surviving. You do your best work after your biggest disasters. You have nothing to lose, you’ve hit bottom and the only place to go is up. A fiasco compels you to change dramatically. And you can learn more from failure than success. It’s vital to be able to forget the pain of failure while retaining the lessons and reasons for it. It’s easier to move on from something unsuccessful than after an effort that was acclaimed.
 
Maybe you have a failure of skill. You have an idea in mind but not the requisite skills to pull it off. Your reach exceeds your grasp. Or a failure of concept. You have a weak idea that doesn’t hold up. Instead of growing, it shrivels up. Or a failure of judgement. You leave something in the piece that should have been discarded. Or a failure of nerve. You have everything going for you except the guts to support your idea and explore the concept fully. The thought that you will look foolish holds you back. Repetition is a problem if it forces us to cling to past successes. Constant reminders of the things that worked inhibit us from trying something bold & new. Denial becomes a liability when you see that something is not working and you refuse to deal with it. You have to change how you work. You have to admit you’ve made a mistake and know how to fix it. The repertoire of tweak, cut and add, replace and reposition. However, paints don’t cry foul; it’s harder dealing with human beings or collaborators.
 
Exercises
 
31. At some point you will present your work to the world & it will be found wanting but you will always get a second chance. Unlike film makers with their ability to reshoot and edit, not every art form offers such comfort or tosses you a life jacket. You cannot go back to rework metal, clay or stone on a sculpture. You must just absorb any criticism and do better next time. What if we could predict & pre-empt a less-than-favourable reception, if we could give ourselves a second chance before we find out we need it? Actually we often can e.g. by asking friends to review artwork or writing before it’s published.
 
32. We all seek approval and validation for our efforts to assure us we are not wasting our time. But that neediness fades as we get older and more confident. We become a better judge of our own artwork. It’s not acceptable to just be a self-indulgent, solipsistic, don’t-give-a-damn-what-anyone-thinks egotist but there comes a time, when you have no choice but to trust your own judgement. As we mature, we need to build criticism into the working process, as we do with failure. Build your own validation squad, a small group of people you invite to see your artwork in progress. Trust them to look at your crudest, clumsiest efforts and reward you with their candour. Pick people who a) have talents you admire greatly (so you know they have judgement), b) happen to be your friends (so they have your best interests at heart), c) don’t feel they are competing with you (so you know they have no agenda) and d) have hammered your work in the past (so they are capable of brutal honesty). All you need are people with good judgement who care about you and will give you their honest opinion with no strings attached.

 

12 The Long Run
 
Be in it for the long run. The archives are packed with early bloomers and one-trick ponies who said everything they had to say in their first novel or whose canvases kept repeating the same dogged theme. When people who have demonstrated talent fizzle out or disappear after early creative success, it’s not because their gifts, that famous “one percent inspiration” abandoned them, more likely they abandoned their gift through a failure of perspiration. On average, creative production is limited in our youth (when we are learning), hits full stride in our middle years and trails off in our later years when we become exhausted of ideas, energy and motivation. But applying algorithms to creativity is like biochemists trying to formulate the chemistry of love. The best that can be said is this chart measures devotion to craft. It tells you nothing about quality, about whether a last piece is an improvement on the 1st or whether the two are linked. It charts activity and persistence, not artistic growth. Regardless of how poorly we compare to the talent and quality of our heroes, we can still emulate them; they prove that there’s no reason our creativity must dry up as we age. For some, will and desire fade because they have enough money, are facing poor health or feel they’ve said it all. Some people find their curiosity shutting down as they age but we can fight that lockdown. When older, we generate better ideas and have hard-earned wisdom about how to capture and more importantly connect those ideas.
 
You can see continuity in all you do, everything is part of one giant piece of artwork. If ideas you lacked room for a particular time lingered and arose later, you are coming close to an ideal creative state, one where creativity becomes a self-perpetuating habit; you are linking your art. Everything in your life feeds into your artwork. You can go into a bubble, eliminate every distraction, avoid the temptation of anything other than the 5 essentials: food, art, exercise, sleep & solitude. It does not have to mean exiling yourself from people and the world. It is more a state of mind, a willingness to subtract anything that disconnects you from creating. Even within our distracted existence, we have to cultivate a version of a bubble if we want to work freely, with maximum fluency in making connections and maintain this as a habit. It does not mean being a hermit. You can function out in the world (indeed, you have to) but wherever you go the bubble goes with you. You know the cost of distractions, yet you recognise the need for balance if you are to maintain the relationships that sustain your creativity.
 
Mastery is an elusive concept. You never know when you have achieved it and it may not help to feel you have attained it. There is an established convention in art theory which links artistic skill with the ability to draw a perfect circle freehand. The 14th century Italian artist, Giotto, proved himself to Pope Benedict XI by doing this, Giotto’s O. Comparing 2 paintings by Rembrandt, ‘The Painter in His Studio’ and ‘Self Portrait with Two Circles’ made 40 years later, the 1st reveals a painter who is tentative, intimidated and unsure, cloaked in shadow gazing intently at an easel that dominates the foreground with flat, lifeless brush stokes whereas the 2nd shows him drenched in confidence, engaging us directly and the brush strokes are thick & 3D. Far more striking than the development of technique was how Rembrandt portrayed his personal growth. He installed himself between two half circles, as if he existed between youthful & mature mastery, between painting as he found it and as he would leave it. The circle also symbolises eternity & perfection through its association with the halos of the saints. Mastery is also associated with optimism; it masks the insecurities and gaps in technique and lets you believe you are capable of anything. Even in the worst of times, art sustains, protects and lifts us up. It’s the most compelling reason to foster the creative habit.


Sep 30 2015

Professional Vs Amateur Artists

You cannot just produce art when inspiration strikes, you have to show up every day. And the first hour or two is simply a warm-up exercise until your muse finds you worthy of attention. It takes years if not decades of experimentation and practice to perfect your craft. You must be in it for the long haul. It’s important to schedule activities and avoid distractions, which can affect your creative productivity. You have to be organised and disciplined in order to be reckless and original in your artwork.

Do not be so busy reading books and attending workshops that you rarely have time to create. The best teacher is almost always experience and the faster you make mistakes, the sooner you will learn. Do not keep editing, revising and redoing work so it remains unfinished. Art is a process and nothing will be perfect. Each piece becomes not a destination but a stepping stone on your journey. While an amateur tends to change their style or medium as the mood strikes them, a professional artist knows that a “jack-of-all-trades is a master of none”. We are better off focusing our time and energy honing our skills than diluting our creative power (unsure if I agree).

Do not get too attached to your artwork because someday you will have to sell it in order to have the opportunity to create more art. Let it go, knowing it has taught you what you needed to know. Find out who your potential customers are & where. You need to build your reputation (market yourself) online and in the real world. Art is not a hobby or a pastime, it’s a business / career. We are not only creators, we are also consumers. Surround yourself with the work of others & do not isolate yourself from other artists because you feel envious of their success or unworthy of their attention. People will take your art about as seriously as you do.

Reference: http://skinnyartist.com/9-warning-signs-of-an-amateur-artist/


Apr 22 2012

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

Notes from ‘The Artist’s Way’ by Julia Cameron: “A course in discovering and recovering your creative self”

Chapter / Week 1

Basic Principles

There is an underlying, creative force infusing all of life. We are creations and are meant to continue creativity by being creative ourselves. Creativity is God’s gift to us, using our creativity is our gift back to God. The refusal to be creative is self-will and counter to our true nature. Our creative dreams are important and come from our divine source.

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” – Pablo Picasso

Julia Cameron promotes a) morning pages: 3 pages written as a stream of consciousness. Helps to release the inner critic (teaches logic brain to stand aside and let artist brain play). Helps you identify negative attitudes and detach.

b) artist dates: 1-2 hours set aside and committed to nurturing your creative consciousness / inner artist / playful child. Spending time in solitude, exploring what intrigues or interests you. Think mystery, not mastery. An excursion to an art gallery perhaps.

“Why should we all use our creative power? Because there is nothing that makes people so generous, joyful, lively, bold & compassionate, so indifferent to fighting & the accumulation of objects & money.” – Brenda Ueland

Parents should respond: “Try it and see what happens” to artistic urges from their offspring. They should offer encouragement but they perpetuate the myth of the starving artist. It is possible to be financially successful and an artist.

Those too intimidated to become artists themselves, very often low in self-worth, tend to become shadow artists. Unable to recognise they may possess the creativity they admire, they often date those with an art career or become artist reps or critics. Creativity is play, but for shadow artists, learning to allow themselves to play is hard work.

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

Often audacity, not talent makes an artist. You are not necessarily born one but can become one with practice and training. You must first be willing to be a bad artist; give yourself permission to be a beginner. Remember every failed experiment is a chance to learn something.

Personal Affirmations

I can become a great artist with practice / training
I can be financially solvent & an artist
Art is essential to my health / wellbeing
Ignore your parents & society. Follow your own non-conventional path / lifestyle

Chapter / Week 2

Common self-attacks are: “I did okay this week but it’s just a temporary thing…” Do not let self-doubt turn into self-sabotage. Creativity flourishes when we have a sense of safety and self-acceptance. Toxic playmates can capsize our artist’s growth.

We want to set aside time for our creativity but feel we should do something else instead. We focus not on our responsibilities to ourselves but those to others, falling in with their plans for us. We tend to think this makes us good people but it just makes us frustrated.

“Every time you don’t follow your inner guidance, you feel a loss of energy, power, a sense of spiritual deadness.” – Shakti Gawain

You will learn that it is actually easier to write than not write, paint than not paint etc. You will learn to enjoy the process of being a creative channel and surrender your need to control the result. You will discover the joy of practicing your creativity. The process, not the product, will become your focus.

We need to stop burying our feelings of doubt and explore them instead. Ultimately, turning negative thoughts into positive affirmations. Soon enough, you will be a bridge that will allow others to cross over from self-doubt into self-expression.

One thing worth noting is our reluctance to take seriously the possibility the universe might be cooperating with our new, expanded plans. We’re brave enough to try creative recovery but we do not really want the universe to pay attention. We still feel too much like frauds to handle success.

The mind is like a room, where we keep all of our usual, comfortable ideas about life, what’s possible and what isn’t. The door is slightly ajar and out there in the dazzling light are many new ideas that we consider too far-out. Anything weird or threatening, we pull the door shut.

Inner work triggering outer change? (Slam!) Synchronicity supporting my artist with serendipitous coincidences? (Slam! Slam!) We need to set aside our skepticism & gently nudge the door a little further open (open-mindedness).

Rather than working or living in the now, we indulge in fantasy or daydreams of could’ve, would’ve, should’ve. One misconception of artistic life is constant aimlessness but the truth is it involves great attention (connection).

Mindfulness brings joy and comfort from the feeling we are ‘unutterably alone’. – Rilke) In times of pain, when the future is too terrifying to contemplate and the past is too painful to remember, pay attention to right now where you are safe. Each moment, taken alone is always bearable.

In order to be an artist, I must:

1. Show up at the page, to rest, to dream, to try.
2. Set small, gentle goals and meet them.
3. Remember that it is far harder & more painful to be a blocked artist than it is to do the work.
4. Choose companions who encourage me.

Chapter / Week 3

In the recovery of a blocked artist, anger (and jealousy) is a sign of health. It lets us know when we are frustrated, on the wrong path. It points the way and can be tapped into & drawn upon. It is an invitation to take action. Sloth, apathy and despair are the true enemy.

Answered prayers are scary, they imply responsibility. You asked for it, now that you’ve got it, what are you going to do. If there is a responsive force that hears us and act on our behalf, then we may actually be able to do things. “Ask and you shall receive.”

We commit and set in motion the principle that C.G. Jung dubbed synchronicity, loosely defined as a fortuitous intermeshing of events, or serendipity. An intelligent and responsive universe, acting and reacting in our interests. First choose what you would do, the how usually falls into place itself.

“Desire, ask, believe, receive.” – Stella Terrill Mann

If a child has ever been made to feel foolish for believing themselves talented, the act of actually finishing a piece of art will be fraught with shame. Shamed by criticism, an artist may become blocked. We must learn to be very self-protective, to comfort our inner child over unfair criticism and create our own safe environment.

“I have made my world and it is a much better world than I ever saw outside.” – Louise Nevelson

Doubting thoughts can be stopped but it takes vigilance. Constructive criticism gives us another piece of the puzzle for our artwork but useless criticism leaves us with a feeling of being bludgeoned. Artistic child abuse creates rebellion, which creates block.

Remember that even if you have made a truly rotten piece of art, it may be a necessary stepping-stone to your next work. Art matures spasmodically and requires ugly-duckling growth stages. Easy does it.

“Artists who seek perfection in everything are those who cannot attain it in anything.” – Eugene Delacroix

Art opens the closets, airs out the cellars and attics; it brings healing. Experiment with solitude, make a commitment to quiet time. Acquire the habit of checking in with yourself several times a day. Ask how you are feeling, listen and respond kindly.

Chapter / Week 4

“Each painting has its own way of evolving… When the painting is finished, the subject reveals itself.” – William Baziotes

Through the morning pages, we learn what we want and become willing to make changes but not without a tantrum and not without a kriya, a Sanskrit word meaning a spiritual emergency or surrender e.g. a case of flu after you’ve broken up with your lover. The need to let go.

People frequently believe the creative life is grounded in fantasy but it is grounded in reality, the focused, the observed. As we lose our vagueness about our self, our values, our life situation, we become available to the moment. It is there in particular, that we contact the creative self.

Art lies in the moment of encounter: we meet our truth and we meet ourselves; we meet ourselves and we meet our self-expression. As we gain or regain our creative identity, we lose the false self we were sustaining. You may discover surprising likes and dislikes that you had not previously acknowledged.

“To become truly immortal, a work of art must escape all human limits: logic and common sense will only interfere. But once these barriers are broken, it will enter the realms of childhood visions and dreams.” – Giorgio De Chirico

One sign that something healthy is afoot is the impulse to sort through and discard old clothes, papers and belongings. By tossing out the old and unworkable, we make way for the new and suitable. When the search-and-discard impulse seizes you, the old you is leaving and grieving, while the new you celebrates and grows strong.

Each of us is a unique, creative individual but we often blur that with sugar, alcohol, drugs, overwork, underplay, bad relationships, toxic sex, under-exercise, over-TV, undersleep, junk food etc. Morning pages help us see these smears and wipe the mirror so our image becomes clearer.

“The center that I cannot find is known to my unconscious mind.” – W.H. Auden

If you feel stuck, few jump starts are more effective than a week of reading deprivation. We have a daily quota of media chat that we swallow up. Like greasy food, it clogs our system. Without distractions, we are thrust into the sensory world. With no newspaper to shield us, a train becomes a viewing gallery. With no novel to sink into (and no television to numb us out), assumptions get rearranged.

For most blocked creatives, reading is an addiction; words are like tranquilisers. We gobble the words of others rather than digest our own thoughts and feelings, rather than cook up something of our own. If we monitor the inflow and keep it to a minimum, our reward will be more outflow. Less input, more output.

“We are always doing something, talking, reading, listening to the radio, planning what next. The mind is kept naggingly busy on some easy, unimportant external thing all day.” – Brenda Ueland

Chapter / Week 5

You have unlimited power if you are willing to utilise it. Everyone can draw on this universal supply, we deprive no one with our abundance. We must learn to let the flow manifest itself where it will, not where we will it. The shift to spiritual dependency is a gradual one. With each day we become more true to ourselves, more hopeful, more open to the positive.

“Expect your every need to be met, expect the answer to every problem, expect abundance on every level, expect to grow spiritually.” – Eileen Caddy

Experiment with asking for guidance before you go to sleep, then listen for answers in the morning pages. The stream of consciousness loosens our fixed opinions and short-sighted views. We see that our moods, views and insights are transitory. We acquire a sense of movement, a current of change, a flow.

Blocked creatives often get caught in the virtue trap, being good, responsible, respectable, mature. Afraid to appear selfish, we end up depriving ourselves; we become listless, disassociated, a shadow of ourselves. This false self is always willing to defer its needs to meet the demands of another.

Chapter / Week 6

We are raised to believe that money is the source of security, so a dependence on the universe feels foolhardy. We pay the bills, buy the groceries and we will pursue our art, we tell ourselves, when we have enough money to do it easily. Maybe God would feed and clothe us, in a pinch, but painting supplies?

We cling to our financial concerns as a way to avoid not only our art but also our spiritual growth. “I have to keep a roof over my head,” we say. “Nobody’s going to pay me to be creative.”
Most of us harbour a secret belief that work has to be work and not play, and that anything we really want to do – like write, act, dance – must be considered frivolous and be placed a distant second.

“The more we learn to operate in the world based on trust in our intuition, the stronger our channel will be and the more money we will have.” – Shakti Gawain

But what would a non-toxic god think of your creative goals? Many of us equate difficulty with virtue and art with fooling around. Hard work is good, sensible. A terrible job must be building our moral fiber. However, looking at God’s creation, unique flowers, snowflakes etc, he looks suspiciously like someone who just might suport for our creative ventures.

“Money will come when you are doing the right thing.” – Mike Phillips

What are your ideas surrounding money? It’s hard to get? You have to work long hours for it? You need to worry about money 1st and creativity 2nd? All too often, we become blocked and blame it on our lack of money but it is actually our feeling of constriction, our sense of powerlessness. We find ourselves in barren lives, devoid of interest no matter how many meaningless things we have filled them with.

“All substance is energy in motion. It lives and flows. Money is symbolically a golden, flowing stream of concretized vital energy.” – The Magical Work Of The Soul

Think about what gives you true joy, simple pleasures. Fresh raspberries, roses, music? For Laura, a cheap set of watercolour paints was her 1st foray into luxury. For Kathy, it was a deluxe Crayola set, “the kind my mother would never get me. I let myself do 2 drawings the 1st night, and one of them was a sketch of me in my new life, the one I am working toward.”

Creative living requires the luxury of time and space. Much of what we do in recovery may seem silly. Silly is a defence our Wet Blanket adult uses to squelch our artist child. We may find ourselves practicing our craft, rather than enlarging our art. Creativity lives in paradox: serious art is born from serious play.

Personal Attitudes Towards Money

Need to transform negatives into positives…

The root of all evil? = Debt / inequality in the world (Posh/tory/capitalists/greedy/materialistic/conceited/selfish/businessmen) But it’s corrupt people not money itself. And not everyone, think creative entrepreneurs / self-employed. Does £ come from hard work and motivation or flow? Combination?

Parents influence? Dad was the breadwinner. Career and affluence was important but he was frivolous / careless. Mum became the homemaker. She feared money would run out so was overly cautious, thrifty, frugal and invested wisely. Need to balance their views.

Religious influence? “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Means those who recognise they are spiritually helpless, humble) “Woe unto you that trust in riches” (Idolatry, attachment to possessions, cruel, unsharing) – Important to retain perspective / priorities. God rarely extols a person for wealth but wisdom must be nearby. “There are people so poor, that the only thing they have is money.”

If I had more £s, I could buy a house with a garden; take the OU philosophy / psychology course; revisit Findhorn for spiritual practice; re-visit the cinema, theatre etc.

With £s, you wouldn’t be a jerk, you would be more generous e.g. charity, gifts, drinks. Less tight, skint, dependent on others. Give more, receive more. Think flow.

Money is freedom, buys time and space, security, peace of mind. Think contentment, abundance, prosperity.

Chapter / Week 7

Learning to listen is important. Morning pages enable hearing past the censor whereas artist dates allow you to hear the voice of inspiration. Both activities are unconnected to actually making art but are critical to the creative process. Art is not about thinking something up but getting something down.

When a painter is painting, he or she may begin with a plan but ends up surrendering to the painting’s own plan. “The brush takes the next stroke.” We are more the conduit than the creator of what we express. Art is an act of tuning in. It is as though all the stories, painting, music, performances in the world live just under the surface of our normal consciousness.

We can learn to hear with increasing accuracy that inspired, intuitive voice that says, “Do this, try this, say this…” We are the instrument more than the author of our artwork. Some people find it easier to picture the stream of inspiration as radio waves being broadcast continuously. We learn to hear the desired frequency on request.

Perfectionism has nothing to do with getting it right, fixing things or having standards. It is a refusal to let yourself move ahead. It is a loop, an obsessive, debilitating closed system that causes you to get stuck in the details and lose sight of the whole.

“Cerebration is the enemy of originality in art.” – Martin Ritt

Instead of creating freely and allowing errors to reveal themselves later as insights, we often get mired in getting the details perfect. We correct our originality into a uniformity that lacks passion and spontaneity. “Do not fear mistakes,” Miles Davis told us. “There are none.”

To the perfectionist, there is always room for improvement. It calls this humility but in reality, it is egotism or pride that makes us want to paint a perfect painting. It is not a quest for the best but a pursuit of the worst in ourselves; the part that tells us nothing we do will ever be good enough.

“A painting is never finished. It simply stops in interesting places.” – Paul Gardner

Letting go is a normal part of creativity. Question: What would I do if I didn’t have to do it perfectly? Answer: A great deal more than I am. We’ve all heard that the unexamined life is not worth living but consider too the unlived life is not worth examining. We must not measure our baby steps against the master’s craft.

“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss it, you will land among the stars.” – Les Brown

We must take risks and remember that in order to do something well, we must 1st be willing to do it badly. “So Do it. If you win, you win and if you lose, you win.” Selecting a challenge and meeting it creates a sense of self-empowerment that becomes the ground for further success.

“When you start a painting, it is somewhat outside you. At the conclusion, you seem to move inside the painting.” – Fernando Botero

Chapter / Week 8

Because artistic losses are seldom acknowledged or mourned, they become scar tissue that blocks artistic growth. Deemed too painful, too silly, too humiliating to share, they become secret losses and so are left unhealed.

Our artist is a child and what we can handle intellectually far outstrips what we can handle emotionally. The disappointing reception of a piece of artwork, the inability to move into a different medium, criticism etc are artistic losses that must be mourned.

“I shall become a master in this art only after a great deal of practice.” – Erich Fromm

Many academics are artistic beings, deeply frustrated by their inability to create. Skilled in intellectual discourse, they become distanced from their creative urgings and often find their students’ creativity deeply disturbing. Hence, teachers can be highly critical and quash creative spirits.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” – Albert Einstein

They neglect to supply the most rudimentary nutrient: encouragement. Creativity cannot be comfortably quantified in intellectual terms. Intellectualism runs counter to the creative impulse. For an artist, to become overly cerebral is to become crippled.

“To the rationally minded the mental processes of the intuitive appear to work backwards.” – Frances Wickes

Young artists are seedlings. Their early work resembles thicket, underbush, even weeds. They need room to exist, grow, flourish. However, many talented creatives have been daunted early and unfairly by their inability to conform to a norm that was not their own. Artists are also threatening because aren’t studying creativity, they’re actually practicing it.

Admit your artistic wounds, including those that are self-inflicted, for this leads to healing them. Every loss must be viewed as a potential gain. Ask yourself, “How can this serve me? Where does it point my artwork?” “What next?” instead of “Why me?” Do not stagnant, take action. If one avenue for your creativity is blocked, find another.

“The world of reality has its limits; the world of imagination is boundless.” – Jean-Jacques Rousseau

“I’m too old” we tell ourselves to save from the ego deflation involved in being a beginner. But those who study later often have greater hunger, more life experience and a stronger learning curve. On the other hand, we might tell ourselves, “I’ll let myself try it when I’m retired.” We allow our youth the freedom to experiment and the old the right to be eccentric. Why not the inbetweeners?

We like to focus on having learned a skill or on having made an artwork but this attention to final form ignores the fact that creativity lies not in the done but the doing. Focused on process, our creativity retains a sense of adventure. Focused on product, it can feel foolish or barren; we deny our exploration, our curiosities. Our use of age as a creative block interlocks with our toxic finished-product thinking.

Keep asking, “What is the next thing?” It is often something small: washing out paintbrushes, going to the art shop etc. There is always one action you can take for your creativity daily; this demonstrates commitment. Fantasising about pursuing our art full-time, we fail to pursue it part-time – or at all.

Looking at the big picture thinking ignores the fact that a creative life is grounded on many, many small steps and very, very few large leaps. Creativity requires activity, it makes us responsible and we hate having to do something, we prefer to obsess instead.

Watch yourself for a week and notice how you pick up an anxious thought to blow off or delay your next creative action. And remember, work begets work, so continue to practice your artwork even if you are not being paid.

Affirmations

I am a talented person
I have a right to be an artist
My creativity is appreciated
I now share my creativity more openly
I now treat myself & my creativity more gently
I now allow myself to heal

Chapter / Week 9

Calling the inability to create, ‘laziness’ is inaccurate & cruel. Blocked artists are not lazy, they are blocked. They spend too much energy on self-hatred, on regret, on grief, on jealousy & on self-doubt. Don’t call procrastination laziness, call it fear.

The need to be a great artist makes it hard to be an artist. The need to produce a great work of art makes it hard to produce any art at all.

Enthusiasm is more important than discipline, which is like a battery, useful but short-lived. The discipline rather than the creative outflow, becomes the focus. Enthusiasm is grounded in play not work. It is joy, not duty, that makes for a lasting bond. Many artists find their workspaces are best dealt with as play spaces e.g. toys, papier-mache monsters, a fish tank. Remember art is process.

“The journey is always the only arrival.”

Those of us addicted to sympathy in place of creativity can become threatened as we become increasingly functional. Many recovering artists make U-turns & sabotage themselves. We commit creative hara-kiri. The glare of success can send the recovering artist scurrying back into the cave of self-defeat. For example, a painter is invited to his 1st show but picks a fight with the gallery owner.

Remember, creativity is scary & in all careers, there are U-turns. A successful creative career is always built on successful creative failures. Creativity, not time, best heals creative wounds. Think of your talent as a young, skittish horse that you must coax into finishing the course. The ego always wants to claim self-sufficiency. It would rather pose as a creative loner than ask for help (with a U-turn). Ask anyway.

“We learn to do something by doing it. There is no other way.” – John Holt, Educator

Beginning any new project, it’s a good idea to ask your artist a few simple questions. They can also be asked when work grows difficult or bogs you down to clear the obstructed flow.

1. List any resentments (anger) you have in connection with this project. It does not matter how petty, picky or irrational these may appear to your adult self. To your artist child they are real big deals / grudges.

2. Ask your artist to list any / all fears about the projected piece of work and/or anyone connected to it.

3. Ask yourself if that is all.

4. Ask yourself what you stand to gain by not doing this piece of work.

5. Make a deal: “Okay, Creative Force, you take care of the quality, I’ll take care of the quantity.” Sign your deal & post it.

NB: This is a very powerful exercise; it can do fatal damage to a creative block!

Chapter / Week 10

What slows your growth? Food, work, sex are all good in themselves. It is the abuse of them that makes them creativity issues. Knowing yourself as an artist means acknowledging which of these you abuse when you want to block yourself. Has overeating and oversleeping sabotaged me? Has sex or love obsession blocked my creativity? Overworking to avoid ourselves, our true feelings?

Blocking alleviates fear. We turn to our drug of choice whenever we experience the anxiety of our inner emptiness. Rather than trust our intuition, our talent, our skill, our desire, we fear where our creativity is taking us.

“The life which is not examined is not worth living.” – Plato

In any creative life, there are dry seasons. Life loses its meaning; our work feels mechanical, empty, forced. we feel we have nothing to say & are tempted to say nothing. These are the times when the morning pages are most difficult & valuable. They are the lifeline, the trail we explore. During a drought, the mere act of showing up on the page is a challenge but the time in the desert is necessary; it brings us clarity & charity.

“Truly, it is in the darkness that one finds the light…” – Meister Eckhart

The desire to obtain fame can produce the “How am I doing?” syndrome. This question is not “Is the work going well?” but “How does it look to them?” Fame interferes with our perception. Focusing on whether we are getting enough creates a continual feeling of lack. Wanting more will always discredit our accomplishments & erode our joy. Fame is a shortcut for self-approval. We must actively, consciously, consistently & creatively nurture our artist selves. Only when we are being joyfully creative can we release the obsession with others & how they are doing.

“Real learning comes about when the competitive spirit has ceased.” – J.Krishnamurti

When we are ogling the accomplishments of others, we take our eye away from our own journey. What do I have to offer? Competition lies at the root of much creative blockage. As artists, we must go within. We must attend to what it is our inner guidance is nudging us toward. We cannot afford to worry about what is in or out of fashion. If it is too early or late for a piece of work, its time will come again. We cannot afford to think about who is getting ahead of us & how they don’t deserve it. This compare-and-contrast school of thinking may have its place for critics, but not for artists in the act of creation.

“Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things.” – Edgar Degas

The ego demands to be not just good but 1st & best & that our work be totally original. However, all work is influenced by other work; all people are influenced by other people. No man is an island & no piece of art is a continent unto itself. The spirit of competition, as opposed to creation, often urges us to quickly weed out whatever doesn’t seem like a winning idea. We abort awkward or unseemly projects that may be our finest work.

Judged early, it may be judged incorrectly. Be willing to paint badly while your ego resists. Your lousy painting may point you in a new direction. Art needs time to mature, to incubate, to sprawl, to be ungainly, misshapen & finally emerge as itself. The ego wants instant gratification, the addictive hit of an acknowledged win but merely showing up is what matters.

Chapter / Week 11

An artist’s cash flow is typically erratic. The idea that money validates my credibility is very hard to shake. If money determines real art, then Gauguin was a charlatan. Since my artist is a child, the natural child within, I must make some concessions to its sense of timing. Not total irresponsibility but letting the artist have quality time, knowing that if I let it do what it wants, it will cooperate in doing what I need to do. Sometimes, I will paint badly but that is required to get to the other side. Creativity is its own reward.

“No amount of skillful invention can replace the essential element of imagination.” – Edward Hopper

To a large degree my life is my art and when it gets dull, so does my work. As an artist, I may frizz my hair or wear weird clothes. My self-respect comes from doing the work; one painting at a time. I do not need to be rich but I need to be richly supported. I cannot allow my emotional & intellectual life to stagnate or the work will show it. The more I nurture my artist child, the more adult I can appear. Spoiling my artist means it will let me type a business letter. If I allow myself to be bullied by other people’s urges for me to be more normal, I sell myself out.

“The job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery.” – Francis Bacon

If I sabotage my artist, I can expect an eating binge, a sex binge, a temper binge. To be an artist is to appreciate the peculiar. To ask why? To acknowledge the astonishing. To allow the wrong piece in a room if we like it. To hang on to a weird coat that makes us happy. Making laws, not in following them. And to risk admitting that money, property & prestige etc strikes you as a little silly. To kill your dreams because they are irresponsible is to be irresponsible to yourself.

Creativity is a spiritual practice. It is not something that can be perfected, finished & set aside. It is my experience that we reach plateaus of creative attainment only to have a certain restlessness in. Walking (moving meditation) helps. The goal is to connect to a world outside of us, to lose the obsessive self-focus of self-exploration & simply explore. That rhythmic, repetitive action transfers the locus of the brain’s energies from the logic to the artist hemisphere where inspiration bubbles up unrestrained. Exercise, much maligned as mindless activity turns out to be thought-provoking instead. We learn by going where we have to go. Exercise often moves us from stagnation to inspiration, from problem to solution, from self-pity to self-respect.

“To keep the body in good health is a duty… Otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong & clear.” – Buddha

Chapter / Week 12

Creativity requires receptivity & trust. Faith requires we relinquish control. Our resistance is a form of self-destruction; we throw up road-blocks on our own path. We do this in order to maintain an illusion of control. Mythologist Joseph Campbell wrote, “Follow your bliss & doors will open where there were no doors before.” It is the inner commitment to be true to ourselves & follow our dreams that triggers the support of the universe. N.B. While we are ambivalent, the universe will also seem to be erratic.

“Do not fear mistakes – there are none.” – Miles Davis

Insights may come as blinding flashes but most are preceded by a gestation period that is interior, murky & completely necessary. We speak often about ideas as brainchildren & should not be dragged from the creative womb prematurely. Bright ideas like stalagmites form in the dark inner cave of consciousness, in drips & drops. We must wait for them to hatch. Mulling on the page is an artless art form. It is fooling around, doodling; the way that ideas slowly take shape. All too often we try to push, pull, outline & control our ideas instead of letting them grow organically. The creative process involves surrender, not control.

Many hobbies involve a form of artist-brain mulling that leads to enormous creative breakthroughs. When artists are stuck, doing mundane tasks such as mending, sewing or gardening can help. As we serve our hobby, we are freed from our ego’s demands & allowed the experience of merging with a greater source. This conscious contact frequently affords us the perspectives needed to solve vexing personal or creative conundrums. Remember, life is meant to be an artist date.

“For me a painting is like a story which stimulates the imagination & draws the mind into a place filled with expectation, excitement, wonder & pleasure.” – J.P. Hughston (Painter)

As recovering creatives, we often find that every time our career heats up we reach for the nearest wet blanket. We blurt out our enthusiasm to our most skeptical friend. This is the test we must evade. You must hold your intention within yourself, stroking it with power, self-containment. Only then will you be able to manifest what you desire. We must learn to keep our own counsel, to move silently among doubters, to voice our plans only among our allies. Surround yourself with artists.

Creativity Contract

I am a recovering creative person. To further my growth & joy, I now commit myself to the following self-nurturing plans:

Morning pages have been an important part of my self-nurturing & self-discovery. I hereby commit myself to continuing as & when it’s required.

Artist’s dates have been integral to my growth in self-love & enjoyment in living. I am willing to commit to them indefinitely.

My specific commitment is to allow myself to more fully explore painting. I have chosen ? as my creative colleague / back-up.

Epilogue

Imagine a mountain of Himalayan proportions with a path winding upward to its height. As we pursue climbing, we circle back on ourselves. The road is never straight. Growth is a spiral process, doubling back on itself, reassessing & regrouping. Every loss has meaning; a creative failure may be the compost that nourishes the next creative success.

“A painting is never finished – it simply stops in interesting places.” – Paul Gardner

More excerpts here >>

Next reading idea: The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp >>


Jul 11 2011

Art Therapy Journal (Northern Programme Foundation Course)

Saturday, January 15th 2011

Throughout the initial weekend, I often felt self-conscious and insecure, intimidated by the number of people. I felt repressed, struggling to speak in front of the main group. I had an overwhelming sense that I had let myself down but I was hopeful that after a while, once I felt more comfortable with the others, I would relax. I preferred the smaller group interactions as I contributed more to discussions, such as the exercise on hopes and fears (see below). For images and objects, I chose the beaded necklace as it reminded me of spirituality, something quite important to me. The beads were all shapes and sizes and such vibrant colours; each different and unique. Whenever I see someone wearing them, I tend to assume they will be someone I am more likely to have an instant connection with based on a similar ethos or philosophy e.g. a hippy, traveller or artist. Buddha ornaments make me feel calm and peaceful and I get a similar sensation from other ethnic or cultural items. To a lesser extent, there was also the religions connotation of rosary beads linked to prayer or meditation. They also reminded me of how after a health scare and break-up, I had vowed to stop holding myself back so much (restricting, abstaining) and this was reflected by injecting more colour into my life, dying my hair red and wearing bright jewellery. If I had to choose a second or third item, I would have chosen the animal skull as I like the macabre and drawing human anatomy or the feathery, turquoise eye mask because I have developed an interest in burlesque of late (watching not performing).

Hopes & Fears

Personal Development:

To be able to let go (engage / explore), express myself freely / creatively
To be Inspired / motivated to do more artwork

Professional Development:

To gain insight into new vocation, helping people with mental health issues
To connect / socialise / network with other creative souls

Materials: sensory & experiential – art-making & sharing images

I was very uptight starting the experiment with art materials in the afternoon but began to relax and enjoy it once I had made a few marks on the paper. Plus Sarah-Jane’s enthusiasm was infectious; she was like a kid in a sweet shop. I loved using the indian ink and glitter paint over the netting, string and coloured sand. The diverse thick and thin lines created by the ink reminded me of the artistic style of Gerald Scarfe or Ralph Steadman. Strangely, mediums I was already familiar with like pastels and tissue paper seemed harder to use, mundane even whereas painting, which I was less confident about seemed easier and enjoyable. My picture seemed to develop into a sea theme with octopus or squid-like creatures. However, the red section seemed to become more flowery with feathers and pink tissue paper. I noticed I was still exerting an element of control or rigidity (being a web designer) with the use of colours, having specific blue and red sections. The only place the colours intermingled was the overlaying line of gold paint. Initially, I was concerned I had ruined the artwork but managed to convert it into some kind of sea dragon. By the end, I was reassured how everyone’s artwork appeared quite abstract and childlike.

Sunday, January 16th

I was still feeling slightly withdrawn because I could not seem to articulate myself in the large group. We had to choose an adjective with alliteration to our name so I chose jealousy, expressing concerns about not being an artist. I felt at a low ebb and began wondering whether I would enjoy this course as much as ‘Healing Through Art’ at the Findhorn Foundation. And questioning whether I was actually capable of letting go creatively? During the ‘What is art therapy?’ discussion, I sought clarification about the difference between art is therapy and art as therapy. I thought I understood what it was from the ‘Is all art therapeutic?’ essay question but I found it confusing hearing alternative perspectives. The lecture on elements of psychodynamic theory featuring Freud, Jung, Klein & Winnicott was really fascinating and it reinforced how I would like to learn more about psychological theories. Plus I appreciated having more structure, the tutor teaching a lesson rather than just the students sharing their interpretations or thoughts.

Art IS Therapy: Therapeutic benefit of engaging in the creative process
Art AS Therapy: Analysing/reflecting on the practice/product of art making

Understand self / personal experience by exploring unconscious thoughts & emotions through the use of art materials (non-verbal / visual communication)

Relationship Triangle (Artist – Artwork – Therapist)
Safe Environment
Boundaries & The Frame

Experiential workshop in small group – Materials: aspects of the self

The afternoon involved a smaller, more intimate group so again I felt more comfortable opening up. There were a few people I had not interacted with much and by the end of the day, I felt a little more connected to them. I played it safe by using pastels and drawing symbols I often draw such as a profiled head featuring a brain and basic human figures but there was only half an hour so did not feel overly confident exploring other materials. I noted how I squatted on the floor with my back to the majority, clearly trying to hide my artwork. Afterwards, it was suggested that just because the imagery is familiar to me, does not mean it is to anyone else, which made perfect sense. Interestingly, there seemed to be some synchronicity between mine and nearby pieces as if we had influenced each other in subtle ways. Both Anne-Marie and I had featured question marks and Virginia and I had used yellow (which allegedly signifies creativity) to illustrate an aura or chakra colour. And Rachel had formed a purple figure from plasticine sitting in a contemplative position whereas I had also featured a purple figure in the lotus position. Throughout the session, I made the effort to enquire about others work, not wanting anyone to feel left out. I was still not very coherent but at least felt I managed to convey some aspects of myself.

Freud

-Dreams & The Unconscious (Free Association) finds expression in images rather than words
-Instinct & Drives (controlled by Repression)
-Neurosis & Psychosis (sign of frustrated desires or wishes)
-Transference & Countertransference

Superego = Above The I / Ego = I / Id = It

Jung

– The Collective Unconscious
– Symbols (people, things, words, concepts that stand for something significant for an individual)
– Active Imagination (method for recognising own / others Archetypes)

The Self = Perceive Ourselves (+ve traits)
The Shadow = Our Dark Side (-ve traits)
Anima = Feminine In Male
Animus = Masculine In Female

Saturday, February 12th

We were instructed to explore the exhibitions at Graves Art Gallery and choose some images that speak to us as an individual. The benefactor of the gallery JG Graves ran a mail-order company selling everything from furniture to clothes. The artist Su Blackwell created a piece of artwork in his honour using a deconstructed map of Sheffield, paper cut-outs from his 1930-34 catalogue and an oak box. She used raised areas lit-up to highlight parks he gave to the city. As I observed, more details became visible. There was a woman in a victorian-style swimsuit holding a clock near a watering can, a little girl (maybe a boy) with a toy boat, a cabinet with a vase, a shoe, 2 women talking (one with a mantlepiece clock on her head), a handbag, 2 bicycles, garden shears, a woman sitting reading and a man with a mower. In the background, there was a photo of his factory and leafy trees darted around the landscape, one with a clock hanging from it. This reminded me of Salvidor Dali’s ‘Persistence of Time’. Along with lamps, there were also captions hanging from the ceiling such as ‘charming styles’ and ‘will wash & wear splendidly’ against a light blue sky. It was a little picturesque world. I adore collage, especially with a combination of images and text as used in graphic design.

In ‘The Hermit’ (1966) by Patrick Caulfield, primary colours were used ironically to suggest a dark isolation. The figure had no significant features so could be anyone and was surrounded by rocks representing ‘a landscape of the mind’, being alone with your thoughts. There were a few paintings that I found myself linking together with themes of withdrawal and isolation. ‘Corner Of The Artist’s Room’ (1907-1909) by Gwen John, features a chair in the attic room, which can be seen to represent her or her lover Auguste Rodin and was painted at the end of the affair. She said, “My room is so delicious after a whole day outside, it seems to me that I am not myself except in my room.” Such ideas resonate strongly with me because I tend to spend a lot of time by myself, mainly to do with my sensitivity and how I find being out in the world mentally exhausting. One reason I like the internet is because it enables me to control how much I engage. However, too much time alone can be unhealthy; it is important to socialise and connect with others for a sense of well-being. I reached the conclusion it can be both a blessing and a curse, a sanctuary and a prison.

‘The Lady of Shallot’ (1858) by William Maw Egley illustrates Tennyson’s poem based on the cursed Guinevere who is trapped in a tower, separated from her lover Lancelot and only allowed to watch the world through reflections in a mirror. It is vibrant and beautiful outside but she is confined to a room / mirror. This naturally reminded me of my body dysmorphic disorder. Mental-health issues can be so debilitating, making you feel trapped, withdrawn and excluded from society (a life half-lived). Another piece of artwork that related to my feelings of ugliness and abnormality was ‘The Kiss’ (2001) by Marc Quinn, which was inspired by classical marble sculptures, many which have lost limbs but still considered beautiful. It features Mat Fraser and Catherine Long both who have missing or malformed limbs and questions our perceptions of beauty. He said, “People are seduced by the beauty of the sculpture and that makes them face something they normally avoid.” Other paintings which had less emotional meaning but nevertheless interested me were ‘The Hours’ (1870-1882) by Edward Coley Burne-Jones for the clever use of colour to show transition between figures and ‘The Spirit Of Chivalry’ (1845) by Daniel Maclise.

Experiential workshop in small group – Looking

Since I had “played it safe” in the last experiential session, I subconsciously challenged myself to produce what I considered to be a rubbish piece of artwork. I purposely faced the group instead of hiding in a corner, used messy crayons and chose coloured paper as a background instead of sticking to white. The light-blue matched the sky in Su Blackwell’s collage and I focussed on one of the paper cut-out figures, the iconic lady in the victorian swimsuit holding a stop-watch or clock. This developed into a seaside landscape, with blue tissue paper and string for the ocean. I drew further objects with bold black permanent crayon including a bicycle, a handbag, ceiling lamp and caption boxes. Then I added orange tissue paper to depict a complimentary sandy or rocky area and this became the caves featured in ‘The Hermit’. I could not remember the exact colours used in the painting and had no references to hand so used red glittery paint for the figure and then duplicated this shape for emphasis using red crayon at reducing sizes in a diagonal line. The final touch was a brown border suggesting the frame of the oak box, bringing the two pieces of artwork together in a composition. This exercise definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone as I tried to be relaxed with creating something so aesthetically unpleasing but I liked the overall concept.

Saturday, March 12th – Theory And Practice

I enjoyed the talk by children & adolescent art therapist Susan Allaker in the morning. I thought it provided more practical, specific information about procedures such as referrals and what actually happens in art therapy sessions. She talked about a boy who kept throwing up without a physical or medical cause and how the chance to express himself creatively turned things around. The art therapy room appeared a very comfortable environment, with a round table, giant bean bag and different sized chairs for children & adults. However, she mentioned NHS cuts and warned that it was difficult to get a job in the profession, which may have disheartened a few people. Unfortunately, the other art therapist Hannah Godfrey could not make it so George filled in with a case study of an adult who had tried to commit suicide on a few occasions. Hence, there was evocative artwork with slit wrists and a bloody, decapitated head made out of clay and red paint. By lunchtime, I was feeling a tad cynical. If you can just make it up as you go along, why do you need any formal training? It all seemed rather wishy-washy and the constant silence irritated me. I was also reflecting on how frustrated I was when the person-centred counsellor I visited years ago did not offer much in the way of advice. I may as well have been talking to myself and found the CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) much more integrative and useful. I realised that both as a client and as an art therapist, I would prefer more structure or a more directive approach, with guidelines or themes. For example, Nicky mentioned some inspiring projects she had initiated as an art teacher, like the shoebox and secret postcards.

Klein

– Object Relations Theory (e.g. dolls)
– Aggression (hate, envy, greed) in young ill children
– Depressive Position (governed by Eros / life instinct)
– Paranoid-Schizoid Position (governed by Thanatos / death instinct)

Winnicott

– Good Enough Parenting
– Transitional Space & Object (e.g. pacifier, blanket, bear)
– True Self (being, self-expression) & False (doing, expectations)
– Importance of play or creative activity

Experiential workshop in small group

Earlier, I had looked in the mirror in broad daylight and it had upset me. I tried to challenge my body dysmorphic disorder and it just disturbed and confused me as usual. I decided to depict this in my experiential artwork, drawing two self-portraits with pastels on black paper. One of myself at night (sleeping, dreaming, peaceful) and one of myself during the day (agitated, stressed, sad). I was particularly drawn to a silver pastel and depicted dreams via thought bubbles coming from my head, featuring dismembered doll parts (one of my recent dreams). I love dreaming as it is so surreal and provides escapism from the real world. ‘Night brings counsel’. I can cast off my physical form and go exploring, flying, whatever my subconscious chooses. Even if I am awake, I feel more productive, creative, alive at night. On the other half, I demonstrated how daylight often makes me feel. ‘The cold light of day’. I drew the sun, which acts like a giant spotlight, highlighting all my flaws and making me feel weathered and ugly. I shed a tear as my skin ages and falls off, while other people are in bikinis enjoying the sunshine; living their lives in normal, happy ways. For me, light brings darkness and vice versa.

In hindsight, I actually preferred the very first workshop involving the whole group. Being able to go into another room with plenty of space around me to create, without others so close nearby or the art therapist watching. I could be anonymous and free. Yet, I still preferred the more intimate group for discussion and sharing. But which setting for creating artwork is more beneficial? One that feels more challenging or more cathartic?

Saturday, April 9th – Groups

Today, we were visited by art therapist Richard Stott who talked about groups; how like cells, people come together as individuals and coalesce. We discussed various scenarios that might occur in group settings and how we would hypothetically deal with them e.g. if one member was constantly silent, blind etc which seemed practical and useful. Rick also recommended ‘Art Therapy For Groups’ by Marian Liebmann, which is filled with suggestions for themed exercises. In the afternoon, we were split into groups of 6 and collaborated on a piece of artwork. My group immediately decided that we wanted to squirt coloured paint everywhere in a childish fashion but it was suggested that we create some kind of 3D structure first. We used a giant roll of corrugated cardboard, unravelling it in a curling, winding fashion and then positioned white paper underneath. It reminded me of a playground. Initially, I was feeling slightly repressed and frustrated, reluctant to get involved, which seemed reflected in my asking permission to rip the cardboard to form jagged edges. However, I was concerned others were not overly keen and that it would spoil the smooth aesthetic. It was almost tribal how we circled the sculpture squirting colourful poster paint at the canvas. It was even suggested we strip naked.

It was actually liberating not being entirely responsible as opposed to the pressure of creating individual compositions. We sprinkled glitter and created hand and footprints using the finger paint. I covered my hands completely in blue, squatted and smeared the walls, cavewoman style. I liked the texture of the grooved side. Then as we were naturally reaching a conclusion, without seeking as much approval, I draped a line of string back and forth, trailing it off ending with a giant ball of twine whereas Sinead placed a couple of sticks in the centre of the cardboard roll. Sadly, when we returned to the room, the structure had collapsed in the middle like a bridge, which seemed to highlight its transient, ephemeral nature. The 2nd group had drawn 6 figure outlines on a large sheet of paper and decorated each person together (apart from the individual whose portrait it was), following on where each had left off like the game where you fold paper into sections and draw a head, torso or legs. Whereas the 3rd group created a suspended chandelier or mobile-like structure that required them to work together in harmony to sustain or balance. Both were beautifully effective ideas that emphasised the spirit of sharing and collaboration. Afterwards, I thought maybe this activity had actually helped me breakthrough some of my crippling creative repression.

Saturday, May 14th – Awareness & Reflection

The morning was primarily about the MA featuring Debbie Michaels, one of the tutors. It was interesting, particularly hearing ex-student Nem talk so enthusiastically about her experience on the course. She recommended a book entitled ‘Art As Healing’ by Edward Adamson because it was full of pictures rather than words and explained how you can control what you talk about but not always the appearance of the unconscious in an image. However, ultimately it felt rather pointless as I could not afford the fees, regardless of whether I wanted to continue the art therapy training. In the afternoon, we had experiential workshops and I finally felt able to let go and create what I described as a 3D doodle. I played with wire and contorted it randomly into different shapes and patterns to form a small three-dimensional structure. Then I experimented using cling film to twist and wrap around the piece. I was less uptight and not feeling the usual pressure to generate the perfect artwork. I considered this a break-through. (“Wholeness rather than perfection is the goal.” – Jung) In fact, everyone seemed to be producing art related to growth, liberation, unfolding and expansion as we collectively contemplated heading towards the end of the course and new beginnings.

Saturday, July 9th & Sunday, July 10th

The final weekend featured a series of individual presentations in the mornings. I had decided to read my art therapy journal / blog aloud, omitting a few personal paragraphs in order to condense it down to 10-15 mins. After hearing a few others speak, I was concerned that my talk was rather long, boring and repetitive. I commented how others had gone with the flow, obviously taking their cue from the experiential workshops whereas mine was rigidly prepared and organized as usual but reminded myself that I was merely a work in progress. However, afterwards I thought maybe this is just the way I am; if I want to be creative in an orderly fashion with neat captions, what is wrong with that? There are many forms of creativity and mine include web design, thinking, collating and writing. I chose to study graphic design since it allowed me to combine strengths from my left and right brain. I thoroughly enjoyed creating my final piece of artwork on canvas as I had given myself permission to do exactly what I wanted based on the idea that just because the content or medium is familiar to me does not mean it is to anyone else. I used pastels as they are so effective at demonstrating mood and it felt cathartic using my notes and sketches throughout the foundation course to round everything off into a summarised conclusion.

Final Artwork

Sinead had used slogans poised on springy, almost robotic, wire legs with plasticine feet. She talked about listening to your visual voice and painting your own reality, inspired by artist Frida Kahlo. Along with others, she expressed how the course had rekindled her love of art and encouraged her to visit more exhibitions and those who had not created art previously vowed to continue. Susannah mentioned the physicality of art-making, whether to stand, squat or sit and how she had learned to be comfortable with uncertainty, to just let something develop. I agreed with Jenny how valuable it had been to go away and process confused thoughts in order to understand them. A few people described how they had become more mindful, noticing the exquisite detail and beauty in the world. Rachel explained how patterns in her soapy water or bath sprits as she called them had inspired her drawings. Whereas Hazel featured a journey of postcards, Sue used a circle of string to unite us, Nicky stripped off t-shirts with word clouds on them and Lisa handed out white masks for everyone to wear, excluding herself. I figured this was a similar technique to visualing the audience in their underwear but again it called to mind my BDD. Abi showed a film of a butterfly struggling from its cocoon and used the analogy of how the battle was necessary to strengthen its wings to describe her experience. And Anne-Marie presented her latest paintings, featuring spiritual-esque figures, which reminded me of my ambition to create artwork like Alex Gray.

In the first afternoon, we discussed endings, which seemed to culminate in a discussion on relationships and break-ups. I commented how ultimately you are born alone and you die alone but people naturally come and go along the way. As in film or theatre, some have leading roles whereas others are merely peripheral characters or walk-ons. Art therapy was always going to be a temporary course so we knew this day would come. I empathised completely with those pouring their hearts out but was in a rather content, contained mood. Then I made a serene female figure out of clay to represent feelings of empowerment and inner strength, rediscovering who you are as an individual after heartbreak and separation. The second afternoon involved the entire group individually creating something and then endeavouring to link all the pieces together. We ended up using string to physically attach them to show a sequence or story. I moulded a few alien or sea creatures on an island out of plasticine, which may have been partly inspired by ‘The Garden Of Earth Delights’ by Hieronymus Bosch. Initially, I positioned it under what appeared to be a maypole as it reminded me of the magic roundabout but it was later suggested it sat on Wendy’s drawing under what aptly seemed like a bridge. By the end, I was feeling physically and emotionally exhausted yet very connected and inspired. I also realized how comfortable I had finally become with the silence.

So what now? To continue trying to let go, to experiment, to create more artwork, to stay motivated and follow-through, maybe volunteer with Mind and if the funds ever become available, consider a psychology degree, a counseling diploma or the MA in art psychotherapy.


Oct 1 2010

A-Z of Creativity For Graphic/Web Designers

a) It’s common practice to seek inspiration from other designer’s work but this often encourages the pursuit of styles and trends, which undermines the purpose of design. Real creativity in design causes a communication to be noticed and understood. You will find the client, objectives and research more inspirational than another designer’s work, no matter how talented.

b) The creative mindset is controlled by passion and commitment. And has alarms that warn you when moving off track ie: when the client influences the message in ways that contradict the objectives (what the audience needs to know).

c) There is nothing more frightful to a designer, writer, artist or philosopher, than a blank space. His or her job is to fill it with meaning, influence and innovation. The instant a mark, an image or word appears, the process of creativity begins. To create an original and apt idea is to start at zero, with a completely open mind and no preconceptions.

‘In creating, the only hard
thing’s to begin; a grass
blade’s no easier to make
than an oak.’– James Russell Lowell,
American poet, critic,editor, diplomat

d) Designers who produce truly innovative work are masters at controlling the creative process. They work with clients to ensure their visions coincide. It’s useful to address concerns and audience needs directly to disarm objections and enable creative freedom. Provided your workplace is a creative haven, you can take risks without fear of failure, criticism and judgement.

e) However, there’s nothing worse than a project with no rules. As creative professionals, we spend many hours removing constraints, rules and requirements. We want more room to be creative. But a problem with no limits is not a problem at all, there’s nothing to solve.

f) When you hit the point when you are not connecting with the project, drop it. Take a break, do something unrelated and the creative block should subside. Try going to the museum, airport, gallery, park etc. The further from the design problem your source of ideas, the more original the concepts.

‘I find that part of the
information I have was
acquired by looking up
something and finding
something else along
the way.’ – Franklin Adams,
writer (sounds like John Lennon)

g) Always carry a sketchbook, replacing with a time planner or calendar suggests you schedule your creative time. Even worse, it suggests you don’t have time to waste being creative; and that’s a sin.

h) Doodling and sketching are supposed to be rough, raw and leave room for interpretation. Accidents are the source of originality. Collect materials, cut and paste, photocopy and sketch through collage.

i) Adjust your work schedule to your creative style, set the scene ie: night owl. When you are inspired, continue, as it is easier to keep your brain on after it’s clicked into gear, than to crank it up from scratch.

j) Change your state of mind before you approach the problem ie: to the imagination of a child. Try coming from the opposite side, Try using numbers instead of words or making it read back to front. Combine a word and a picture at random or two unrelated concepts generated from brainstorming.

k) Experiment attaching human qualities to inanimate objects ie: applying emotions (happy rolodex), physical characteristics (walls have ears) and actions (running with an idea). Try using metaphors, puns, double entendres or phonetics. A metaphor is a figure of speech describing an abstract concept in concrete terms or something complicated in simple terms ie: they are queued up like soldiers waiting to charge into battle. There are 1000s for each subject.

l) Embrace words as much as images. Create a list of words or phrases boiling the problem down to the essence of what needs to be communicated. How the message is conveyed and interpreted through typography determines the success or failure of the design. The words in a creative communications solution are perfectly married to the image. Words drive content and images drive perception. If the image doesn’t reinforce the message or move the communication along, it’s not worth the paper it’s printed on.

‘The definition of a ‘good’
designer is someone who
knows what to keep and
what to throw away. This
applies to every aspect
of a project – from input,
ideas and choice of media
to what gets presented.’
– Rick Eiber, Rick Eiber Design

m) Don’t allow the computer alone to drive the design. Use innovative approaches to visual brainstorming to ensure your ideas are creative and communicative – not merely trendy or decorative to achieve true integration of the word and image. When something appears polished, a client assumes it is finished. The computer is a tool, it is not a designer, a photographer or an illustrator.

n) Ignore the unfair voices of judgement, who dictate ‘acceptable design approach.’ They make you fearful to pursue ‘off the wall’ creativity. You don’t have to follow trends, you can set the latest design standard.

o) Find out the design criteria at the beginning of a project, which dictates how the concept is played out on a production level. Budget and schedule dictate scale and scope. Mailing and delivery dictate format and size.

p) Break the presentation process into 2 stages: design concept and refinement. The former involves showing rough drawings of ideas with no colour or quality to help the client choose a concept without distraction. The latter provides opportunity to translate the agreed-upon ideas into variations of a finished layout.

q) Find the balance between and form and function. Style and technique are tools but they’re not the substance that sets a communication apart or demands an audience react. Creativity is a product of passion but if you treat the process as a task and the product of design as a commodity, then you are just creating junk mail.

r) Deconstructing type, distorting and discolouring, unfocused images that seem accidental are now being deliberately used to communicate an attitude or style. It’s valid to use these techniques but they must be derived from objective and co-exist with meaning, understanding and readability.

s) When approaching a design problem, try and use extremes and contrast ie: something pleasant next to something repulsive to exaggerate each. Jump between attention to detail and the whole picture.

‘You don’t have control
over your subconscious
creative mind. You are
just a receiver, an antenna.
You take in your world and
transmit it again. You are
not the creator, you are the
transmitter,’ – John Coy, Coy LA

t) Research, borrow, innovate. A New idea is often two old ideas meeting for the first time. Use retro, reinvention, revival – be a magpie. Break the rules. Learn endlessly.

u) Be dynamic and persuasive, it is your role as a creative problem solver to help the client make smart decisions affecting creativity. Always bring the decision-making process back to the agreed objectives and design criteria ie: does the communication solicit a response?

v) Try focussing on ‘emotional territory’ rather than facts ie: ice cream is about comfort or sex whereas athletic equipment indicates victory. Give the client a ‘cultural mission’ ie: iIea used to sell cheap, sturdy furniture, St.Luke’s gave them permission to wage war against chintzy old-fashioned décor and Boots 17 encourages girls not to take any s*** from boys.

w) If the ad industry keeps recycling old ideas, just how long do you think it can survive? It’s got to evolve or die. So look for things away from the ad world. Even better, look for things away from your own world. What can be worse than an ad that aspires to be an ad? You owe it to the public to present them with ideas that are new, different, challenging, interesting, entertaining.

x) Art and design is subjective. What is considered to be a great portfolio by one creative director, may only be thought of as mediocre by another. After thumbing through your work, he or she must be left thinking you are an amazingly innovative, lateral thinking, intelligent, breathtakingly original individual. It should be an extension of your personal experiences.

y) If someone’s spending considerable time trying to get it, then somewhere along the line it isn’t working. Try something else instead.

z) Look at anybody who has achieved notoriety and fame in either music, art, design, architecture or photography – they’ve all created something unique to put their names to. Why not aim your sights high?  Explore, experiment and enjoy!

Source: Notes from ‘Creativity for Graphic Designers’ by Mark Oldach


Sep 20 2010

Is Art Always Therapeutic?

There is more to art than paint on paper. Art therapy is the use of art and other visual media in a therapeutic or treatment setting. Activity ranges from the child scribbling to express him or herself to the mentally handicapped man working with clay to a painting by a deeply depressed woman. Can this be called art, and if so, how and why is it therapeutic? Art is an indigenous feature of every society and symbolises both personal and cultural aspects of development. It reflects and predicts trends and encourages creative expression and ideas. However, when used in a therapeutic setting, art is not recognised in the same way because it has a distinct purpose.

Spontaneous painting can be satisfying, frustrating and relaxing. It is a solitary and contemplative activity, in which aesthetic considerations are of prime importance. The final product is an end in itself and is exhibited as a work of art; the process of creating is secondary. Whereas art activity undertaken with clear treatment aims has a different objective. The person and process become most important, as art is used as a means of non-verbal communication, expressing both the conscious and unconscious. As the individual becomes absorbed in the activity, there may be a strong cathartic reaction because defences are eroded allowing powerful emotions to surface.

Therefore, Art is a valuable agent for therapeutic change. Effective procedures are those that result in fundamental or permanent change in human disorder, personality or living. According to Ulman (1961), therapy is distinguished from activities designed to offer only distraction from inner conflicts; activities whose benefits are therefore at best momentarily.” Hence, the essence of art therapy lies in the therapeutic outcome of the activity of creating. Margaret Naumberg (1958) described art as a means to bring mixed, poorly understood feelings into clarity and order. The process of art therapy is based on the recognition that man’s most fundamental thoughts and feelings, derived from the unconscious, reach expression in images rather than words.”

However, it would be foolish to think art is synonymous with therapy, in the sense that all art activity is necessarily healing. This would imply an automatic fusion between art and therapy, in that the latter is a natural consequence of the former. The drawing process is not the sole therapeutic agent; like dreams, pictures have little meaning in isolation. Art therapists are not there merely to encourage people to draw and paint.

Discussion afterwards can result in a person gaining insight both intellectually and emotionally by connecting the meaning of the picture to his or her own life situation. Many aspects of oneself, possibly previously hidden, may become apparent. As a therapeutic tool, the art form, unique to the individual, provides the focus for exploration, analysis and self-evaluation and acts as a tangible record, which cannot be denied, erased or forgotten.

Reference: Art As Therapy – An Introduction to the use of art as a therapeutic technique by Tessa Dalley (1984)