Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Flex Your Creative Muscles...

...every day!  It doesn't have to be anything spectacular.  These pretty things are cupcakes.  They look okay... they have white icing, with chocolate shapes (very Hallowe'en, all stars and moons), and it looks like they have a chocolate sponge base, which you can just see under bits of the icing. They have a secret ingredient, however.  Instead of making my normal chocolate cup cakes, I added a little ginger to the mix.  So...spicy chocolate cake.  I like chocolate ginger sweets, so I figure I'll like chocolate ginger cake. 

It's like anything, really.  You can stick to the recipe (or the pattern, or the rules...), or you can ask yourself, what if I just add...   and try it.  That's creativity!

ps for the bakers among us, these cakes are made using a basic Victoria sandwich mix, with the addition of a half teaspoonful of ginger (from a Bart jar, if you're in the UK, though any kind of preserved ginger, including ground, would be fine in its place).  Oh, and a lot of cocoa powder.  I'm from the school of baking that assumes that There Is No Such Thing As Too Much Chocolate...so I just tip the packet into the mix until it looks as if I've added nearly too much.  You have to practice that to get it right... dirty work, but someone has to do it, not to mention try the cake...

Monday, 22 October 2012

Making Room For Inspiration

'What is this life, if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare'

I'm sure you're familiar with this quote; I know I am.  It was a feature of my childhood; my grandmother quoted it regularly.  However, until today, I had never seen it written down.  I thought the 'full of care' in the first line related to 'life', that our lives are full of care, and as a result, we're always busy, and don't take the time to look at things.  Now, though, I interpret it differently; that lovely comma after the if suggests that it is we, ourselves, who are full of care.  What's the difference?  I hear you holler.  Well... rather a lot, I think, when it comes down to it. 

Our lives are possibly full of 'care', demands on our time, on our energy, on our intellect.  If, however, we fill our selves, our heads and hearts, with cares, thinking about them endlessly, worrying about them, rehearsing different scenarios for resolving them, or just feeling sorry for ourselves, then in truth, it doesn't matter whether we stand and stare, or not: if we do, we won't actually see anything. 

To be creative, we need to be in the moment.  To be in the moment means actually paying attention to what is going on right now, the sounds, scents, sights that surround us.  Making ourselves focus on what is in front of us...and nothing else.  As I write, I can see out of the window to the garden.  I've just spent a few minutes looking out at the trees, especially the oak at the end of the garden.  It is a magnificent tree, and its leaves are just beginning to turn into their autumn colours.  Being in the moment is about watching the faint breeze stir the leaves, admiring the sky as it peeps through the foliage... it does not, however embrace thinking that I really must go and rake up the falling leaves, and the bit of branch that got blown off in the last storm...   Make room in your head for creativity.  It's a practice, just like turning up and making the work is a practice.  When you find you're thinking unrelated thoughts, kick them out of your head, and allow yourself to see what is really there...instead of worrying about it.

Perhaps the best way of being in the moment, for me, is to draw something.  Then, there is only room for me to look at a leaf, explore it with my senses, and put that information down on paper.  It doesn't really matter what the end result looks like; the important thing is really the looking, and the seeing, and the engagement with the leaf.  Try it.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Quote Of The Week

"Perfection is the best you can do on the day". 

This was quoted to me once by a yoga  teacher, and I've been fond of it ever since.  People seem to split into two camps; they either embrace it wholeheartedly, or reject it completely.  There doesn't seem to be any middle ground with this one!

The logic is simple.  If you are doing your absolute best, then perfection is, indeed, the best you can do on the day.  You can't make it any better.  If you really must aim for perfection, then perhaps this quote will help you to be a little kinder to yourself, to relax the rules you are living by;  I suspect that they hurt you, on a regular basis. 

Monday, 15 October 2012

Nothing Succeeds As Planned

It's true.  Or, as John Lennon put it, 'Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans'.  And if it's true of life, how much more true must it be for making art?  We get an idea into our heads, for a piece of work... and we make it... and it doesn't match the picture in our head.  So, we jump on our creative selves.  You failed, we tell her.  It's Not Right.  It's Not Perfect.  It's Not What I Wanted. 

Funny how we rarely, if ever, contemplate the idea that it might be better than the original idea...  Perfectionism is not a virtue; it's a vice.  It squeezes the life out of creativity, and blinds us to the good points of what we actually make...if it allows us to make anything at all. 

I knew what I wanted to achieve when I took this image...but it didn't actually work out that way.  What do you think...is it a successful image?  Does it have balance, visual interest, good colour?  What do you think is wrong with it?  I was disappointed with it...should I have been, do you think? 

Now, fish out something that you have judged in your head as 'not good enough'; look at it again.  Ask yourself the questions I ask above... how does it rate?  If we can get past the subjective nature of perfectionism, we can see our work more clearly, and understand it better.  Try it out. 

Monday, 8 October 2012

Finding Your Star.

"I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by"
                                                                         John Masefield

When John Masefield (1878-1967) wrote those words, he knew what he was about.  He is describing the behaviour of someone who has found their true vocation.  He is describing a sailor, but he could just as well have been talking about artists.  Being an artist can be lonely, too.  And because it is such a solitary occupation, mostly, it's easy to get lost.  So many ideas, so many media; how do you find a star to steer by?

I believe that we have to create our own star to steer by, by thinking about what it is we want to achieve as artists.  Businesses have 'mission statements', that are intended to help them to focus on what's most important in a maelstrom of choices.  I think artists need something similar.  To help us to make decisions about what it is we want to do, we have to be clear about what it is we are passionate about, and what it is we want to say to the world when we make art.

As an artist, I want to challenge people, to make them think, to show them my inner worlds, and invite them to wonder about them, to find things in the art that relate to their lives, perhaps allowing them to look at things in a different light.  I want them to look closely at things that they might not have noticed before, and find joy in that.  Over the years, my art has reflected that desire, even though I haven't always articulated it in that way before.  That is my star; everything I make has to fit within that framework, or it is not really what I want to do...no matter how tempting it might be. 

What is your star, your mission statement?  What do you want your art to do or to say?  If you're not sure, try looking back on what you've made, and what you are proudest of.  What similarities do these things have?  Is it materials, meaning, style, metaphor...what?  What are you trying to say? It may take some time to work that out, and you may need to talk to others about it, too.  I find that I know what I believe, when I hear what I say.  So talk to others who are supportive of you, and see what they think.  Try to explain what it is that drives you, motivates you to make art.  If you can define that star, it will guide you in choosing what to make in the maelstrom of choices that face you, too.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Creativity Prompt and Challenge : Combining Words

Language is wonderful.  It develops, grows and changes with the culture it sprang from.  Each word has its own meaning, sometimes more than one.  For example, Red Square in Moscow is widely known, but did you know that the word red in Russian (krasni) used to mean 'beautiful'; hence, Red Square is really 'Beautiful Square', as well as Red Square. 

Words are even more interesting when you combine them.  This particular creativity prompt is an exercise, involving three words...  Blue, Dream, Canary.  The challenge is to take those three words, and make a piece that includes a reference to each of those three words.  You can make the reference as direct or as indirect as you wish... but you have only one hour to make the piece (so keep it small!). 

If you complete the challenge, please email me a picture, and we'll create a gallery for your work! 

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Inspiration Journalling

  I've already talked about how important it is to journal; I'm now going to suggest that you keep an Inspiration Journal.  Keep this one in your studio, somewhere where it's EASY TO FIND!  This journal is intended as the one thing you pick up when you need anything from a gentle nudge, to a kick up the backside (to quote one of my creative friends...).  It will become your own personal creativity coach.  It will remind you of all the things you thought you really 'ought' to do one day.  It will have inspirational quotes, thoughts and statements, some of which you will find for yourself, some of which you will ask for, from your friends and fellow artists.  It will support you through good times, bad times and all the bits in between. 

Your inspiration journal needs to be large enough and strong enough for you to be able to write, draw and  paint in.  It needs to be able to cope with collage.  You should put pockets in the front and back, so that you can keep odd bits of  paper or clipped out articles in safety.  You could consider giving it its own box to live in, so that you can keep a number of pens and pencils beside it, for easy grabbing!  It could be an altered book, if you like.  If you're not overly concerned about aesthetics, you could use a spiral bound folder, with plastic see through envelopes to hold your journalling...actually, I like that idea.  I'm in bed with flu at the moment, but as soon as I'm well enough to get into the studio, I'm going to make one just like that.  If you'd like to make one with me, make sure you have a folder, glue, see through envelopes, and card or other material for making the pockets.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Too Much Of A Good Thing?

Hands up all of you who have lots and lots and lots of materials?


Now, hands up all of you who know what they're going to make with most of those materials?


Is it me, or are there not many people who know what they're going to make with their materials mountain?  No...didn't think so.  Quilters call it building a stash.  Problem is, they often keep adding to that stash without actually doing anything with the fabric.  Then, they call it 'collecting', to justify what they're doing.  They admire their fabric, stroke it, pat it, think about combining it with other fabrics... do anything except actually make anythng.  Painters collect paint...or materials...or both.  Ditto with mixed media artists.  

I think that this kind of thing is counter productive.   A materials mountain may be a thing of beauty...but it stops you working.  It is often confusing; when you have matched the same piece of cloth in permutations with six different fabrics, in six different ways, how do you decide what to do with it?  And it means you need lots of space to store it all in (another excuse for not getting the work done ; I haven't got enough space...).

I think that productive creative people buy materials for projects; stash builders collect materials to fuel their fantasy of being a productive creative person.  Which are you?  Which would you rather be?  And finally, what are you going to do about it?

Monday, 24 September 2012

Quote of the Week.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
This is one of my favourite ever quotations, and it's the basis for a lot of what I do and teach. I think we confuse ourselves between what we can and can't change.  We  have a lot more power over our circumstances than we like to believe.  It's more comfortable to dismiss an issue as something that we have no power over, instead of recognising that we do have a choice as to whether we take responsibility for it, or not.  There are always choices.  It's just that some of them are so small as to feel unimportant, and many of them involve the lives, freedoms and choices of other people.  It can feel impossible.  But it isn't.  
What many of us forget, is that in order to give to others, you have to give to yourself, first.  For most people reading this, that giving to ourselves will take the form of creative work.  It is a wonderful way of giving yourself joy and meaning.  I believe that it is essential that we make space in our lives for creativity, however we perceive that to be.  This blog is about making that space.  I hope you will find it useful.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Creativity Prompt : Do It Different! Do it Now!

We all get stuck in routines.  Some of them are useful, some of them less so.  If you want to give your creativity a bit of a nudge, try doing something different, every day (or whenever you remember, or once a week).  Get off the bus at an earlier stop than usual, and walk a little further than usual, looking around you as you do...you will see the familiar from a different perspective.  If you go for the same walk every day, try doing it backwards (no, not walking backwards...though if you fancy it...).  Or take a completely different route.  Or do it at a different time.  And remember your camera, or sketchbook, or whatever it is you use to record ideas. 

What do you mean, you don't have a sketchbook?  Or a camera?  You're going to get one or the other (or both) now, aren't you???  Get out there!  Do it different!  Do it now!

ps don't over think this...just pick something to do differently, and do it.  Have brunch instead of breakfast and lunch; have coffee at a different place than usual.... break up that routine!

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Talking To Ourselves

It's a standing joke : we talk to ourselves because it's the only way we get sensible answers!  I'm a great fan of talking to myself, it's a great way of developing work.  I ask myself lots of questions, when I'm working, and answer them while doing the work.  Sometimes, it's a conscious answer, sometimes, unconscious, it just appears when I'm working, and I'm not sure where it came from, that particular brush stroke that made all the difference, for example. 

But we also talk to ourselves to justify not working creatively.  And we then tell others why it is we 'can't' do whatever it is we're telling them we'd 'love' to have time to do.    I've got a list of the most common of those;

  1. I don't have any/enough ideas 
  2. I have too many ideas
  3. I don't have any/enough materials
  4. I have too much in the way of materials
  5. I don't know how to make it look right; I don't have enough technique or skill
  6. I've got lots of skill, but no ideas.
  7. I don't have enough space/any space/the 'right' space
  8. I don't have enough time/any time/ the right amount of time
  9. I don't have any support. 
 There are lots of combinations of these, of course... the permutations are endless!  Have a think to yourself; which of these 'issues' are your favourite excuses for not getting on with the work?  Are there other issues that get in the way?  What are they?  Try making your own, prioritised list, with you favourite excuse at the top, and the rest in order, underneath.  If you really, really want to find creative focus, these are the things you're going to have to tackle.  Scary?  Oh yes.  Particularly if you're honest with yourself, and diagnose thoroughly.  But you have to know your enemy, to be able to defeat him/her.   And now is as good a time as any; if not now, then when?

If you have some additions to the list, please do leave us a note, here, so we can add it to our thought process.  Diagnosing the problem is important, and we need all the help we can get!

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Finding Creative Focus...

is something many people say they want to do.  'If only I had enough time, enough resources, enough ideas...then I would be fine', they say.  'Nothing could stop me creating'.  Or there is another type of issue around creativity... the permanent block.  We all know someone who has it.  'Me?', they cry, 'I don't have a creative bone in my body'.  'I can't draw'. Of course, none of this is actually true.  It's what we tell ourselves, to give ourselves permission to do anything other than follow our creative passions.  We focus on what we think we lack, instead of focussing on what we have, and taking steps to include the things we say we love in our lives.   

I wrote a book about finding your creative focus, partly because people kept saying to me, I  don't know how you get so much done... I would love to be you.  As if I had some sort of secret that made me do more than the average person.  Well... I'd like to let you into a little secret; the secret is, there is no secret.  But there are a lot of ideas, ways of thinking, tools, techniques and approaches that you can learn, and use, to make the most of your time, your resources and your ideas, to make sure that you do spend at least some of your time developing your creativity.  Mainly, I was writing for artists, but then found that singers, writers, playwrights, poets and all sorts of other creative people were telling me that this was a useful book.  And when I thought about it, it made sense.  Creative work is creative work; it doesn't matter what you are doing or making, the process is the same.  Yes, even if you're a nuclear physicist, I suspect, though I've never met one to ask!

This blog is intended as a support to the book. though it's not necessary to have read it to benefit from what's here.  It will dip in there, now and again, as I talk about my approach to this subject.  The blog will offer you prompts for creativity, little exercises to get you started on the work, suggested reading and links to challenge and inform you.  It's intended as something of a drop in centre.  I doubt if I'll post every day, but I will post often.  If you're interested in a particular type of post, then check the labels I use (they are listed at the end of each post); you'll be able to search on them to find similar posts.  All the prompts, for instance, will be tagged as such; searching will bring the most relevant up for you en masse.  If there's something you would like me to talk about, feel free to leave me a note on one of the posts; if I can, I'll reply (not everyone has their preferences set to allow this, however). 

Welcome...I hope you'll stop by now and again, and share things that are helpful to you, as well as learning things that will help you to be more creative in what you do.