Stop for a moment and think about your life in the long term. Think about what you want to be able to look back on. Will you gain satisfaction from the journey you have taken in your life? Will you take pleasure in seeing how far you have developed as a person and as a result will you take pleasure in what you have been able to give to those who are dearest to you? To your community? Will you take pleasure in all those dishes washed, clothes ironed, floors swept and toilets cleaned? Surely not.
I am often asked two key questions. The first is how I manage to make connections between ideas and twist them into something new and how I manage to do so much. Although these two questions don’t look at first glance to be related they are. Much of it has to so with a mind set and how I prioritise various activities in my life. You may want to settle back with a cuppa as I describe what has worked for me and it might work for you – or parts of it might.
I have been having interesting side discussion (via email ) between myself and Elizabeth of Quieter Moments on the nature of creativity. It was provoked by a comment I made in the Develop a Personal Library of Stitches forum. To set it in context many of the students are busy. Both Thanksgiving, the start of the holiday season and Christmas preparations is biting into their time. This means that some feel pressured complete a piece. Yet for some when under pressure stitching by rote kicks in and inventiveness slides away. I made the observation that creativity is a strange beast as unlike many parts of our lives it is not to be simply switched on and off. That said however, I think that it certainly can be nurtured.
I am fortunate enough to have had a visual arts training and next year I have reduced the number of hours I am teaching to one day a week and will be working from home. I know many people do not have this luxury and for years I had teaching commitments so I was out the door by 8 and home at 6. I know what it is like to work, run a house, study and try and fit in some sort of creative practice. Much of my attitude has been developed as a result of this experience.
I am not one for sitting around and waiting for the muse to appear but for me it is true that unless you can carve out some mental space creative practice suffers. Being able to draw on your creative skills is like any other skill as it is a skill that has to be used constantly otherwise you lose it or worse never really develop it.
One of the lessons I learnt early on is that if you want what you do or make to be seen as something more than a hobby it is worth first considering how serious you take what you do. How can other people take what you produce seriously if you do not? Where in your life on your list of priorities does your creative activities rank? Is it squeezed in between family life and work obligations? If this is the case is it possible to claim some time? Can you find an hour a day, or an afternoon on the weekend? I learnt to prioritise finding a regular, constant block of time in which to work. Developing a consistent habit of studio based work is not to be undervalued. For anyone interested in exploring their own creative development and cranking up the quality of what they make I suggest you find a way to do this. Talk to your family and see if something can be negotiated so there is a little time and space for you.
I have a space in which I work. If you want to shift what you do from a recreational activity to a creative practice claim time and space in your life to do it. I have a room in which I step into and close the door. I call it a workroom as that is what goes on in there. Creative activity is playful but it is also work. Play in our culture is not taken seriously it is something that can be interrupted, something that can be set to one side and something that is never prioritised. Work is prioritised. Constantly referring to creative activity as play undermines what actually goes on and what is achieved. If you want other people to take your creative achievements seriously you must take the process seriously, and allocate an area in which to work.
This last 6 months I have not been in the paid workforce. Up until this week the computer I used was in the living area and my daily routine is to step into my workroom at nine every morning. That’s right I get up take a shower dress and go to work. I do this everyday. I don’t bend that rule unless it is an exceptional circumstance or something that in the workforce it would be legitimate to take time off work for. For instance this week I went to the optometrist. I was working before the appointment and afterwards taking time off only for the appointment. I have friends that would have lost a whole day because it was broken by an appointment. They don’t frame what they do as work , so what time they do have available is cut into. Obviously a habit of self discipline is needed. Once discipline is cultivated it becomes very easy even routine.
I have a saying that if you never shift out of neutral you creative life will remain in neutral. Stimulation and engagment is necessary. Obviously the net and the online community constantly stimulate my ideas. This daily visual sustenance constantly feeds me. Challenges such as Take a Stitch Tuesday also stimulate creative activity. But I don’t rely on just the net. I also read books, visit exhibitions, take photographs and draw. I ask questions, do a little research into an idea and engage. All these activities constantly stimulate me and in the process new ideas are generated and this literally make me shift gears..
I have also developed a habit to catch ideas as they come. These are noted in either a Visual Journal or I take note of them digitally. As I have said before Visual journals are hold all’s for ideas. A visual journal is not necessarily a place where you plan a project out to the last detail and then set about working the piece. Instead a visual journal is a place to toss all your ideas into – stir them up and see what happens. Just because something is noted down does not mean it is on your ‘To Do list’ it is simply an idea that may be worked up at another time. The idea may or may not be worked but unlike ideas noted on scraps of paper (the back of an envelope) because it is in a journal the idea will not be lost. Visual journals contain ideas that percolate away in the back of your mind. When you have time you can draw on these ideas and work them up into something.
If you have a very busy life it is even more important to keep a visual journal as a visual journal is ideal to catch ideas when they are fast and flowing and you don’t have time to work them up. If there is no time to work through an idea – but you have taken a quick note of what you are thinking at a later point it is possible to return to the idea, reshape it and develop it. I have returned to ideas that were noted years previously. If they had not been noted I would have lost the idea but because it was recorded in my visual journal it was there just waiting to be explored when I had the time.
For this reason there is a sense of control for those who use a visual journal. For instance if via a workshop, a class, a exhibition, a conversation, or something seen on the net the sparks of an idea are shooting off the end of a sparkler it feels stimulating but a bit heady. So many ideas at once that it is hard to focus on any single point. This is the time to quickly pull out a visual journal and note them down. In noting them down you will focus on the ideas and in focusing on some of those sparks you will feel in control of your own creative process. p>
In the act of maintaining a visual journal you will think about projects either consciously and subconsciously.(I have spoken about my visual journals before and if you want to take a peak inside them I don’t mind)
The next step is to take some of those ideas when you have a block of time and set to work to develop viable options to express that idea. At this stage explore more than one option. Sample a few ideas as usually at this stage a process of re-stimulation kicks in. You may call it inventiveness, inspiration, creativity what ever, but really it is focussing on what you are making and actively working an idea. In the working of the idea – the push and pull that goes on more ideas will develop. Put simply creative work generates more ideas. Note them down! The more creative work goes on the more there will be to do. The process feeds on itself and given the right environment such as a space and consistent discipline will generate a body of work.
For me the key elements that aid creative practice are:
1 How the process is prioritised,
2 Allocating regular time,
3 Making a space for you,
4 The habit of regular work
5 Catching your good ideas when they come by using a visula journal.
There are many other methods of working these are the ones that work for me. What do you do? Can you come up with 5 things that work for you? What are your tips? Share them and leave a comment – I am sure everyone would like to hear different viewpoints on this.