"Nothing comes from nothing"
Parmenides, Pre-Socratic Greek philosopher
In contradiction to stories of creators throughout history, many people believe that creativity is a 'special' skill that flourishes only in a lucky few. This page unpacks the story of my creative process, of time spent and time 'lost', of deep certainties becoming 'wrong' turns and of the effort that I believe is the true skill of creativity; staying open and resilient long enough for chance to come and play.
SIX STAGES OF DISCOVERY
TRICKY BEGINNINGS : Bumbling about in the not-knowing
BEING BLOCKED : The importance of stopping
HUNCH TO BREAKTHROUGH : A different kind of knowing
IN FLOW : A different way of being
IDEA GENERATION TO SELECTION : A 360 in thinking
REPEAT LOOPS (of stages 2 to 5) : Strengthening deep creativity
1.TRICKY BEGINNINGS: Bumbling about in the not-knowing
What happened… I had not produced artwork for many years. Then created 31 iterations in 3 days
Documenting the iterations and how ‘mistakes’ often become part of the solution
What I felt… Excitement, hope, self-doubt, impatience, anxiety, fear, obsession and exhaustion (by the end)
What creative thinking styles did I try to stay with… Open, questioning, imaginative, experimental, playful, ….and limit… narrow, linear, analytical, critical
What creative feeling and being strategies did I use… Being alert to my inner judge, remembering confusion is required, trusting my intuition/gut/instincts for the next idea
What known creative action/design strategies did I use… Combining two inspirations to create something unique, seeing opportunity in ‘mistakes’ and creating many, many iterations
2.BEING BLOCKED: THE IMPORTANCE OF STOPPING
What happened… After 3 days work I realized nothing I had designed worked as a meditation mandala. I did nothing for 11 days
What I felt… Failure, disappointment, self-doubt, frustration, fearful, overwhelmed, stuck, useless, sad
What creative thinking styles dominated… Judgement (harsh and un-useful) so I tried to stop thinking and just do and be
What creative feeling and being strategies did I use… Stopping. Comforting my inner judge, accepting confusion and not-knowing and trusting it won’t last. Visualizing other times when I’d been stuck and pushed through a creative block
What creative action strategies did I use… Suspending thinking through action by walking away from the work and getting physical/ out of my head by doing anything that involves movement: Getting into nature, doing meditation & yoga, taking a bus or train, being in the shower (water moves). Shifting perspective literally by walking up a hill or to the edge of water. Doing a different creative project (photography of the city & nature).
3.HUNCH TO BREAKTHROUGH: A different kind of knowing
What happened… My perspective had shifted, I had a hunch that the same process would work with a simpler image - a circle
The accidental discovery of hidden symmetries of the moire effect
What I felt… Self-belief, trust, focused
What creative thinking styles dominated… Open, questioning, imaginative, experimental, playful and synthesis (where ideas come together)
Creative feeling and being strategies did I use… For both the hunch and the breakthrough, thinking and feeling combine into creative being. Here there is a different kind of knowing or sensing, often called insight, gut instinct or intuition
My insight…That the branches were too complex an image but the process of overlapping, mirroring and repeating images was right and that ‘something would happen’ if I used a circle. That ‘something’ was the ‘hidden symmetries’ that create a moire pattern, a surprising pattern that comes from overlapping lines
4.IN FLOW: A DIFFERENT WAY OF BEING
What happened… Integration of thinking, feeling into being continued. A long period of intense work generated many possibilities
Iterations become more complex, combining the best parts of previous iterations is key
What I felt… Happy, easy, self-belief, obsessive, trust
What creative thinking, feeling strategies happened… Integration of thinking and feeling occurred over a longer period and became a state of being. This state relates directly to Csikszentmihaly’s concept of ‘Flow’ (1996), described as a profound feeling of satisfaction and optimal performance where enjoyment of the process trumps the need to know the outcome
What creative action/design strategies did I use… Rapid iteration, combing the best parts of previous ideas
5.IDEA GENERATION TO SELECTION : A 360 in thinking
What happened… I had become stuck in idea generation (divergent thinking). I needed to stop, reflect & select the best ideas (convergent thinking). Shifting between opposite thinking styles is hard. I resisted, I struggled, I shifted. The shift brought new insights
What I felt (before the shift)… Lost, overwhelmed (by all the possibilities I had created) self-doubt. Anxiety (stopping felt wrong)
What thinking styles dominated (after the shift)… Convergent thinking styles of analysis and critical thinking. This is a more linear style of thinking
What creative feeling and being strategies did I use… Trust, gut instinct (feeling is also key to making a selection)
What creative action strategies did I use… Moving all the best works together allows the weaker ones to stand out
The insights… The motifs with a clear focal point worked best but I needed to find a new way to use color. Maybe color could help define the focal point?
6.REPEAT LOOPS (of stages2 to 5) : Strengthening deep creativity
What happened… 11 months of looping through the middle 4 stages, creating 100’s of iterations and resolving final works
One of my main purposes for doing this project was to get clearer about how I was creative. What actual strategies increased my ability to be, truly more open and flexible, in my whole way of being. The answer, in hindsight, was not a surprise. Mindfulness. This helped me hear when my critical judge was disabling my gut instinct and my trust in my abilities. This always happened as my flow was ebbing (usually because I was tired). Tuning into my mind and body helped me notice this and stop, rest and meditate to quieten my critical voice. With rest, meditation and nature my supportive voice would return. This happened over and over again.
8 flow stages all came to points where I felt blocked. I started learning to stop earlier and not stay in the struggle so long. I learned to take proper time off and truly walk away from the project in order to shift my thinking.
This made each of the 9 rounds of reflection and selection far easier and it was always the process of selection that propelled the breakthrough, each time created a clearer and clearer picture of what was working and not.
Clarifying that all the designs needed color at the focal point, to be asymmetrical and still have a feel of simplicity. Each final selection used a gut feeling. A deep sense of rightness that I believe came from a synthesis of mind and body.
Documenting the resolution of 7 final works