What’s your creative process?

Knowing your creative process is really about knowing yourself. Taking the time to engage in self-reflection is a powerful way to cultivate your creativity—and to live a fulfilling, meaningful life.

From Make A Mess: Everyday Creativity

The article includes a list of questions to help you explore your creative process:

  • What is your ideal working environment? Home, library, cafe?
    Because of my pain, I have to write on my laptop which limits me to home.  That said, I did get a keyboard with my new tablet and whilst I don’t think I’ll be able to type for long it might open up public spaces.  I used to write everywhere and anywhere, back when I could write by hand.  When it comes to art and craft, because of the materials involved, at home is generally best although I have started doing a little bit of art in public.  This week for example, I did some work in my art journal using watercolour pens and a water pen whilst I was having coffee.

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  • What do you see, smell and feel in this ideal environment? Firstly, my sense of smell is awful so it’s not a sense I really notice much… There would be little details of beauty, flowers or the way the light shines on the trees.  I like the outside but I am always cold so somewhere inside with a good view would be best.  I would feel safe, safe enough to actually create and write.  There would need to be a very precise number of people – too many and I’m overwhelmed, too few and I feel like I’m under a microscope.
  • Do you need to be surrounded by inspiration? Or do you prefer super simple, even stark spaces to create? Probably somewhere in between.  Too messy and I find I get stressed and anxious, unless it’s a work in progress kind of mess where I know where everything is.  Too stark and I feel stiffled.  I have a table which has my art stuff and my laptop on.  There’s lots of materials and bits of paper and it looks a mess most of the time but I tend to know where everything is and because I live alone (and my cleaner and carers have strict instructions not to touch my table) it works.

  • Do you prefer to work in silence? Do you need a playlist or white noise? I need some noise.  Nothing too specific otherwise I get distracted by lyrics or the mood of the music.  The sound of a cafe would be good I think.  Although not a noisy cafe.  Loud noise makes me anxious and on edge.
  • Do you prefer to have deadlines? Do they motivate or paralyse you? I don’t know.  To be honest because I am an amateur artist and writer I’ve never really had deadlines.  The only deadlines I’ve really had is when I’m working on something I want to gift to someone and I tend to allow plenty of time for that.

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  • Do you need weeks of lead time? I do find that I will have an idea and it will mull around in the back of my mind for a while until it becomes more concrete.  That said, I also have days where an idea comes more formed and I jump right in.
  • Do you prefer to work slowly or quickly? Maybe it depends. If it does, what does it depend onI have to work slowly because I have chronic hand pain.  A lot of my art is made up of layers.  I can do a bit, then rest, then a bit more. This is a technique I have developed to overcome my desire to keep working and then ending up not able to do anything for days…
  • What tends to distract you, to take you away from your work? Pain, low energy levels and depression are the main reasons I stop creating.  Lack of inspiration is another.  I also find I am more likely to procrastinate with writing than with art.
  • What’s your favourite part of the creative process? Getting ideas and feeling in flow.  I also love using recycled materials, rubbish, in my art.  I find delight in making books from amazon packaging or using empty sellotape rolls to print with.

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  • What challenges do you run into? Time, pain, energy, lacking inspiration…
  • What are some solutions for these challenges? For inspiration I find its creating regularly.  Creating creates creativity.  So good habits are important.  When it comes to my art journal, I tend to do a page most days but I’m careful not to insist on everyday otherwise if I miss a day I feel bad and the more days I miss the harder it is to go back.  I’m still working on solutions when it comes to writing but I schedule time into my diary and try not to procrastinate my way out of it.  I also only write for 10-20 minutes at a time.  Partly because of pain but also because otherwise I find I write a lot and then stop when I get stuck.  This means when I come back to write more, I am still stuck and it’s so much harder to then get started.  I’ve also had a few projects on the go and from the start decided they would be long term.  This means I always have something to dip into.
  • What are your least favourite ways to work? Hmm… I don’t know!  Maybe under strict instructions?  I don’t like being told what to do.  I’ve been doing an online course this year and some of the videos are giving inspiration and techniques but others have been very prescriptive, down to which supplies you use and colours.  I don’t want to make something that’s already been made…
  • When are you most energised and inspired? I don’t really know.. I guess when my pain levels are managed and my fatigue isn’t too bad…

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  • When are you in the zone? What does being in the zone feel like? What kinds of conditions help you enter your zone? Again, I don’t really know.  I think a lot depends on pain and energy levels but being surrounded by inspiring and interesting objects as well as doing things like the online wanderlust course help.  As I’ve said before, creating creates creativity.  The more you do, the more you get inspired.
  • Why do you create? I create to process things and express myself.  I create because it’s therapeutic.  I create because seeing something woven by your hands is a powerful feeling.  I create for the satisfaction of making.
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Trees: a year long project

So this year I have had a tree project running along in the background.  Dipping into it now and then, pondering it when I awake in the night, looking out for ideas in my day to day life.  I’ve really enjoyed it.  Having a longer term project on the go.  And I like the seasonality of it.

So far we’ve had:

Spring – a large canvas collage and mini tree book as well as research and idea storming

Summer – a deck of tree oracle cards made from photos, some taken this year, others taken previously

Autumn – this is stil in progress but the hope is it will turn into something along the lines of:

using leaves that I’ve preserved using glycerin

Winter – currently unclear but quite possibly involving sticks…

And next year I’m thinking butterflies, breaking it down into eggs, caterpillers, metamorphosis and butterflies.  Have you ever looked at butterfly eggs?  They’re suprisingly beautiful and intriguing.  I’m trying not to jump ahead and start now although I do have a pinterest board where I am collecting images.  It’s so easy to get caught up in the heady fun of new ideas and abandon existing projects…!

Personal strategies for living a good life

One of the last sections of my Future Learn course is around personal strategies for living a good life with an impairment.

“Because disability studies collects a huge range of impairments, each of which are experienced differently in everyday life and have different impairment effects, there is no end to the personal strategies people with impairments use to support a good life.”

That being said, it does suggest some examples; community, the spoon theory as a means of helping people understand and mindfulness.

I started to respond with my own personal strategies but ran out of space so I thought I’d carry on over here and invite your ideas and strategies as well.

Community

Online community is a huge way I cope with things. I blog and use twitter to “meet” other people with my condition which helps me feel understood as well as having people to offer helpful tips such as what bottle opener works best. These friends also understand the impact of society and it can be so helpful to know you aren’t alone in dealing with things such as access issues or abuse. Indeed, it helps me to realise that I am not the problem, if it’s happening to other people then it’s not about me personally. I could rationally reach that conclusion but the individualistic nature of western society can really make things feel personal.

Pacing

Pacing is one of my really important strategies. If you have chronic pain or fatigue, do look it up. It’s the idea of doing something for slightly less time then breaking then going back to it rather than doing a lot of something all at once and then paying for it.

Humour

Humour is essential. Admittedly, my humour tends to be dry, sarcastic and biting but there you go.  The first day I had care we got into a bit of a mess getting changed. It, like a lot of my life, is undignified and humour can make it easier to cope. It can still get me down of course, it just means I’m not always down about it.

Without a degree of humour, it’s hard to let someone else wash you intimately.  It can become tense and awkward if you let it.

Action for change

This is something mentioned by one of my fellow students.  Instead of coming up with personal strategies to navigate a world which isn’t designed for us, we should challenge that society.  And I think this is really important and there are lots of ways of doing it, from raising awareness by sharing your experiences to hanging off a bridge in your wheelchair.

A moan

It’s not a very fashionable thing but having a bit of a moan from time to time can help.  Don’t get stuck there but getting frustrations off your chest can be cathartic.  And can help with awareness raising!

Support groups

This should probably be included with community but there’s something more specific about a group of people who are experiencing the same things as you.  With that shared knowledge, you can problem solve, you can suggest ideas which have helped you, you become more aware of shared issues and can come up with ways to address them.

Netflix days

Sometimes, we need a down day.  And if that’s watching netflix in bed, do it.  I remember a conversation with a friend who has mental health issues where she was describing how helpful it can be to give yourself a day to indulge in things.  So long as you have a day or time in mind to force yourself back out of it.  My fear of giving in and not getting out of bed has long been that I’d just never get out again.  So this ensures that won’t happen (sort of) whilst giving you the crash time you might need.

Acceptance

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference

– Reinhold Niebuhr

I’m not religious or in AA but the sentiment expressed in the serenity prayer is one that I think is important when it comes to coping with long term illness and disability.  There are lots of frustrating things I can’t change – I can’t make myself better for example – and getting stuck in a place where I’m angry about it isn’t helpful (there’s a grieving process around coming to terms with acquired disability which is fine, but it’s not a place that’s nice to get stuck in).  It’s taken a long time but I feel I’ve mostly accepted my illness and that’s so much better for my mental health and wellbeing.  And then there are things I can (attempt to) change such as my old workplace being inaccessible.  And this is a much healthier way to use my frustrations and anger.

Creativity

Whether it’s a page in my art journal or a bit of work on a canvas, creating things helps me in many ways.  It’s a distraction from my pain, it gives me a sense of achievement, it’s a way of expressing myself and probably helps in other ways that I’m not really aware of.

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What strategies do you have?

Interview!

Check me out over on Ever The Crafter! The lovely Jessica has interviewed a number of crafters who have chronic illness. She talks to them about their pain, their craft, adaptations etc. She’s also looking for more people to interview if you’re interested.

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World Enough and Time

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““The human mind is fed and nourished by every sight and smell and sound that we encounter, from the movement of the clouds to the shrill of the birds outside our morning window.” To enjoy that nourishment, we need to “refuse and choose,” resisting the siren call of technology whenever possible and allowing ourselves time to slow down and pay attention.”

Christian McEwan

World Enough and Time by Christian McEwan is book I have been reading, appropriately slowly, for the last couple of years.  In 2013 I went on a fantastic week long adventure to a little island off Scotland where Christian and Jan helped us to slow down, guided us to write and supported the creation of art.

“A 2008 survey in the Journal of Socio-Economics claimed that the psychologogical benefits of a friendship were equivalent to a pay-rise of eighty-five thousand pounds”

Christian McEwan, World Enough and Time

The book ‘examines the spiritual and literary underpinnings of slowness and offers inspiration, encouragement, and practical advice for anyone wishing to create time and space for the imagination to flourish’.  Full of beautiful writing and inspiring suggestions, I’ve really enjoyed taking my time reading it (yes, pain means I have to read books v v slow but I think this one in particular has benefited from that).

The book looks at ‘Hurry Sickness’, the healing power of real conversation, the value of walking, looking, learning to pause and storytelling etc.  I don’t really do book reviews so this isn’t really going to be that, more some musings inspired by the book.

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I’ve touched on slowing down before on this blog and over on unlockingimages and whilst much of my slowing down has been forced on me by my health, there is still a lot of value in it.  I remember a sunny day, pottering around with my lovely friend who also has EDS.  We were talking about how we have to walk more slowly than we used to (I was a fast walker back in the day!) but how it means she notices flowers and sees things she’d miss otherwise.  It’s a moment that I come back to again and again.  How much more wonderful life would be if we literally stopped to smell the roses instead of rushing and pushing and stressing from place to place in an unnecessary hurry.

We live in a society which doesn’t place much value on doing things for the sake of them, rather we are all supposed to be being productive, all of the time.  Again, pain has meant this isn’t possible and has meant I can step back and question that approach.  Finding joy in little things and beauty in small moments makes for a happier life.  We can’t all have the latest <insert gadget> but we can almost all look out a window and see plants, birds, insects, stars, clouds etc (NB if you’re bed bound and can’t look out a window, could you move your bed?).

“In ancient China, when someone studied calligraphy, he did not simply copy the original.  Instead, he spread out the scroll against the wall, and stared at it for a long time.  Only when he had, as it were, incorporated it completely, did he finally pick up his brush and begin to work”

Christian McEwan, World Enough and Time

How many people reading that, are thinking what a waste of time, just get the job done?  But the beauty in the approach and the deeper connection to the work, makes it much more meaningful.  And I feel that it would teach the student so much more.

Pay attention, look closely and even the most mundane seeming thing will be transformed.  And that is your power, to take the ordinary and see it as extraordinary.  That is what artists and writers and musicians do.  And it’s something that is completely accessible to you, whatever your circumstances.  You can start now and develop a deeper awareness of your surroundings and in doing so, you can find poetry all around you.

And even better, this time you spend mulling and dreaming and pondering, is time that your mind will use to ruminate over problems and build insights and connections that are completely unrelated.  And all of it is free!

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The book is full of wonderful insights and magical quotes and I hope I have been able to do justice with my own ponderings.  Christian herself is a very thoughful, inspiring woman and it was an honor to have her guidance for a week.


By the way, if you’re interested in spending a week slowing down on Tanera Mor with Jan and another artist, you can book onto the wonderful sounding See Sound, See Shore.  If health allowed, I’d be booking on!

Projects for 2016

I like projects.  I like having a focus and working with limits such as theme or colour can be helpful at getting the creativity flowing.  I’ve got a few projects in mind for this year…

Trees: a year long study

This is essentially what it says.  I want to spend the year using art, photography and other mediums to explore the topic of trees.  A key reason for choosing trees is that they are common.  I can lean out my window and see one.  When I move, I am sure I will be able to see a tree.  When I’m out and about, I will see trees.  I don’t have to go out my way to get inspiration and to take photographs etc.  Given my physical limitations, this was really important.  If I went for something more specific such as… bridges… I’d not be able to do as much ‘in the field’ work.  Keep this in mind if you’re thinking of your own long term project – if it’s accessible, it’s harder to make excuses.  I knew I was going with trees from the start but other possibilities that I might pick up in the future include streetlamps, doors, windows, letter boxes…

At the moment, this project consists of a sketchbook which is being filled with pages, each focusing on different parts of the theme eg colour, texture, uses for trees, types of trees, the little bits of a tree which make up the whole.  Once a theme or an idea starts to form from that I will then work towards a piece of art/photography/other that captures that.  In an ideal world, I’d like to make one piece per season to reflect the changes throughout the year but at this stage I can’t say because I don’t know what my direction will be (although I am quite interested in the use of trees in language and mythology…).  And I love that the centre of the tree trunk is called heartwood.  Do you have any interesting tree facts?!

Blue

On a day without internet (eek), I passed the time by making a journal.  It has eight pages (at present, I may add more) and is made from cardboard from amazon packaging.  The theme of the journal will be blue.  I’ve wanted to do this for a while – complete a journal using one colour set.  So I’ve got my book, I’ve started collecting and keeping an eye out for blue things for the pages and when it feels like the right time, I’ll get it out start putting it together.  This is partly an exercise in restraint.  I feel like everything is so instant that you don’t get the satisfaction and excitement of waiting very much.  So I’m waiting.

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Nature

Probably as a result of being stuck in the house for a week, I have a longing to reconnect with nature.  And I was thinking that creating mandalas from natural material would be a deeper way to do this.  It would bring me more peace and focus and connection than just standing and admiring.  It would make me look at things differently, and that is what I love about creating; looking at things differently.

 

and I want to get back into writing… but this is on the back burner for now.  If/when I give up work, I may look for a writing class to replace that social interaction, routine and focus.

 

Do you have any projects for the year ahead?