Creativity is just Hard Work!

It’s a common belief that creativity is a natural skill that not all of us share but research tells us it’s a learnt skill. Just because there are people who are more predisposed to creativity doesn’t mean we don’t all have it. It’s about putting it into practice and the more you practice the better you become.

Creativity may be art, music, acting, writing, cooking, business ideas, inventions; whatever it is, it’s how you get in touch with who you really are and why it’s so important. We are all unique so what we create has the potential to be unique also.

Being creative doesn’t mean starting from scratch. It’s about being observant and mindful of the world around us, understanding when something resonates with us. When we make this link with something that fires us up, we have the start of something that we can focus on, analyse why we are attracted to it and work on in a multitude of ways. When all the ways of working with this concept have been exhausted for the time being, it’s good to leave it for a while and let it ferment naturally in its own time. In time it will percolate to the forefront of the mind usually with a burst of ideas and energy.

However, just because you’ve found your burst of inspiration and you’re ready to begin work, it doesn’t mean it will all be plain sailing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve marched into my studio brimming with ideas and enthusiasm to look with despair some time later at the most dreadful painting because nothing came together in the way I imagined. Be prepared to create rubbish! Sorry, but this is all part of the process. It really is important you keep going no matter how awful what you are producing is. Just get it out there. Once you’ve taken the plunge and completed the work, you either have something good enough, or more likely, something to work with that you can respond to. Incomplete work makes that much harder as you’re missing so much information.

You must also work regularly and consistently and do tons of it. This will help you work towards your ambitions with purpose and keep improving your skills. Producing a huge volume of work, no doubt most of it substandard to begin with, means there are more gems to find hidden in it, and as your standard constantly improves there will be more gems than rubbish.

The toughest part of all is letting go of judging your work. You really aren’t the best judge of it and you should leave that to others and just keep producing. We are natural self-critics and rarely feel what we produce is good enough, but very often others don’t agree. That self-criticism can be very destructive, make you despondent and stop you in your tracks. Don’t let it. It’s important to share your work, that’s what creativity is about and it makes the world a richer place. It can also give you important feedback and spur you on to produce even better work. Of course you are risking negative criticism too, but take Brené Brown’s advice on that and don’t accept it from anyone who hasn’t put themselves out there and left themselves open to judgement also. Criticism is good if it’s delivered in a constructive and helpful way so that it helps you to improve. If it’s cruel and negative it’s worth diddly squat and should definitely be ignored.

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Why You Must Take Risks

Failure feels so awful we do everything we can to avoid it, but without it we don’t learn and grow. We can choose to risk nothing and remain safe but ultimately lack fulfilment and harbour a sneaking feeling that somehow we’ve cheated ourselves by selling out. Only when we put ourselves in a place of vulnerability by exposing who we truly, uniquely are, do we set ourselves free and relinquish the greater risk of never fully realising what we could have achieved. Surely that’s the real failure.

Last time I wrote about changing things, stepping back, shaking things up and returning with a fresh perspective to overcome boredom. Another way of overcoming boredom is to take risks because risks mean change and renewed energy.  It makes you more vulnerable and transparent and that discomfort is the pathway to new and better work. Being a creative who is going to fully realise their potential is not about safety and comfort. It’s about always stepping outside your comfort zone, something, I confess, I have only recently come to understand and subsequently embrace. I saw how it invigorated my art and had me producing work I would never have imagined I could do. Taking on challenges and the unknown can be exciting and really make you and your work buzz. This is what we need and crave if we have the courage to do it and step out of the box. Experimentation, risk and change are the ingredients of growth, experience and confidence that help you really know yourself and release it into your work.

Every failure is more information that leads you to vibrancy and dynamism in your work. Stop being a perfectionist – it slows everything down and kills spontaneity. Audiences really appreciate seeing how your work has evolved, how you have experimented and tripped up on your way. It makes them part of the process and connected to you and your work and that’s what we’re in the business of doing – connecting with our audience. Something polished and perfect is not as authentic and as alive as demonstrative trial and error. We’re human and imperfect, just trying our best and that is what people will respond to, that you don’t have it all worked out but you’re having a damn good go.

One of the most powerful tools that will help you take risks and in so doing take your work to the next level, is freeing yourself from other people’s opinions be they positive or negative. It’s not enough to rise above negative criticism, you must also be wary of praise. Nobody says not to enjoy it, but only temporarily. Don’t get hung up on it or need it as validation of your work. If your work is honest and the best it can be right now, be proud and confident in it. Needing praise is as deadly as allowing negative criticism to squash you. It paralyses you from taking those chances that are necessary in your work because you are afraid of losing the love. You must remember this is your process, and your work. If you produce what truly and naturally comes from you, you are doing what’s right for you and therefore what’s right for your audience.

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Why Playing helps you Work

One of the biggest pressures that artists put on themselves is to produce a ‘masterpiece’ every time they enter the studio and when that doesn’t happen, which is most of the time, leave despondent and frustrated.  The more that expectation is there, the more pressure is there and the more likely failure and frustration will follow.

It’s very easy to say leave the pressure at the studio door, and quite another to manage it, but it is important to find strategies to do this if painting or other passion isn’t to turn in to some sort of self-flagellation. I wrote last time of not necessarily having a plan when I paint but to follow where the painting leads and that’s one of the strategies I employ. If I don’t know what’s going to happen and consequently have no expectations, it’s much harder to fail. It doesn’t mean you don’t have frustrations and bad days in front of the easel or your equivalent, but it dramatically decreases them and that’s very worthwhile.

The way I’ve come to deal with this, which hasn’t come easily I might add, is to play. Now, I’ve never approached anything in my life since leaving childhood behind by play, and initially this all seemed frivolous and pointless. I was following a couple of courses which really expounded the benefits of playing and I would impatiently wait for this part to pass so the real work could commence. However, whichever way I turned, artists and tutors were going on about playing. So, eventually, giving in and lacking inspiration one day, I did just that. I created mess all around me, mess on the paper in front of me and found it all a bit ridiculous. I pushed the work to one side ready to throw and cleaned up. The following day I came into the studio, threw the work away and, still lacking inspiration, found myself playing again. Another mess to clear up and more work to throw. However, I felt a bit lighter and had discovered a couple of new colour mixes I would never have dreamed would work so that was something. The third day I entered the studio, brighter and ready to make a few notes of the things I had discovered from the day before which meant digging around in the bin and looking at this play work again, which in this different mindset looked quite different and very interesting. That done, there I was playing again but this time I really relaxed and got absorbed in the  process and at the end I realised there was something in this playing that was freeing and creative and actually a first step on the way to the ‘proper’ work.

Playing helped me uncover processes and methods that I would never explore when working on a ‘proper’ piece of work for fear of messing it up. It loosened me up and started to become my warm-up session. After a while I realised that parts of these spontaneous, unplanned pieces had more energy and beauty about them than what followed which confused and troubled me to start with. I just couldn’t get those lovely free marks in the work that followed that I could in the warm-up. Finally, it dawned on me that the warm up could be part of my ‘real’ work and that instead of keeping the two things separate the warm up could inspire and inform what followed but all in the same piece of work and this is how I tend to approach things now and really interesting work results.

So, out comes the panel that I’m going to start a new work on, and all kinds of crazy stuff get slapped on it, any colours, any textures, perhaps collage, perhaps scribbling. Anything that frees me up and gives me something to respond to. I continue like this until I feel ready to start thinking about a colour palette based on what is in front of me and continue with the areas that I like and cover up those that I don’t. This process can go on for many days before some ideas percolate to the forefront and start informing an image. Plus I will have quite a few of these panels on the go at once so as I dry up with ideas and falter I can put one panel down and pick up another and just go round and round in this rotation defining, refining, starting over, scraping back until something grips me and I become fully absorbed in exploring it. Left over paint at the end of the day usually gets smeared over a waiting panel ready for the process to begin again.

One of the most important things this process allows is for me to go into the studio at any time with something to do, ie get my paint out and any other materials that I fancy and mess about instead of procrastinating because I have no idea what I should be getting on with and no inspiration. It makes me show up every day and it is rare that I will leave having done nothing or feeling low and uninspired. Those days happen, they always will but they are infrequent. If you can keep curious and inquisitive wondering what will happen if I use this material with this material, if I mix these two colours, if I make this mark here and that mark there, and give it a go, you will keep creative, innovative and ultimately fulfilled.