How It Works

The popular press and media like to paint human creativity as extraordinary “aha!’ sort of moments. And I guess that some creative insights do fall into that category. But you know that scene in the movie when the light bulb goes on, the music swells, and the artist flies into a creative fit of furtive …well…creation.

I prefer to agree with Edison, “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” Great things rarely come to us in a celestial lightning show. Instead, it’s a matter of research, careful consideration, lots of playing around to get it right, going back to the drawing board to try again, and finally, you’ve got it. Then, working from what you’ve established, you can create many things from your foundation, make it look easy, and convince the noobs that you are a creative miracle in motion.

Books, magazines, courses, TED lectures, and philosophies promise to show you the path to creativity. “Through furtive physic maneuvers, Swami will tauten you chakras and endow you with the very talents of the demiurge.” Of course, your credit card will be required to enhance the flow.
I’ve found a day at the beach, a boatyard, or visiting a museum to be stimulating. However, doing focus and relaxation exercises never worked for me.
Sometimes play is beneficial. As in play with your art. Give up on the inner censor who complains bitterly about the waste of materials that you’ve ruined. Expending some pigment, paper, pine, or clay is sometimes the cost of creativity. This is why I save odd bits of wood. So I can guiltlessly experiment on scrap.
The downside of this is when the experiment is too good, the materials limiting, and you now wish you’d planned better. That is precisely what happened with the boat portrait below.

I experimented with some techniques on a scrap piece of cherry and some pine. The experiment turned out well, but I’d never planned the overall composition – because it wouldn’t be an actual finished piece. It was, after all, an experiment. The techniques worked, but there was no composition, and I didn’t have enough negative space for framing the work after I decided it was lovely. So, I learned more from this piece than I expected to.
I display this piece in my living room. Whenever I look at it, I like it for the techniques I learned and get frustrated at my failure to plan.
Why keep something so ambivalent around? I like it more than it frustrates me, I guess, and it reminds me of how the creative process works, not all in one burst, but in a series of insights you build on.

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