At its heart creativity is a process; a never-ending, invigorating and heart-breaking process. Creativity has many starts, stops, and pivots. This is exactly why we are passionate about it; for ourselves and for others. It is not reserved for only the artist, designer or craftsperson; everyone has the need and ability to be creative in their own unique practice; to fully engage their mind and body in an act of making. In this post I wanted to share my personal view the creative process. I hope anyone that creates can relate to this process,even if it is not exactly their own. I usually go through roughly four stages of development as I am creating. These phases are brute force, destruction, rebuilding, and refinement. I believe these stages occur in a “macro” sense over the course of a career or a lifetime, and in a “micro” sense throughout a project or even a single day. We cycle through these stages repeatedly, one round building on the last. It becomes the rhythm of the creative process.
Starting is always difficult for me, though others often agree that it can the hardest and most intimidating part of the creative process. That is why I find brute force such an effective way to start. Just getting in there and making it happen gains me that much needed creative momentum. At this point I can run with the vaguest sense of what I want o do without being distracted by control (or lack there of), details, and preconceptions. I call this brute force because I feel that I am forcing it out of me at first; I am willing it into being by sheer effort. Criticism is a killer at this stage, especially self criticism. Once I begin to second guess what I am doing or why I am doing it there is no where to go but down. I have to guard myself against myself; just run with whatever I have and trust that it will work out.
The next stage is the time to be critical. This is where I poke holes, test, and destroy whatever I have made so far. Maybe this is better described as deconstruction, but it certainly can be destructive. This is when I step back, walk away and pick my work and ideas apart. The wisdom and skill to know when and how to enter into this stage is what I think makes a mature and skilled maker. I encourage you to go easy on yourself at first, as you get comfortable in this process you can become ruthless, but give yourself time. You have to stay strong and focused during this stage too. Do not allow yourself to become disheartened. Your critiques and testing should spur you on and challenge you, not shut you down. And you might be surprised how close these two things are at times.
After I have picked my work apart it is time to rebuild. This can be an exciting and obsessive moment. Things start to come together in new and hopefully better ways. This is the stage that the work starts to take on a life of its own changing from my original intention and this is alright. My initial idea or inspiration was just that, an idea; I am wanting to make something real and tangible, something more than an idea and that requires adaptation and transformation. Ideas are cheap and romantic, creation is hard earned. I want to be in control, but hold on loosely. I try to let the material, form and process direct me as much as my original idea.
The rebuilding stage flows seamlessly into the refinement stage. I slowly start to dive into smaller and more finite considerations. My piece hopefully starts to come alive with the layers of attention and detail. Fear can start to creep in again at this point because I have put so much work into it at this point; the last thing I want to do is to ruin it by overworking. I had a professor in school that would always encourage us by saying, “It’s looking good. Now don’t screw it up.” And she was right. As a student just learning and exploring what it was to make, I inevitably would go too far and wreck it. But honestly, that’s the point of school and training right? As a student my job was to find those boundaries and learn when to call it quits and sometimes that involves going too far. Knowing when to stop really becomes the defining point of the piece. This decision more than any other determines what the world sees. This crucial skill only comes from experience.
If we walk this road enough times we can become really good, but we shouldn’t think the cycle ever really stops. Nor should we want it to. When we do stop going through this process like this we usually get bored and have to move on to something else. And this is fine, great even. I encourage you to find that thing that excites you enough to endure this cycle, because it can be tough but in the end it gives us such a rich life; a life capable of cultivating life. And who doesn’t want that?