Tagged Creative Practice

Collage, then and now…

Thought I would share something different for this blog and do something visual.

One of the tasks, fairly towards the end of “The Artist’s Way”, and one of the more time-consuming ones, is to take about 10 magazines or papers and flick through, tearing out any images that seem to resonate or appeal to you. Once having done so, create a collage. The original task is meant to help you envisage and help you target your aspirations. It’s meant to appeal to you as a developing artist at that moment in time. I never found the collage the first time that aspirational, I couldn’t quite see it as a way to create an image of me in the future and the goals I was going to achieve. It did, however, offer me a chance to just be creative for the hell of it and make something that had no real purpose other than to just satisfy me.

Three months on you’re encouraged to update this and make a new one. Can’t say it’s been three months exactly, I knew it was “due” though and so threw this together over the weekend. If anyone reading this happens to be a therapist or psychologist and wishes to get in touch with some sort of an analysis, please do. I’d be fascinated to know what this came across as. In the meantime, I’ve done my own snapshot evaluation of the differences between the two…

Previous collage, created during “The Artist’s Way”

– The previous image seems a lot more chaotic, the current focuses on form, layout and landscape a lot more.

-The current image involves a lot of property (clearly on my mind as I’m thinking about ways to buy a house).

– The current image feels calmer and much more organised (perhaps insight into my psyche at the moment, I’ve been reading into things like minimalism and meditation)

– The quotes in the current image feel very aspirational and empowering. The previous just seem frivolous and disconnected.

– The current feels like a sense of perspective. The previous seems like an up close examination under a microscope.

I’m likely to do another in 3 months, let’s see how things change… If anyone fancies undertaking the exercise, it can be really quite satisfying to just sit and be creatively indulgent without having to spend a lot of money. It’s a great way of channelling your creativity in a new form or simply reconnecting with creativity in the first place.

 

Current collage, 3 months on

 

 

My review for Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s way can be found here…

As a followup, my thoughts on the 174 days of Morning pages created as part of m journey on “The Artist’s Way” can be found here.

If anyone feels like checking themselves into creative recovery and doing the “The Artist’s Way” themselves, find a link to the book here – I found it really useful to have my own hard copy. I’m a big fan of marginalia and annotation and this is a book that needs that kind of digestion to make it your own.

 

522 sides of paper – What I’ve learnt from 174 days of Morning Pages

Morning Pages, an essential tool from Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way”, consist of three pages of A4, preferably done in the morning, and are of conscious long-hand thoughts that cross your brain as you proceed to write.

Having done 12 weeks of these as part of finishing “The Artist’s Way”, you’re then encouraged to continue writing them for the next 90 days in a sort of remission like state. I’m just coming to the end of my 90 day stint and felt it warranted a blog of my experiences with them.

The process of writing down everything long as it drifts across your brain to fill three pages doesn’t sound too difficult, or so I thought when I first undertook them. It’s amazing how conscious you suddenly become that you are recording EVERYTHING; soon your stream of thought dries up and you’re left writing “I have nothing else to say. Literally, can’t think of anything.” As with any skill, you adapt and actually realise it’s fine to have these drought like moments. Having a moment of having no thoughts are in fact thoughts themselves. Similarly, this method of notation doesn’t have to be interesting. You aren’t writing to impress or publish. Cameron herself describes these as the lint roller or dust buster vacuum for the brain to clear your head of clutter, and it certainly works.

Morning Pages are an exercise and a safe space. Within that you’re able to achieve quite a lot in just being able to effectively have conversation with yourself – at a reasonable speed so your hand can keep up! – and you’re able to tackle any nagging matters. It’s a space where one is able to gripe and moan and never let the world see, but know you have “exercised your chimp,”, as Prof. Steve Peters of “The Chimp Paradox” would say, and cleared it from your system. Even at times you may find you have been able to debate and come to a more rational conclusion or better perspective.

These three pages of A4 offer a space where you’re able to answer questions, even the most trivial or seemingly irrelevant. Being in a position where I effectively don’t have a solid go-to source for my mentoring and so therefore rely on different networks of people and peers to help me in my development in offering guidance. It’s very comforting to be able to rationalise and expand certain thoughts or queries thoroughly. Note: as thoroughly as your brain will allow before you end up writing things like “I need to buy ______ today” and “Must text _______”

So what have I learnt? Firstly, that my brain manages to sub categorise huge parts of my life and keep them separate, but it’s a struggle to deal with them, and all of their must attend to issues, at the same time. Having gotten into the practise of Morning Pages I find my thoughts are a lot more comprehensible and I’m able to deal with each one much more effectively and succinctly.

Having slowed down my thoughts I also find I’m a lot calmer. Not everything seems to fly into my head at break neck speed, and when things do I can analyse a lot better. Not just at a surface level too. I’m able to identify where these thoughts might have come from and how to resolve any deeper underlying issues. I’m always reminded in this of mindfulness meditations when you’re asked to consciously observe your thoughts, remarking things like “ah, there’s worry”. It has been a helpful process to not only address surface level thinking, but take into account anything deeper that may need resolution.

Have I learned much about myself? Nothing too sensational or epiphanic that I didn’t know before, having now been presented with my thoughts on hundreds of pages of paper. I’m still me, perhaps a more refined version though. I do realise I tend to spread myself too thin and I’m hugely critical (of myself more than anything or anyone else). I think this a battle everyone deals with though, I’ve just not been as aware of it in my own psyche before.

I’ll continue to use Morning Pages, maybe not as religiously. If I miss a day, I won’t beat myself up over it. They are a great way to organise my brain and put me in the best way to start my day. Big issues suddenly seem logical and conquerable and minor niggles are weighed up and soon vanquished.

I’d recommend to anyone, provided they are happy to sit and openly write that they haven’t a clue what they are doing or why they are doing it, and don’t mind sacrificing a few trees worth of paper to do so! It’s a useful practice, give it a try.

CHECKING INTO CREATIVE RECOVERY – A REVIEW OF “THE ARTIST’S WAY” BY JULIA CAMERON

Again, another book always on the recommended reading lists for any creative practitioner or artist, and one of the most talked about. It only seemed right in my own journey of creative evolution that I put myself through the 12 week process to examine my own creativity.

For anyone who hasn’t come across this read, Cameron was a scriptwriter in Hollywood, boasting Spielberg and Scorsese as some of her friends and colleagues. “The Artist’s Way” developed in response to Cameron teaching a class on scriptwriting and her students claiming to have no creativity, and also her own experiences as a artist. It has now taken on its own following, spawning many follow on works and groups around the world….

The book compromises of 12 chapters of working weeks, each focusing on a different aspect of your creativity or existence as an artist. Each contains essays written by Cameron exploring deeper the topics being spot lit that week and then some following homework.

Included also are a few rather lengthy chapters of introduction which set up the whole context for what you are letting yourself into and introducing two key concepts that come into use throughout the book: Morning Pages and Artist Dates. Morning Pages are three A4 pages of conscious thought, written longhand, preferably done in the morning. An Artist Date sets aside few hours each week in which you indulge your inner artist in something you want to do. Some of mine in the last few weeks have included baking, walking, painting whilst listening to favourite album, walking around a food market, visiting a gallery, the cinema the other side of London to see a very obscure choice of film.

In speaking to colleagues informing them I was working my way through “The Artist’s Way” it was interesting to see that many had rebuked the idea, trying it in the past and stopping after a few weeks in finding it not very helpful. Admittedly this undertaking isn’t for the faint hearted, some weeks with Morning Pages, Artist Dates and the homework set, it can be quite time consuming. Cameron also asks you to delve into the dark corners of your mind and confront a few home truths which can be quite uncomfortable. I stuck with it though partly because so many people had claimed to have such success with the book; I was determined to do all 12 weeks as a promise to my own development (even if I took nothing away from it I would be able to say I’d done it and able to talk about it from an educated perspective

To clarify, Cameron hopes that in undertaking her course you rediscover your creativity, or further indulge in your creative tendencies. I expected it to be very different to what it actually is. Whilst expected tasks like collages and drawing are included, there’s also quite a lot of analysing, making lists, comparing and documenting. I wonder if this is why some of my colleagues struggled with it, it doesn’t immeadiately scream “this will make you more creative!”. What it does do, and I only realised this as I was coming to the end of the 12 weeks, is present you with a huge amount of evidence about yourself and gives you permission to explore realms of possibilities you may rule out in the day to day running of your life. It’s an excellent way to gain a distanced perspective of you as a whole person, from an honest and well rounded point of view.

12 weeks is a long time and I can’t say I enjoyed what was asked of me every week. I had to bear in mind that it’s a process that has been devised and refined for a specific reasoning to cause effect. Overall, take it with a pinch of salt and read into it what you will. Cameron refers to God in the book quite often, but you don’t need to believe in such a concept or be religious, I certainly don’t. Cameron merely asks you to believe in energy greater than you and that I can get on board with – this book is about opening up to possibilities, the world and energies around you and letting yourself channel them.

Can I say I am more creative for having done it? I don’t really know, I wonder whether it’s a bit like going to the gym; you rarely notice the small changes as you are living them day to day. I can say though this book has provided me with some excellent tools which I will be using again and again, and also a more open minded approach to thinking and problem solving. There are also some excellent essays penned by Cameron that I will be re-reading as resources and means of support on aspects of living a creative life, or life as an artist. (It’s as good as turning up to Artists’ Anonymous once a week)

I’d recommend “The Artist’s Way” to anyone, whether they were wanting to pursue a creative lifestyle or not, it’s a really delightful journey to reconnect with yourself and your key values. You emerge from the 12 weeks a better, more coloured-in version of yourself. For those of you wondering, and maybe have read the radical changes that some people have made in their lives after doing this book, divorcing partners, selling their belongings etc, there’s very little in this book that asks you to completely change your world. Moreover, it merely asks you to reconnect with yourself and harness the power of possibilities.

“WHAT IS SCENOGRAPHY?” BY Pamela Howard

I’ve just finished re-reading “What is Scenograhy?” by Pamela Howard. I read it a few years ago whilst training as part of the reading list and it’s sat on my shelves gathering dust since. I thought now was an excellent time to revisit it.

Similar to my critique of Katie Mitchell’s “The Director’s Craft” this too feels a bit like a beginner’s guide to theatre design, more cunningly disguised as an elaborate series of essays, the key point to mention though (and Howard states as such) is that she is not a theatre designer. Howard is a scenographer.

What’s wonderful about this book is the subtle drawing of lines in the sand that Howard uses to show differences between theatre design and scenography. I’ve heard it being argued as the same thing amongst colleagues and peers, or rather that scenography is what theatre designers do. Having re read, I’d now like to side with Howard.

The craft and practice of scenography is an evolution of theatre design, theatre design 2.0, a more holistic approach . Her arguments take scenography into a new realm of design, to that of visual storytelling and interpretation. A designer, it could be said, merely will solve the problems of and create solutions to the list of prerequisites presented by the piece.

A scenographer, as presented from this read, is effectively a visual translator and close collaborator to the director – it is design in a much more applied and comprehensive manner from a greater stand point and concept. They have a deep understanding of the text, usually heavily analysed and prepared (to the extent that they could step in as director if needed, and Howard mentions having trained in direction as part of her training). They also seem to have influential say in the shape of the piece via their creations.

It has made me consider the idea of scenography in relation to puppetry. There is a difference here therefore to being a puppet designer, one who designs the things to be animated and then a puppetry designer/scenographer, one who would look at the overall concept of puppetry as a storytelling element. (This warrants a separate article before I vere off tangent wildly)

Howard’s book is a relatively easy read and highly accessible, punctuated with some rather exquisite drawings and diagrams from her own work. The 7 working chapters focus tightly on the elements that make up her practice and could be read as stand alone pieces with very little difficulty.

There is much to be gleaned from this book if, like me, you are in search of some inspiration and aspiring to develop your own practice. Read with a pad and paper by your side though, her ideas and tools are peppered randomly through the chapters and although explained well and thoroughly, if you were looking for them specifically in a focused turn-to-the-page-via-the-index-style-search you’d struggle.

Controversially, I can’t necessarily say I would recommend this to theatre designers, unless those designers are open minded and willing to accept a differing opinion and view point (there may be a lot of cross over with what they already do but haven’t considered it “scenographic” by Howard’s terms). It’s definitely a good read though to other theatre practitioners, particularly those who span several disciplines and class themselves as theatre makers. Similarly, Howard’s opus would offer great insight into anyone looking to investigate visual storytelling or understanding the semiotics of putting together a visual narrative.

The “F” Word – Sharing and Celebrating Failure

Recently I was talking to a scientific researcher over tea (yes, dear reader, what a way to start a blog!?) Being naturally curious, I asked into the ins and outs of his work and him likewise; that chat has inspired this blog.

A common theme that was apparent in both our professions, in different guises, was experimentation. A major difference though: his job was to embark upon, document and share, all the possible outcomes from a question; in my work only the good outcomes ever see the light of day when an audience see the show. I hide my failures, he celebrates and shares his. Each one, to him, is a discovery.

Speaking to other artists and creative practitioners here, we will all come across failure. It is inevitable in our line of work. Whether that be a declined proposal, failed audition, or a piece of work that just doesn’t seem to want to happen, failure is a constant recurring event we come across. As artists though, we keep failure relatively private. We grieve, we acknowledge where we went wrong behind closed doors to avoid judgement or criticism and we may or may not beat ourselves up over it (despite it may not being our fault).

My scientific friend though had a totally opposing outlook on failure. To him, each failed experiment or attempt was a discovery in working toward the end goal – and each one had to be catalogued, documented and shared amongst colleagues! Each one, he said, presented a learning experience in gaining one step closer to pinning down the end discovery. It actually made it easier as he and his team knew where they were going wrong. Now, admittedly, it could be argued that the variables in a scientific experiment and the variables that go into creating a piece of art might be hard to compare, however it’s never going to hurt to be able to analyse what went wrong where and think what could be done better next time. Each attempt is indeed a step closer to finding out the end goal, even if that attempt doesn’t bring forth the answer we hoped for. It is likely, after we have gotten over the frustration, to learn something from it and it might spark a totally new stream of thinking and discovery.

Elizabeth Gilbert in her book “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear” (which is an excellent read and a book I must review. Liz’s podcasts, “Magic Lessons”, are an excellent extension of the conversation or a great way to dip your toes into her thinking. Link here…. https://www.elizabethgilbert.com/magic-lessons/) discusses and explores failure as the process of the world asking if you want to try again. Many, in answer to this question, don’t. The pain experienced in not accomplishing their goal being too crushing to even consider attempting again. Bearing in mind the mentality from my scientific counterpart, isn’t it worth trying again, just to get that one step closer? Every step and newly gained knowledge (even if that knowledge is that something doesn’t work) is in itself is an achievement. It may not be right or what we asked for, but we know what to try next time. The universe effectively testing our determination and resolve as artists to work toward achieving the desired result.

I wrote in one of my earlier blogs about why it is important to blog, and why as artists we should share. If anything, in considering this idea of failure and actually celebrating it, “I tried this, it didn’t work as I hoped, but I did learn this”, it makes me want to share even more. Every discovery may be useful to someone, and actually any insight into my process, however poor the outcome, is still enlightening. This is one of the reasons why I set out to do in blogging and engaging in conversation about my work.

Ultimately, we should not evaluate work with such a black or white perspective. Labelling something as a failure almost seems to cast it aside, calls it false, wrong or incorrect. In engaging with creativity surely we just explore an idea and delight in whatever the outcome? We have created something new. Ultimately we are creative scientists, however we replace labs with our studios, desks and rehearsal rooms and their test tubes with bodies, fantastic collaborators, words or materials.

We are there to engage in and explore whatever brilliant insights and experiments come our way. If they end in a failure, let us learn from them, moving on to the next as part of our journey of discovery in engaging with creativity.

WHY BLOG?

Well, it’s a question I have asked myself a number of times too. Blogs, for me, have always been something other people did and more often than not, something I was asked to contribute to by the production’s marketing team. I’ve never quite understood their purpose.

I’m currently using this year to really engage with my professional and creative development. By that I mean I’m looking at what I do, how I do it and why. I’m being asked to take on new responsibilities and roles, having been out of training for 5 years, my approach to work has changed. I value different things and different aspects of puppetry appeal to me. I feel I owe it to my own progression as an artist to be honest with myself and look at how I can support and steer my development moving forward.

Part of this has been an extensive amount of reading – I’ll be putting some book reviews up later – but this leads me on to answering “why blog?”
I recently read “Art and Fear: Observations on the Rewards (and Perils) of Art Making” by Ted Orland and David Bayles, and “Show Your Work!” by Austin Kleon; coming across both on various reading lists for creative practitioners. Interestingly, both of them  (despite the time difference in publication) discuss the idea of sharing the development of your work and using it as a recording and documenting process.
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“Art & Fear” makes an excellent point saying that art – in whatever form – is only ever seen by the audience as a final product. A painting hangs in a gallery, finished, a dance piece is seen rehearsed and under performance conditions. As such, an audience never really understands the development that the artist has gone through to get there. It may well be the artist didn’t intend to finish the journey with this result however, in the context of an audience engaging with it for the first time, with no previous knowledge, they will base their thoughts and opinions on what they see in front of them.
I remember, years ago, seeing an object/visual/physical theatre piece that involved a performer dipping themselves in ink and thrashing around on stage to create these very violent distressing black and white images on huge canvases, whilst his fellow performer played a xylophone style instrument made out of stones. I was later told after reading a blurb about the piece that it was an examination of the brief moment before a crow lands (specific, non?) An interesting and rich source of inspiration, however I couldn’t work out how they got to having a barrel of ink and a stone xylophone and this very manic performance. Not that I wanted to see the essence or an exact reenactment of a crow landing procedure onstage, that’s not what theatre is about (if I wanted to watch that, I would go bird watching), but I wanted to know how they got to what I saw in front of me. Even if it were to appreciate each moment of the process as individual art pieces themselves.
“Show Your Work!” encouimage1rages artists to share what they are doing, at all stages of the process. There are lots of different reasons for doing so – this book being published much more recently and aware of social media and online sharing platforms – however, in sharing, it encourages artists and audiences to engage in discussion and peak interest in work, educating and ultimately benefiting everyone.
Furthermore “Art & Fear”, being authored by practising artists, talks about documenting your work, and several artists sketch and notebooks which the authors found useful in their own development. Really I should be doing this on a daily basis and engaging with my creative thoughts. I did whilst training. I was expected to keep a journal which was to be a place to express what I was feeling in what I was learning and to document what I was coming across. Since graduating I haven’t really done so. I obviously keep books on projects I’m working on, however these are more pads to make me remember things from  meetings!
So, back to blogging and why I’m attempting to do it. Bearing all of the above and what I’m trying to do,  it’s a chance for me to document and record my experiences and thoughts as I am working, but ultimately share with you. I find a lot of people spend most of their time engrossed in what they are doing without understanding the “why”. As I’m going through a programme of self and creative development, but in understanding the reason why I am doing something, I’m hoping I can make what and how I do to achieve it much more effective and ultimately help my creative development.
I hope you enjoy coming along for the ride and exploring the inner ramblings of my brain.
Finally, some resources for you, in case you are interested…
 Links here for the books listed on this blog – but I’m sure they are also available in many good bookshops: