Guest series :: The Four Essential Truths of My Creative Self

by contributor on 08/05/2012

in Community + Creativity, Guest series 2012

Guest series 2012: I asked fellow bloggers, makers and creators to write on their creativity and focus their essay on one of four topics: creativity and health, creativity and business, creativity and parenting or creativity and process. I am very excited to have a wonderful lot of fellow creative folk guest posting here at whipup.net over the next couple of months. Please welcome…

Colleen Babcock is a cloth art doll designer living in London with her husband. Originally from Canada, Colleen sells patterns, teaches online and in-person and exhibits in the UK and across North America. With work featured in several books and magazines, Colleen also writes guest posts for popular craft blogs, like WhipUp, while keeping the creativity levels high on her own blog, The Magic Bean.

The Four Essential Truths of My Creative Self or What Life and Health Have Taught Me About Creativity

When Kathreen asked me to write about my creative process I wanted to run. Not because I wasn’t flattered to be invited and not because I wasn’t pleased to do it, but because my best ideas come when I’m not thinking about it, when I’m doing something else, like running. My best creative moments come on the treadmill, in the bathtub, or in the kitchen. Which would probably account for why my ideas book is always damp – it’s constantly getting covered in sweat, bath water and sauce. Let’s just say, it’s not a pretty sight. It’s knowing that I have a tendency to over-think things that has led me to recognise my first essential truth about my creative self.

Essential Creative Truth No. 1: I come up with my best ideas when I don’t really think about it. It turns out my subconscious is far more creative than my conscious mind. Word to the wise: if you want to use this method of inspiring yourself by doing something else, make sure you keep a piece of paper or a notebook nearby. You never know when inspiration will strike.

Just as you never know when inspiration may strike you never know when disaster might strike. Being creative means taking risks. Trying new things, new mediums, new techniques, means that it is easy for mistakes to happen. If you let them, mistakes can become disasters, but they don’t have to be. And that brings me round to …

My Essential Creative Truth No. 2: Learn to see the beauty and opportunity in mistakes. As I always tell my students in my art doll making classes, “There’s no such thing as a mistake, there’s only creative redirection”.

This truth is something I try to remember when I take classes as a student. In a recent screen printing class I slopped some ink where I didn’t want it. I figure there are two options in this sort of situation – make the mistake a design feature or artfully cover it up. Maybe that blob could have become part of the design, but I just slapped a ruffle over it to cover it up. In the end, I preferred the bag with the ruffle. If I hadn’t made that “mistake” I likely wouldn’t have thought to add that detail. And that bag was really crying out for a ruffle.

Sometimes people let fear of making mistakes stop them from trying anything creative at all, but sometimes we find other excuses for why we “can’t” be creative.

  • “I don’t have the skills.”
  • “I don’t have the time.”
  • “I don’t have the money.”

You have the choice to make excuses for why you’re not getting creative OR you can embrace …

Essential Creative Truth No. 3: Learn to love limitations by thinking of them as creative challenges rather than as roadblocks.

I’ve come up with some of my best work when I was given only a short time to meet a deadline. Last year, I had to submit two projects for proposed classes at an exhibition while preparing for Christmas and fulfilling other deadlines. I designed and made my Dive into a Book fabric bookmark fairy within days as a result and she remains a popular pattern.

I think I do well with time limits because I don’t have time to worry about what I’m doing and my instincts take over. In essence, the time limit helps me to get out of my own way. I’ve learned to think of the obstacle course of everyday life as the scenic route – every obstacle you have to overcome might just hold the key to creative inspiration. So what’s your excuse? Or should I say, what’s your creative challenge?

One of my biggest creative challenges is space, or the lack thereof. I live with my husband and run my craft and doll making business out of 350 sq feet of space. Visitors to my tiny London flat question how I can possibly live, create and stay sane in such small environs. Luckily, my primary creative passion is making art dolls which are on the diminutive side. Granted, it would be more difficult in my allotted space if my passion was making large quilts or sewing wedding dresses, but if I really wanted to do those things, I would find a way. Which leads me to …

Essential Creative Truth No. 4: Where you really need space to be creative is in your head.

When I first discovered art dolls I was smitten and I was happy to put my own spin on other people’s designs using patterns, but I got to a point where I wanted to design my own work, but however hard I tried, I couldn’t seem to find my own vision. I was assailed by a fear of the overwhelming possibilities. Would my designs be good enough? How would my designs be different than what was already out there? Where would I start? In the end, what got me started was being stopped in my tracks by a hand injury that required surgery, years of physiotherapy and a stream of alternative therapies. Having my physical ability to create taken away from me for many months meant that the fear and insecurities in my mind became the least of my worries. During that period I realised that the only way I could be creative was in my mind and so I dreamt up designs, even going so far as to visualise cutting and drafting patterns. Now the problem was not fear. It was me against the pain. I was determined to make the designs in my mind a reality, even if I had to make them with my feet. Ever since, I have had more ideas than time to make them. It’s a good problem to have and it taught me that the fear of not being creative enough is not nearly as bad as the fear of not being able to try.

P.S. I intended to go for a run to get some inspiration for writing this post but I never made it out the door. This missive was written while I was wearing Lycra and one running shoe. So I guess my Essential Creative Truth No. 5 would be: You never know when creativity may dawn so be ready for it. Are you ready?

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kitty May 8, 2012 at 1:16 pm

That is so very true and well put. Many times we think we have to wait for the perfect moment or lightning bolt moment to become creative when a simple walk or bath will suffice. I am never far from paper and pen because those thoughts and ideas can be illusive if not captured immediately. Then, like a firefly, they are best released again to grow and brighten the world around.
Well done!

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2 Stephanie in MI May 8, 2012 at 9:44 pm

There’s a lot of truth in this for me. First, I often find my ideas in the shower, too. I think it’s because it’s where I really relax! And I am trying hard to learn to look at limitations as opportunities. They usually turn out that way for me, but I need to be better at embracing them. And I really need to work hard at making space for my creativity. When I feel overwhelmed, I go to my patterns, because I don’t need to think. But I should do better at allowing myself the time and space to think.

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3 Brooksie May 13, 2012 at 11:07 pm

I relate very much to the comments about your hand injury, I have tendonitis in my right arm. It is becoming almost impossible to work (until I lost my job) and now every day things cause my arm great pain. It is difficult to do crafts now too (so I too have lots of ideas floating in my head) however I feel like I am being very much led in the direction as a possible new career but that is hard for me to understand or to see because of the pain but I just have to have hope, faith and trust. Thank you so much for your blog post and for sharing your story.

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