water colours and various papers

The enemies and friends of creativity

My great grandfather was a tailor. One of his sons took over the business. Their studio was a brick building at the back of a four-storey building in the centre of Innsbruck, a city in Austria. When my great uncle died, we had to clear it out. I was fairly young and have only patchy memories, but I do remember the balls of fabric, boxes and boxes of buttons and spools of thread. There were proper tailor scissors, too heavy for me to lift. The studio was surrounded by some fruit trees and garden space. Maybe that’s where my dream of having my own studio one day began.

The idea of working in a studio has clearly moved something inside me when I was very young. I loved the dedicated space to create and the idea of collaborating and creating together with others. I dreamed of large communal tables, open studios and the conversations that flow while we’re also engaged in an activity. I dreamed of collective making, women’s circles, community quilts and collaborative writing projects.

Deep down, I must have known two truths about creativity.

Both are deeply anchored on our neurobiology and our wiring to be creative and social creatures.

It feels good to make things

“The fact that it feels good to make things with our hands harkens back to our hunter-gatherer nature, which lives on in our psychology.”

Ellen Dissanayake

Making things together can feel even better

“Collaboration is how most of our ancestors used to work and live, before machines came along and fragmented society.”

Twyla Tharp

Making things with our hands does indeed feel good and we all know the sense of satisfaction we get from it. Whether we bake a loaf of bread, paint, write a book, make a piece of furniture or a vision board. When making things feels so good, why is it often so hard to integrate it more into everyday life?


mixed media collage stating creativity takes courage

There are a few common enemies of creativity

Doubt and fear

Self-doubt and fear can keep us stuck in the holding pattern of ‘not enough’. We wait until we are skilled enough or have a good enough idea or a big enough audience or a book deal. We spend more time looking at other people’s creativity than venturing out to discover our own. We have started to believe that creativity is reserved for the creative type working in creative jobs.

Distractions

Unless a certain creative activity is part of our ‘day job’, it’s easy to let life’s distractions and demands take over. Even in the era of self-care, simply creating to feel good or nourish a deep need inside us can feel a bit self-indulgent or simply not important enough to defend it against all the other things that want our time and attention.

Negative collaborators or judgmental friends

Any creative endeavour is vulnerable. As we express ourselves creatively, no matter the medium, we invite critique, and often we get criticism. Not always delivered in the most constructive way. Hence sharing your creativity with the wrong crowd can lead to getting disheartened and ultimately blocked.


But: we can mobilise the friends of creativity

I have found that the friends of creativity are more easily summoned when creating alongside others. This can take many forms, from simply creating together to co-creation and more formal collaboration.

Showing up

A meaningful deadline, creative date or agreement to collaborate will lead us towards creativity. Just like going to the dentist, showing up is made so much easier when we have an appointment. That’s why initiatives like ‘The 530 Club’ work. It’s a community for people who want to work on personal projects; to make progress they meet at 5.30am at Australian cafés and work alongside each other.

Agreeing to a creative date gives us the discipline to ignore distractions and uphold our boundaries and the courage to overcome fear.

Momentum

Creating together isn’t only boosting our discipline to show up. It also provides a reinvigorating energy that flows between people. I’m sure I’ve written about my virtual writing circle before, and I can’t rave enough about it. A shared intention to be creative, and a willingness to share our process, progress and possibly end product propels us on. As a result, I have not only had a weekly feel-good hour, but also more content to support my work and an opportunity to experiment with writing techniques and prompts.

A quiet and focused place to think and create

When I left the world of corporate offices and hum of open plan hot desking, I thought my time had come. Founding Sensemaking Space, I thought I would rent a studio and begin a ‘proper’ creative life as an art therapist and creative coach, offering myself and others this quiet, focused place to think and make sense of life.

There are certainly spaces that help us sink into the deep focus and clarity of creative flow. I am not shelving this dream altogether; but for now, I embrace what 2020 has taught me: I’ve learned a lot about being apart and staying connected through gathering virtually and experimenting with new ways of connecting. The lack of a studio or dedicated space is not an acceptable excuse to skip creativity or delay dreams. And the idea of a virtual studio feels worth pursuing.

Inspiration

While inspiration is part of creativity, it can’t be the initiator. Our busy lives are loud enough to drown out the quiet whispers of inspiration.

But showing up at an agreed time, in an agreed place (virtual or IRL) with supportive people who spur us on and encourage the process provides the setting within which inspiration can land.


Bringing it all together

While I keep dreaming about my bricks and mortar studio, for now, I have decided to offer Sensemaking Studio Hours. Because here is another friend of creativity: Start where you are.

Rather than waiting for perfect circumstances, we simply begin. I begin by placing my work in a world of virtual connection, with its upsides and downsides, and in an era where we crave deep connection and real conversations. Because there’s lots to talk about and make sense of when our world has been shaken in its foundations.


art materials spread out

My offer for you: Sensemaking Studio Hours

Sensemaking Studio Hours are virtual equivalent of walking into an open studio. They are designed to combine the pleasure of making with the pleasure of connecting. They provide the experiencing of coming together and creating together. The experience of being in a real conversation or quietly making alongside and benefitting from the energy this creates. And of course, together we’d be making some sense of life along the way.

It’s a BYO creativity date, you bring your project, I bring mine. Seeing what others create is in itself inspiring.

It’s an opportunity to create alongside each other, for one hour, in a virtual 1-on-1 setting (Zoom). That way it’s easier to connect and have real conversations than in a larger group. It also means that we can both create and inspire each other. Also, did you know that it is often easier to achieve the state of ‘Flow’ in a group rather than on your own?

It’s a commitment to beat distraction and excuses. They are free (because they are neither a coaching/ therapy session, nor an art class) – but signing up comes with the expectation that you show up. I acknowledge that this is a bit of an experiment, but as Priya Parker says in her book The Art of Gathering: as a host of special gatherings, we need to have generosity and the spirit to try!


What creative projects might we be working on?

The creative project you bring along can be a lot of different things:

  • writing – poetry, creative writing, writing a book, blog post, website copy, or a business plan…
  • visual art – collage, painting, drawing, sketching, mixed media, calligraphy…
  • textile art – knitting, crochet, embroidery, cross stich, slow stitching, macrame, quilting…
  • bookbinding, making dolls, making pompoms, paper art, weaving, beading, stamping, printing, cardmaking origami, scrapbooking, building a kite, working with clay, flower arranging…
  • You could even plan out a creative project, but it’s important that we both show up with the intention of creating something and making some progress

Which project would you like to bring along to a studio hour? Is there anything you have always wanted to try or something you wanted to make progress on, in good company of another maker?

Each month, I’ll have two hours ringfenced to meet up with some of you to harness the power of collective making. Maybe I’ll block out some more… They can be booked online. You get an email with your Zoom link. You gather your project and materials, and we begin.

There’s a bit more information here or you can of course get in touch to ask me anything.


Find out more about my work at Sensemaking Space


So far, these are some of the things we have done in previous Sensemaking Studio Hours: Water colour painting, working with clay, collage, weaving, visualising values, found poetry, acrylics and playing with frisket, printing with random objects… What would you do?

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