Thursday, May 13, 2010


(And have a sneaky look at the final piece and meet Bertha here!)

So how does the creative process work?

Of course if there was one quick answer to that, there wouldn't be any point in being artists, or writers, or scientists. We could just programme the computer and let it go. But there's no doubt it's addictive to keep trying to uncover our own creative processes.

Several times on this blog, I've written about how I sabotage myself with trying to do too many things at once. One of the exercises in Barbara Sher's book, Refuse to Choose has been useful beyond belief in helping me address this.

So to show how it works for me, I'm going to explore the process involved in one particular project, a collaboration between four writers and four artists for an upcoming exhibition at the Tunbridge Wells art gallery based on objects held in the basement there. I wrote here about how I decided to use a collection of dolls patterns, some cut out of old newspapers, as the object I was going to work with.

But what was I going to do with them?

I carried the idea of the dolls patterns in my head, the photographs on my phone, my notes in my daily journal. I thought about poems. About stories. About short plays. The best way to describe what was going on in my mind was chaos. It wasn't pretty to live with.

But I stuck with it, using what Twyla Tharp calls scratching. It is absolutely astonishing to me, every time, how if you can hold an idea in your head then you pick up more and more ideas and images that make it more substantial. It is a form of magnetism. And when you start to attract the right metals, there is that same buzz like an electric shock. Ping!

My final itch came when I visited the V&A's Quilt exhibition and read the beautiful story about a quilt still retaining its mosiac of paper templates cut out of love letters.

But what should I do with all the other ideas. The ones I've been convinced at separate times that they were RIGHT.

Cue Barbara Sher, and her journal idea.

Barbara Sher suggests that rather than just dismissing the idea, or following each new lead like a headless chicken, we can write it down in our journal. Play with it there, write exactly what we liked about the idea, the sources that drew us to it, and to dream too. Write about it as the bestselling, Turner or Booker Prize winning, world changing idea we thought it was for even jsut one minute.

So here - presented rather nervously, I must admit - are three ideas I've recorded in my journal but have dismissed for this particular project. I would dearly love to do something with them one day though, so having them outlined so clearly really helps. It's not something I've tried before reading Barbara's work, trusting on the invisible compost approach but running in danger, if I'm honest, of filling up with so many ideas I couldn't get any space to breathe. Here, at least, I get them OUT!

Above is one of a series of paper cut out dolls I was thinking about. Each dress made from a different newsmedia - financial, cooking, travel, interior, fashion - and with an apt caption.

And this comes from the idea of erasure poetry, something I've been playing with a lot recently. Instead of particular words, I was thinking about inserting different versions of the word 'doll'. Changing 'facts' so they mean something quite different.

Those first two ideas I spent a bit of time on, cutting and sticking like a demented playschooler, but just to show it doesn't have to be so complicated, here's my scribble for taking the concept of patterns being sent in an envelope - sometimes across the world - and what those patterns could mean to the receiver. Here I was thinking of stories, in the form of instructions, for making worlds, or lives, or even stories.

And what idea did I choose?

Hah, you'll just have to come to the exhibition when it opens!


Arnold said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


SueG said...

I suffer from the same disease (as you may have noticed). But this is a great remedy. I already have the notebook I could use for it. What fun!

Marisa Birns said...

Time to go out and buy some notebooks!

And Barbara Sher's book. Thank you for this.

Really love reading all that you have to say.


Welcome Arnold, nice to see you here, and will be interested to hear how you get on, Sue. I imagine your notebook will be full very soon. And thank you, Marisa. I do recommend the book - anything that helps you think about process is good, I'm sure.

Tess said...

Oh yes, Barbara Sher for President! I find the ideas in her book unbelievably useful. And I, too, loved the quilts exhibition and know exactly the one you refer to.

Your work looks wonderful.


Thanks so much, Tess. Nice to see you on here.