Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Creative Habit

People sometimes ask me which books I'd recommend and one I've found to be both useful and interesting is The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp. Twyla Tharp is a dancer and choreographer of great renown. Her book is about the generation of creative endeavours. Her ideas are applicable to any medium and it's also an interesting book as a biography.

Some of the points that she makes:
the importance of cutting out distractions!! switch off the computer!! Stop doing several things at once, try to reduce all that clutter in the brain. I'm often amazed by the pictures I see of people's studios with masses of Stuff everywhere!! (including mine I may add). Seriously, it is hard to think with all that visual and aural stimulation. When I'm really thinking I like it very quiet and very plain. When I'm quilting, I like Bach or Mozart!! they both help me to keep my stitches even!

Keeping a notebook for ideas, inspirations, sketches etc. This should be readily to hand every day. But it need not be a neat and pretty scrap book! any thing will do. I tend to work better on separate sheets of paper, and I pull out bits from magazines everywhere - yes including the doctor's waiting room!! So, for me a large file folder filled with sheet protectors works very well. Then I can pull out several ideas at once and lay them out. My supply list for workshops always begins with an inspiration/sketch notebook. You can use words too!! everything doesn't have to be a beautifully finished sketch. Grab those impressions before they fade! Tharp actually uses boxes for groups of ideas. Years ago when I was a technical librarian in a chocolate factory (yes free chocolate every day!!) we used to keep box files ( do they still exist? I can't find them anywhere) labelled with specific subjects, and then every image or news item related to that subject could be thrown in the file. The box files could be shelved like books and were an easy reference source.

Look for ideas everywhere. They are all around you! Tharp talks about "scratching" for ideas - I imagine her like a beautiful rooster with full plumage scratching around the barnyward!!
Constantly LOOK: travelling, books, museums, galleries, films, nature (especially nature!), old towns, the views from trains.... The thing is: you have to start with An Idea - in a vacuum - is a vacuum. but the idea can be as simple as an abstract shape Emily Richardson (one of my favorite quilters) builds her quilts piece by piece onto a background. While she rarely starts with a specific idea like a photograph of a waterfall or something, she sets up a visual idea with the first piece of fabric she puts up on the background. She chooses a fairly large strong shape and puts it up...this then becomes the idea. Then she begins to react to that shape. This is very difficult of course - but you can see that even this most abstract work began with that one idea. Here's an example (and look at the beautiful elegant simplicity of the values).

Freud wrote that when inspiration did not come to him, he went halfway to meet it!

Other ways that Tharp describes to generate ideas (as well as the crucial LOOK LOOK LOOK), are to do something physical: e.g. drawing, playing with pieces of paper or fabric...sometimes I have got great ideas from the fabrics strewn around the floor of the studio - especially for colour combinations. even though I might not always use them in the piece I'm working on at the moment, I'll "save" that idea, in a notebook or on the wall somewhere. George Harrison randomly picked a couple of words from a romance novel "gently weeps" - then wrote a whole song around them.

well...more tomorrow (or the next day!)...
and, if you have been, thanks for reading!


Maria Peagler said...

Hi Elizabeth -

I have Twyla's book and it is fantastic. She is quite disciplined about her creativity, vs. people who think the "muse" just happens.

Glad to see your blogging. I look forward to your future posts.

frazzledsugarplummum said...

Thank you for sharing this information about Twyla's thoughts on creativity. I would never have come across it without your blog.
Shirley in Australia