The cover design I was talking about in, ‘Does Creativity have to hurt?’   eventually broke through.  I thought it might be interesting to explore here how artists/designers know when something is ‘Right’.  And do you always know?

First of all a few words about how the breakthrough happened. I’d  hit a wall with the designs I was working on, and very luckily there was a 3 day holiday here, so I put the cover aside for those days, regardless of the 31 May deadline. A bit difficult, since I work at home, and could go to the computer anytime,but I felt it was essential to detach from what I’d already done.

I thought about the cover a bit during those days, but I didn’t obsess about it, so the element of fear was absent.  I deliberately concentrated on how well it was going to work out, and how many previous successes I’ve had with this process.   I relaxedly surfed through a few cover design sites filling myself up with inspiration from others as well as learning what I did and didn’t want in my own cover. I have known the ‘feel’ I wanted for weeks, but have just not been able to get there by approaching it head on.

The night before I was to start work again, I took out my pens and played with making some calligraphic titles until I hit on one which felt right. And that was my starting point for the cover the next day. I also knew I wanted a casual, ‘in process’  looking sort of cover with a crafty feel, not a slick designy one. So I scanned in some brown wrapping paper as a background. With those two elements I built the cover out of collage and type exactly as I would an artwork in my studio. And I started getting excited about it, it started to feel like this was It.

And when I had it about 80% done, I knew it was the cover I wanted for my book. How did I know?

  • It felt great to work on it, solid and constructive rather than searching and a bit frantic
  • It made me smile
  • It gave me energy
  • It surprised me
  • And when I was done, it filled me with happiness and satisfaction every time I looked at it.

There is something few non-artists know about the creative process, and that is how much of it is spent correcting mistakes and wrong directions. It is one big journey of wrong turns and trying to find your way back to the path.

Does this mean there is only one ‘path’ or right solution? No, but I think it would be safe to say, that there is one solution or type of solution for this moment in time, my particular level of development, the kind of book it is, and the requirements of the publisher and future customers.

Once I relaxed, and started working naturally, my own visual vocabulary kicked in and all the elements of play and the touch of quirkiness I wanted in the cover emerged. But they came in sideways as a result of attending to the practical aspects first.

So how do I really know this is the one, and not just one more version that isn’t It?  Because there is nothing more that bothers me. It feels complete and in balance and so do I.

Another clue is that I no longer feel the need to ask anyone’s advice about it. Because I have satisfied my own standards first, nothing anyone can say would make a difference now.

It is not that I don’t find critique helpful, but having worked through this whole process, at this point it is important to honor my own vision and stick to it.




I am right in the middle of one of the most uncomfortable stages of the creative process, I’m stressed out, and my husband asked me if this was really necessary. He’s lived with me for over 25 years and has seen me go through this repeatedly, but still doesn’t understand why I can’t just obsess a little less. And trust more.

Well, I asked myself the same thing. I have a book cover to design, a deadline two weeks from now, and a perfectly workable solution. But I want a better one.  Why? Because no artist or designer with guts settles for ‘good enough’. 

The first solutions, for me, are almost always a matter of getting the cliché’s out of the way so you can start digging for the deeper stuff. The first solutions are things one knows already. Granted, every now and then, you do get struck by lightning right off, and get The Perfect Idea delivered on a silver platter, and you KNOW this is IT. But that is the exception.

So why don’t I just accept the designy, neat, and perfectly usable cover design I now have and stop fretting about not having a better idea?

Firstly, this design doesn’t ring my bells! It doesn’t ‘hum, sing, or give off light’.  It doesn’t touch the soul of the book, (I should know, I wrote the book). When I see it up on my studio wall, it doesn’t make me catch my breath, it hasn’t taken me any new place I haven’t been yet. It doesn’t make me shiver or feel warm all over.  It simply solves the problem in a more or less predictable fashion.

But aren’t I being ‘a bit too perfectionistic?’ , my dear partner asks. Especially since the deadline is creeping nearer.

Yes, probably. But being a seasoned artist, I know the stages of the creative process intimately, and can therefore pinpoint approximately where I am, which explains a lot. Here is a list of the most commonly recognized stages:

1 Beginning idea, question, or problem
2 Information gathering (research, dreams, sketching, photographing, collecting)
3 Saturation (enough or too much information, stop gathering)
4 Incubation (the idea simmers in the subconcsious; on the surface, nothing much is happening)
5 Aha! or series of aha-ettes (The !!Eureka!! moment where a new solution comes seemingly from nowhere)
6 Working out the idea in materials (writing the book, sculpting the form, painting the image, etc)

These phases can take minutes or months in varying proportions.

With the cover I am still in Information gathering, and resisting it because I feel I should be further along. Everyone wants to go straight to Aha, but you generally can’t skip steps -you must pass GO every time.

What makes Information gathering, Saturation and Incubation so uncomfortable, especially with deadline work, is that you have to be patient and above all trust the process! The hours are ticking by and nothing visible is happening. You are waiting when you feel you should be working even harder.

I have to trust that even though I don’t have the new idea now, by a strange alchemy of waiting, working, noodling around, playing, being serious, letting go, holding on, trusting and freaking- in the end something whole and new and glowing and unexpected will emerge from the mess.

My husband looks on concernedly while I thrash around in the chaos, but that’s simply the part of the process I’m in.

I’d be curious if any other professional designers or artists who work on commission recognize this. Please leave a comment if you do.


For the moment I am stopping posting artwork regularly.

My focus has moved to another project which is demanding all my time. It is very exciting for me and I will be revealing more here as things develop.