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Does creativity have to hurt?

May 18, 2010

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.

thanks.

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2 Responses to “Does creativity have to hurt?”

  1. katie Says:

    I absolutely love your writing and your website. I feel your process, as though it were my own. Thank you for being open and sharing and going that extra bit to let people into the beautiful chaotic process that is art mixed with business. Thanks.


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