Creativity Interviews: Introduction

Student engaged in the research and analysis phase of a large scale landscape architecture project.

“… I see your life as something artful, waiting, just waiting and ready for you to make it art.” Toni Morrison

While teaching graduate courses in Landscape Architecture I observed a puzzling phenomenon.  It had to do with students transitioning from the analytical, research-oriented start of a project, to the creative, design-oriented portion of the assignment. Students are generally excited to start “being creative” and designing, but extensive research tasks must come first to inform the design solutions. 

Sample analysis diagrams used to assist with design solutions.

These bright, engaged graduate students were ready to start creating. However, once the design phase began a curious thing happened: the students somehow “froze”. 

Going from desk to desk I found the same problem repeated: they could not think of solutions. They were creatively stuck. They had almost no ideas. After generating one or two basic, obvious solutions they would reach a wall. Frustration was typically quite high.

Architecture graduate studio

We discussed the difficulty of being creative. How challenging it is to “turn on” creativity, especially when deadlines are looming. We used exercises, discussions, inspirational images and other techniques to spur their creativity. Eventually ideas flowed. By the end of the assignment they had viable, inventive solutions to complex design problems. Completed projects were often impressively innovative, well beyond expectations. It was exciting to see student’s ideas expand over the course of an assignment.

Final presentation boards, Landscape Architecture graduate student projects.

But I began to wonder about the nature of Creativity. Where does it come from? Can it be enhanced? How can we support our creative energy? How do we go from being “stuck” to being inspired? What types of decisions help maintain a creative life? I wanted to help students learn skills to support a profession that requires creativity, often on demand with tight budgets and short timelines.

Final Architecture student models

As a life-long working artist I was also interested in the personal implications of understanding more about the creative process. I became increasingly interested in the personal experience of living creatively, and began to interview creative individuals, talking to a wide variety of creative people in differing fields about their experience of living a creative life. 

We discussed how they maintain their creative energy, and the benefits and challenges they faced along the way. I spoke with people of different ages, races, genders, creative outlets, locations and professions. They have been creative in a widely differing ways, including designing a life that supports their creative drive.

This blog will feature partial summaries from hours of interviews with these creative people. I hope you find them insightful as you develop your own creative practice. 

Edge of the Cedars State Park

Chacoan Great House, Edge of the Cedars State Park

In addition to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks I visited several interesting state parks on my recent trip to Utah. My favorite type of driving trip includes opening a (paper) map and simply exploring.

Edge of the Cedars State Park is in southern Utah and worth a stop if you find yourself in the area. I wrote a guest article about this park for my brother’s ceramics-focused blog: JTWceramics.com He covers everything ceramics from contemporary artists to archeological finds.

Historic pots and bone sculpting tools

Housed in a very attractive building, the museum has a nice collection of historic artifacts, including some impressive ceramics, turkey feather blankets, historic tools, and a Chacoan Great House and Kiva at the site.

Historic ceramics with contemporary designs
Museum second floor displays

Intentional Creativity: American Parks, Arches and Canyonlands

Arches National Park

Intentional creativity requires nurturing, exploration, and synthesis. Our parks systems are excellent resources for this part of a creative practice. A couple of weeks ago I visited Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park in southern Utah. Both are part of our amazing national parks system, and are remarkable places. Along the way I explored several state parks as well. The trip was part of an intentional practice of feeding my creative language, and embedding visual experiences with emotional responses. This type of practice develops a “reservoir” of ideas and memories that is an important part of building internal creative resources. New ideas flow from new experiences and help prevent stagnation of thought. 

Arches National Park
Sunrise, Arches National Park

One outstanding part of the trip was sunrise in Arches. While I resisted getting up before dawn, this was a “not to miss” experience. The intense morning light makes the incredible landforms glow, illuminating layers of open arches in a golden rosy brilliance. The crowds are thinner, the air fresh, and we wandered on “primitive trails” that brought quiet and time for personal reflection.

Morning light, Arches National Park

Another exceptional experience was leaving the Moab area for the southern The Needles entrance to Canyonlands. Because this area is more remote large crowds do not seem to gather here. While not alone, we had lots of space to explore this amazing and unusual landscape. The trail we chose winds through slot canyons and lower parts of this vast park, then climbs up to the sentinel rocks with fantastic vistas. 

The Needles, Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park
The Needles, Canyonlands National Park

As an artist I felt overwhelmed with inspiration, and creative impulse. I took extensive reference photos, and consciously tried to embed the feeling of space, beauty, and visual information to bring it back home with me. I am currently working on a piece about rocks and arches. Also percolating in my mind are gestural pieces that relate to motion and forms, more than specific places, on this trip. It remains to be seen what emerges from my studio, but the creative nourishment from this trip remains an inspiration.

Land patterns, Canyonlands National Park

FROM MY STUDIO: CATCHING MY EYE

In the past few days a couple of pieces I made during the summer have been catching my eye. Often a piece of work that is nearing completion needs to be set aside for a while in order to decide whether it is finished. 

This “curing time” provides for more objectivity when assessing a piece of work that is in progress. This is a common practice among many creators. The distance from an intense period of work on a painting helps me decide whether it is truly resolved to my satisfaction. During this break I begin work on other pieces, become somewhat less emotionally involved with the original piece, and am able to view it more objectively. I keep these pieces in my peripheral view around my studio, and periodically assess them. In this way I have time to decide whether I find a piece intriguing enough for prolonged viewing.  Minor, or even major, adjustments may follow this phase.

This week I noticed two pieces have caught my eye. One is small, the other more mid-sized. Each of them is giving me a sense of completion, and having achieved my goals. I share them here, and they can now be found on my Home page for this website as well.

“Morning On the Path” 8 x 8″; Oil and Cold Wax on cradled board
“Thunderstorm-Sonoita, AZ” 24 x 24″; Oil and Cold Wax on cradled board

LEARNING ABOUT MY WEBSITE

One of the best things about trying something new is the learning process that stretches us as we grow. When I started this website and blog the process was entirely new to me.

This week I am looking behind the scenes to understand some of the hidden functions of running a website and blog. I expected my Subscribers (thank you so much for your support!) were receiving notice of my blog posts. However, that was not the case. So I am learning different ways to post my material, which in turn is teaching me more about how websites function.

We never know what new experiences will teach us, but the journey remains a big part of the adventure!

Also, I have been planting in my garden on these cooler Tucson mornings!