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Old October 23rd, 2010, 04:15 PM   #1
Unkl Ian
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Default Tools for Creativity
Re:: "Rules" to live by.   

Originally written for Paul Overton's creative process blog
Make & Meaning, which is now defunct:


"Whatever else may be said of me, I am fundamentally a dreamer: I have ideas. Lots of them. Most are terrible (ask me sometime about my scheme to potty-train cattle), but every so often, one will work out. And, like many creative people, when others see my work, I often get asked "How did you ever think of that?" When I was younger, the process was as mysterious to me as to anybody else. But over the years, I've learned a lot about where my ideas come from and what to do with them when they pop up, and the more I read about and talk to other creative people, the more I come to believe that there are, in fact, some more-or-less universal principles of creativity. And while there will always be something mysterious in the workings of the muse, I do not subscribe to the common belief that creativity is a magical gift bestowed on some and not on others. Like drawing, doing algebra, or speaking a second language, having original ideas is a mental skill that can be developed, and with practice, can
become second nature. What follows is a brief list of the stations on my own personal "assembly line" of ideas. If you need an idea and can't seem to have one, give it a read, give it a try, and see what shakes loose. If it works for you, remember it; if it doesn't, throw it away. Experiment, as
always, and develop your own process.

Step 1: Give yourself permission


Society does not always encourage us to express ourselves
creatively. I was lucky and had supportive parents who put up with my messiness, my inattention to detail, my continual dismantling of household appliances, my tendency to hunt for treasure in other people's garbage, my constant carrying
off and breaking of tools, etc., etc. They always told me I could do anything I set my mind to, and when I came to them, for instance, with a very ugly "modern" table nailed together from scraps out of the lumber pile, they didn't just pat me on the head and say, "That's nice, dear"—they put it in the living room and left it there until it fell apart. My friends who had stricter upbringings are off making more money, now, but none of them is very creative. They learned
early on to do what was expected of them, and that their own ideas were less important. So they stopped having them. And when they are called on to produce original work, they are plagued by insecurity: Well, I might do this, but that's stupid and would never work. First ideas almost always are, and almost never do. You've got to stick with it. Anybody can do it. And the more you do it, the better you'll get at it."
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Old October 23rd, 2010, 04:18 PM   #2
Unkl Ian
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Default Re: Tools for Creativity

Step 2: Clean the slate

One of my favorite American artists is an everyday-object sculptor named Tom Friedman. Tom Friedman, famously, started his artistic career by going into an empty all-white room, closing the door, and sitting in it for days on end. This from an interview with Friedman in Bruce Hainley's 2001 survey of his work, published as part of Phaidon's Contemporary Artists series:

"Every day I would bring an object from my apartment
and place it somewhere in the space. The first day I placed
a metronome on the floor, and it just clicked back and forth.
Or I would sit the whole day, on the floor, looking at it and
thinking about it, and asking questions about my experience of it.
For me, this was more like a mental space that had been cleared away."

When Tom Friedman came out of that room, he started making art
that today is valued at millions of dollars by collectors all over the world.
Cleaning the slate is about eliminating the distractions of daily life and
listening to what bubbles up from inside. The longer and more deeply
you listen, the more interesting the things you'll hear.
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Old October 23rd, 2010, 04:19 PM   #3
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Step 3: Use a prompt

I have a favorite personal exercise that I call a "junket." It goes like this:
Reach blindly into your junk box (you do have a junk box, don't you?)
and pull out a random object. Now make something beautiful and/or useful
out of it. Depending on the extent to which you express the hoarding gene,
you may be dismayed to find yourself holding a completely ugly and useless
piece of trash, like a bent rusty nail. Don't give up on it. Take it into your
empty room and stare at it for awhile: What shape is it? What interesting
features does it already have that you could exploit? What's it made out of?
How was it manufactured? What tools or processes could you use on it?
Mechanical? Electrical? Chemical? Satisfy yourself with the results,
and don't worry what anybody else is going to think. At least not yet.
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Old October 23rd, 2010, 04:21 PM   #4
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Step 4: Write it down. Immediately.

Once an idea comes to you that seems even a little bit interesting,
get it on paper, or at least into a computer, within a few seconds.
I shudder to think how many good ideas I have lost over the years
because they came to me while I was driving, or working, or out with friends,
and some real-life obligation or crisis got in the way before I could record my
inspiration, and my brain just moved on. Don't let that happen to your ideas.
Write them down.

Right now.

Come hell or high water.
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Old October 23rd, 2010, 04:22 PM   #5
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Step 5: Do your research

George Santayana said: "Those who cannot remember the past are
condemned to repeat it." That's dramatic language, certainly, and oft-quoted in
the context of weighty political, social, or economic questions, but just as
true in the context of individual creativity. If your goal is just to satisfy
yourself, then it doesn't really matter, but if you want to bring your work into
the public sphere, you need to know what's come before. If somebody else has
already had your idea and acted on it, you need to know that to avoid repeating
their work. Even if you got there entirely on your own, there will be those who
criticize what you've done as derivative. This will almost certainly happen
anyway, and because nothing comes from a vacuum, in some sense such critics
will always be right. But if you know your history, your work will show it, and
you'll be prepared to explain, if you are so inclined, how what you've done is
new and meaningfully different.
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Old October 23rd, 2010, 04:23 PM   #6
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Step 6: Make it ugly and quickly, at first

If you're passionate about your idea (and you should be), your head may
be exploding with possibilities: If this works, then so might this and that and
these. Or I could try it this way, or make it out of cheese and film a
time-lapse video of its being devoured by rodents. Then play that backwards so
it looks like a bunch of mice are spontaneously building it from cheese.
Whatever. It can be easy to get overwhelmed by all the possibilities, and at
this point it's a good idea to remember the KISS principle. First time out,
reduce your idea to its simplest, most minimal execution, and make that version.
Otherwise, you can get caught waiting on the tools, time, or materials to make
it "perfect" the first time. Remember Picasso: "When you make a thing, a thing
that is new, it is so complicated making it that it is bound to be ugly. But
those that make it after you, they don't have to worry about making it. And they
can make it pretty, and so everybody can like it when others make it after you."
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Old October 23rd, 2010, 04:24 PM   #7
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Step 7: Set it aside.

Once your idea exists, in the world, as a prototype
or concept or model or whatever, put it down for awhile.
Take a deep breath and go on a little vacation from it.
The point is to clear your mind for a week or two
so that you can come back with some perspective.
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Old October 23rd, 2010, 04:25 PM   #8
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Step 8: Come back to it

This can be the hardest step of all. Once the initial euphoria of creation
has dimmed, you have to switch modes and become the editor, the critic, the
analyst. If you're like me, much of the satisfaction of the creative process is
in the "inspiration" stage, and I'd usually rather go on to another inspiration
than go back and put in the perspiration necessary to refine an earlier idea.
But very often it's precisely this effort that makes the difference between
mediocrity and excellence in the final product.
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Old October 23rd, 2010, 04:25 PM   #9
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Step 9: Make it better

By now you should have some ideas about what's working and what's not, and the
challenge is to fix the latter without screwing up the former. Solutions may be
hard to come by, and you may have to go back to your empty room for awhile,
limit your options, redefine the problem. Now can be a good time to court
serendipity, and try to consider the ways your idea might have completely
different applications in some other area. If the Kalahari bushman from The Gods
Must be Crazy came upon your work in the middle of the desert, what would he
think of it? What would he do with it? What would a child do with it? A convict?
An architect?
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Old October 23rd, 2010, 04:26 PM   #10
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Step 10: Rinse and repeat

The process of making improvements and revisions is, in truth, endless. You make
one, you set it aside, you come back to it, you make it better. Then you set it
aside again, come back to it again, and make it better again. The returns of
this effort may diminish with each cycle, or they may increase. At what point
you stop is entirely up to you, but keep in mind the words of Leonardo: "Art is
never finished, only abandoned."
---------------------------------------
Found on http://blog.makezine.com/
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Old October 23rd, 2010, 04:31 PM   #11
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Default Re: Tools for Creativity

Wow Ian, those were some profound words. Thank you for posting that and I think every person on this site could gain some valuable knowledge somewhere in it, if they read it all. It now brings to light where and how people get the fantastic ideas they come up with, most of them without knowing they are doing the things talked about in this article. Very cool.
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Old October 23rd, 2010, 06:18 PM   #12
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Thanks Unk.
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Old October 23rd, 2010, 06:30 PM   #13
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Very true.... I applied and taught most of these principles to my bladesmithing students as was taught to me by my teacher.

Cleaning the shop before and after prepares and clears the mind.

Junk bucket.... all makers have them, I often revisit projects to see where I went wrong or perhaps I was right and didn't know it at the time.

Sketchbooks, I used to draw around 50 designs a week... helps your work develop a "face."

When frustration sets in it's time to move to another piece that's at a different step in the process. Clutter in your mind or soul will reflect in your work.

I taught to look at a knife as something other than a knife. I tend to draw them point down to develop "flow" in the shape. If you only draw a knife as you know a knife then it's less organic and more mechanical. I prefer organic in my work.

Really thought provoking article and very useful in all of our endeavors.
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Old October 23rd, 2010, 10:29 PM   #14
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Thank you! I skimmed, but will use this for reference. Good stuff.
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Old October 24th, 2010, 08:18 AM   #15
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Rules to live by.
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Old October 24th, 2010, 09:35 AM   #16
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Unki Ian,
I have often wondered who you are, what your background is etc. Reading your many posts here and on the HAMB, I have a great respect for your knowlege, and have learned much ....When you talk I listen. I've also wondered how you gained this knowlege over such a wide range of subjects. I gussed you were an older fellow who gained this wisdom thru a profession and/or life experiences, or possibily a younger man who reads,studies, thinks and even daydreams a little or a lot. After reading your Tools of Creatitivy post, it seems you are mixture of all of this. Tools of Creativity would make a great preface for Cut Weld drive vol 2 book!
James
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Old October 24th, 2010, 02:07 PM   #17
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Not to be crude, but okay just this once. A buddy once summed up things of a creative nature and the multiutde of naysayers with "Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke." Meanwhile, I'm printing out Unk's thoughts for a spot above my drawing board.
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Old October 24th, 2010, 02:30 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kitbox56 View Post
Unki Ian,
I have often wondered who you are, what your background is etc. Reading your many posts here and on the HAMB, I have a great respect for your knowlege, and have learned much ....When you talk I listen. I've also wondered how you gained this knowlege over such a wide range of subjects. I gussed you were an older fellow who gained this wisdom thru a profession and/or life experiences, or possibily a younger man who reads,studies, thinks and even daydreams a little or a lot. After reading your Tools of Creatitivy post, it seems you are mixture of all of this. Tools of Creativity would make a great preface for Cut Weld drive vol 2 book!
James


The thing is i wondered as well until i met him a year or so ago now. Everything he speaks hold all the knowledge and sarcasm you can handle. All i have to say is you have to meet him to truly understand
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Old October 24th, 2010, 03:57 PM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by V8Transporter View Post
I'm printing out Unk's thoughts for a spot above my drawing board.


That piece was written by Paul Overton, I'm assuming.
I just found it, and figured people here would appreciate it.
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Old October 24th, 2010, 04:04 PM   #20
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Good post, Ian. It never ceases to amaze me how limited creative people can become with formal education. I work at a company that designs, invents and produces a great many of our own tooling, fixtures and test equipment. An idea is hatched for something and when all is said and done, the result is complicated, unworkable, and ugly as sin. Our engineers and designers work inside the narrow confines of the degree that their school awarded them. There is little overlap between the people using numbers and formulas and the people using the nuts and bolts templates on CAD. When the blueprints end up on the fabrication bench, the idea is all about building a contraption to satisfy the office and has little to do with the task the idea started life with. If people would only allow themselves permission to dream just a little and pull their head out of the mud of that oh-so-important degree, we could get to the end product without another twenty steps after fabrication. Reading about some of the true innovator that built empires in the world by sketching ideas on napkins and directing operations by feeling when things were right rather than checking the spread sheets, I wonder just how limited we have become? Thanks for the post. I will be printing this one out for other people's eyes to see.
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Old October 24th, 2010, 07:05 PM   #21
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Bravo Unkl Ian, well said. I write as a hobby and I remember that first dream that turned into a novel. Most of all, I remember how my family laughed at the idea of me writing a novel. Well, that was in 2000 and since then I've written four novels. Yea, a car guy who writes, and not about cars, but romance! You never know what you can do until you try.

A little writer in you? Well, November is national novel writing month. I've participated four years completing the 50,000 word in a month twice. I'm thinking of doing it again this year. Stretch you wings, and give it a try.

larry
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Old October 24th, 2010, 07:27 PM   #22
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Very good advice. It's very easy to pigeon-hole yourself into a corner, only doing, understanding, and thinking what you know. There's a lot more out there to discover, you just have to be willing to find it.

Thanks Unk!
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Old October 24th, 2010, 08:06 PM   #23
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Story of my life Dude. Don't just read it, go do it! That goes for all of us.
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Old October 24th, 2010, 08:48 PM   #24
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Hey EVOlyn; National Novel writing month? I've got two novels finished, parted with my agent a year or so back and am looking for another. 50k words in a month?...hmmmm. I'm 32,000 into a sequel, and sixteen thousand into another. So far it's an enjoyable hobby, or possibly and odd curse of sorts. But I've got high hopes, and tomorrow I send out another query.
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Old October 24th, 2010, 09:09 PM   #25
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Hey EVOlyn; National Novel writing month? I've got two novels finished, parted with my agent a year or so back and am looking for another. 50k words in a month?...hmmmm. I'm 32,000 into a sequel, and sixteen thousand into a whole different project. So far it's an enjoyable hobby, or possibly and odd curse of sorts. But I've got high hopes, and tomorrow I send out another query.
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