Techniques For Creativity

Before we can start using a technique we need to have some idea of what we want to create.

My most general way of starting a new project is having a definite idea of how to get the picture in my mind into reality. My first attempt will usually show that there were several things I didn’t consider.

Attempt number two will be better but still not come up to my expectations. By the third attempt I may have a workable model in metal.

If this is a piece that I am going to produce repeatedly there will be continual refinements in the coming months and sometimes years.

Obviously, there are people who would have had all this worked out before they started. I applaud them but it just isn’t my style.

Let’s call the first attempt a series of mistakes. These mistakes give me direction. This direction give me a feeling of security. In a sense the first. second and third attempts are finding my way or more aptly put, “feeling my way”. Discovering what works and what doesn’t.

In the barn below there are many elements and each one must be worked out.

Some of the elements have already been worked out in other pieces but some are specific to this barn.

The piece below is small. It’s about 5” tall and 4” wide. It has a lot of detail which must fit in proportionally and in keeping with the theme. For this piece I was able to draw on similar pieces I have done in the past.

Skills and Creativity go hand in hand. Skills are cumulative as in a skill learned on one piece can be used in another piece.

The fact that I am able to create this design gives me confidence in designing another piece in a similar vein. For example, I might decide to do a musical sculpture with a guitar, banjo or a violin.

Going back to the barn above, it’s helpful to know that a large piece is primarily made up of a number of small pieces. To make the barn structure is fairly easy. It is working out all the small detail pieces and their proportions that takes time and calls on my creativity.

Pressure: Sometimes I work well under pressure.

Several years ago I started to work on a design for pine trees. What I tried didn’t work out too well. This was a case where I was over confident and thought that I could whip out a good looking pine tree quickly.

I had an idea so I started and made some parts for the trees. I wasn’t happy with what I had come up with and decided since I didn’t have to make pine trees it was probably best to forget it.

Fast forward to the present. One of my DVD customers wanted to know if I had any videos on pine trees. Without too much thought I emailed him that I would see what I could come up with.

By saying that I would see what I could come up with I was putting some pressure on myself. I am pretty good at doing what I say I’ll do.

I tried a couple of new ideas which didn’t work. I dug out the parts that I had made and began in earnest to make a pine tree. First results were not too great. But, they gave me some place to make a new start. Finally they came together.

A key phrase here is “in earnest”. Until I make a earnest commitment, the chances of success are less than optimal.

None of this would have happened if it wasn’t for that little bit of pressure I put on myself. I had made a promise and I am good at coming through on promises.

Here is the progression on the pine tree:

1st attempt didn’t do it for me so I added a little green craft paint hoping that the paint would make a difference. It didn’t. Rather anemic.


2nd attempt I thought maybe if I would give the trunk of the tree a tiny bit more form. Better, but not there yet.  Needs more form.


3rd attempt: Trunk has more form but the tree is too short.

4th attempt: Maybe a different form on the copper. Trunk looks good, height is better but it doesn’t look like a pine tree.


All of this led to this:



Another technique I find that sometimes works is incubation. I have something to work out and try as I might I just can’t get it. At this point if I can forget about it and go on to something else, later the solution may pop up in my mind.

For some people, thinking about the problem just before they fall asleep works. When they wake up they may have the solution or at least an idea to take them one step forward.

My best example of this I’ve written about elsewhere, but it is worth repeating.

I was designing for a company and they wanted me to improve the shipping cartons for larger wall sculptures. I spent days trying to come up with a solution. Nothing I tried was better than what we were using.

It was a year later and I had left the company and was working out of my own studio and shipping my work to stores. One morning I woke up at 2 AM and had the solution. The next morning I called the corrugated company and ordered the cartons.

Where did the idea come from? I have no idea. All I can say is that I had a problem and from somewhere came the solution.

I have several unfinished pieces that have been hanging in my shop for twenty years or more. Obviously the incubation technique is not working. What I think is happening here is that I don’t have enough of the desire to finish them.

To be certain, there are techniques for coming up with new ideas. The only problem with techniques is that they sometimes don’t work.

We have all had the experience of cramming for an exam. Sometimes this works and sometime it doesn’t.

The approach which I find best is to have a number of techniques. When none of these works then it is best to hang it up and put creativity on hold.

I discuss this in this chapter: When Nothing Works

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