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Working With Creativity: 6 Tips From My Inbox

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The second post in an accidental series on working with your creativity. Thank you for your feedback! The first post was about finding inspiration and taking hold of your own ideas. This post is derived from numerous email conversations I have had over the years. Grab a cuppa and let’s go!

1) I am not creative but would love to know how I become one.

I believe that we are all born creative beings but somewhere along the way, some of us lose confidence in our own creativity. One of the defining things about us humans is that we make stuff. Look at us! We made fire and flint tools; now we land tiny machines on comets!

Do you cook? Do you bake? Do you garden? You are creative.

So, your job is actually to allow yourself to play and make stuff just for the sake of making. Get in touch with your younger self who told herself stories whilst playing. Make time to faff about.

2) I am really creative but things never look like they are supposed to. What am I doing wrong?

This is a really big question.

First of all, I hear you: I have all these ideas in my head and they rarely come out looking like what I expect. That is a perfectly normal phenomenon – so normal that it was discussed many thousand years ago by the famous Greek philosopher Plato in his Allegory of the Cave. So, be kind to yourself and look at your creative project with an objective eye. So, it doesn’t look like it’s supposed to but does it look like something else that is just as great?

Secondly, there is something to be said about practising your skills and knowing the tools of your craft. It is pretty straightforward: if you are an excellent cellist, you will find it easier to write a great piece for cellos; If you are a skilled lace knitter, you will find it easier to design a lace pattern; If you are a writer, having a good vocabulary helps you write characters who sound like actual individuals.

In summary: be kind to yourself but also acknowledge when you need to brush up on skills.

3) I’m a writer & designer, but I’m yet to write & design anything. Can you help me get started?

Some tough love: if you don’t write or design, you are not a writer or a designer. Simple as that. I used to date someone who called himself a writer but he had never written anything. It was all in his head. Unless you get the words out of your head and on to paper (or screen), it doesn’t count.

Some less tough love: I am a creative and I know all about fear and how easy it is not to do anything – your brain will give you a tonne of reasons why it’s easier not to create. My personal demon is how nothing I create will ever measure up to the ideal version in my head (see above!). When I get a visit from that particular thought, I sit down and play. I doodle and I play around with scraps of art material. And then I get on with things. Months later I will look back at things I made and wonder why I ever found them troublesome and imperfect.

The best way to get started is to sit down and make some stuff. It doesn’t need to be Pride & PrejudiceMona Lisa, or the most elaborate cabled cardigan ever – you just need to get started. It gets easier.

fashion

Pinterest: sorting out what’s in your head

4) Where do you find inspiration? What books can you recommend?

You need to hunt your own narwhals. Find out what is specific to you and your interests. In the words of a (not very good) 1990s British song: I got to be myself/ I can be no one else..

Try narrowing down who you are as a creative being and what you will mine for inspiration. Essentially, it is not about finding a lot of influences that look great on paper. You need to nail down who you are because it makes creative decisions a lot easier.

I’ll use myself as an example: I like art, music, books, history, culture and films. Pretty generic, huh? I like early 20th century avant-garde art, Antipodean weird pop music, TS Eliot, prehistoric archaeology, print culture (particularly early printing), and the film director Todd Haynes. Looking closer, all these things/people seem to inhabit a place of instability and societal shifts. That’s a pretty rich seam to mine from a creative point of view. It also means that I can easily identify what aligns with my values and my skill set. I’d be so bad at designing a collection of baseball-inspired sock patterns!

The only piece of advice I can give is that you should try to look outside your particularly creative field. If you are into knitting, get really good at knitting but also keep tabs on other creative fields, read about other interests, and listen to podcasts about deep sea exploration (or whatever). The author Vladimir Nabokov was obsessed with butterflies, the poet Emily Dickinson was allegedly a passionate baker, and the actor Vin Diesel loves table-top gaming.

Who are you as a creative? What makes you you as a maker?

5. What tools do I need to get started? What do you use?

Many people love having beautiful, expensive tools and they have elaborate rituals that help them in their creative work. But I am going to give it to you straight: a £50 journal, six types of washi tapes, three expensive pens, and the perfect mug will not make you a writer, designer, or artist. These things may make you feel you are settling into a creative space – which can be very helpful – but the starting point is always your own imagination.

(Having said that, I do love stationery as much as everyone. I even have washi tape in the house, but I mainly use it for taping up sprained fingers.)

I like uni-ball rollerball pens – they are easily available, feel good in my hand, and not so expensive that I’ll cry if I forget one on a train. I use small journals: unlined for sketches and general mindmapping; squared for quick charting and schematics. I use Scrivener for writing, Open Office for spreadsheets and databases, Stitchmastery for knitting charting (Crochet? Google is your friend) and Scribus for general layout. You need to figure out your own configuration and (this is crucial) you need to learn how to use the software programmes, so they become helpful tools rather than something that stops you making.

Remember: Your imagination is the important thing. You cannot buy that.Caspar David Friedrich - Wanderer above the sea of fog

6. Best advice ever for a wanna-be creative?

Butt, meet chair.

Sit down and do it, in other words. Don’t wait for inspiration. Make inspiration come to you. The more you are sitting in that chair working away, the more likely it is that you will have a brilliant idea. The idea of floating about your life waiting for inspiration to hit is a terrible notion brought to you by Romanticists who were mainly aristocratic wastrels floating around high on opium. So, don’t do that.

Do this: Butt, meet chair.

I occasionally teach classes on designing, creativity and how to move from vague ideas to full-blown project. Keep an eye on my workshop schedule if you are interested. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be adding other blog posts on working with creativity and various aspects.

Everything Is About Narwhals: Finding Inspiration & Working with Creativity

This is a long overdue post. I get asked a lot what I am reading, how I work and where to find inspiration. I hope this post will be a road-map for you to discover your own inspiration and finding your own creative path.

First, let us travel back to my childhood in Denmark. I grew up in a small town of roughly 3,000 people and I loved our local library. My favourite section was what the local library classification system (DK5) called the “00-07 section: General Works” – a grab bag of encyclopedia, books about books, interdisciplinary books etc. As a child, I’d walk in, pull down a few books and sit in a chair reading until my mum returned from the shops. It was a scattershot approach but it led me to different sections I never would have discovered otherwise. I learned about Roman slaves, costume history, parapsychology (hey, section 14 was just the next book case along) and so forth.

I’ve spent some time thinking about this in the context of ebooks & digital downloads (which I adore). I love being able to walk over to my book shelves and discover a paragraph about historical knitting, domestic work, or even a technical run-down of various cast-ons. I crave context and knowledge. I relish discovering new ideas simply by picking up a random book.  I am a big fan of owning physical (knitting) books – that chance of discovery is priceless.

All if this is written from the perspective of someone who works with knitting professionally on a full-time basis. I realise I am writing this from a privileged perspective (and as someone who does not mind a cluttered home).

What do you do if this is not your reality? Let’s take a look at the general principles of everything is about narwhals.

  1. Chance: Start by opening a random book,  or typing in a random word into Google Image Search, or walking down a street you don’t know.
  2. Open Your Eyes, Ears & Mind: what is interesting? what captures your imagination? what is different? what is new? what is awesome?
  3. Document. Keep a commonplace book; use Evernote (making sure to tag), take photos, draw and doodle.
  4. Everything is About Narwhals. Suddenly you will notice the same thing everywhere: you’ll see the same motif recurring or the same ideas propping up in all sorts of places. If you get interested in narwhals along the way, suddenly you’ll realise everything is about narwhals.
  5. Begin Your Creative Project. You’ll have your scattershot notes, your own sources, your own documentation and your own story. How does it all fit together?
  6. Make stuff! And hopefully share it with the world because the world needs creative people.

narwhal-clip-art-narwhal_facts_by_chibiwolf1005-d38o5rq

Narwhal by chibiwolf1005

Obviously not everything is about narwhals, but it is a neat way of explaining how creativity works for me. To couch in more high-brow terms, my creative work is synthetic (derived from Greek “synthesis”:  ‘with’ + ‘placement’ – σύνθεσις). I work my way to a coherent idea by placing many ideas together and then I find out what happens. 

So, while I can tell you what I am reading and I share photos on Instagram of amazing things I see, the really important thing is that you go out and find your narwhals.

Let’s look closer at steps 5 and 6 above.

5. Begin Your Creative Project: you have your narwhal idea, you also have scraps of paper, doodles, and maybe even a Pinterest mood board (here’s a random one of mine). This is the point where you sit down and try to make sense of it all.

  • Do you have a colour scheme?
  • Do you have recurrent motifs?
  • Do you have stories you want to tell?
  • How do you want to communicate your ideas?

This is when you start sketching or writing. Remember you are currently working to put things together and you are working your way towards a project. Do not be afraid of commit ideas to paper because you are not making final decisions. Just play and combine.

6. Make Stuff: you have your big idea ready to go and you know the colour/motifs/story. This is the time to create your beautiful piece.So, sit down and make it. Take ownership of it as well because it could not have come into being without you. You rock.

Addendum: I occasionally teach classes on designing, creativity and how to move from vague ideas to full-blown project. Keep an eye on my workshop schedule if you are interested.

A Creative Life Is Mine

I was asked for career advice recently – and quite apart by being floored by being asked, it also made me think very hard about what it is I do and why.  This coincided with a friend sharing this blog post about creativity, process and blogging with me. Forgive my rambling, meandering post, but I have thoughts in my head..

One of the most common reasons people give preventing them from doing something creative is that it has already been done. (..) It is as if there should only be a certain number of people in any creative field, as if it were a party in a small house and could get too crowded.

I believe strongly that everybody is creative – this imaginative spark is what makes us human. When I run craft workshops, I always try to push people into embracing their creative sides: ‘what happens if you do X & Y? Which colours do you like? Try to combine those.’ It always comes as a shock to people but I don’t have a textile degree – yet I work within the knitting industry as a craft teacher and a knitting designer among other things. I don’t have an art degree, yet I have exhibited my work in galleries. Does this invalidate me as a Creative? No. It just means I am autodidact and I take some interesting detours during my work process.

Read more →

On the Town

13Oh, my Glasgow. She is pretty even if we do not see the sun all that often and it rains a great deal. She is pretty.

We went into town today, to the Lighthouse (not as in Virginia Woolf, but as in The Lighthouse, the Scottish centre for architecture, design and urbanity).

Other Half wanted to see the Donna Wilson exhibition as he went to art school with her. We also fancied some free books.

In the end, we got away with eleven free books on a number of topics: food design, twentieth century architecture, re-imagining Scottish cities etc. Some very cool, interesting and useful stuff. I somehow also managed to buy a book on the Wiener Werkstätte because I’m a sucker for early twentieth-century design. Ahh..

Che Camille is not far from The Lighthouse. I like the place a lot and right now it feels like one of Glasgow’s best-kept secrets. It won’t stay that way. The boutique/design workshop takes up most of the upper floor of one of the many Victorian buildings lining the shopping street – and getting up there to see what they have done with the space would be enough of a reason, but they are also featuring fabulous, quirky clothes/furniture from young designers. I cannot afford anything (except tiny handknits which I obviously prefer to create myself), but I do surreptitiously feed off the fantastic sense of synergy created by its owner, Camille.

Tomorrow Other Half and I will be off to Che Camille’s Clothes Swap/Customise Yr Clothes workshop. Should be fun.

16(this is the staircase in the Lighthouse Tower. pretty, no?)

Thank you for your advice on what to do when the knitting mojo just isn’t there. I have finished one sleeve of my grey jumper and will embark on the other tonight. I just think I hate knitting sleeves, to be honest. Then I’ll be knitting the collar which is the bit which really interests me with this jumper.

I have two different types of collars in mind. One is an asymmetrical bow-like construct (vaguely reminiscent of half-a-fan neckwarmer (thank you, mooncalf, for the lovely example) for which I have no pattern plus I’ll have to turn the construction around ninety degrees. I’m either going mad or am stretching my knitting abilities. Possibly both). The other idea revolves around a tube-like construct which I could attach with buttons. The latter is not half as elegant as the former but will not involve me trying to reverse engineer an unknown pattern and then turn it on its side.

Le sigh.

Next time I’m making a jumper, I’ll use a pattern.