Author Archives: dezignarob

About dezignarob

In a career spanning more than thirty years I have been a costume, scenic and lighting designer and worked in every kind of theater from community to educational to “broadway” style, both in Australia and the US. I was a freelance Production Designer of independent films before repurposing my life as a homeschooling mother and textile artist. Now I craft and write - "Crafting for a Greener World" column for Natural Life Magazine, screenplays and musings about creativity, alternative education and mindful parenting.

Criticism

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photo credit: Etwood via photopin cc

You may have noticed that I haven’t posted in the last couple of months. That’s because I’ve been working on an important writing project, quite literally full-time. It was a creative non-fiction book proposal, with a sample chapter.

Now that the proposal is submitted, in this brief interlude before I begin the main project, I intend to get a little ahead on my Creativity Blasts.

There have been two valuable parts to this project so far. The first is the deadline, which forced me to organize my process. I didn’t have time to procrastinate, and even though I needed to research, I couldn’t use that research to procrastinate.

The second part is the critique that I originally received when I first handed in something of a rough draft. It was very emotionally challenging to be told how far my work was off the mark at that point. It made me realize the lack of clarity in my writing, and forced me to think a little harder about point of view. What I’m working on is in the realm of creative nonfiction. There is still narrative, character, and the need for engagement.

The people who were the most rigorous, almost brutal, with their criticisms, were the ones who helped me the most.

“The first draft of anything is shit”. ~ Ernest Hemingway

It was hard to hear. It was even a little embarrassing. But the contrast between that first attempt, which I acknowledge was unfinished, and the work in the newly written chapter is enormous.

It was crucial that I stay open and acceptant. I chose acceptance. Even though my initial emotional reaction was defensive, I set that aside and asked for more criticism. I wanted specifics – specific problems – because these would help me more than generalities.

The great thing was that in the process of doing the next draft, if I found myself recreating those particular issues that had been raised with me, I was able to see it occurring. My own discernment was raised from the process of accepting criticism. That too is, and will be, invaluable.

So this week my challenge to everyone is to be acceptant of criticism of your creative work, to be open to the information, and to push through your own emotional resistance and self-defense. It may be that on reflection you disagree with the critique, but that isn’t what happened to me this time.

And this time I learned a great deal more from criticism than from praise.

“Happy are they that hear their detractions and can put them to mending”  ~ ActII;Sc3, Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare

5 Questions: About Fun!

Here is the next in my intermittent series of Five Questions blog posts.

Dancing in the sprinkler

Now this was fun!

When I say five questions about fun I don’t mean general fun. I mean using fun to reignite your creativity. There are many times when the creative process does not seem like fun at all. For example you’ve heard of writer’s block I suppose? What about all those times when actually completing a project of any kind means a hard slog of physical labor? And then there are the times when you just can’t come up with an idea or a method to realize your dream.

These are questions to help you rediscover the fun. Remember it’s supposed to be fun. You can write your answers, make a collage, or a sketch, or talk them over with a trusted friend. If you want to have a discussion on Facebook or leave comments here please do.

Question 1:

What was your best day ever when you were 10 years old? What was great about it? Visualize. Remember to smile while you think about.

Question 2:

Why did you want to do this (your current) project in the first place? What was going to be fun about it? Is it still worth doing?

You can turn this into a question about a future project as well. Why do you want to do this? Will it be fun? Even with challenges, is it still worth doing?

Question 3:

Think of your best friend from your childhood. What was the most fun thing about that person? What was the most fun thing you ever did together? Have you done anything like that lately?

Question 4:

When exactly did this stop being fun? What were you doing at the time? Were you hungry, lonely, tired, burnt out? Did someone else diminish or criticize your project?

Question 5:

Who (make it a fan of your work) can you talk to today to rediscover the fun? Or do you just need a break?

Have fun!

Finding the right time to create

Owl cover stamp

Are you a night owl or a morning person? When do you become most energized? When are you the most productive? When are you the most reflective? Your creativity will be enhanced if you can find the best time for you to do each kind of work.

Sometimes life gets in the way. Some time ago by following my daughter in her unusual sleep schedule, I discovered that very early mornings were wonderful for me to do deep creative thinking and processing. I found myself especially productive when I was writing in the predawn hours. What is interesting to me, is that just after I wake up is not the same as super early morning for that kind of productive work. I guess it is something to do with the diurnal rhythm and the sun coming up.

Predawn, I find myself in the flow – that wonderful, timeless state where the words pour out and decided me it’s morning and other people start to need me.

Unfortunately ordinary life can get in the way of choosing when I can work. It would be wonderful to get up at 4 AM every day and get in four hours of productive work even before anyone else is about. Sometimes my body lets me down, and I just need more sleep.

But sometimes it is the allure of the night that prevents me from sleeping. I have always been a night owl from my theater days, and I find the dark seems to energize my thinking.

What is not helpful for me at night, is trying to complete project work – handwork or tasks that require a lot of visual acuity. There have been many times in my life when a deadline has forced me to pull an all-nighter. But the work from these sessions was never as good, and now I substitute planning instead of urgency.

When you are trying to determine when your most creative time of day is, consider that there are many different types of activity. There is the learning and planning stage. There is the producing of artworks or expressive pieces. Then there is the critiquing and evaluating of the work that you have done, the editing. There is also the need for mental exercises and creativity work not connected to specific projects (like reading this blog). The seeking of inspiration, time just noodling, and time practicing skills might need different times of day from the knuckle-down-and-work time.

Think about which activities energize you. Those will be one that are good to do early in the day – that will keep you awake and alert. Finishing a task early gives a sense of accomplishment and inspiration.

Then consider which activities relax you, or give you a sense of release. Those are the ones that are great to do towards the end of your day, when you can look back and feel satisfied.

Either way, the important thing is to know your self and to schedule your most productive work at the time that works for you.

 

Break Through Thinking

Plant Cell Model detail

Plant Cell Model – chloroplasts and vacuole

I am super excited about a new personal insight into my own process.

I was listening to an Erika Kalmar training call, and she suggested this awesome self-reflective process, that I think could be helpful for anyone trying to turn their creativity into a practical action plan.

Erika outlined the steps.

  1. Write down your five most proud achievements in your life.
  2. Write down the main thing that you did to achieve it. What led to each success?
  3. What are the top three things/practices you do to achieve goals?
  4. How you can apply these to your current business?
  5. Then ask “What is your next goal?”

I actually had a list of seven personal and business achievements. And I saw a pattern immediately!

I realized that to create success in the past I usually:

  1. LEARN – read, study and research about the problem or issue. Learn how.
  2. PLAN – prepare well, make a list of steps, schedule, design – in the case of this blog, I planned my topics. For a successful production, planning the steps in the design work. Have a structure for a written piece.
  3. WORK – just do the work, and work hard.

I also realized that this system works when I follow these steps in order, rather than trying to take short cuts. Skipping ahead and failing to plan is just as disastrous for me as trying to learn on the go. Of course neither learning nor planning is at all useful without the follow through of doing the work. Plus it is important not to allow either of the first steps to become tools for procrastination.

It seems absurdly simple now that I see it written out –

LEARN

PLAN

WORK

But it has given me blueprint to proceed with my couple of businesses and the two writing projects and take them towards success.

What steps do you take to achieve successful outcomes to your projects?

Aesthetic Preference – Steampunk/Clockpunk

This is one of my personal favorite Aesthetic Preferences. Steampunk and the visual offshoot Clockpunk have both become very popular and accessible, especially in the form of jewelry and home décor. You know an aesthetic has entered the mainstream when there are a bunch of scrapbooking and papercrafting lines devoted to it!

Steampunk began as a literary sub-genre within science fiction. The original idea was an alternative history where steam power, as it began in the Industrial Revolution, is the basis of technology and industry. For example rather than an internal combustion engine, vehicles would continue to be steam powered. Part of the assumption is that air travel would have developed along the lines of dirigibles rather than fixed wing planes. The early steam ships would have become bigger and more luxurious, instead of diesel engines taking over. Imagine Leonardo da Vinci with the addition of steam engines. Iron is needed for the engines, so it is not wasted on body work – instead there would be a great deal of wood, ahead of aluminum. The first solution to any problem would be mechanical rather electrical devices. The writers started in the Victorian era and moved on from there.

Leonardo da Vinci Spring Device

Leonardo da Vinci – Spring Device

The aesthetic springs from that idea and includes pipes, pulleys, wheel mechanisms, valves, tubes, steamy mists and late Victoriana. The preferred metallics are brass, stainless steel, copper and galvanized iron, or iron with rust. Motifs spring from steam engines including pistons, turbines, and of course clockwork, including keys and all sorts of cogs. On clothing the garments of the Victorian and Edwardian era are embellished with buckles, turnbuckles, grommets and belts. Look for small machines and vials, leather either new and glossy or distressed and worn.

Here’s my current Etsy Treasury of a small selection of the myriad of cool steampunk themed items around. It includes some of the accessory staples, goggles – based on a combination of old driving glasses from nascent automobiles and safety goggles.

Timelady by WolkenschiffRebecca

Movies whose plots are founded on steam powered technology include The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003), Wild Wild West (1999), City of Ember  (2008) and the recent Sherlock Holmes (2009) and sequel. For some nice clock work see Hugo (2011). The presence of steampunk technology in the design was a point of contention in The Three Musketeers (2011).

Literary genre scholars tend to believe that the presence of steam technology in earlier times would have a ripple effect on culture and politics. There are popular forums and academic discourses devoted to it.

However there are more movies where the steam punk aesthetic is present. To find it lurking in classic movies takes some more observation but certainly includes Metropolis (1927), The Time Machine (1960), Modern Times (1936) and The Wizard of Oz (1939). It feels like some of the iterations of Gotham City show steampunk influence. Take steampunk medieval in Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013), and notice the visual motifs in Time Bandits (1981) and Van Helsing (2004). How about the machine in Princess Bride (1987)?

The Machine from The Princess Bride.

Steampunk characters are staples of cosplay. I think it’s because those garments so much fun. And everyone is flattered by a nice corset.

steampunk

Design Principle – Scale & Dominance

Scale and dominance are about the relationship and ratio between parts within the design. Scale can draw attention to the focal point of a design, which should be the dominant feature or motif. We hear the term focal point a lot when people talk about interior decoration. Scale naturally pairs with Shape, but acts on all the Elements.

On a web page the focal point might be the Call the Action with the words “Click Here” being in a large or bolder font. The question to ask is “where do you want your viewer’s or reader’s attention to go?”

Changes in scale can create the sense of depth. Scale works interestingly with color, where the smallest amount can be the most visible focal point. Dominance can be asserted through point of view and framing.

Scale expressing ideas

Scale expressing ideas

Scale acts on Texture to change it enormously. Texture magnified changes to shape. Scale has to do with filling space comfortably and with balance also. Think of furniture in a room. We recently changed our living room furniture because it was so large that it made the space feel crowded.

Scale is a function of distance – the distance of the viewer from the object.

People speak of the scale of a production in theater – that the set concept fits the space and the gravitas of the script. Spectacle is large scale – epic and thrilling; character drama is intimate and engaging.

photo credit: Thomas Hawk via photopin cc

photo credit: Thomas Hawk via photopin cc

Sparking Creativity by Playing With Scale

Layer and overlap shapes in different sizes for a design.

Look at fractals, where the amount of complexity stays the same regardless of how much the original is magnified.

Fractal

photo credit: SantaRosa OLD SKOOL via photopin cc

Imagine how a small piece, sculpture or painting might work if it were tripled in size. What about if it were miniaturized?

Words – change the size of individual words for emphasis as you journal or make quotation posters.

Scale in music – not musical scales – but the idea that some parts might be louder, more grand or that in an orchestra different instruments dominate the melody line at different times.

 

 

 

 

Finding Inspiration in Nature – Geology

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I always enjoy the episodes of shows like “Project Runway” when they send the contestants out somewhere, usually with a camera, to find extraordinary visual inspiration. Especially by using a camera, the artists are essentially forced to look at things differently and to notice details.

In past Blasts I’ve written about the idea of taking a walk to jump start creativity when stuck, and I’ve written elsewhere about getting organized and how cameras can help you see things (like clutter) that the eye passes over.

It’s easy when you live somewhere gorgeous to find inspiration in your landscape. When I studied Creative Arts at the University of Wollongong, every painter was initially inspired by two things. First the overwhelming presence of the escarpment, where the cliffs met the coast covered in lush temperate rainforest, was a feature in many first works. Second the prominent industrial landscape of the Port Kembla steelworks, an overt disruption to the skyline and an endless source of new shapes and textures, influenced painters, printmakers and sculptors alike.

These are “macro” inspiration – taking motifs from the wider environment. What about looking closer and finding inspiration in the “micro” visual.

For example consider the beautiful slices of agate and similar stones in the Mineral Hall at pretty much any Natural History Museum. They can be used as inspiration for abstract paintings or textile designs. Crystalline structures form the foundation of many a science fiction story.

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Geology is the study of minerals and the earth.

It is a huge area of study full of specialty disciplines including microscopic studies of elements through to global systems, and beyond.

Here are some useful sites.

http://geology.com/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geology

http://geology.gsapubs.org/

http://www.usgs.gov/

Geology entails investigating landscapes, studying stones and gems, and the formation of soils. It means considering the origin of pebbles, and the movement of tectonic plates. It encompasses paleontology, volcanology and oil drilling. Any of these investigations in the search for new insights would require the kind of creative thinking that allows people to make connections and formulate new theories.

Metamorphosis

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One of the key concepts in geology is the “rock cycle”. The cycle shows the constant flow between different kinds of rock. The processes of erosion, deposits, pressure and heat continually change rocks to sediment to magma to rock. Soil erosion and catastrophes like mud slides or volcanic eruptions happen quickly and visibly. Other changes happen on a grandiose time scale. It takes eons to compress sediments and silts to become sedimentary rock.

In human terms, inspiration or insights may happen in sudden jumps, perhaps impelled by changes in our circumstances. However it takes time and practice for our mindful creativity to grow, spurred by our intentions and desires.

Change, transformation, metamorphosis and cycles – these are the bases of narratives and poetry.

Rock and earth metaphors in language

Metaphors taken from the language of geology abound. The very name we gave our planet is from geology.

Consider “between a rock and a hard place” means stuck between two equally unpleasant alternatives.

Rock and roll may have started considering movement, but geology had to get into the act with the idea of “hard rock”.

People may be “grounded” when they seem sensible or phlegmatic. A person with a short temper may be said to “erupt”.

To “travel a rocky path” speaks to having difficulties in life; to “move mountains” is to achieve that which seems impossible (yet the earth itself moves mountains constantly).

Another movement metaphor: avoid building on “shifting sands” can mean more than just a literal construction but to create a solid “foundation” before moving forward in life – of faith for some; of concept or knowledge in business situations.

We call someone we like “a gem”. A reliable person is “solid as a rock”. Someone inflexible may “stonewall” the discussion.

Irrelevant issues “muddy the waters”. Small instances of poor behavior cumulatively “erode trust”. An overwhelming majority is a “landslide”. A dangerous precedent can lead to a “slippery slope”.

Someone old fashioned may be laughingly a “fossil”, while their attitudes may be “petrified”.

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