Tag Archives: learning

To Take Lessons or Not

Art doll

Art doll available on my Etsy

I believe that creativity is the foundation of all human learning from the time we are infants. Human infants are hardwired to learn, develop and communicate. Children apply creative thinking to all their play and enjoyment. Creativity itself is a natural state, that unfortunately can be squashed by lessons, tests and strictures at the wrong time, even by well meaning teachers.

For this reason I believe it is crucial that any kinds of creativity lessons or classes:

  • be freely chosen by the learner, for their own reasons
  • be skills based, rather than trying to teach creativity itself
  • that teachers consider themselves facilitators of the learner’s agenda, rather than insisting that what they want to teach is more important – you can always write a blog to carry your own message 😉
  • have a transparent grading or feedback system structured around the student’s goals
  • be flexible

For me, I found the classes I took to learn particular skills invaluable. They were absolutely what I needed at the time to gain certain esoteric skills, and for the most part I was not concerned with grades. However today, with the information available freely on the internet, I might make different decisions for some of the classes.

Nor do any of the desired characteristics I listed preclude following a course designed by a teacher. Even a tough instructor who pushes for excellence, like my lighting design mentor, should still be facilitating the learner’s desire to improve their skills.

Places where you can find guidance include:

  • YouTube – there are so many filmed tutorials for all kinds of arts and crafts skills, or science projects, as well as people lecturing about theoretical constructs.
  • Khan Academy – free classes in an immense range of subjects
  • Art Museums often hold classes or workshops for their members in all kinds of esoteric areas.
  • Craft stores hold classes, most at low cost.
  • Universities with online coursework
  • Community Colleges often offer personal enrichment courses in various artistic disciplines
  • Individual tutors, coaches or mentors.

 In praise of trial and error

What I want to emphasize today is that while lessons, classes, tutorials or workshops can be wonderful, and guidance can be time saving, the “slow way” of trial and error – personal experimentation – also has immense value.

 A skill that you have discovered yourself, painstakingly, or just from following the manual, can feel wonderful. You have true ownership of your own learning process and skills. Once you have been through the trial and error process you will truly know how something works, and works for you. You are unlikely to forget – and you still have the chance to practice further and compare your experience to that of others later.

Trial and error can be fun! Working in private can also alleviate nerves or feeling self-conscious.

But know when to look for help, guidance or hints & tips too!

Auditing

With any luck, you will have the chance to sit in and audit many classes you might be considering. You will see if the class will be useful to you – expanding, challenging and inspiring.

Talk to the instructors to ascertain whether they are flexible and sympatico. Talk to the students to see whether they have the opportunity to offer feedback and change the plan as needed.

And remember this – it’s never too late to practice a new art form or learn a new creative endeavor.

 

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?

Inspired By Research; Inspired To Research

I love doing research as a creativity tool. With the internet this is so much easier than it used to be.

When I was young research for any type of project meant a trek to the library. Our high school library was nice but it had nothing on the State Library of NSW downtown in Sydney with its subterranean stacks and endless card catalog. Plus the building was very impressive with its sandstone dignity, stained glass skylights and traditional wood decor.

What’s a “card catalog”? the whippersnappers ask. It was where research began – looking for an author or book mentioned in a bibliography, or going to a subject index and starting there. I was being my own Google.

Card Catalogue at State Library of NSW - just one of several cabinets

Card Catalogue at State Library of NSW – just one of several cabinets

While a tremendous number of books are available on the reading room shelves, many more are kept in stacks.Having found the reference book I wanted, the process was to fill out a request form and hand it (possibly after standing in line) to the assistant librarian on stacks duty, and then wait while they used the mysterious series of numbers that are the Dewey Decimal System to find the location of the copy, send some even more junior person to walk the stacks, and return with the book.

Reference books could not be borrowed, only read in the adjacent reading room. Long heavy wood desks, hard wood desk chairs, art deco style reading lamps.

I’m not really nostalgic for that process at all – it was time consuming and dependent on the assiduousness of the people creating the cross reference notations. A whole trip to the library could be taken up just with formulating the reading list.

But I do still like the visceral elements of this process. Hand typed cards, with faintly yellowed edges and even hand written added notations – sometimes with actual ink pens. The decor. Silence as a palpable thing, reinforced by the sound deadening architecture. The smell of old books.

Every time I designed costumes for a new show, I reinforced my own personal library with a trip to downtown. I liked to immerse myself in period information, making copious notes, sketches, and – get this – having a few select pages photocopied by the librarian! We weren’t permitted to make our own copies with those new fangled and supposedly temperamental Xerox machines.

How Research Stimulates Creativity

Sometimes it only takes a little bit of research – priming the pump – to get my thoughts, ideas, lists and sketches flowing. It’s always good to pause the research and make notes, mind storm some of the ideas, and go where your thought journeys take you. Personally I find if I don’t grab the moment and jot down ideas immediately, they sometimes get engulfed by the ongoing information input. You can pick up where you left off with your reading and notes, but not always with your idea flow.

At other times, I have been at a loss, and found I needed more comprehensive information before anything useful arose in my mind. I might have been looking for a hook, or a way in to my story. I might have been looking for the right visual motif.

Sometimes I found the theme of my vision adjacent to my mainstream research. For example once I was looking at wartime young people’s clothing, but what really helped me capture my design was looking at school uniforms from 10 years earlier.

Research might mean refreshing the memory – revisiting facts and ideas somewhat known – or it might mean finding information wholly new to you. It’s a stirring stick. It’s new ingredients thrown in. You don’t have to rely entirely on what is already in your head.

Research might be goal oriented and directed. The question is “How do I achieve this”. It generally has been so for me when I am designing something, or need to understand particular techniques to achieve a predetermined result – such as my webpage.

Or it might be experimental and exploratory – following threads until something sparks. The question is “Where will this take me?” If you are stuck, research might be the key. It could be a simple as going to the paint department and looking at the new paint colors, looking at a catalog, going to a different section at the Natural History Museum, or following a repin trail on Pinterest.

The Dark Side of Research

Research can be a time sucker and productivity killer. It’s all very well to follow the rabbit hole and surf the endless links for new connections, when you have plenty of time or no deadline. But sometimes it’s time to stop and actually do some creative work.

Mad Hatter Latin design

“We’re All Mad Here”

Some people, and I have certainly been guilty of this myself, will use research as the ultimate procrastination tool. I think we know when we are putting off getting started, and when we are genuinely stuck or need a bit more information. It can take self discipline to stop following the tantalizing tangents, especially now with so much information so easily available. In the old days at the library I was conscious of definite consequences if I decided I needed another tome, and sometimes a look at the clock decided the matter for me.

I know the feeling when I am using research to procrastinate. I start shifting around in my chair, and feeling twitchy inside. Better just to stop then – put in a bookmark – and instead move on the next step of collating my notes.

You can’t know everything about a topic – even if you are an expert. The old joke is that experts are people who know “more and more about less and less” – and that is great. But for creative work, you only need to hold in your head and notes, as much as you need to move forward. There will always be more and new information to find – some of it may be what you contribute.

Let research be a tool that you use, not a barrier to action.

 Research tools

  • Written published material – whether on line or in hard copy
  • Spoken word, oral histories – ditto – but the web makes access so much easier
  • Video material – documentaries, histories, how-to videos on You Tube
  • Memory – interviewing people, finding instructors
  • Trial and error, and exploring materials, as I mentioned in my prior theme.
  • Museums, galleries, and Aunty Mabel’s attic – places with visual artifacts.

Here’s my latest Infographic – about intentional research:

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