“We are always interested in the flower, but not the tedium of the blossoming. But that process from bud to blossom is when things really happen.” — Maria Popova
The Creative Process weaves throughout this website, as that is so much of what I do with myself and with my clients and customers. The creative process has fascinated me since I was a child, watching an artist on TV named Jon Nagy draw stone arched bridges and water flowing in a stream below. “How does he get something from nothing like that?” I wondered, entranced. Later, I would move into a life with art, in various forms, and find out for myself.
The mystical aspect of “something from nothing” is also — or maybe I should say, foremost — a place where this question belongs. Because when we give ourselves to the creative process, in which a manifest, often tangible “something” emerges from what before seemed to be just “nothing,” then we too partake of the ultimate and ongoing creative process of the universe, of which we are a holistic (if not holographic) part.
So to fear creating is to turn our backs on the nature of our very being as humans. If we fear creating, it’s because we have been taught to — or have been wounded by the reception to our creating. We can unlearn this, and give our attention to the desire that upwells in us naturally to bring something into being; to express externally something that is in us internally. Not only can we do this, but on some essential level, we must.
Why? Because it is our nature to love, and to bring forth what we love. While much of what is created does not seem to have love as its inspiration, that is a different level of creation. The deeper level — what our souls long for, and are fully capable of — is the creation through our own being of what we love, what we find beautiful. That’s not to say it may not contain human difficulties, or gather its story around that; but that when the motivation is love, harmony, beauty, the process of creating becomes a meaningful, rewarding journey; and the “end result” leads both creator and receiver somewhere true, worth arriving at, no matter what obstacles may have had to be met along the way.
You can learn more about the Creative Process by enjoying the rest of this website.
The Creative Process series of books that I have written — in the Rose Press menu — can help you use writing as your portal into creativity.
Experiencing the art forms I share from my own experience — Naomi Rose Arts (art, writing, music) — will give you a flavor of not only who I am as a creator, but also of who you might become.
Following the creative process of a nonfiction book that I’m writing on the “Behind the Scenes of My Book-in-Progress” page will let you be a close-up participant in how the creative process unfolds (and doubles back on itself, offers itself for revision, and moves forward).
Giving yourself the products in the “Rose Press Enhancements for Writers” Collection will nurture your innate creativity by providing an atmosphere that’s conducive to the organic expression of what’s in you.
So this entire site is, in so many ways, devoted to the creative process, as well as to the healing process. As am I, in working with people who come to create the book or other tangible work of their heart.
On this page, I want to share some things about the creative process that you might find worth reflecting on . . . perhaps to the point where you’ll want to try some things out, yourself — for the sheer exploration, pleasure, and fulfillment of it. Here’s a video where I talk about the creative process. I hope you will discover things here that are meaningful to you.
LEARNING FROM OTHER ART FORMS
Because I have steeped myself in art and music as well as writing over many years, I am fortunate to be able to dip into the wisdom and techniques of one art form and make some translation into another one. I often use the analogy of doing a painting to explain how it is possible to write a book out of sequence — perhaps Chapter 8 first (or pieces that later will show themselves to be part of Chapter 8), then Chapter 9, then Chapter 2, and finally Chapter 1. Nor is it even that linear; you can — if you trust that you will later find a workable structure for your writing — simply follow what interests you, what has aliveness for you, as you write. Then, when enough material has been brought forth, you can back up and find out, “What have I written, here? What do these pieces have in common? What seems to be a unifying thread? And what else needs to be written in order to develop the theme that is emerging here?” Out of that comes tentative structures — Part I, Part II, and so on — that can be tried on to see if they fit what organically wants to be written. There’s a mutual adjustment process that then happens. As something you’ve done settles into its right place, as it resonates with internal rightness, it offers you information about a fitting structure. And as the structure begins to settle in and feel right, it suggests further writing that will make of these pieces a whole.
So, the art analogy goes like this:
Imagine you are doing a painting on canvas. Unlike writing, visual art is simultaneous. You don’t do it all at one fell swoop, but whatever you have done, you can see all at once. So let’s say you have, on your canvas, a green swath of color below, and a blue horizontal swath above. Let’s say this is a landscape, and those swaths of color are your beginnings of grass, trees, and sky.
Okay. Now, as you move closer into the painting, you pick up your brush, load it with perhaps a deeper green, and start making more detailed strokes to indicate blades of grass, more distinct leaves of trees. Now your canvas has a combination of rough color, and the beginnings of detail. While there are all sorts of advised techniques on painting, a common one of which is to lay out the color and shape relationships throughout the canvas before you start in on the detail, let’s say that you are really drawn to delineate a tree on the left, even while the rest of the painting is in rough-color shape. And that you have a moment of pure absorption, putting in the trunk and the roots and the branches and the leaves of that tree. And that when you’re done, you back up and — oh, it just vibrates! It rings true! It is a tree of your very heart.
Well, but there’s the rest of the canvas, still looking like barely a thought. What now? Now, you allow the tree to inform the rest of what’s on the canvas. The shade of green in the branches — they could be repeated in the grasses, towards the front. And having done that, you may see a place for a hint of colored flowers among the grasses. So you pick up your brush, dab it with red, yellow, and other flower colors, and try your hand at that. Then you back up, get a sense of how it’s all coming together (or not). You try this, you try that. You paint the nuanced blue sky above, and perhaps catch a ray of the yellow you used in the flowers to undergird the sky, a nod to the sun trying to come forth. And so on. What you do in one part of the painting influences and inspires what you do in the other parts. Some areas, you might end up scraping off or painting over (the writing equivalent is revision); but that’s all right, because there’s a wholeness that’s greater than the sum of the parts that you are seeking to find and make known.
This simultaneity — you might call it a property of the right brain, the holistic brain, or what I have called in my book, Starting Your Book, the “Artistic Brain” — allows you to move back and forth within your creative being without having to make judgments or even many (or any) commentaries on what you are doing. Because you can see the whole emerging as you paint, you hold it in your awareness even as you do the details. With writing a book, too — although you cannot literally see everything at the same time, or even always hold the whole in your awareness (because sometimes you have no idea where you are going until you begin to come closer to it) — your Artistic Brain knows things, and trusts in things, that your usual linear mind does not. So this is a place where you can get to know it, give it room and scope, and see where it wants to lead you that you also want to go.
Here is a quote from a painter and watercolor teacher, Barbara Nechis, on working with watercolor. Watercolor, of course, is a very evanescent medium, bringing you into the present moment precisely because it flows and changes so quickly. In her book, Watercolor from the Heart, Nechis gives some beautiful examples from her own watercolor experiments, and discusses her process and her counsel. Here’s one such, from page 16 of her book, the section on “Inner Resources: The Creative Process”:
“I love to experiment. I am challenged by a new piece of paper. I can’t fail because I have no expectations and no preconceived plan. It is more difficult for me to be flexible when I expect a certain outcome.
“Blank paper lies before me. I begin. Initially my mind is a tabula rasa. No thoughts, only feelings. I pick up a brush. I wet all the paper, part of it, or work it dry. I place a stroke somewhere on my page and make a mark. I like it. I make another. What will happen if I extend this shape to the left? What if I bring it out on the other side? Now I remember that shape. It resembles the water at the base of a quarry. Oh! that light down the middle could be a waterfall. Yes, I like it. It is a bit surreal. This shape looks like a bird. Do I really want one? No, I’ll extend the shape to lose the bird. My color is uninteresting. I’ll add orange to my waterfall. Now some pink. How about a purple/black rock? Too dark. I’ll neutralize the area next to it for less contrast. Now some green moss. I need a softer edge.
“What else needs fixing? I don’t know. I’ll come back to it. I go through this process again and again, watching, adding, making changes, thinking.”
Nechis calls this painting “Genesis,” and says of its creative process: “Small flowers appear to spring from the large one. I made the flower centers with spurts of wet paint on wet paper, then let it dry. Next I added glazes for hard edges that would sharpen the image.”
Taking advantage of accidents: Nechis writes:
“‘Accidents prefer the prepared mind,’ it has been said.
“‘Luck happens,’ [photographer] Ansel Adams observed, ‘when preparation meets opportunity.’
In a planned or subject-oriented painting, accidents are usually not desired because they must be incorporated into the subject matter to make them work. But in an experimental painting, it is difficult to discern what is an accident and what is not. I welcome most accidents, knowing that although they will make my job more difficult they will also give a special quality to each painting. The accidents are God’s gifts. The challenge is to use them well.”
The painting, “Flower Power,” was just such an “accident.” Nechis writes: “The white shape near the left edge, describing the turn of a petal, was the result of an uneven wetting of the paper. An unwetted spot remained white, so I made use of it.”
Here, the artist takes off on a painting of poppies by Georgia O’Keefe, writing: “While O’Keefe’s influence is evvident in the poppy form, the rest of my painting departs from her florals, emphasizing numerous flowers and shapes.
Staying Flexible is an essential aspect of Nechis’s creative process, and a good way to counteract crippling self-judgment. She writes:
“Most of the time we believe ourselves to fail when our product is not consistent with our expectations. Usually we keep on trying to make a painting work. When we get rid of the original expectation and try a new tack, sometimes success can occur. Maintaining inner vision is the key.
“The first time I was responsible for hanging a solo show, I envisioned how I would place my pieces on the wall and give my tour de force a prominent position. Each time I inflexibly attempted to relate the rest of the work to that painting I was discouraged. Nothing seemed to work. Finally, I yielded: I removed my showpiece, hung it on a different wall, and the rest of the work fell easily into place.
“When a painting fails, I no longer owe that piece of paper anything, nor does it owe me something. Then I am free to play and experiment. Instead of struggling to ‘fix’ some offending area, I can ignore my original theme and begin again. The old painting may become a background for a new one. Sometimes I turn the paper upside down or turn a horizontal into a vertical.
“If you are goal-oriented, limbo can be a fearful place to be. Leaving the cocoon of certainty can be painful for a time, but the rewards can also be great. One becomes a better painter by staying flexible, celebrating new experiences, seeing, thinking, and painting.”
Nechis calls this watercolor painting “Red and Rocky,” and writes: “I prefer to use neutrals rather than complements [the conventional color pairings on the color wheel] for color contrast. This avoids the harshness that hot against cold [e.g., orange and indigo] often causes. The grays make the reds ‘sing’ rather than vibrate. By using imaginative color for a natural subject, I have distinguished this painting from most others of this subject.”
“Leaving the cocoon of certainty can be painful for a time, but the rewards can also be great,” Nechis writes. This is just as true for writing a book. If you knew, at the outset, every single thing you were going to do before you did it, you might have an engineering success, but not as likely an artistic one. The creative process needs to surprise us out of our usually ways of seeing things so that we can open up to inner treasures that we may not have realized were there. And while writing a book is, in so many ways, a different process from doing an experimental painting, we can learn from the playfulness and the open-mindedness of the painting process when writing a book. Maybe some “accident” we stumble upon will open the door to the view we were seeking all along.