Creativity: Not Just About Good Ideas

This is the second post in a series on where I will present strategies, resources, and examples about how to nurture creative thinking.

“Creative skills aren’t just about good ideas, they are about having the skills to make good ideas happen.
E. Paul Torrance

Everyone can develop the skills necessary to be creative no matter what the subject matter or occupation. So, how can creativity get a jump-start? Here are some first steps and resources to assist you with your quest to inspire creativity in yourself and others.

Just some of the ways to measure levels of creativity. This example explores things that are round.

Just some of the ways to measure levels of creativity. This example explores things that are round.

Generate a comfortable environment where ideas are welcome and the censor is silenced. It’s so easy for us all to get mired in that internal dialog that tries to tell us we’re not capable, or that what we have to say isn’t interesting or valid. Having permission to explore without judgment is the first step. It’s the “what-if” stage where, ideally, all possibilities are on the table. I like to think of it like a collage where you lay all of the pieces out to see what inspiration comes by looking at all of the parts.

Play. Once you have a supply of options, it’s time to rearrange, contemplate, elaborate, eliminate, and refine the ideas. This exploration comes from having freedom to see what happens. I think it’s also important to note that, most often, the first idea is NOT the best idea. Keep delving, connecting, and ruminating. The more difficult the task, or prompt, the longer the wait-time required to really come to a conclusion. In fact, sometimes, it helps to give your brain time to decide without your conscious self interfering. (I also know that deadlines are a reality, and can be powerful motivators for decision-making, but I will address that in a later post.)

Some awesome resources I use for the idea-development and refinement stages:

E. Paul Torrence
If you are not familiar with the father of creativity research, then definitely check out this NPR Story about him. He defined the parameters for measuring what characteristics are present in a creative thinker! Super-interesting stuff. There’s also a test to check your levels, though not available to the general public, it’s a taste of the kinds of things you might find on the assessment.

Caffeine for the Creative Mind by Stefan Mumaw and Wendy Lee Oldfield
This website and book series is designed for every person to have fun thinking and playing. From name-your-own-crayons, to photocopy challenges, these short prompts create exercise for your brain.

A Whack on the Side of the Head by Roger Von Oech
A series of books and accompanying Whack Pack Cards present strategies for elaborating and reframing ideas. Particularly good when existing ideas seem to be stuck or need a boost. There’s even an app for your smart phone!

Thanks for your time. I hope these ideas and resources are helpful. Get out there and be creative. 

Next week: Creativity and Deadlines

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Taking the Mystery Out of Creativity: Encountering Genius

This is the first post in a series on creativity where I will present strategies, resources, and examples about how to nurture creative thinking.

Drawing by Juliana Fagan

Drawing by Juliana Fagan

In her TED talk on creativity, Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love, explains the origins of creative genius that I find fascinating. During Greek and Roman times, creativity was not thought about in the same way as it is today. They believed that inspiration was not something that came from people, but that humans were simply a conduit for that inspiration that originated in a spiritual realm. The Greeks called these spirits daemons and the Romans called them geniuses. The idea was that if you created or performed or invented something particularly brilliant then you had a really good daemon or genius that used you as a conduit to bring that idea or creation into the world. You, human, still had to practice and be open to hearing and executing the idea, but — and here’s the part I really like—if you did something particularly brilliant, you couldn’t take all the credit because you must have a great genius. And conversely, if what you did was an epic fail, you had an out because your genius or daemon must not be doing their job. This takes a tremendous amount of pressure off of the mere mortal to be brilliant all of the time. Nothing that is produced, whether superior or abominable, is truly the full responsibility of the maker. That responsibility is shared with your genius. (This all changes in the Renaissance when people went from having a genius to being a genius.) If you are interested in more about this, and a more specific explanation of why this puts so much pressure on creative types, then I encourage you to watch Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk because it is thought-provoking and inspiring.

I liked to show this talk to my advanced high school art students around the middle of the school year when their enthusiasm for art making wanes. Students, challenged with sustaining their creative energy, found it easier chat about their college applications, or the winter formal than to produce meaningful work. However, after we watched Elizabeth Gilbert, it often alleviated the performance pressure and encouraged them to find the divine inspiration waiting if they could be still, show up to the work, and listen for that inner voice.

The thinking necessary to ruminate and solve problems is the same creativity in any discipline. It’s nearly impossible to encounter unique solutions if the work is not approached with sincerity, diligence, and openness. There’s a quote attributed to Thomas Edison. “Genius is one per cent inspiration, ninety-nine per cent perspiration.” I think that sums it up!

How do you approach problem solving? How do you find unique solutions or inspire others? I look forward to your comments.

Stop back in a week for the next installment!

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Sketchbook Memory

Mixed-media sketchbook pages using graphite, collage, acrylic, and latex.

Mixed-media sketchbook pages using graphite, collage, acrylic, and latex.

I recently said goodbye to my sweet cat, Emily. She was my constant cat friend for 18 years. Emily was also a convenient model and became the subject of many drawings and paintings over the years. Right after she passed away, I came across these preparatory works that were originally studies for paintings, so I decided to collage them into my sketchbook. The drawings were a bit smudged and faded, like a memory. I decided on a mixed-media approach to further emphasize the fleetingness of time, and to also reflect my emotional response to losing Emily. The paint is acrylic and latex, and the drawings are adhered and layered with acrylic and glaze medium. I was trying to capture the essence of our time without overthinking the process.

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One Big Show

One Big Show The end-of-year art extravaganza is upon us! So proud of our students and ready (almost) to hang the show. The drawing and painting students exhibit over 200 works of art! That’s not including the photography or sculpture!

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Summer Sketching Season is Here!

Cat Drawing

Inspired by a statuette at the Museum of Art and Archaeology at the University of Missouri

A visit to the Museum of Art and Archaeology at the University of Missouri yielded this sketch of a statue of Bastet. The Egyptian cat goddess is one of my favorite museum subjects so I have quite a few versions of Bastet in various sketchbooks from different museum visits.
During the summer is when I do most of my traveling and I love the fresh perspective I get when I go to new or familiar places. I find interest in the the ordinary and am often inspired by things I encounter.

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Best Moments!

Positive reinforcement doesn’t just apply to dealing with dogs.

Best Moment AwardWow! I want to take a moment to thank We Live in a Flat for acknowledging my recent post, A Walk in the Park, with a “Best Moments” award. Taking a cue from my nominator, I would like to thank my awesome husband, Neil, who is always willing to go for a walk.

Since I’m new to getting awesome awards from strangers posted to my blog, I need to find out what protocol is next and most appropriate. So while I do some research, please take a moment to check out We Live in a Flat and the fun dogs thereabouts.

I’ll be back soon !

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A Walk in the Park

Ink and watercolor on Fabriano HP 140.

Ink and watercolor on Arches HP 140

Here’s a mind map I created based on a walk I took in a local park. It was the second assignment for the online Creativity Crash Course through Stanford. The idea was to go for a walk and observe the location as though you were on high alert, or in elevated participation in one’s walking experience. I’m the one in the middle.

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A Head Full of Bees

Carol Parker Mittal

Mixed-media image created by scanning original paintings and drawings and then  layering them in Photoshop.

Here’s a design I completed as an assignment for an online course I’m taking through Stanford University. The class is called A Crash Course on Creativity and the first prompt was to create a book cover for your autobiography. This is my solution to the problem which required an image, a title, and a subtitle. The process was truly thought-provoking as I considered all of the possible iterations of myself that I could portray. Things like, “I Wish I Were Ironman, but I’m Really Thor,” or “The Nine Lives of a Not-So-Crazy Cat Lady.” Ultimately, and with help from people who know me really well (Neil, my husband, Wendy, my best friend, and Danny, my brother) I decided to go with the attributes that have been most constant throughout my entire life– some features of my personality, and making art.

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Make Art Like You’re Working

Carol Parker Mittal

A page from my work notebook.
Carol Parker Mittal

Here are some pages from my work notebook. It’s part sketchbook, part scrapbook, part notepad. Here’s where I make to-do lists, record ideas for lessons, and keep track of anything else I need to remember. I also paste in images I find interesting, notes from students, comics, scraps of decorated paper. I use colored pens, watercolor, and pencils. I doodle, make sketches, turn my book sideways, and otherwise manipulate the page in and around the notes. The extra arty part doesn’t take much time. In long meetings, I make patterns and drawings around the to-do lists. (Believe it or not, I focus better when I’m doodling.) Other times I take my book home and paint some of the pages with watercolor prior to using the pages for work. This activity makes some of the necessary organizational elements to my work a lot more fun. Plus, because it’s visually organized, I’m more likely to remember all the things I’m supposed to remember. For more ideas about how to make work more fun, you should check out The Artist in the Office: How to Creatively Survive and Thrive Seven Days a Week by Summer Pierre.

Carol Parker Mittal

Hand made paper attached to my work notebook. Carol Parker Mittal

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Cats for a Friend

Watercolor Painting

Blitzen and Hemingway

A friend asked me to create a portrait as a gift for his sister-in-law of her cats who had passed away. So, here are Hemingway and Blitzen as I interpreted them. I worked from multiple photos of the two cats and asked questions about their interactions and personality traits.  For me, this is important work because to memorialize someone’s beloved pets is a dubious responsibility. As the artist, I wanted to capture the essence and relationship of the cats, as well as create a mood that was respectful. I had fun making the painting because I like the challenge of combining the idea, intention, technique, and composition into a unified piece.

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