creativity creates more space, than it takes up
William Paul Young
Initially, a blank page can seem daunting; vulnerable and full of unknowns — yet if we allow ourselves to sit there long enough, there is also incredible potential. It’s a space to put pen to paper, harness possibility and tangibly connect meaningful ideas of value to the bigger picture.
By filling in a ‘blank space’, be it literal or metaphorical, our previous assumptions are challenged and underlying concerns exposed. This process, more often than not, makes room for engaging dialogue with others and sometimes innovative expressions that bring new perspectives, as well as aesthetic pleasure.
Creativity has been defined as an ‘ability to imagine, or the use of original ideas to make something’. This process plays out everywhere, in the macro visions and micro details of life. It’s quiet evolution, it’s sudden change — it’s painful development and it’s beautiful movement. It is, in fact, a faithful, constant presence; despite, being by nature, wildly unpredictable.
Traditionally we relate creativity to the ‘industries’ of design and artistic practice. Naturally, we imagine it’s for people and organisations who regularly embark on a literal creation of something new, transformation of tangible matter from one form to another. And it is. However, when we talk about the creative process, a term many face with genuine trepidation, we discover the application is in fact much larger. Indeed, there are innumerable paths and frameworks that can to be used to get us from one place to another in every area of life. If we embrace the notion of creative process, it becomes a powerful and essential way of shaping outcomes objectively as well as recording an important and valuable journey that goes way beyond the traditional artistic sphere.
So what does that look like practically? How do we actually find and land a ‘flash of inspiration’ or synthesise ‘flurries of thought’ towards outcomes we desire?
How can we plan for creative output and why is it effective to map and actively recognise multiple experiences to find wider meaning and connection — when can this be unproductive?
How can we ensure we use our increasing resources wisely and time effectively to gain what we (and others) need, amongst the multifaceted layers of our lives?
And, what happens when things disrupt our process, lead us away or block us from continuing the evolving flow?
From classrooms to museums, universities to cathedrals; businesses to colleges and farms to theatres, I’ve been facilitating, teaching and learning about creative process for the last 10 years. In various arenas and environments, whether 6 years old or 66, I’ve discovered it’s a not so much a formula to be taught, rather, framework open for exploration. Originally starting my career as a knitwear designer, I came to see creative process a bit like a weaving of threads; fibres and elements intertwining to form something deeply textured, as well as a wider overall surface that tells a story when we take a step back.
Years ago, when I was first asked to explain the creative process for some students studying fashion, I formed a basic pyramid structure in order to articulate and offer a way of traveling from concept to completed design. Beginning with a wide research phase, gathering of inspiration material (the base of the pyramid), it progresses by extracting recurring motifs found amongst the collection of work. After that, there is assimilation towards reimagining and integrating of themes through development and manipulation (the middle section). The tip, and final part of the process, follows further evaluation and reflection, distilling to a final refined outcome:
However, I recognised that in a wider sense, often people weren’t so much a travelling to a particular end point, but on-going route of expansion and contraction. I didn’t think my pyramid gave the full picture, indeed there were many other more effective ways I came across: double diamond systems, spiral graphs and ideation mapping, that offered platforms to facilitate the same activity, except — I still felt there was more.
In 2011, I became fascinated by frequencies and sound and their relationship to the creation of matter. This led me to visit a research facility in Geneva, called CERN in 2013, where scientists are ‘probing the structure of the universe’ using a particle accelerator called the Large Hadron Collider (LHD). Here, quantum particles are sent round a circular underground tunnel of superconducting magnets over 27km long. Using several ‘accelerating structures’ to boost their energy at various points, particles are beamed through two vacuum tubes, close to the speed of light, before they are made to collide. To make a long story, very short — countless books, workshops, experimental mapping and a Masters later — my initial pyramid model of creativity had its own process of evolution, and now looks like this:
Granted, it’s not a vastly different framework to some others that have been used before. However, I believe this particular model encompasses a beautiful synergy, reflecting the multiplicity and progression of creativity and our lives, indeed mirrors the structure of our very DNA. I’ve found it is a helpful tool that can enable a playful on-going movement and flow whatever the project or life cycle. Let me explain further.
Three threads make up the evolving helix structure above; dreaming (turquoise), gathering (copper) and planning (graphite). In order for a creative cycle to produce an outcome, there needs to be a balanced and integrated collision of all three. Like a tapestry or knitted fabric, these cycles are like vibrations, a wavelength of sound — created light contracting and expanding in and out. They oscillate and entangle towards moments that catalyse manifestations of creative matter, much like the LHC.
Normally in life, we work to cycles of time; a linear progression of real, practical parameters that give us deadlines or calculated reasons for aiming towards an objective point. And in this process, that doesn’t necessarily mean a traditional ‘end point’, more often than not, these are moments of connection, that then continue on to further development and integration down the line. The PLANNING thread gives us that trajectory, a constant strand that grounds and embodies the present facts:
To planning, add DREAMING; a beautiful thread of imagination throwing us up into the notion of ‘what if?…’. Ascending into playful visions of potential is a key ingredient to conceiving something, indeed it is in these ventures of discovery that we catch an essence or spirit of what we are tasked with ‘landing’ in our environment or context. Often, this thread of the journey is done solo, a personal exploration, as opposed to working with others. At this point things are wild, messy and infused with a mad spirit of possibility; here ‘light-bulb’ and ‘eureka’ moments are frequent — and to be enjoyed.
Finally, GATHERING. This thread goes out, looking for inspiration and acknowledging what has gone before. It’s about honouring and learning from the past, asking questions, listening and making connections. By ‘looking’ with all our senses, perceptive investigation reveals ways to dialogue, collaborate and bridge, to and from things. Contrary to the practice of copying at school, creative ‘theft’ is to be encouraged and looked upon as a healthy compliment. As a result we collect a plethora of information that informs our process going forward. Here’s some further break down you might find helpful:
Amidst liminal space, three-thread collision occurs when the conditions and tensions are right. Again, in similarity to the LHC, these creative threads are in constant motion, spiralling progressively and interacting at various meeting points. Sometimes, there isn’t a tri-fold collision, one thread navigating somewhere else, whilst the others cross paths (I’ll come back to this when addressing ‘fray’ and disruption in the next post). However when the threads do integrate at the same point, something special happens. We have a collision; a coming together, producing tangible outcomes of relational substance and value.
I like to see the area from one collision to the next, as a cycle. There is no formula, set length or ideal motion to these waves — each are unique and just as important as the next — but they simply give point of reference and perhaps in some ways, a sense of objective purpose amidst, an often, mysterious unravelling.
People describe creativity in two ways: on one hand, a systematic design process, which feels clear, but doesn’t always do justice to the magic of creative work. On the other, an unpredictable flow that is exciting, but can be a bit intimidating and perhaps not so practical. But what if the truth is, it’s both? An understandable framework that can be planned for and delivered and a fluid movement of energy that comes and goes in waves? Creative Threads is a framework to help shape creative practice in a way that is exciting, inspiring and practical.
What’s more, this framework is suitable for almost any aspect of life, flowing as an individual or with others. From designing products and accessing artistic practice, to settings of therapy, CPD — spirituality or reflection of dating lifestyle, Creative Threads can be applied in professional and personal directions. As well as simply giving a visual tool that can help anyone navigate and understand the creative process, it can be used to hold groups accountable for their role within a team, collision points becoming markers to access progress. It can also be a mechanism for evaluating and adjusting tensions so that we’re more likely to land the outcomes that we desire (I’ll unpack this creative assessment aspect more fully in future posts too).
In a wonderful demonstration, it is as adaptable as the very process itself. So whether it’s a commission or new collaborative opportunity, the possibilities are on-going and endless.
Welcome to the weaving.
- In a continuing series, read on for the next post here: Flow and the Fray. Also with thanks to some valued and inspiring conversations with fellow weavers like Rich, Eric, Beth, V, John, RJ, David, Lisa, Michael & Fiona.
Jennifer Sturrock is a designer, educator and writer within the realms of research, public engagement and creative facilitation. Working in a diverse range of environments, her background in fashion & textile design led to programme design, development & communication within the arts. Founder of blancc_space, now specialises in design process, creative direction, editorial content, presentation, workshop facilitation and brand experience.
Jennifer has a First Class honours in Fashion Design & Textiles from London College of Fashion and a Masters in Theology & the Arts from Kings College London. She has partnered with various learning institutions and worked in both private and public sectors, most recently with the Victoria & Albert Museum and University of the Arts London. Currently based in London, Jennifer regularly travels to Scotland, as well as internationally for research and continued creative collaboration. For more writing see here.