U is for Unleashing Creativity.

Yesterday I did something quite far out of my comfort zone: I went with a group of girls to a painting studio where we were each presented with a blank canvas, and told to unleash our creativity on it.

Now although I’m a creative person, I’m not a visual creative. I can’t draw for toffee and my painting is even worse. I can make up elaborate images in my mind but the only way I have ever been able to make them become a reality is by describing them.

The result of two and a half hours in the studio is a distinctly average painting, but it was a really interesting learning experience as far as creativity goes. It can be so easy to stop seeing the obvious when working with something familiar, stepping out into a different kind of creation can be a really good way to get yourself back to the basics.

The first thing that became obvious right from the start is that creativity needs constraints. That’s often the opposite of what we expect, or are told about creativity. You know, that cliche of the muse running free, running wild. Constraints are often seen as stifling art. In fact, being faced with the limitless possibilities of a blank canvas is a little overwhelming. It’s a bit like facing a blank page, or an empty blog, without any sort of a plan. Having some form of constraint, allows you to be free within that space, and most importantly, it gives you a basis to start with. If I tell you to “write something”, you’ll most likely draw up a blank. If I tell you to write about a vivid childhood memory (real or imaginative), then the ideas are much more forthcoming.

I found myself wishing the organisers would impose some sort of theme on us, the vastness of “unleash your creativity” was too big for me. In the end I decided to do something quite modern, a bit like this painting from Riopelle (needless to say my finished product looked NOTHING like this):

Image from Wikipedia

Interestingly, it also reminded me that the fastest I ever wrote a short, and the time where I felt the most inspired was working on a piece of flash fiction where the constraint was to make use of certain unusual words. Making up a story that featured foxglove and acid (and orphan and topaz and corset) was really quite constraining. And yet I found it far easier than any other short piece I’ve written. Granted that was just a first draft, there are a TON of things that I now see need changing / improving, but the point was that by working within strict constraints, it was far easier to unleash said creativity.

The second point was that perseverance is key. Everything looks pretty crap at the start, unless you know what you’re doing. In my case, it started off looking dreadful, it didn’t work at all. The only way to make it good less bad, was to persevere with the initial output of crap. Creating crap is quick, it’s easy. Creating good stuff is hard, it takes time and it takes more than one attempt (as my painting demonstrated, because although by the end it was better than at the beginning, it would still take me a few more goes before I created anything half decent).

It’s also not something that can be rushed, rushing doesn’t get you anywhere good. Starting anything new is at first a string of lessons on what not do to (such as in my case, wait for the paint to dry before painting over it). Mistakes are good, mistakes are learning. Let’s be honest now, no one created anything worthwhile without messing up spectacularly along the way.

The third thing that became painfully obvious towards the end, is that the hardest thing is to know when to stop. In French, we have a fantastic expression for this: “Better is the enemy of Good”. It’s easy to keep “improving” on and on, until what was good is thoroughly ruined. One of the girls in the group was doing her version of the book cover of Animal Farm (SUCH a clever idea, I wish I had thought of doing a book cover. This goes back to constraints being a good thing. If the constraint was to only paint a book cover, I would have been beset with ideas, instead of frozen with indecision in front of my canvas, for the best part of a 15minutes). It was actually really good at first. She kept adding here and there, until at the end she realised that she should have left it alone a while ago. Don’t get me wrong, it was still good at the end. But I agreed with her, it was better prior to the improvements. As Leonardo da Vinci said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned”. They key is to know when to abandon it, before it is ruined by well meaning intentions.

There is also something to be said about holding your creation in your hands. It’s satisfying, even if it’s really bad. And more importantly, it’s the only way to improve. If I was dead set on being able to paint the image I now have in my mind, I’d have to start again today, go through the same process, and again, and again, making a new, slightly better painting each time. Finishing that first painting was like making a first stepping stone in the right direction (albeit not a direction I want to continue in). It’s much easier to go somewhere far (like making a good painting, writing a good book, having a successful blog) by climbing up one stepping stone at a time, than trying to jump it all in one go. Unless you are part grasshopper, that is.

Finally, like with all things creative, there is no point if you’re not enjoying it. I’m not going to lie, I didn’t enjoy myself that much at first. Mainly because everything was going wrong. I started enjoying myself about half way through, when it occurred to me that it really didn’t matter that my painting was going to suck. I was doing it for me, for the fun of it, who cares if it was rubbish? The same goes for writing the first draft of a book – who cares if it’s rubbish, no one’s going to read it. Might as well enjoy it. Once I started to enjoy myself, the painting improved….oh let’s say marginally. But it did improve a little.

Do you want to see the painting that inspired all this? Here it is – I added a quote on top of the photo that felt appropriate to the background… I know – eat your heart out Jackson Pollock.

Creating is Messy

And here we all are with our masterpieces!



18 thoughts on “U is for Unleashing Creativity.

  1. Yay! I can finally comment on your blog again. Every time I tried to visit I received a pop-up message requesting a login and pw. This occurred only with your blog, so of course “insecure” me thought, “Well maybe she thinks I’m strange and blocked me.” (God, I hope that’s not the case because I’m really enjoying your blog). Anyway…I love the correlation you made between painting and writing. It is so true. There’s much we can learn about writing from the process: the intimidating blank canvas (blank page), the need for constraints (story structure), perseverance (“the first draft of anything is shit”), knowing when to stop (the risk of perfectionism/overediting), and enjoying the process (staying in your right brain/creative mind). As you know, painting and writing are both creative processes. When you allow the inner critique (editor) to join in, it becomes difficult to create. This is what was happening when you started. You were analyzing it so much (analysis paralysis) that it was stifling your creativity, but once you stopped analyzing it you began to enjoy it. This is when you switched from left brain (critical/analytical mind) to right brain (creative mind). I did a post (Are You in Your Right Brain?) about this. It’s fascinating stuff and when you learn how to turn off left brain (drawing/painting teaches us how to do that) the words flow. Excellent post, Celine!


    • Oh? That’s so weird! No, I most definitely did not block you! Glad you made it through the pop-up, how very odd. That’s very worrying though, I hope it hasn’t happened to anyone else, glad you told me! If it ever happens again, would you mind letting me know? On Twitter or email? Or by carrier pigeon? 😉

      And thank you, I’m so glad to hear you enjoy my blog, I’m loving yours, you’ve got so much interesting stuff on there!

      The left-brain / right-brain shift you mention is really interesting, I get the analysis paralysis a lot with my writing. This month I’m forcing myself to get over it and just get the story written. It’s hard at times because I know what I’m writing isn’t good and it will need work. But in those rare moments I can shut myself up, I have so much fun, it makes it all worthwhile.
      I’m going to go check out your post, because anything that will “shut up” my inner editor would be amazing! Looking forward to it already!


  2. Excellent post!
    I believe that all creative pursuits intertwine…
    I’ve always wanted to draw/sketch but never got around to doing so.
    Recently I discovered a lady offering mosaic lessons… and she lives close to me… so I contacted her about 3 weeks ago. One of these days I’ll get to those mosaic lessons… after the craziness of the A to Z… 🙂
    Keep on painting Celine!


    • Oh my god, that’s awesome! Do you know what you want to do in mosaic? Be sure to put photos up on your blog, I’d love to see what it’s like to make something in mosaic.

      I don’t know about you but I cannot wait for April and A to Z to be done. Doing that and Camp NaNoWriMo has been more intense than I expected, I can’t wait to get my life back!


  3. I agree so much with many things that you said. Art, any kind of art, takes time. Unless you’re doing action painting, that’s a different sort of fun. And you really can’t rush things. When I start to rush my drawings I force myself to stop and take a breat otherwise I know I will ruin it. And just today with my drawing teacher we talked about how drawing is never finished, you can always go back to it and add something but like you said it’s important to know when to stop.

    I love the idea of going to an art studio for a few hours with some friends although it would have been better to have a theme. Maybe next time you go you can all agree to one before hand. That is of course if you would like to do it again.


    • Action painting?! That sounds like awesome fun, what is that?

      I’m going to go and look through your blogs for your drawings if you have them up? I loved that post about your doodles on your notebooks, you draw really well!

      I might try it again yeah – if I can bear to inflict my ‘art’ (haha) on the world. My husband, bless him, thinks it looks alright. That’s why you should never ask for feedback from someone related to you or shackled by matrimony 😉


      • Action painting is really fun. You can do it in a variety of ways but basically you have a blank canvas some paint and large brushes of your choice and instead of brushing the paint on the canvas you step back and after dipping it in paint, fling the paint at the canvas. You can also use sponges and again throw them at the canvas or make paint filled water balloons. Really it’s up to you. You do it for as long as you please and enjoy the randomness that has appeared on your canvas.

        You need to do in a place that you have prepared with plastic or newspaper coverings so as not to get paint all over the room.

        As for my drawings I made a page that you can find next to the about button where you can check them out. Speaking of which I have to update that with my latest drawings.


      • Paint filled water balloons? Now that is my kind of art! I’m a terrible thrower so I’d probably need the entire room to be carpeted in newspaper 😉

        I LOVED your drawings, I’m amazed you draw so well. Looking forward to your latest drawings! 🙂


  4. J’ai bien apprécié ton blog sur la peinture et ca m’a beaucoup amuse .par contre on ne sait pas laquelle des peintures est la tienne?


    • Maman! Ton premier commentaire sur mon blog! C’est a célébrer ça!
      Tu ne reconnais pas la peinture d’après la photo au dessus? Elle est au milieu, derrière moi et un peu à droite. On voit que je suis la petite-fille de Manou non? J’ai la peinture dans le sang 😉


  5. Alas, you discovered the key… paintings do begin as a rough draft and sometimes, the more the artist gets lost in the process of making art without caring if anyone ever sees it, they end up putting more of their own self into it so it becomes what it be. Okay, maybe that’s not proper grammar, so I hope it makes sense. Thanks for visiting my blog so I could come back to find yours (so sadly behind on my readings!) And just for grins if you are bored someday or need a laugh? Search the internet for “MOBA” the “Museum of Bad Art” in Boston. It is full of failed attempts and art gone wrong, and some are quite amusing. And you might decide your first attempt was not so bad after all. 🙂


    • I’ll have to check the MOBA that sounds like it could be a lot of fun and quite interesting!

      Paintings are like novels really, you have to start with that less than perfect rough draft before you can get to the good stuff later.

      So glad I found your blog, I think you paint beautifully! Looking forward to your next pieces!


  6. I adore art. One thing I’ll definitely miss is the Student Art League at New York where you can take casual art classes with your friends. How did you find a class like this in Hong Kong, if you don’t mind me asking?


    • A friend of mine organised the evening actually so I heard about this particular place through her, but there are a few places that do this sort of thing in Hong Kong. It’s quite new but it’s becoming quite popular, I know quite a lot of people who have taken part, I just took a while to get stuck in – I’m sure you can guess why from my painting! 😉


  7. très intéressant ! I just saw an exhibition called “Modern Masters” in Denver this weekend, and left wondering what makes one thing great and another not? Maybe I’m just not smart enough, but the topic does intrigue me.


    • Merci!
      I don’t really get modern actually, especially dadaism (is that even modern art? I don’t know). I always think if it makes me feel something or if I think it’s beautiful then it’s great. That’s about as much thought as I put into it!


      • And I think that’s perfect 🙂 when I recover for A to Z I think I’ll make a small pot about our visit, it really was an interesting exhibit.


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