So much of daily life pulls us along at a breakneck pace, the clamour for our attention is relentless. Creativity is one area where putting on the brakes and slowing right down is the only way to get lasting results. When you use your creativity at work or in your hobbies, the same process will be acting on you as it does on me. Last week I wrote about my research into the master goldsmiths of the Celts. This week I’ve taken that research into the workshop for some experimentation, this amount of new information is going to take a while to digest fully. It also got me thinking about how creativity works.
The ultimate goal of any creative project is to make something that gives the end user pleasure, and us satisfaction enjoyment to make. That end user may be ourselves if we pursue a creative skill as a hobby or another if creativity is our work. Sounds simple but the process of getting to that nirvana of gorgeous jewellery, beautiful music, an absorbing story or a painting that connects on a deep emotional level is fraught with obstacles, most obstacles we make ourselves. Entering a state of creative flow is one of the most satisfying states of mind that exists, where although the barriers still exist, your ability to surmount them is enhanced.
New Learning – Celtic Twists
I took my newfound learning about Celtic torcs into my studio and tried a few things this week. Some were more successful than others. I started looking at the twists of wire they used to make the neckpieces of the torcs. I’ve tried twisting wires together before, and it is tricky to get the twist even. I started very simply, make an earring from one piece of 15cm square profile wire.
I did a couple of test twists to see how the wire reacted then took my 15cm length and gently drew down the end I was to make the ear wire from to a fine taper and the other end to a slightly less fine taper. I filed and smoothed the ear wire end with emery paper to make it slim enough to be comfortable to wear. I made a loop in the other end at halfway down the wire. I kept the edges of the square wire flush with the thin steel bar I was making the loop around. I secured the loop in my bench vice and twisted the wire making sure to keep each twist equal. I formed the ear wire end to a comfortable shape and wrapped the other tapered end around the earring to tidy it off. I shaped the ear hoop and cut a section out of the loop to form a hook. This was a success, the earring looked good and was a joy to wear. You could try making a similar version using thin round profile wire and a pair of pliers.
I had less success with my attempt at the twist technique described by Brian Clarke in this video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FayrLJxzWaw It looks simple but is significantly more complicated. This failure is where my most useful thinking about the creative process happened. What didn’t break, twisted and what didn’t twist split and what I ended up with after a days work was very unimpressive and has since been melted back into a silver ingot!
What are you left with after an experience like this? Once the frustration at your lack of skill has subsided what remains is learning. I know what I did wrong, I wasn’t patient enough, I should have used a thicker piece of metal, a different tool and annealed to make the metal soft more often. These are all things I know, but it is only through getting your hands on a material and a process that you find out exactly how the real world reacts.
I can read as many books or watch as many videos on watercolour painting as I like but it is not until I start making blobs on paper that I will understand how the paint flows. I can listen to a piece of music as many times as I like but I won’t be able to play it on my bass guitar until I learn the co-ordinated movements that makeup playing the instrument. You have to make bad paintings before you can make good ones, you have to hit bum notes in the process of finding the right ones.
Not only does the study of methods and the qualities of material enable the worker to give expression to an idea, it is absolutely the most fruitful source of ideas, and those which are suggested by process are invariably healthy and rational. The hand and the brain work together, and the outcome of their partnership is sanity of conception which is greatly to see in most even of the best work of today.
Henry Wilson in his 1902 book “Silverwork and Jewellery.”
You are your own worst Critic
I give much respect to people on social media who are learning a skill and dare to put their work out there in public, that act acknowledges their learning process and allows them to show and stake a claim in their own learning, “here I am this is where I’m at”. They give themselves permission to move forward and use accountability to commit to improving. The same is true of learning a musical instrument until you perform you can’t honestly know how far you have progressed.
What about criticism? What if my work is not good enough and I get laughed at? This is a real worry that all creatives have, I certainly do! Luckily you are your own worst critic. So what if someone does make a negative comment? Look at as an opportunity to ask them why they have said what they have. You will probably find they reflect back to you what you already know, confirm what you know needs improvement. Perhaps they just don’t like it and that’s fine you cannot do work that pleases everyone. The same goes for comparison we are all at different stages in our learning journey, there is no point in my comparing my ability to make a Celtic twist to someone who has been making them every day for years. Of course, they will be good at it. My concern is to acquire the skill to make me good at it, cracking and bending things the wrong way will be part of the process.
This is a superb state of mind to be in, everything seems to go well and even though you encounter problems your ability to overcome them makes them seem hardly like problems at all. A huge part of getting to creative flow is acquiring skill, and the only way to gain skills is to repeat, repeat and repeat. I’m trying to learn how to play the bass line to Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” the only way I can do this is to break it down into manageable chunks, repeat them slowly over and over. Then put the whole song together and then build up the speed of my playing. The same is true for the apparently simple task of drawing down a taper on a bar of silver. A process where I use a hammer to stretch and taper a bar of silver. Learning to control the metal only came by repeatedly hammering tapers both for brooch pins and ear wires, getting it wrong and learning how to put it right. Once a skill is acquired you then have the flexibility to apply that skill to express your creativity. Of course, acquired is the wrong way to look at it as the more you know, the more you realise you don’t know!
So why am I writing this? I’ve felt a bit discouraged this week because I didn’t give time and patience to a project that is going to take a while to get to grips with. I want to pass on what I learnt and help you to feel encouraged about your creative projects and to take failures in your stride as part of the process. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel, the Celtic goldsmiths had to learn in the same way the students of Henry Wilson did. Unsatisfactory drawings, wrong notes, blotchy paintings, lumpy sculpture and cracked pieces of silver are part of learning, trust in the process, keep repeating it, and the transformation will happen, you will find the satisfaction of your own creative flow.